Apple iChat Theater Preview Collaboration

Brian Gonosey, Apple Final Cut Pro and iChat Theater Preview user.

Brian Gonosey, Apple Final Cut Pro and iChat Theater Preview user.

One of the most prominent new features in Apple Final Cut Pro 7 is iChat Theater Preview, or the ability to share the Viewer window via iChat. Operation is simple: You connect via iChat, then click a couple of controls in Final Cut Pro 7, and press the space bar, and then your client or collaborator sees what you''re seeing in the Viewer.

It''s the type of feature that would seem most useful to those working under the tightest deadlines. To confirm this, I chatted with an editor who worked under some of the most demanding conditions imaginable: a weekly television show. Since Apple set up the conversation, I expected Brian Gonosey, editor on Leverage, the hit TNT original series starring Timothy Hutton, to be pretty high on the feature, but he sounded positively giddy when we spoke about it.

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The Schedule

By way of background, Leverage is shot with four Red Digital Cinema Red One cameras and three Sony XDCAMs, with the majority of setups multiple camera shoots. When the show is in season, it shoots continually with three rotating editors, of which Gonosey is one. There are also six rotating directors who work on the different episodes.

The show is shot in Portland, Ore., and edited in Hollywood—specifically at Electric Entertainment, a production company owned by Dean Devlin, the producer of The Patriot and Independence Day (see the upcoming issue of millimeter for more on Leverage's production pipeline). Dailies are copied onto FireWire drives each day and shipped overnight to the production facility. The editing schedule is very structured: four days to an initial editor''s cut, then four days polishing with the director, four with the producer, and then off to the network. The problem is that directors and producers aren''t always in the same city.

Watching the Brian Gonosey''s Viewer remotely via iChat Theater Preview.

Watching the Brian Gonosey''s Viewer remotely via iChat Theater Preview.

The Editing Workflow

To work around this issue, Gonosey would create and post QuickTime movies that his collaborators could review and annotate using a tool called cineSync. He could review their comments and make the necessary changes, and even watch the video along with them, which generally worked well. What he couldn''t really do was brainstorm, or audition different camera angles in a multiple-camera shoot.

For example, if Gonosey wanted an opinion as to which camera angle was best, he would have to render and upload multiple drafts, which was time-consuming. Using iChat Theater, Gonosey connects with his collaborator, makes the change on the timeline, and previews. His collaborator instantly sees the preview, with timecode if desired.
I first saw iChat Theater Preview at an Apple product demo in New York. It looked great, but since the demo was from one computer to another in a hotel room, it was impossible to judge how it would work in the field.

When I connected with Gonosey, all doubts were removed. The color and clarity of the video was gorgeous, and playback appeared to be full frame rate during the clips that I previewed. There were occasional glitches, but these were short and inconsequential. Overall, if you require collaborative input remotely, it''s hard to imagine a more effective tool.

Once you start an iChat session, click View /> iChat Theater Preview to share what''s playing in your Viewer.

Once you start an iChat session, click View > iChat Theater Preview to share what''s playing in your Viewer.

Fortunately, it''s easy to use, as well. Just connect via iChat as normal, and then click View > iChat Theater Preview in the Final Cut Pro menu. Whatever is playing in your Viewer or Canvas window is sent via iChat to your remote viewer.

As a caveat, I should note that for iChat Theater Preview to work, both the host and remote computers much be running Mac OS X version 10.5 Leopard or later. Both computers must have iChat accounts and the remote user''s account must be added to the host computer''s buddy list (more detail from Apple here). If your collaborators are on Windows and don''t have access to a Mac, you''re out of luck.


As noted at the top, Gonosey sounded positively giddy at times discussing iChat Theater. He related that before Apple released the new feature, he tried hacking a video feed into iChat Theater through some setup involving a Sony DSR-1500 that I couldn''t follow. No matter.

Now that iChat Theater Preview is here, Gonosey was careful not to overstate the frequency of its use. Specifically, the group has edited about 10 episodes of Leverage with Final Cut Pro 7, and he has personally only used the feature five or six times, and guessed his fellow editors use it about the same. When he needed it, however, he found the feature indispensible, allowing him to quickly explore creative options that would have previously taken hours, if not days.

Anyone who has collaborated with others under tight deadlines knows that if you can''t efficiently explore your creative options, you typically don''t. In this regard, iChat Theater Preview can not only help you produce faster, it can help you produce better.

Had experience with iChat Theater? Share your thoughts on our Crosstalk forums.