Plug-In Jeopardy

I love video editing. For me it is where I can complete the creative process that begins with the filming. That being said, video editing is not for the faint of heart. You quickly find that you need to be your own IT person. It doesn’t matter what operating system or editing application you choose, there are going to be glitches, meltdowns and crashes as a regular part of the experience.

One of the basic strategies you learn early in the process is to try to keep things as simple as possible, which brings us to the topic of plug-ins. Video (and audio) editing apps are platforms that can be accessorized with plug-in apps that offer additional functions and they can be quite useful. Some of them are practically essential, and for me the PluralEyes plug-in that brilliantly syncs multiple audio tracks is the very first step in my workflow once all the footage and audio has been imported into the project. A company called Singular Software developed Plural Eyes. They were acquired by Red Giant in 2012.

Toolfarm is what I refer to as a software reseller/marketing firms and they function as a distributor and promoter of these plug-in products. There are occasions where these resellers don’t sufficiently vet the plug-in developer and that can really cause problems for a filmmaker. Pay close attention to how a plug-in works with your video editing application. A plug-in that can work in stand-alone mode (even if they can be integrated into the application as well) is safer than ones that only work within the context of the application.

Since Adobe has adopted a subscription model, changes and updates to its applications now come fairly regularly, which presents challenges to plug-in developers who need to test and update their products in tandem with Adobe (or whoever else’s app you happen to be using). So here is my warning to you, if you choose to use a plug-in, first ask yourself if you really, really need it. Does it do something that you can’t already do in your editing app, and if you go ahead and install the plug-in, keep in mind that the application’s developer probably won’t test everything on every platform. Keep in mind that with every update to the application and/or the operating system, you will need to check to see if your installed plug-ins still work as expected. It’s a good idea to check the plug-in reseller’s website BEFORE you update the application or the OS. If not, proceed with caution, and be prepared to go back to the previous version of either the application or the OS.

I’ll leave you with this story that actually happened to me to make my point. I bought and installed a proDAD plug-in called Mercalli v2 that did something similar to Adobe’s Warp Stabilizer (but actually worked better in some instances). A red flag went up (which I shouldn’t have ignored) when I had issues getting its activation panel to work. I had to use a “special” download link which had the activation panel pre-installed as a work-around. This is never a good sign with regard to the competence of the developer’s code writing ability. Throwing caution to the wind, I went ahead and used the plug-in throughout a 90-minute documentary I was editing at the time. Editing a 90-minute film is a long process, so along the way Adobe updated Premiere Pro, and I migrated to the update. I tested and initially all plug-ins seemed to work fine, but when I needed to do a ProRes export (to make a DCP file) for the NYC screening of the film, I was dismayed when the export failed and I got an error message of “unsupported host” at every instance of the Mercalli plug-in. The folks at ToolFarm tried to help, but the developer was unable to provide any solutions. Consequently I had to comb through the entire film and either replace the effect with Warp Stabilizer or just remove it altogether. This took most of a day to do, (not counting the time it takes to render and export a 90 minute film). Since the plug-in was not only non-functional, but actually endangered my project, I felt justified in requesting a refund. However adding insult to injury, neither proDAD nor ToolFarm would refund the $150.00 cost of the plug-in.

So keep this in mind when you get those email offers of “50% off certain plug-ins” as ToolFarm just did in an email blast to their customers. There may be a hidden reason why the reseller has chosen to offer those discounts…