Frame of Reference with Editor Monica Daniel

Monica Daniel


Monica Daniel always had a creative outlet growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but being a filmmaker never crossed her mind until her last year of college at UC Davis, where she earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology. “Once I realized that television and film are where my real passions lie, my life completely changed. After attending a boot camp film-making course in San Francisco called the Digital Video Intensive, and a short stint as a ProTools Tester for Digidesign, I moved to Los Angeles and never looked back.”

Monica’s work has aired in 200 countries, been distributed by Miramax, Lionsgate, and Anchor Bay Entertainment, and been seen on Starz, FearNet, E!, G4, BBC America, SyFy, as well as other networks. I currently work regularly on shows produced by NBC Universal.

What got you interested in editing?

I didn’t know what an Editor was until someone explained it to me in the film-making boot camp. I had grown up around computers, so the idea of merging the use of computer technology and current NLE workflow with storytelling was very appealing. As a dance choreographer in college, I had already been developing my visual sense of aesthetics and abstract storytelling using theatrical techniques. I also love the idea that the editor is the final storyteller in the production workflow.

How did you get started in editing?

I started as a production assistant in television and I always let people know that I really wanted to learn more about post production. I worked a couple of P.A. jobs until I found my way to E!. I was a P.A. on a show called Child Star Confidential. After my six weeks of P.A. work on an episode was over, they wanted to hire me for other shows as a P.A. but I turned them all down. I started contacting everyone in the company who hired Assistant Editors for shows. I had previously worked as a FCP Assistant Editor for 3 months at a start-up network that no longer exists, but other than that I had no real experience as an Avid Assistant Editor.  I was risking not having a job but I kept turning down P.A. work and asking around for A.E. Work. The Post Supervisor on Child Star Confidential appreciated my persistence and decided to take a chance on me. He said he would have me trained and book me for a week and then decide after that week if he would still want to hire me on for additional work. That was 8 years ago and to this day, he still hires me regularly as a Lead Editor on his shows.

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

I prefer Avid Media Composer. It is what I use 90% of the time to edit. It really is the best NLE for long form, especially if there is a lot of footage. I also almost always work with a team of editors and Avid’s ability to share projects with a Unity/Isis server is invaluable. At home I still use FCP7 for side projects.

Give us a run through of your editing process

I like to work on my cuts in passes. This allows me to focus on specific details of a certain type (i.e. an assembly pass, a music pass, a sfx pass) This allows me to get my work done faster and I do not get distracted by trying to think about too many details at once. Whether my focus is more on video or audio first depends on what I am cutting. Sometimes I will have music playing in the background to help me focus on my task. When I am working on scripted narrative projects, I watch through all the dailies for a scene first and make notes. I then do a rough assembly of the scene line by line. After my rough assembly is done, I watch the scene and have a better idea of where I want the scene to go with the footage I have been given, and I start really working on the scene from there.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

Trusting my instincts is one of the best pieces of advice I have been given and one of the hardest to follow. As an editor, I am always questioning my decisions because editing is like a big puzzle with a 100 different solutions. I want to find the best solution possible and sometimes that happens on the 50th try or the 1st try. Learning to trust your gut reaction can save a lot of time and energy.

How organized are you?

I am extremely organized. Before I ever lay down my first clip on the timeline, I make sure that the project is as organized as possible. I often need to pass off my work to other editors or I need to come back to it months after I last worked on the project, and an unorganized project is a nightmare if you can’t remember exactly where everything is.

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

I have worked on several documentary and reality projects that often do not have scripts and the story is created in the cutting room. One of my favorite aspects of editing is discovering the story and putting the puzzle pieces together.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

I love so many movies but one in particular that I always go back to are the extended editions of The Lords of the Rings Trilogy. I think those films are one big masterpiece. Beautifully shot, edited, acted, composed…I love everything about them.

My favorite TV show of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was very well written and dealt with a lot of issues that teenagers and younger adults have trouble with in their lives. At the same time it was fun. It made me laugh, cry, scream, and cheer. Most of all, it matured with its audience and the characters, and it did not just rehash old story lines with new characters like many long running shows do.

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

I edit mostly documentary, but I have also cut scripted narrative, clip shows, talk shows, comedy sketches, short packages, Show Opens, Reality, and game shows. I like to be flexible in my editing skills.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

I would love to have met Sally Menke. Her editing always surprised me and kept me on my toes. She never seemed to make the obvious choice, which made the movies she cut much more interesting to watch. I also recently discovered the work of Alan Edward Bell. I love his philosophy and approach to editing. He uses whatever technology he has available to him to utilize the best performances possible for the scenes he cuts.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Editing takes time and thought. Break down your scene to the basics. What is the goal of the scene? Who is the focus? How do I want to make the audience feel? Answer some of those basic questions and you will find a good way to tell your story. Sometimes you just have to take it one step at a time.

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

The GenArts Sapphire Plugins are great for some of the flashy projects I cut. And a great keyer is always useful. I often cut with green screen interviews and I do the keying myself.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

There are some directors that I love working with and some that I will never work with again. The best relationships for me are the ones where the director gives me a chance to really attack the cut myself first. This lets me know that they trust me and they are willing to let me add some of my creativity to the cut.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

I just remind myself that we both want a great end product. The key to this is letting everything be their idea, even if it isn’t. It can be a little frustrating creatively but as an editor, you are work-for-hire. Dealing with difficult personalities is all part of the delicate politics of working in the industry.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I am a professional storyteller. I tell the best story I can with what I am given and I will use whatever techniques I have to in order to do it.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

No matter what you are cutting (montages, music videos, weddings, corporate, features, documentaries), tell a great story for the audience you are cutting it for. I edit not only for myself but to entertain the people watching my work. I do not always cut subjects that I would watch myself, but I make sure that I tell a great story for those people who will watch the show.

You can catch up with Monica on Twitter or her Blog.

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