Frame of Reference with Editor Jamie Cobb

Jamie Cobb is a freelance editor, currently cutting her second feature-length film, Down and Dangerous. I got a chance to chit-chat with Jamie about all things Editing.

What got you interested in editing?
The first movie I saw in a theater was The Goonies. From there, my fate with film-making was sealed. Editing didn’t really show up on my radar until I took a Radio/TV class in my Junior year of High School. Everyone in the group was supposed to rotate through each position, but somehow, I always ended up being the editor.

How did you get started in editing?
Film school was the first place I really got to try my hand at all of the various positions of filmmaking. It became very apparent that editing was my niche in the process. After graduation I moved out to LA and worked my way up from the bottom. Post PA, Tape Logger, Assistant Editor, and then finally, Editor.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I am cutting my current project in Final Cut Pro 7 because I am very comfortable with it and I don’t have to think twice about anything except telling the best story possible and perhaps, remembering how recently I’ve hit save.

Give us a run through of your editing process.
I like to have conversations with the director so I can clearly understand their vision and get their voice in my head. Having that voice or some ideas to filter your choices through can be a tremendous help in the infinite decision-making process that lies ahead. I will read the script a few times before I start, and while I’m cutting, I’ll only refer back to it when I need to. I like to let the footage inform the edit. I like to cut in order whenever possible, because the material that comes before influences the decisions and rhythms that follow. I’ll watch the dailies down while taking note of the pieces that stand out, move me, and feel truthful. Lately, I’ve tried to put (sometimes force) all of those moments into the first assembly. Then, the next day I can watch the scene down fresh, and find the pieces that really work together. Once you’ve got the right pieces, it becomes about making sure those beats and performances are used to their maximum potential, sculpting the scene to life. I’ll check in with the director for feedback and gain a more precise understanding their vision. I prefer not to cut with someone over my shoulder if I can help it, at least not on the first pass. This process continues until I have the finished rough cut. At that time, I get to quit looking at the individual parts of a scene and start focusing on how each scene serves the story as a whole, and how each scene affects the characters’ arcs as a whole. It’s all about experimenting and trying different variations to determine what is absolutely needed, all while keeping the balance of the story intact. Eventually, the director and myself will feel that we can’t take the film any further on our own. So, we will screen that cut to a test audience who can reveal how moments are truly playing. Sometimes just experiencing the audience’s reaction can be greater feedback than the response cards. With that new perspective on the cut, it becomes about watching the film down over and over from the beginning, constantly making a list of tiny tweaks and trying them out until you can’t think of any more to put on your list. Eventually, you will have a good idea when you are done, and sometimes time away from the cut is the best medicine.

What tips were you given that are really helpful?
I refer to so many tips from Walter Murch. Anyone with an interest in editing needs to read “In the Blink of an Eye” and “The Conversations.” I sometimes step back and think about his six elements of a good cut if I am stuck on an edit. Being genuinely aware of story, emotion and eye trace can really save you at any given time.

Another big Murch gem for me has been his suggestion to not get too smart on your first cut. There is no use for spending extra time up front to make more problems for yourself later.

There are too many others to list, just read those books!

How organized are you?
My personal closet is not very organized, yet all of my film projects are. If my project is all cluttered up I can’t think straight. An organized timeline is my Zen garden.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Yes, my first feature was improv-based and I really got to sharpen my skill for finding and using the right pieces to shape the story. It was a narrative feature, but there were certainly times when I felt like a documentary editor.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
I suppose The Goonies is my favorite film since it is the movie that got me into all of this. As for TV, I am currently really into Fringe and Game of Thrones.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
Narrative cutting is my true passion. I am currently on my second feature-length film and I have also cut several short films as well. To pay the bills I freelance for the studios and cut behind the scenes documentaries for DVD & Blu-ray.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
Simple, Anne V. Coates. She has cut everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Out of Sight. She finds cutting a good dialogue scene more juicy than cutting a flashy action scene. And a director referred to her as the editor with heart, which is something I aspire to.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
It’s important to make sure that you are invested in the project and that you believe in the people you work with. If those things are in place, no matter the complexity of the edit, it’s all gravy. But for a challenging cut I recommend patience, perseverance, and if all else fails, a glass of red wine. A challenging scene always gets better with wine, at least for the first pass.

In the last few years, I have also discovered how important exercise has become in my editing routine. When you feel better, you think better.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
PluralEyes. If you have ever had to manually sync audio to picture for fifty plus hours of footage, you will understand why.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
The most important thing I have found for a successful relationship is that the editor and  the director need to share the same taste. If you share a creative wave length, over time, the trust will come. If you are not on the same page creatively it can be difficult. Shared taste and trust are crucial. The editor is there to work in service of the director’s vision and to help tell the best story possible. I love the collaboration aspect of the relationship and value working with those who know I’m not there just to push a few buttons on a keyboard.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Asking the right questions, and being aware of red flags before you accept any job, usually results in working with fewer problem clients. Do your homework before you sign on to really understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be differences of opinion. To paraphrase Kevin Tent, sometimes the best part about a project is that it will eventually end. It’s important to remember to keep your ego in check. Take a step back and make sure you are not part of the problem. Then, only fight for what’s honestly important until you can get out of there.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
The more time you spend with the footage, the more it will tell you what you can and can’t do with it. Work within the materials natural rhythms, while using the most truthful moments to tell the story.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
You can spend a week in a room with an editor and still not further your own editing abilities. The best way to learn how to edit is from the driver’s seat. Keep at it until what you are capable of achieving is actually reflected back on the screen.

For more info on Jamie you can find her on twitter or her website.

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