Frame of Reference with Editor Bruce Banner the Avid Hulk

Bruce Banner grew up in Los Angeles, won an equal rights in housing video contest at age 13 and attended UCLA Film. After graduation Bruce found himself being told he was over qualified for P.A. work, but not qualified for anything else.  Eventually Bruce transformed in Avid Hulk and managed to start getting elusive P.A. jobs, even a video assist job on a low-budget feature (real actors, but shot in 7 days).

I got a chance to get a smashing interview with Hulk about his creative process.

What got you interested in editing?

I sort of fell into editing, but found that it suited my all around interest in the creative process.  I got started in the early day of non-linear editing and the technical side of this came easy to me.  But when editing anything, you are the end of the line.  If there is a problem you have to fix it, there is no later.  Sometimes that might even involve re-writing the voice over yourself or going out and shooting new material.  It always stays interesting.

How did you get started in editing?

I got a job as an assistant editor, even though I had never assisted before and had never sat at an avid before.   But this was long enough ago that it was on a show where most of the editors were new to the avid too and I was able to pick it up more quickly than anyone else.  The lead editor took me under his wing and within 6 months I was an editor on the show.

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

Most of my work is in reality TV and that is mostly Avid and some FCP 7.  I’m equally fast in both and that’s the main thing.  The longer your hands take to do what your brain imagines in the edit, the harder your work is.

Give us a run through of your editing process

For reality TV, I usually start a show with a string out that a story producer has done.  They will work in the avid and create a timeline that is about 1 – 1/2 hours for a 1/2 hour program. This is a rough version of the show. The scenes in the order they want with the dialogue that they want. A few years ago I would have been handed an outline or a paper cut of a show, with selects made, but these days it’s easier and quicker to have the story producer work in the avid.  Shows don’t have the schedule to allow me to start out with the raw material and go from there.

I take their work and add in pacing, cutaways, music, effects, etc… All the things that make a show look like a real tv show. Once I have my cut of the show, close to time and complete with music and sound effects I show it to the story producer and we polish and then send the show out for various executive and network notes.

For documentaries, it’s different.  I’ve done projects where I’ve been handed a bunch of tapes and a one paragraph description of what the producer or director is looking for and then I bring them in when I’ve got a finished cut.  And then I address notes and make changes.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

An editing mentor of mine when I was just starting out told me to look for the moments that stand out like dogs’ balls.  Crude, I know, but if the good moments in the material don’t jump out at you, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

How organized are you?

At work I am very organized.  Not so much at home, but what can you do?  I start each morning by physically straightening the papers on my desk and cleaning the desk. It seems silly, but I feel like clutter on the desk somehow clutter the mind just a bit.  When working I keep all my bins organized and my timeline is always tight.  No stray sound effects here and there, no video up on v12 for no reason.  Keeping the project organized is a way to have one less thing to think about and more brain power to use for your editing.  Different types of project do require different types of organization, so I’m not rigid about it in that regard. But once you’ve settled on this is how this show is going to be organized, it’s best to stick with that.

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

I quite enjoy not working from a script, but the time budgeted to complete shows these days rarely allow that. I recently completed a side project (i.e., very low paying)  feature documentary which had no script just a pile of tapes.  It took a while to get from my first cut to completion, but once I had my first cut, the director told me that I was in her head.  She didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but we were both on the same wavelength from the beginning.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

My favorite movie is 2001:A Space Odyssey. These days, my favorite TV show is Louie.

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

I’ve done a range of things, short narrative, documentaries, promos, news magazine, but most of my work has been in reality tv.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Todd Zelin.  Mostly to apologize for any confusion about his identity.  HULK NOT ZELIN (or is he?)

Mostly when I meet other editors, even big feature editors, we just talk about food or kids or other things besides editing.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

There is always that period about half way through any project when it seems hopeless.  You look at your work and you think “this is the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever worked on.” But, you always get past that.  The key is remembering that you’ll get past it.

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

I don’t use that many plug-ins.  A glow here or there or a swish pan if a producer insists.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

When working with someone new, there is always the courting period where we have to figure out what each other is like.  I find if I push myself early on and make sure to show someone who I haven’t worked with before that they can trust me, then the relationship is good from there.  The most important thing is that trust.  The director has to trust you if you say that’s the best shot and you have to trust the director if they say let’s not do that here, let’s try something else.

Ultimately the job of an editor is making sure the director is happy with the finished project. Now, if the director suggests something really bone-headed that you disagree with, that needs to be figured out too.  You can’t just be a button pusher. Knowing when to pick your battles is important.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Sometimes you have to stick it out until the job is done.  Even the most problem director usually has something to offer, even if it is an example of how not to behave. Try and find those little bits of knowledge, then move on after the job is done.  Or, as Hulk might say, SMASH!

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I don’t really have a philosophy about editing, things just work for me or they don’t.  I can usually intellectualize afterwards why something works or not, but while I’m putting things together, I just do what seems right.  I realize that is not helpful at all.  Sorry.

Also, you are never good enough at your job.  I say this as someone who has been doing this a long time and is good at it.  However, I am still trying to get better.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

The most important thing to be able to do in the edit bay is look at a cut fresh each and every time.  You can never let yourself get too used to seeing things over and over. Without being able to maintain that freshness you’ll never be able to improve your work.  I stand up, take a few steps back and pace when watching a cut.  This gives me a literal and figurative fresh perspective.  It’s also good to stand up every once in a while.  I even like to work standing up sometimes.  So, I guess if I had to summarize, my one piece of advice is “Get off your ass.”

Also, SMASH.

To experiment with Gamma radiation in the edit bay, you can follow the Hulk on twitter.




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