The MTS Format
I know, I know. You only work with DVCAM files from the field. That is, of course, if not film. You won’t deal with footage provided by clients, because it just looks so shitty. If you weren’t hired to shoot it yourself, then at the very least, you expect a RAID drive sent to you with all the HD footage already converted to ProRes so that you can edit with ease.
And you haven’t worked in 3 months.
The truth is—at least with my business—from time to time you are going to have clients that want you to include the footage they shot on their flipcam, their iPad, or (God help ’em) their Blackberry. Maybe they have a guy in the field with a consumer camera that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe they recorded a Skype call and just have to include it in the edit. *gasp!*
The point is, it’s gotta make it into your cut and your artistic integrity be damned.
You already know how to work with the AVCHD format, but every so often, you end up getting a file called .MTS over email or DropBox. I know it sucks. And fortunately, there are programs that can re-encode these files to a format that’s editable in Final Cut or Premiere. If you’re serious about editing, you already have MPEG Streamclip and Voltaic installed, just for these purposes.
But sometimes, even those apps won’t play nicely with the dreaded .MTS file. It’s happened to me, and even the snarky old pro geniuses over at Creative Cow didn’t seem to have a solution. So I worked one out, and I’m offering it here.
What often happens with MTS files is that Voltaic and MPEG Streamclip either won’t open them or won’t export them. They will tell you that they can’t identify the first frame, or the frame rate itself. The net is the same: you got nothing. Normally, for me, the next option is to use the Adobe Media Encoder (AME). But what happens when you convert the file in AME and you end up with a beautiful video file with no audio? From reading various forums, I can tell you it happens all the time. Yes, VLC will play the file with audio, but your newly AME-converted Quicktime or mp4 is silent.
We’ve ruled out MPEG Streamclip, Voltaic and AME as one-stop solutions. (And don’t even think about trying to do the stream/export from within VLC.) Here’s your last resort, in 4 easy steps:
Open your .MTS file in Adobe Media Encoder. Export as usual, using the codec of your choice. I recommend the highest h264 you can handle. (It doesn’t matter, you’re not going to use the h264 to edit anyway.) Do your export. Now you’ve got your video in a Quicktime-readable format that looks as shitty-beautiful as it did in VLC, just without audio. Keep reading.
Open your .MTS file again in VLC and run an internal audio recorder like Wire Tap Pro or Audio Hijack Pro. Play the video file within VLC and record the audio to something decent like AIFF or AAC audio. Don’t worry, the Amazon Kindle footage your client sent you won’t suffer at all in the audio encoding process. 🙂
Open up a program like iMovie or FCPX (I admit: at this point they are still more or less the same to me.) The reason I’m suggesting this is because you’re not going to keep your native files. There’s no point in starting up a whole new project in Final Cut Pro 7, resetting your scratch disks, etc. You want quick and dirty.
Import your silent, beautiful footage that you just exported from AME. Drag that into your timeline. Now import your new audio file that you recorded from within your Mac. Drag that into your timeline as well. Sync up your audio. If your files are too big to sync manually, I highly recommend PluralEyes.
Now it’s time to feel professional again. Export (or as FCPX likes to call it, “share”) your file with the ProRes422 codec. What you’re left with is a perfectly good video file that will work in a professional editing session. I can’t say it looks awesome, but that’s because your client shot the footage on their HD Flipshit or whatever. The process above is virtually lossless at this stage. Now you can edit those gorgeous shots in FCP7 or whatever you like.
This entire process doesn’t taket that long. It depends on the length of your video, of course. God help you if you’ve got an entire :30-min interview in an MTS file.
There are plenty of “pros” out there who will tell you to never bother with anything captured by the client. I used to be one of them. But there are also a lot of pros out there watching marathon Game of Thrones episodes, because their former clients think they ought to know how to do this kind of thing. None of us like working with iPad footage, and you should discourage it whenever you can. Like you, I prefer the highest quality footage that I have shot myself.
But one thing I like even more is clients. I like to think that the reason they come back is because I make their lives easier, not harder. I hope this makes editors’ lives a little easier.
Note: my apologies to Windows users; I don’t know that all of these processes will work the same way for you. But most of the essentials are the same. I hope it’s still useful.