Frame of Reference with Editor Brian Mulligan

Brian Mulligan has been a broadcast editor for over 20 years.  “I have edited long form, short form, docs, features,  promos, commercials…. you name it, I have cut it.  I started editing tape-to-tape.  Then as technology developed, I moved in to digital editing with disk recorders in a linear suite, then moved on to non-linear.  I have edited with Ampex Ace 25, GVG (Sabre), Lightworks, Premiere Pro CS5, and my main system is Autodesk Smoke Advanced on Linux, and Smoke for Mac on OSX. I can also work with After Effects, Photoshop, & Illustrator.  I am do it all editor, so I can do some graphic design, a bit of 3D, and audio mixing.” I got a chance to chit-chat with Brian about all things Editing.

What got you interested in editing?
I grew up with the birth of cable TV and MTV.  So I guess it was watching the early experimental music videos that really got me interested in how things cut together.

How did you get started in editing?
My college professor was a freelance producer and would grab free grunt work from his more promising students.  So I got to pull cable and dub tapes and carry lights.  If you were good enough you got a chance to offline edit.  The shows were doc like, and were offline edited on 3/4″ inch tape to tape with burn in timecode.  So before I graduated college , I edited  8 minutes of a magazine style doc that aired locally in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
Smoke is my editor.  I have been a Smoke editor for over 7 years.  Smoke is great because I can cut content as well as do graphics and visual effects and coloring and finishing. All in context with the edit.

Give us a run through of your editing process
I first like to look at all the video I have.  In doing that, I can see the edits in my head, and begin to make decisions and see what’s possible well before I lay anything down on a timeline.  Once I start cutting, I get a rough cut down and see if it feels right.  I don’t worry too much about specific shots at this point.  I just want the pacing and the general mood of the piece to come through.  Once I have the feel down I can tweak the shots and try different things.  If it’s a promo or commercial I will see how graphics and effects impact the piece.  Finally finishing touches like color grading and sound mixing wrap it up.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
The biggest tip I got was not to worry about making every cut perfect or agonized over frames for each edit…in the beginning.  The first cut is a rough cut, just cover black and see if it feels right.  There is no point spending 30 minutes finding the right shot and trimming the right frames for an edit that might not make it in the final sequence.  We edit with computers, it doesn’t have to be perfect in the first pass.  We can change things.  Editing is about trying different shots and playing with frames.  The first cut you make will not be the final.

How organized are you?
I am more organized in my head than in my NLE.  Smoke allows you to be as messy or as organized as you want.  I tend to have very messy Source Area or bins. But once I have seen a frame of video, I will remember it, and can find it when I want it.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I can easily work without a script because I do like to review all of my video and sound before I edit.  With experience you can see patterns and connections between sounds and images before you even make your first cut.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
There are too many good films from different genres.
I like epic cinematography which leads to good editing.  I like dialogue more than pure action. In TV, I like serialized shows like LOST, 24, Breaking Bad.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
I have cut everything from :10 sec to 2 hours.  I mainly do spot work like promos and commercials. I have done many short feature stories in doc style as well as several 60 min docs and a national doc that aired on A&E.  I would love to edit a scripted story or feature at some point.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Like I said before. Don’t get hung up on the details at first. Cover black, put a shot down, set the sequence moving.  Then you can go back and play with it, massage it, and make it work in the end.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I don’t use many plugins with Smoke.  But Sapphire plugins are good, and I am very impressed with all of the Red Giant plugins.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
I work very well with my Producers/Directors.  We have all been working together a long time and can read each other well. They come to me knowing that I can help them bring their vision to life.  Communication is the biggest thing. I can help them if they give me a direction to go in. They have also learned to deal with my unique way of working a project.  Every project is horrible in the beginning. I never have the shots I need, the concept is weak.  The story is weak. But I plow through and shape the cuts and in the end, it doesn’t turn out so bad.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
With bad producers/directors, you just have to forge ahead, and do your job as well as you can.  The end results may not be award-winning.  But as long as your cuts are clean, you have done your job.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
My philosophy…..everything should be cut with a compelling emotion. Emotion begets emotion. I think that there can be very emotional single cuts or edits.  But I tend to focus on the larger sequence as a whole. If the final cut evokes an emotional response then it’s a good edit.  Editing is the sum greater than its parts.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Keep cutting.  Keep putting shots down on the timeline.  Once they are there you can mix them and move them around.  Eventually they will form a story.

You can find Brian on twitter as @BKMEditor .

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