Frame of Reference with Editor Kes Akalaonu

Kes Akalaonu is an editor/motion graphics artist from Chicago. He is also a Television Production instructor for the Illinois Center for the Broadcasting in Chicago and Lombard campuses. Kes also creates effects based and shortcut driven tutorials for popular NLEs (Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro and Avid) called NLE Ninja Effects.

“Editing is my passion and I’m always willing to share any knowledge I have to help someone become a better editor.” I got a chance to make some karate cuts with the Ninja of all NLE.

What got you interested in editing?

What got me interested in editing was that after college I found it difficult to get steady jobs as a shooter and found myself applying for jobs, which would require me to be a hybrid of an associate producer and editor. Seeing the requirements for associate producer jobs I knew I had to learn to use programs such as Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, After Effects etc. I took it upon myself to seek training to learn these programs and try to land a job that would be steady. After I got more acquainted with these programs I found that I enjoyed editing more than being in the field and that it was an important enough part of the process where people would depend on me to complete the film-making equation.

How did you get started in editing?

I got started out in editing by cutting a few episodes of a web show called Flair TV pro bono for some Columbia College students through one of my best friends. After that gig fell through, I worked for a promotional entertainment group creating highlight montages for events that happened all around Chicago involving celebrities from all walks of life. From there, I began cutting a variety of things from short films, music videos, fan commercials and web series.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?

I would say that I’m a Final Cut Pro/Premiere Pro editor who’s learning to use Avid again. Media Composer was introduced to me in college but since I didn’t have immediate access to it, I forgot much of what I learned. In deciding to become a full-time editor, I took an 8-week course to learn Final Cut Pro and became extremely proficient at it afterwards. That was my go to editor for the last 4 years but during that period of time I was beginning to understand how Premiere Pro functioned similar to Final Cut Pro and found myself using it in big project situations more than Final Cut Pro. I still use Final Cut Pro 7 now and then but with the introduction of CS6 now, Premiere Pro is my go to NLE of choice. I’m actually working to improve my Avid skills so that I can make myself more marketable to potential clients and if I should venture away from the Midwest and bring my talents to Los Angeles, New York or any major US market.

Give us a run through of your editing process.

I create a proper project folder with PostHaste depending on my NLE of choice. Organize my project assets (footage, graphics, audio, etc.) into proper folders with sub folders to establish a good hierarchy system. Organize my footage and assets into proper bins in my NLE. Create a selects sequence of my best material. Create a paper cut. Get feedback from client/director. Revise based on feedback. Edit project until client is satisfied and give them good deliverables. In between the process, I try to chat with other editors and get sage advice on projects and best methods for unique editing scenarios.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

Always be more organized than you think you should be. Should you (and God forbid this happens) have to give your project to another editor to take over because you can’t finish it or are taken off the project, they should be able to understand what you have done so far and finish the process. Also, make sure you keep copious notes of what you’ve done and what needs to be done.

How organized are you?

Besides using PostHaste to create a project folder template, for visual verification I like to use specific folder icons that will be easy to identify. In my NLE, I have bins inside of bins for everything. I like having a hierarchy of the most important things in appropriate folders. I try to keep away from having stray items all over my project browser because I use the analogy that your project browser is like your room. Keep it clean and organized.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?

Yes. A few times in the last few months, I’ve been given footage and graphics and told to make it pretty. Having creative freedom sometimes can be a good thing if your clients trust your storytelling abilities.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

Favorite film is a bit difficult to answer. I love watching films that make you think or ones with charismatic protagonists who challenge the status quo. I watch a lot of TV and have been for years so the list for favorite TV shows would probably be longer than anything else.

What style of editing have you done?(Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)

I’ve done a mixture of Narrative, Entertainment and Corporate editing. I’m always looking to be challenged and to try something new. If I could be cutting anything consistently now it would be commercials and promos. Trying to cram a lot of story/message in a short amount of time is a challenge but is fun seeing the result.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Although he’s more famous for being a director than an editor, I would say Robert Rodriguez. I’ve watched all his 10-minute film school videos and he made getting the big blockbuster look more attainable without having to spend 100 million dollars. He’s controversial and challenges the status quo with his line of thinking. I also like his concept of moving at the speed of thought where he embraces newer technology that can make his job as a filmmaker more efficient and enjoyable. He became successful because he knew how the business worked and said I’ll do my way and better. He is also very involved in all phases of production which I have a lot of respect for. He knows what is necessary to shoot for the edit as well as understanding what’s necessary to tell the story.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

There are always more frames that can be cut. One frame can make the difference between a good piece and a great piece. Also, always be asking yourself, is what I’m seeing advancing the story or hindering it?

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?

I’m a plugin enthusiast but I find myself most often using plugins from Noise Industries, Coremelt, Red Giant Software, Luca Visual FX, Genarts and Boris FX. On my projects, I try to give my clients the best-polished look I can and those group of plugins usually allow me to accomplish that with stunning results. I also try to recommend using them to achieve an effect in my NLE tutorials.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

It works great. I believe that letting my director know what I’ve done and any issues that may or may not come up helps. If I present them with issues in a calm manner but tell them I will find the best solution to push forward, they appreciate that. I feel that letting them know you’re in this for them and that you won’t stop until you’ve given them your absolute best is a great quality.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

I deal with problem clients by presenting them with all the possible options that are available and let them know what the consequences maybe for choosing a course of action. I want to give them the best video I can but if there are variables involved that are out of my control and will cost time and possibly money, I let them know and present them with desirable options. Sometimes, there aren’t many desirable options available and you can be stuck in a situation of no matter what I do, I can’t solve your problem. I’ve only had that happen a few times so far but I’m always training to tackle even the most hectic and crazy situations so that I can step up to the plate and knock it out of the park.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

At the end of the day, it’s about telling a comprehensive and memorable story. The viewer doesn’t care what you edited on, what filters you used or how many visual effects were involved. People will always remember moments more than anything else. Tell a memorable story and you’ll keep them coming for more.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor.

Always challenge yourself to be better than you were yesterday. Always push your craft further than you have before. Being complacent kills the creative process.

For more info on Kes you can find him on Youtube and Vimeo or twitter @NLE_Ninja.

4 thoughts on “Frame of Reference with Editor Kes Akalaonu

    1. Thanks for reading. When I started out, it was all about doing the flashy video and not worrying about how the viewer would perceive it. Through interactive with the some of the best editors in world and reading many insightful articles on editing, I learned that telling a memorable story will always be better than polishing a turd.

  1. Great read!! 😀 I need to look into PostHaste, sounds so handy. It really is about the moment and telling a memorable story. Can’t stress your last words enough “Being complacent kills the creative process.” I definitely learn new tips & plugins to try thanks to you. And big thanks to Twain for these awesome interviews, I just love learning more about everyone.

    1. Thanks Katie. Twain kicks ass with these interviews. Definitely great reads for all who have and will participate. Great thing about PostHaste is that it works on Mac and PC so it appeals to both platforms.

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