Frame of Reference with Editor Tej Babra

Tej Babra is a freelance editor working for various broadcast stations such as Bell Media, MTV, Much Music and Rogers. He has also worked on independent films and documentaries that have been accepted to TIFF, and the Vancouver Film Festival. Tej also writes for the widely known post-porduction website reviewing the latest gear, and applications for post-production. As a member of the Canadian Cinema Editors, Tej has been given opportunities to lead workshops on editing and advanced compression techniques.

What got you interested in editing?

I guess my first interest was peaked when I started editing my own projects via tape to tape, and 16mm negative cutting. I really enjoyed the hands on experience of being able to sort through all of the footage and put together a great story.  It quickly became a very rewarding feeling to see the final project all pieced together.

How did you get started in editing?

I fist started out learning the craft of editing in high school.  I learned negative cutting with my old friend the neg splicer. I have many fond memories splicing away and working on a Steinbeck. It felt very natural, and I enjoyed the craft of assembling a story.  Then I moved on to my first ” video” editing with tape to tape.  This would be the good old days of VHS, basically editing from one deck to another.  Using a variety of tools, which even included the old ” Toaster” transitions. My edit suite although was huge by today’s standards also included a V/O  room, for recordings. It was a nice set up at the time, but I really don’t miss editing tape to tape at all. It was difficult to be accurate as the machines age, and I never felt creative , as I was troubleshooting half the time.  Soon after I was introduced to the Avid’s and the Final Cut’s which lead to other gigs, and helped establish my career.”

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

I am often asked this, and people are always confused by my response. Simply put I do not have a “preferred” NLE. They all of strengths and weaknesses. Most of the time the job / or producer will end up dictating the NLE, as they book the edit suite. I often jump from Avid to Final Cut Pro 7 and back again. Although recently with the shift within the post industry, I am starting to see more Premier Pro CS6, and the odd FCPX.

I have had a great opportunity to edit on almost everything from Avid, Adobe, FCP, FCPX, Lightworks, Vegas, Edius , and others. They have all given me great tools to work with, however none of them have ever given me the tangible feeling of neg cutting.

Give us a run through of your editing process

Well my editing process changes depending on the project. The way I handle a trailer is different from a promo, or a doc or even a feature.  They also change depending on the media. But basically, I like to view the rushes and start my assembly.  Once I have laid out my assembly, I like to begin widdling that down, to a more concessive structure, using tone, feel, and actor’s portrayals.  This starts to give me a better idea of how the end film should feel. At this point a producer or director sits with me and we start to hash out the edit.  I have been fortunate to work with some of the most professional people, as they always ask for my opinion on what works.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

Tips I received were always of a technical sorts. How to make better use of time, or fix a glitch. Nothing too exciting.

How organized are you?

I am pretty organized, as I work in environment with multiple editors on the same project. You need to be organized, so that when the next editor takes over he/she does not see “Untitled Bins”  and clips. You don’t have time to watch every clip or timeline the other editor did. Thus keep it clean!

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

Yes I can work without a script. This can actually be very freeing. You are free to use your creativity to find the story. This is especially true of documentary, as so much of it is shot live.  Working this way frees your mind to find the tone of the film, and the structure.  However I don’t always get the chance to work this way.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

Well, I have so many based on very different things. This can be from editing to cinematography, to story driven. At any rate some films like Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, blah blah, to even Expendables. They all have different aspects.  In the terms of TV shows, Right now I am really enjoying the cinematography and story telling of Supernatural.

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

All of the above. However I would say, I have mainly done more documentaries, and broadcast work than any of the others.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Actually, I have been very honored to meet the editors I have wanted to meet from the legendary Walter Murch, to Oscar Nominated Julian Clarke (District 9).  Each of the editors I have met have all provided me with wonderful direction, and knowledge. I have even had the pleasure to meet Emmy award winner Jesse Averna of Sesame Street.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Never quit! Never Surrender! Patients is a virtue.

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

Over the years I have used many plugins, but the most useful have been BorisFX, and Red Giant Colorista. Both have been very useful in putting together some temp effects / grading before it goes to the Colorist or VFX. It helps to give the client an idea of what the final will be, before investing more time and money.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

As I said before I have been very fortunate to work with some of the most wonderful people.  My relationships with directors have been very positive. We may disagree on a scene, but they have all been keen to hear my feedback on the edit. Some have even asked me to be there at the shoots to get my initial reactions.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Problems are usually flushed out with clients ahead of time.  If the odd time a client starts to ask for the world, the producer usually steps in and explains the budget. In the terms of the director,  like I said before there has not been too many issues. You just have to remember at the end of the day it’s the directors vision we are trying to convey.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

Editing is an art form like any other. It truly takes a patient creative individual to take all the dallies that are shot, and place them together on a cohesive and engaging way to be presented to the audience.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Find a mentor. Having a mentor to learn from is so beneficial. You can learn so much from a seasoned editor, that you can’t learn from anywhere else. Learning from them will also save you headaches down the road as you learn from their previous mistakes.  To this day I still call my Mentor from time to time.


More on Tej on his website or twitter.

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