Story Prods - AVID Overload? Do this.

The Minimal-Shift method is the answer
Brian V. O'Toole
6 min read

Surprisingly, the majority of Avid and Premiere users are not full-blown editors.  I'm not an editor, but I've logged thousands of hours, and the most important lesson I've learned is this - story producers and other support staff shouldn't accept the default command palette. You don't need the complexity of 80+ commands.  

What you need is the simplicity to allow your mental energy to focus on creating great sequences - not fighting the software.  In this post, I will explain the theory and specifics behind a minimal and powerful command palette.  This setup will allow you to stop interrupting your editor to sheepishly ask them to fix a sequence that you've mangled. With the increased output that this setup has shown, your editor will quickly grow to love you.

Here is a link to the file that you'll need. It includes two different keyboard setups in the Avid format - one is the final 'Minimal-Shift' settings, and the other is settings for a completely blank keyboard command set.  Feel free to follow along in building with the blank set, or test out the feel of the final setup as you read.  Here we go.

Three Central Concepts of RL-Shift
  1. Minimal, Natural Feel
  2. Easy-to-Recall Commands
  3. Knowing Your Danger Zones


So, let's imagine that we have a project with hundreds of bins of footage to look through, with our goal being to make great selects sequences. We'll add the commands a bit at a time, on an as-needed basis.

Once we've loaded a clip into the Source window, we'll need the standard Play-Forward & Play-Backward commands, which allow you to tap multiple times to increase the playhead speed as you search through the footage.

When we see something we like, we need to Pause, and then we need to Mark In and Mark Out. I also put Insert Marker on "M", which is easy to remember and I also like to keep Mark Clip handy. Here's what we have so far:

A highly underused function is a user's ability to hold down the Shift key to access a whole different set of commands. We're going to use this functionality not to make our lives harder, but easier. Let's look at how we've set up our first few Shift commands:

Now, when you tap "I" by itself, you'll execute Mark In, but hold Shift+I, and you'll Clear Mark In. Simple.


For the most part, after marking your In and Out, you need Splice In to bring a selection into your sequence. Let's pretend we've been doing that for a while.  We now have a long sequence of selects, stacked one right next to the other, like this:

We now need to shift from working from the Source to working directly in the timeline.  Let's set our commands up so that we can quickly move around the order of clips, reveal a little more or a little less of a clip, and remove clips that we've decided against using.

But with all this shuffling, things can go pear-shaped quickly, so we're going to orient the commands we need by danger-level:

In the above setup, your middle finger enables "safe" modes of manipulating clips, which will push content down the timeline. Your pointer finger enables "danger" modes, which will overwrite things on the timeline.

Above, we're looking at two new commands in our Shift variation. When holding Shift, our Splice-In button now becomes Extract, because Splice-In and Extract are basically opposites.  I call them opposites because Splice-In inserts a selection, safely pushing all clips after it down the timeline, while Extract takes a selection on the timeline and deletes it, collapsing the space. Same relationship with Overwrite and Lift.

OK, here's where we start super-charging your productivity. With a long selects sequence like the one we have, merely using Play Forward / Play Backward to move around will hinder you. So, let's add snappier navigation, but to make it intuitive, we'll use the arrow keys. Let's take a look:

Now we're able to make big, purposeful jumps in the footage as well as small steps. Up and down will now jump you to the edit points in the timeline, while left and right will move the playhead one frame at a time.

We also need to organize our sequence a little better, so let's add the ability to move massive amounts of clips without having to 'lasso' them. We're going to make it so that when you hold shift and press left or right, you'll highlight everything to the left or right of the playhead.

This is especially handy. Now, you can just highlight huge chunks, switch to Lift Mode and drag right to open up gaps on the timeline for organizational purposes. I like to start organizing like so:


Every project is different, but in most cases, you need Match Frame and Reverse Match Frame. The same goes for both types of Toggle Source/Record. I also like to throw in Multicam, intuitive track toggles and Add Edit...which of course, should be activated by out "danger" finger.

Here's my finished product:


This setup has worked for me for years - starting as a story producer and I still use it now as a showrunner. Many other folks I've worked with have adopted this and found success. You of course don't have to have to make yours exactly the same, but the bottom line is to simply program what you need, and forget the rest.

Once you've refined your setup, do two things:

  • export your settings and email them to yourself for use on future projects
  • take a screenshot and print out your setup.

Get the Minimal-Shift settings file

Brian is a both veteran of television production and iOS App development. In TV, he's served as an executive producer for networks like National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Discovery's Shark Week. In the app world, he created TimeStamp Keyboard, and advises media-centric organizations on concept creation and workflow logistics.

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