Frame of Reference with Editor Ron Sussman


Upon receiving a degree in Design from Arizona State University, Ron headed to the prestigious graduate film program at New York University. There he watched hours of movies drank too much beer and coffee and made a few forgettable short films.

Preferring a real world education, Ron left NYU and headed to Los Angeles where he joined the staff of Harmony Pictures. While directing some smaller projects for Harmony, Ron realized that it was the process of editing that inspired and fueled the flames of his creativity. He soon left Harmony and joined the editorial staff of Ace and Edie where, under the tutelage of editors Jim Edwards, Mike Miller and Jeff Wishengrad, his real education began.When Miller and Wishengrad formed their own company, Ron followed and became a full-fledged editor cutting spots for Toyota, Pontiac and LA Gear.

Once again opportunity knocked and Ron joined Optimus in Chicago. There he won several awards for his editorial work for clients like Anheuser Busch while building snowmen with his wife Fran and their newborn son Jordan.

After a few years, Good Pictures in San Francisco called Ron back to the west coast. Somehow, between cutting spots for ILM, Coca-Cola and Bank of America, his daughter Hallie was born. Ron spent the little free time he had left mountain biking and preparing for earthquakes. A chance meeting with Larry Bridges of Red Car lead Ron to join the newly formed Red Car Dallas office.

Ron and family desired to move back to the west coast and Ron reconnected with his friend and mentor Jim Edwards, cutting a successful campaign of spots Jim directed for Comcast. This renewed association lead to Ron and Jim reforming the respected editorial company Ace & Edie.

Today we sit down with Ron to get talk about his editing process.

What got you interested in editing?
It’s funny because I started in the industry working at a Foley shop in LA that was doing major features and I was interacting with top sound editors daily, but it wasn’t until I actually started to do a bit of directing that I realized how powerful editing was and how I could encompass all the arts and my music background into this one area. It really was an exciting revelation

How did you get started in editing?
I took a job as a runner for no money at Ace & Edie in LA and worked my way up the ranks to apprentice, then assistant, then ghost editor and finally a full-fledged paid editor. When I started we were still cutting 35mm film on a KEM and there was a much more formal path to working your way up. Some of the skills you learned along the way are no longer taught in this digital age and that is a shame

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I started working on Avid ID #6 in 1990 and worked on Avid for the next 16 years. I was kind of forced to work on FCP and at first I hated it. However, until Apples recent decision to tell us how we need to be editing, I have been working exclusively on FCP7.
Despite some issues that I wish Apple would have addressed with a FCP8, I still think it’s the fastest and most flexible NLE out there. For me, speed = creativity. I don’t want to have to stop and think about what button I need to push or setting I need to have in order to work. I just want to hit the ground running and FCP7 allows for that. Right now, depending on the job, I am using Avid MC6, which I think is wonderful and handles mixed frames rates like no other but still a bit too stiff and FCP7. I haven’t had the opportunity to give Premiere CS6 a good run through yet and I am excited to try Smoke 2013.

Give us a run through of your editing process
I am a bit impatient when it comes to starting a project. The thing I love about file based media is I can import and dive right in and start working. I lay everything, all the takes out on a timeline. Then as I go through the footage I will pull selects up to another track. I work pretty fast and tend to not heed the selected takes on the script notes. What may indeed be a good take or even the best take may not work in the context of the commercial or video. If I am cutting a long form piece, it’s a bit like sculpting a big block of marble. I just keep watching and trimming and building until I feel I have a compelling story. Sometimes that can take days, sometimes it flows like a hot knife through butter

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
Look for the unexpected moments, great things can occur in between takes and when the talent doesn’t know the camera is running. It’s all about attention to detail. Organization is key. Work to live, don’t live to work.

How organized are you?
Very, almost anal to a fault. I don’t want to have to think about where things are or go looking for stuff when I want or need it. That applies to my physical work area as well as my NLE. Even back in my film cutting days, I knew where every single loose frame was and which roll it belonged in. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a job that someone else has started and the elements are scattered over multiple drives and not placed in folders. I have a folder structure that I have developed over the years  that lays every aspect of the job out in one place. If you are not organized, you shouldn’t be in this business.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Yes, I think that is one of my strengths as an editor. I can take endless, seemingly disconnected interviews and build a compelling, emotional story

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
Wow, thats a tough one to have to narrow down. My top favorite films are “Raging Bull”, “Alien”, “The Apartment” and “The 400 Blows”. Thats an eclectic mix for you! As far as TV, now I love “Game of Thrones”. “Fringe” and “Girls”. I am a bit in awe of Lena Dunham, the creator, writer and director of “Girls”. She is only 25 years and is going to be a major talent

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
As a freelancer I do it all, with the exception of weddings. not to put it down but that is a different level of work I never delve into. I have spent the majority of my 20+ years as an editor cutting commercials and over the last several years I have been doing a fair amount of corporate work which can be documentary or narrative or both. I enjoy the variety

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
Thelma Schoonmaker. If you know the films she has cut the answer needs no explanation

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Get up and walk away from the computer. I know that’s difficult to do when you have clients in the room, but take a break. Go sit outside and close your eyes and just “be” for a little while. You will be surprised how much refreshed and how much vigor you have afterwards

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
In my opinion plugins are a crutch that can be over used to solve problems with an edit. That said, there are many great plugins out there that can enhance an edit.  I love Magic Bullets Colorista II. I prefer to use it over any of the built-in color correctors in all the NLEs. For me the place plugins really come into use is in After Effects, not really in the edit itself

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
If you have a strong relationship with a director who works all the time, you work all the time. Its rare, especially cutting commercials that you actually even get to meet with the director. Ad Agencies, in my opinion do themselves a disservice by not allowing the director to communicate his intentions to the editor or at least give the director a shot at a 1st cut. Every spot I have ever cut, where I have gone on set and seen what is happening has made the edit so much smoother. Also in a good editor/director relationship, the director knows to let the editor do his or her thing and not sit on top of them second guessing every decision.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
I would rather work with an asshole who has good ideas than a nice guy who can’t decide what color yellow is. Patience pure and simple. That is something that took me a long time to learn but is essential. Most difficult people are operating out of fear and if you can get them to relax and feel like they are in good hands and taken care of they soft up a bit.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
There has to be an emotional hook. I don’t care if you are selling motorcycles or presenting a sales techniques, the viewer has to feel a connection to what they are viewing. If I have made a room full of corporate types gets all teary eyed watching the video, I know I have done my job even if the video is for a new computer chip.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor?
Learn about other things besides just editing and filmmaking, educate yourself on art and music. Music plays such an important part in the way I work. Never stop learning your craft. Things are changing in this industry at such a fast pace that you have to stay current or you will fall behind. Most importantly, don’t define yourself by the tools you use. If you are an editor than you can EDIT!  Being able to operate a piece of software doesn’t make you an editor any more than knowing how to work a stove makes you a chef. I can accomplish the same results, given the time, with film on rewind and a little viewer as I can with the most powerful NLE on the market. That being said however, in this current market it is important to be fluent on Avid, FCP, Adobe and what ever else comes down the pipeline.

You can catch up with Ron on his blog or follow him on twitter.





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