Frame of Reference with Editor Tom Strachan










Tom Strachan is a video editor based in the North East of England. Having graduated university three years ago Tom broke into the industry through working entry-level jobs such as logger or runner, building up skills and contacts before moving on to working as an assistant editor and finally gaining his own editing credits. Tom’s experience spans from reality TV to BAFTA award-winning Drama’s, from corporate promo’s to TV ad’s, having worked for MTV, the BBC and The Discovery Channel amongst others. Tom’s at home on any NLE editor as long as there’s a cup of tea nearby and he’s home in time for the football (soccer).

What got you interested in editing?

I started out as a teenager being interested in photography. My Mum was a wildlife photographer so there was plenty of cameras around to play with. This developed into being interested in video cameras. I pursued this to university where I decided I was going to become a director. After developing several (not particularly good) short films I found    myself in the edit with my editor. Having always been interested in most things to do with computers and technology I asked him plenty of questions. Looking back now I must have annoyed the hell out of him. After this I played with a couple of edits myself and didn’t look back. Thankfully I’ve come to the ball at a time where online tutorials were everywhere and it was really easy for me to spend a lot of time learning a lot of techniques and technical information that has served me well.

How did you get started in editing?

I stopped working as a director whilst in University and concentrated on editing. I bought a MacBook Pro, FCP & just learnt and learnt as much as possible. I edited anything I could get my hands on and worked on plenty of projects outside the course requirements. One of my lecturers noticed I was showing some ability and helped me get a part-time job with the universities corporate media department. I would spend two days a week cutting educational dramas, adverts and promo material for the university. This gave me my first taste of editing for a client and I believe it gave me a massive advantage over a lot of other graduates.

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

I feel comfortable in Avid, FCP and Premiere. All of them offer something different. Avid has brilliant data management and a first class trim tool Premiere, the ability to work natively, can be very handy for quick turnaround projects. My NLE of choice is still FCP7, I moved to Final Cut after learning on Avid and it felt more natural at that point in my learning process. I like how customizable a lot of it is. I like the look and generally I know the system very well. If there is a problem I know I can deal with it pretty quick. That being said though I have just downloaded a trail of CS6 and feel hopeful it might be able to move forward my habits. FCPX was a no starter for me. I can appreciate some of its points but it’s  a world away from what I feel comfortable with, as it is at the moment anyhow.

Give us a run through of your editing process

My normal editing process will be to sit and read anything available, from scripts to briefs. Listen to any existing music, watch any older versions. Try to appreciate what was done well and what can be improved. Talk it over with someone involved in the project and eventually start looking through footage. From here as far as I can tell it’s pretty similar to most editors. Edit, review with project leader, make amends. Get project signed off, make more amends. I like to have a lot of paperwork or emails to support what I’m doing, if it’s been wrote down at some point I want to be able to find it if I need to.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

Learn as much as possible about the technical side of things because more and more these days entry-level jobs like loggers and assistants need to know this stuff. I also believe as an editor it’s important to understand these things so you know why things react the way they do. Another handy one was never throw away your old cuts. I duplicate sequences after every review and make changes to the new one. This way when your client wants to go back three steps it’s not the end of the world.

How organized are you?

I like to think that I’m very organized. And I try my best but you’ll always have projects where things get on top of you or you find you’ve lost clips. I just try to take ten minutes a day to check things are being managed properly on my system.

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

When I’ve cut drama in the past I try to build a scene up without the script. Finding the natural flow and if the actors and directors have done a good job, then normally this isn’t too hard. Once I’ve assembled the scene I return to the script and see how it compares and make tweaks to my version to bring it in line with the script. However if I felt strongly about my version being a better cut I’d show this to the director too.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

My favourite film is Del Toro’s ‘Pans Labyrinth’ a truly fantastic film in every way. The works on Scorcsese & Schoonmaker feature pretty heavily too. I’m a big fan of TV series like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Fringe’, ’24’ is a biggy for me too. I’m a massive fan of Picture in Picture when it’s used well and I always felt that ’24’ did a great job with this.

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

I’ve worked on quite a variety of projects, it seems like with the worlds finances the way they are that this gives you the best chance of keeping a steady stream of work. I learned on the usual student and low-budget projects before moving into corporate work for clients such as the NHS and Santander. This helped me get on to editing some regional TV adverts before moving into reality TV and then Drama as an assistant. Since then I’ve cut a constant stream of changing briefs, including talking head documentaries, TV ads, promo’s for Apple and more.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

I’d love to sit and watch Thelma Schoonmaker or Angus Wall, as they edited. Just to see the processes they went through in an edit would probably improve my editing no end.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Label clips as detailed as works. I’ve seen some editors over complicate this and that can be awkward when you are frantically looking for a clip. Keep it simple, make sure it works for you, but also make sure someone else would be able to make sense of it.

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

Magic Bullet Looks is a great tool for quick jobs. I also like to add looks on as a temporary grade then build a more suitable grade in Color later on. Facelight in FCP7 is a great little tool for helping add a bit more light to your subject. Colorista by Magic Bullet is another great color tool.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I’m not the best at working with people if their sat on my shoulder all day every day. I’m a big believer in this is your time to shape the footage. The best relationships I’ve had are the ones where I get given freedom to put my mark on the project, but equally where the directors know when to suggest ideas.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Grin and get on with it. Once you’ve taken the job there’s not much you can do. It’s your reputation on the line as well so get through it as best possible and then don’t work for them again, unless the moneys good or you’re desperate for the work.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

Nothing is off the table. Don’t be afraid to try anything because sooner when the ideas from outside the box work, they’re often the best ones.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Enjoy the ride & sleep whenever possible.

You can follow Tom on twitter.

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