Frame of Reference with Editor Teresa Simmonds

Teresa Simmonds is a video news editor for WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 of Detroit, a local ABC affiliate and one of the original Circle 7 stations. Teresa has been editing your favorite local news for about 9 years.

“Our station was one of the first to transition to an all HD broadcast, with much fun and headaches. I love movies, TV, books, news, just about all forms of media. I also work as an audio/video production assistant for Discovery Communications’ (Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet) every Upfront season for the Detroit ad sales office.”

Today we talk with Terry about the process of a news editor.

What got you interested in editing?

Ever since I was a little girl I knew that I wanted to work in TV and film. My parents took us to all the cool kid sci-fi movies of the 80s – ET, The Last Unicorn, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins. We also had HBO and were allowed to watch whatever we wanted. I loved being sucked in by the narrative and I also loved finding the artifice and the artistry of what I was watching. When I studied radio/TV/Film at Eastern Michigan University, I originally thought I wanted to write screenplays. My minor was creative writing – I was all set to go down that path, until I made my first student film, “Devin’s Dream.” I had to write, shoot and edit the whole thing and I found that editing and creating stupid little effects to be the most fun of all. Editing incorporated all of my nerdiness – computers, graphic design, story-telling, and my need to organize chaos.

How did you get started in editing?

A friend of mine from Eastern worked as an editor at Channel 7 and recommended me. I showed up for my interview in my best purple suit from Lord and Taylor, ready to be grilled just like in any job interview. I was handed a piece of paper and told, “this is where you get your drug test. If you pass, come back. You’ll get one week of training. If it doesn’t work out, we won’t ask you back.” I was like, really? I am wearing the suit, don’t you want to ask me any questions? Nope. I guess they like me, because they’ve been asking me to come back for the past nine years!

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

I use FCP7 because that is what we use at Channel 7. The station chose it because it was easy to use and it could handle 4×3 and 16×9 video in the same timeline, which was important for our transition to HD. We were one of the first stations to broadcast the news in HD. I *still* have to deal with 4×3 video from various news feeds (I am talking to you, CNN! Get your act together, sheesh.) I love Macs and I am a huge Mac nerd. I really can’t think of using any other program for editing, and I am sure I will jump to FCPX when they make it more news-friendly. Occasionally I use After Effects for graphics.

Give us a run through of your editing process

The first thing I do is look at the rundown for my assignments. I write them down in the order that they will air in the show. Each “slug” has its own sequence. I make two bins “Clips” and “Done.” Editing for news broadcast is a lot different from editing a film or TV show.  There are about three of us that work on each show and we each have our own stories to cut. I have a lot of little VOs (voice-overs) or VO/SOTs (vo, soundbite) that are no longer than 36 seconds. I’ll do about 40 of those in a day. Basically when you watch the news, it’s the little videos that the anchors yap over. Sometimes I will do a “package” called an Insert or Wrap (SOT- Sound on Tape) that is about a minute and a half long. This is local news, so most of my stories are about crime, shootings, fires – we love fires!, local corrupt politicians, water skiing squirrels, what the President is doing that day, etc. It’s a lot of fun but a lot of work, and you have to be fast and accurate.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

“Hey! This isn’t film school! Get it done!” I guess I was taking too long to decide on which shot to use. I learned to make a decision and stick with it.

How organized are you?

I am very organized and I try to keep my desktop and folders clean because the editor on the next shift will have to use my computer. I really hate siting down to edit to find that there are a million files on the desktop that are OLD as dirt. There’s no excuse for that. If you want to keep your nonsense, put it on your own personal drive.

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

Yes, and I have to do that often, especially in the morning shows because there are just so many assignments. Besides I’ve been cutting news for nine years, I can pretty much cut a VO about a flood without looking at the script. It’s water. It floods. Damage and shenanigans. Also many assignments simply say “file of” such and such. If its something more complicated, I will have to wait for the script and where to get the video.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

My favorite film is Trainspotting because I love the dark twisted humor of it. There’s all kinds of fun stuff for an editor to do. The story is told a bit out of sequence, there’s an amazing soundtrack, stills and silly effects, voice-over narration, sports, a dream sequence you name it. I love television and it’s so hard to choose just one show. I love Lost, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, classic Norman Lear sitcoms like Good Times. Currently my favorite show is the Vampire Diaries. It’s like a supernatural soap-opera. I pretty much watch one show of each genre. You gotta have your vampire show, your doctor show, your cop show, etc. My favorite news program (besides my Channel 7!)  is CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: GPS.

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

News, corporate, and fun stuff on After Effects. I am interested in motion typography.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

I would love to meet Masahiro Hirakubo. He’s worked on a lot of Danny Boyle’s early films, like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and A Life Less Ordinary. He was a part of a team that really revived British film in the 90s. All of those films have a wonderful dark sense of humor to them and comic timing is everything. Honestly, I really would like to meet all of the editors featured in this blog, because I would love to just ask everybody all sorts of questions about everything.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Make a decision. It’s not rocket science. If it looks stupid, it probably is.

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

I don’t use any plug-ins because we don’t have any. Whatever came with FCP7 is whatever we have to use.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I don’t work with the director but I work a lot with writers and producers. We’re a team and our job is to provide our viewers with news and information that will help them make informed decisions. The writers usually know what they want and over the years I have learned to anticipate what they will ask for. And sometimes I have no clue whatsoever and I am like, “hey what’s this nonsense all about?” Communication is key. I love it when the writer has logged everything and has it all laid out for me, but if they don’t, I just ask.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

News editing is a lot like a factory. I churn out lots of little edited VOs every day and the way I edit is pretty much the same, day in and day out. Only the stories change, and that’s where the fun lies. If there is a problem it’s usually because of equipment failure. We beat these things to death. The computers in the edit bays, the live trucks, all of it is pretty much running 24/7. We don’t have many personal problems because we’ve all been doing the same thing for years and years and we are all professionals and know our jobs. I am so happy and grateful to be in the company with such awesome people. Gone are the old days of the super ego reporters and producers you can and will be easily replaced. Having said that, sometimes the fast pace of news gets to some people and they freak out. For that, I just put on my noise canceling headphones.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I am interpreting words into pictures. It’s like a puzzle I am putting together for you, the viewer, to watch and understand.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Make a decision and stick with it. Stop dilly-dallying. If you don’t know what to do, find someone who does and ask them how.

You can catch up with Teresa on twitter.

3 thoughts on “Frame of Reference with Editor Teresa Simmonds

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