Frame of Reference with Editor Jeff Cooney

Jeff Cooney

Jeff Cooney is a life-long Indianapolis resident.  Born and raised in Indy, Jeff has been editing since high school where he fell in love with the art. “I carried that love through college at Ball State University (Go Cards!). Now I’m a full-time editor working on corporate video, network television, commercials, and web series.”

What got you interested in editing?
In college, I began realizing how much editing was my favorite part of the production process.  I liked shooting, I liked doing audio, I was abysmal at lighting, but I realized how much I enjoyed just sitting down in the edit bay and figuring out the story. That was where I found myself most comfortable. I would take the hours I shot for that :30 commercial and sift through it until I found the gold amongst the rocks.

How did you get started in editing?
To be honest, it started as a need to fill my course schedule in high school. I had heard of class where they would produce daily TV news, and being a tech-savvy and TV-watching teenager, it piqued my interest. I realized quickly that, as much as I enjoyed doing the short broadcasts, I loved putting together stories my way. The whole “one take and it’s over” left me wanting more.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I’ve been on Final Cut since version 3.0, so that is my comfort zone. But I’m certainly exploring options since the demise of FCP7 as we knew it. I am not one to say that my way is the only way, so bring on more NLE’s and I’ll learn. There are even some days where I would rather just hook up two decks via serial control and get to work.

Give us a run through of your editing process
In most of my client work, there are producers who will put together a paper edit and then I’ll work on bringing that to life. On projects where I’m the producer, the process varies depending on the outcome. When there’s a piece that will have talking heads, I’ll go through and highlight all my favorite parts from the transcript and then shuffle those around until I get the order I like. At times, I’ll even print out the bites and physically arrange and rearrange them on my desk.

With almost all pieces, though, I like to find a piece of music to work from first. I know how much music can change a video. It sets a tone, pace and rhythm right away that I like to work from and against when necessary. I’m a percussionist, so rhythm and pacing is in my head no matter what.
How organized are you?
I’m pretty organized as an editor. I like bins for everything if I can help it (i.e., when the deadline isn’t “yesterday”). A bunch of loose files in a folder makes me cringe. However, if you ventured into my edit bay, you would never imagine that’s the case.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I can definitely work without a script. Very little of the work I do is scripted. I like to let people use their own words and then I help tell their story. Even when someone is a little nervous on camera, I’d rather work through that with them than have them read off a piece of paper.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
I don’t have a favorite anymore. I probably could have told you a few years ago, but nowadays I just look for good stories and better storytelling. So many TV shows I have sat down to watch in the past year have adapted this mentality of “stick with us for a few episodes or a season and then you’ll get into it.” I completely disagree with that. I want to be hooked from the beginning.  If episode one is boring, I’m not coming back for two.

I love stories that I can’t predict, stories that surprise me repeatedly. Early seasons of Lost and Heroes come to mind. Stories that are smart with deep characters, like The West Wing and Breaking Bad.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
Predominantly corporate videos nowadays. But I still like doing narratives and short documentary (more soft news style) in my free-time. I have always wanted to do something more long-form and scripted, so if anyone is looking for an editor, let me know.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
All of them. Can we arrange that? Seriously, I enjoy seeing anyone who’s an expert at their craft. To see a painter create great art, or a great business leader run a meeting, or a great driver win an Indy Car race. There is so much to learn from anyone who is good at what they do.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Take a break. Seriously, get away from your project for a while. As editors, we have to walk this fine balance of watching the same thing over and over, yet having a short enough attention span to look at it fresh each time. Sometimes, we just get stuck and you need fresh air to figure it out.  Plus, it’s better for your health, and your brain so you don’t get burned out on it.

Also, collaborate. If you can, work with others. We’re all being asked to do more and more within the edit bay, or to shoot and edit, or whatever it is. But if you can bring others in, you will always have more creativity and more inspiration in a group. And having fresh eyes look at your project can give you an extra push you need.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I use The Foundry’s Keylight, and Magic Bullet Colorista almost daily. Lots of smaller ones I use on occasion like Marvels Moire Filter, Alex 4D Crop, Transitions. If I’m in After Effects, I use Trapcode’s work a lot, as well as Video Copilot’s Optical Flares.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
At my company, we always talk about the shoot with one of the editors before doing the shoot. We don’t have the mentality of fix it in post, but rather finish it in post. Each step should help the next step in the process.  So, the editor should always be in sync with the director. I don’t think an editor needs to be on-set every day, but having a concept of what they’re going to be getting and knowing which takes are going to be best ahead of time, or seeing a reaction on-set that he/she knows can be used later adds so much more to the post process. This goes back to my point on collaborating. I think having the right people around you from the beginning only adds to a better story at the end.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Education. The reason someone has hired you is to do something they couldn’t. They’ve come to you to do it better than they would. That probably also means they don’t know what they’re really asking. If a client makes unreasonable demands, many times it’s because they don’t understand what it takes. No one outside of the post production world uses the word “render.” I try to take the time and explain what’s going on, what it will take, and why it’s better that way. You’re the expert, or they wouldn’t have hired you, so act like it.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
Figure out what emotion you want to convey with each scene and do whatever it takes to get that across. There’s nothing like the feeling of seeing someone smile at just the right time in your comedy, or see their eyes watering on that emotional moment when you brought up the music just enough, or see goosebumps on their arms because you added that rumble in the LFE channel. If no one gets your story or connects to it, if you feel it’s a story worth telling, keep reworking it until they do.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
For me, I think of editors as great translators. Every editor has had to work with a client who supplied video from their clients’ cell phone, or their logo as a. jpg. I think it’s important to know the ins and outs of everything that comes in or goes out of your edit system.  Be able to talk to a print designer about why you need RGB vs CYMK, and to your web developer about why you’re delivering MP4 over FLV, and to a motion graphics artist about why you need an alpha channel.  Not to mention being able to translate the client’s or producer’s story into a compelling video. Because a lot of times, as the industry is changing rapidly, we’ll be asked to do those things on our own. So, learn a little about as much as you can. You don’t have to be fluent in 3D lingo, but at least take a 101 on as many areas as you can.
You can reach Jeff on twitter.

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