Frame of Reference with Editor Joe Tombarello


Joe Tombarello is an Emmy Award winning editor, producer and instructor. Currently, he is the Creative Services Editor/Producer for WMUR-TV, an ABC affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire. Plus, he is a successful freelance video producer and motion graphic designer. 

Joe has won several awards from Hearst-Argyle Television and The American Broadcasting Company for his broadcast production methods. He started his teaching career as the advanced video instructor for Hesser College and as an online producer for New Millennium Education. He also speaks to high school and college level video production classes on the importance of balancing technical ability with traditional methods to get ahead in today’s marketplace.



What got you interested in editing?

I guess it started with 1980’s era MTV & HBO. They were basically my babysitters after school from 3rd grade on. 80’s movies & music videos warped my mind into the creative engine that it is today.

How did you get started in editing?

Way back before the turn of the century… The year was 1995. I was fortunate enough to find myself in Methuen High School’s video production class. I had a hard time in school. I was always in principal’s office for one thing or another. I wasn’t going anywhere, no real direction or purpose yet… “Troublemaker” was frequent label. But things changed when I was having fun in video class. All of a sudden I was labeled a “good student” & “advanced” enough to teach first year students. This whole *video production* thing turned out to be something I could be proud of.  I had never experienced that before. It was never work, it was just fun and I got a great video education without knowing it.  I started out learning linear S-VHS tape to tape editing in that class. I would create school projects like lightsaber battles in the library and mock news reporting out in the parking lot. Just being able to create with a video camera and to edit your own video that could be shared with friends wasn’t something everyone could do back then.  (This was way before Final Cut Pro & YouTube. We had to *physically* go over to someone’s house with a video tape back then 😉 Then I moved up to digital editing with the Avid editing system my last year of high school & then Media 100/Final Cut Pro when I reached college.


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

I really don’t have a preferred NLE. But if I had to choose one, it’s the Adobe Production Premium suite. My creative weapon of choice is After Effects. It’s only natural that I would choose Premiere Pro, the cutter that is designed to work with it. I’m also a big fan of the Avid Interplay system for multiple editor environments. When you’re up against a deadline, chase frame editing can be a lifesaver when you have a team of editors.

Give us a run through of your editing process.

My process depends on the project. My day job as a creative services producer for the local news keeps me challenged in terms of meeting short deadlines and finding creative resources. So that edit process is geared more towards assembling as many elements that are at hand until the final elements can arrive. If you have a script and no video/sound yet, you can go ahead and make the graphics, get the music on the timeline, update slates, get delivery paperwork ready etc. Then when you get that last element, drop it in & BAM! Send it off for approval…

Now my freelance editing process is different in the sense that I have more control over the production.  When I’m creating from the ground up, I like to storyboard, choose a color palette, select font/text animations, & sound design before *any* scriptwriting gets done. Having clear audio/visual direction early in the process is the key to having all aspects of the video production working in harmony. For example, don’t wait until your piece is edited to think about the music bed. Your music can guide you to editing decisions like editing to the beat or transition on a cymbal crash etc. When music & editing work in concert together the result is a more powerful piece of work.

What tips were you given that were really helpful?

I’d have to say the skills I learned as a linear editor. L-cuts, Natural wipes, Things like back timing.  Since non-linear editing has made these types of linear editing tricks obsolete, Today’s video editors don’t have to learn those traditional methods. Therefore that type of cutting style is being lost.

How organized are you?

It depends on the situation. All video projects get better with organization. But, when you’re under a tight deadline & getting clips from different creators/departments, you don’t have time to spend time organizing bins or color coding timelines. We’ve got to hit that deadline. Now with that said if you know that your work is to be packaged up and sent off to another creative individual the least you can do is organize your project. You learn a lot about how an artist works when you’re asked to step in and tweak their After Effects projects…

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

Yes. I find that is a successful method for news magazine editing in particular. It’s not as fast/easy as the standard procedure to shoot, write a script, get it voiced by the talent & have the editor sew it all together. But if you have the opportunity to be the producer/editor, you can be *editing in your head* and shaping the story while you interview the subjects. Even if you have to direct them on how they speak and act. As the *Preditor*, only you know what you need for the final edit. Shoot based on what they say. Then tell the story using their spoken audio to narrate their own story rather than a sterile voice over from a sound booth. You can’t script a workflow like that. It needs to be developed on the timeline by a good storyteller. The result is usually a more intimate & unique piece.  Sometimes a script hinders what an editor can do if an editor’s imagination can piece together things that the scriptwriter never intended… or even knew could happen.



What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

I’m cautious at trying to name a favorite film. But if I had to choose one, I have to say Young Einstein by Yahoo Serious. It’s always been my favorite movie as a kid. Sometimes when I’ve had a hard day in the edit bay I can throw that on & it always makes me smile. 

I used to watch Lost religiously, but now I actually don’t watch TV except for CBS Sunday Morning. I really dig a whole 90 minutes (- the 35 min commercial content) of design, art, books, movies, music, odd stuff etc. You always learn something new with that show. I find that most television professionals don’t watch TV at home. Some don’t have televisions in the house at all. When you work in broadcast, your work can follow you home if you turn a television on. So it’s good to have those boundaries between work & home life.
What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc.)

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work on many different styles of production. I’ve produced police media, terrorism training videos, wedding productions, music videos & short films. These days I’m mostly doing :30 local commercials or news promotion. The benefit of having experienced so many styles of video production is that each style has its own different methods. You can always throw a bit of music video into your news package for some extra kick. Or you can get some candid wedding interviews by employing the persuasive methods used in getting a news magazine interview. If you try to produce different styles of editing, even if it’s just for fun, you will grow your skills as a video editor.


If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Spike Jonze! He’s just always got these wacky methods of production that yield *one of a kind* results. From making a band learn how to perform a song backwards, so he could then reverse the footage in the edit room, to tracking those freaky eyes on those robots, to just being John Malkovich.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a film, music video or commercial. He knocks it out of the park every time as far as I’m concerned. That takes a higher level of creativity to pull that off consistently.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

A glazed donut & a bottle of anything ;)… Seriously though, Pre-production decides your post production fate. When you have a complex edit, mistakes can be compounded in an instant. Any organization you can develop will help you to your goal. Things like renaming clips, making notes, saving great shots in a timeline for later use. Other than that I would say the most important thing is patience. Rest, exercise & food affect your level of competence. As a video editor, it’s customary to be hunched over a computer, straining your eyes, for hours at a time. Every hour get up for a short walk & stretch period.

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

I don’t like to rely too much on 3rd party plug-ins. I work in multiple editing environments, both Mac & PC. So having a consistent set of tools is rare for me. But with that said, I’m a fan of Video Copilot, Red Giant & Trapcode. But if I had to pick one, it would be AE Scripts Magnum EditDetector. It’s an After Effects script that you just run on a clip and it “cuts” the clips apart based on hard cuts. I still can’t believe that this function is not standard in today’s NLE packages. That script is a big time saver for me.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I’m fine with taking orders… Especially when there is money involved. You have to *feel out* what type of director you have. Sometimes the director is in need of a partner to get his vision across to the viewer, and you need to help him/her. Sometimes the director just needs a button pusher because they can’t do it themselves, and you need to help him/her… 😉  Either way you try to do the best you can in every situation. In my experience, a good director/producer knows how to take care of a good editor because they were editors themselves once.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

I have found communication is the key to success. Don’t frown or smile, just be neutral. Remember that they are paying you money. Most times you can settle the problem with an explanation and get on with the work.  Contracts make these problems *much* easier.  When you have a clear, signed contract both parties know what they are getting. If a client won’t sign a contract (which is for their protection as well as yours) do not accept the job move on. I’ve always found this talk by Mike Monterio to be useful in this area. 

Then again; you can write all the horror stories of video gigs gone wrong, save them up & write a book! (Which I am currently in the process)

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I honestly feel it is a very young art form. Video is the canvas of the 21st century. It has only been around for a little more than a hundred years. It took painting hundreds of years to see true mastery like Michelangelo or Dali. We have yet to see our finest masters of this form. I think it’s only going to get better as we move forward. I truly believe that video is a language & just because you speak a language doesn’t mean you have mastered it.


Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor.

Don’t focus so much on the software/hardware so much. Focus on the art & science of traditional video/film editing.  The software will keep changing. The hardware will keep changing. Cuts & dissolves will *always* be better than any flashy 3D star wipe plug-in. That will *never* change. If you want to be a professional, get an education in video production. If you’re serious & study hard it will serve you well throughout your entire career. 

Lastly, don’t follow *every* bit of advice you get. The department chair of my college once sat me down & said she didn’t want me going into the “news” industry. It would “grind away my creativity” she said… She was right. But If I didn’t go into the “news” I wouldn’t have that shiny Emmy Award with the sharp wings sitting above my desk. 😉

You can find Joe on twitter or check out his vimeo page.

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