Frame of Reference with Editor Jason Whissell

Jason Whissell


Jason Whissell is a Producer/Editor at The Score Television Network, Co-Owner/Operator of Whissell Video Productions and an instructor at the College Of Sports Media in Toronto. He has also directed and edited music videos on top of his work in sports, and was the handheld camera operator on The Tom Green Show on The Comedy Network. When not editing, Jason has been known to rock out with his band, cheer on the Ottawa Senators, and spend time with his wife and two kids.

What got you interested in editing?

To be honest, I pretty much fell into editing. I had edited quite a bit as a cable volunteer in Ottawa, and had enjoyed it…but my dream job was to be a director for live concerts. I wanted to be the guy in the truck picking the best cameras to show off the great show on stage. In college, though, I found myself editing more and more. In 2nd year, we got to work on non-linear systems for the first time….Media Suite Pro 1.0. I was hooked. I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek, and I knew I liked editing already…so it made sense.

How did you get started in editing?

I started editing in my cable days at Maclean Hunter Cable TV in Ottawa. Back then, I was cutting ¾” U-matic tapes using the Sony RM450EC…which I still think is a solid edit controller. You learned how to edit really fast using it. It was also a great tool for doing split edits on the fly. Back then, I was cutting news magazine-type stories and shows…so I had a very news-oriented style of editing starting out. The good thing about learning the ropes in an environment like volunteering at your local cable station is that you get to learn how to do everything in a hands-on environment. You learn to shoot, do audio, edit, direct…and with editing, having a good knowledge of the other positions allows you to know how to handle what they give you. It also works the other way…if you’re a camera person who knows how to edit, you’ll most likely shoot with the edit in mind, making for a much easier-to-cut finished product.

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

Those who know me won’t be surprised…but for those who don’t, they may be shocked when I say that I use Edius 6.52. I find it to be one of the more versatile systems out there today, and it stems primarily from the list of usable codecs. A lot of time is wasted in the import process, and if you have a project that takes from multiple sources recording at multiple frame-rates or in multiple formats, you don’t want to have to ingest or convert everything just so you can BEGIN to edit. Edius is able to handle multiple frame rates and codecs all on the same timeline without having to convert or import. It also has an amazing number of output codecs available as well. This allows you to be able to customize your output for any client or project regardless of format. It’s also easy to keep your files and folders organized within the project.

Give us a run through of your editing process

Of course, this depends on the project, but I have two methods that seem to work for most instances. But in most cases, it begins and ends with sound. To me, sound is the foundation of everything that’s cut in the suite. A lot of new editors find that to be the hardest concept to grasp, because they see it as just “video editing”, but if it doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t tell a story, then it’s not a good edit. Once I have all the sound together, then I pick the music. Being a musician, this is both the most enjoyable and the most painstaking process of it all. I’m really picky about the music. If the track doesn’t move me on its own, then there’s no way it will add any emotion to what you’re cutting. Once I have the track, and I’ve placed the sound where it needs to be, then I have my pace and mood set, and can go with the flow from there.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

I had the great fortune of learning from a number of great production people during my time…and each one of them had something to impart. The key was to remember to “always be learning”. This industry moves very fast, and if you’re not constantly learning new things, whether it’s new technology, new effects, new platforms…so long as you are staying up with what’s currently in the industry.

How organized are you?

I think any editor will tell you that organization is the key to everything. Especially with many cameras naming clips as a random, alpha-numeric name that has absolutely no meaning whatsoever to the actual shoot, you have to be organized. Folders, sub-folders, sub-sub-folders….whatever it takes to make everything easier. I also try never to tempt Murphy by naming an export “Final Edit”. Guaranteed, you’ll end up with “Final Final edit”, “New Final Edit”, “Final Edit For Real”, “Should Be Final Edit”, “Never Going To Reach The Final Edit”, etc.

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

I do that on a regular basis. As a Producer/Editor, I’m often writing the story myself, finding the viz, picking the music, researching and editing all by myself. However, despite all that, there is nothing better for you to do, as an editor, than to have a second set of eyes/ears watch the edit when you think you’re done. I liken it to the Buddy System…you’re buddy is supposed to keep you safe. In this case, your “buddy” is the one that will see things that you don’t because you’re too close to the product. When you do it yourself, you know what it’s supposed to look like in your head, and may gloss over things in the edit because those things aren’t in your mental edit. That second opinion is crucial in a situation like this.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

I’m a long-time Doctor Who fan. I remember watching the show back in the Tom Baker days when I was growing up. I find the new shows have definitely taken it to that next level…and David Tennant was by far one of the best Doctors of all time. As for favourite film…that’s a tougher one. As a sci-fi fan, I love the original Star Wars movies…but I also love documentaries and really bad B-rated monster movies (guilty pleasure).

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

I think that, since I first jumped in front of an edit system back in 1992, I’ve cut almost every style….cinema verite, news, corporate, wedding, music, live multi-cam concerts…you name it, I’ve cut it.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

For this, I would have to say Robert Rodriguez. Yes, he’s a director, who happens to edit…and also happens to score some of his films as well. I’d love to know if, while on set, he has the music of the scene in his mind when setting up the shots. To me, there’s music in every edit, and of anyone in the field today, Rodriguez may be the one most in tune with that.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

As a teacher, I’m often finding ways to help students get through their edits…because everyone edits differently. If you give 30 students the same raw footage and ask them to put the piece together, you’ll get 30 different edits. So when it comes to getting through a complex edit, much depends on the editor in question. But a great place to start is sound. As I’ve said before, sound is the foundation that edits are built on, so cut the sound first. Forget what it looks like while you’re putting it together. Cut it so that, if you close your eyes and listen to it, it’s a comfortable audible edit.

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

You know, this is one where I stand firm on the belief that “clean” is the best effect. While it’s true that a plug-in like Magic Bullet Looks looks really great, it’s also very overused. That’s the problem with effects….there are only so many good ones out there that they get overused a lot. A lot of what I do focuses more on in-camera effects, and good lighting. An extreme close-up of a singer looking straight into the camera that has a ring light on it, to me, connects to the viewer more than something that’s been effected to look like everything else out there. That may be the news and news-magazine environment that I grew up in, but I stand by it.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

This is where things can get tricky, based on the nature of both positions. Directors are visionaries…they have a definitive mental picture of that which they are trying to make. Editors are the same…but their picture often differs from the director. The reason for this, I feel, is that more often than not, the editor is not out in the field when the footage is being shot. All they see is what is brought back, which gives them a more objective view of what they have to work with. The key word here, though, is “relationship”…and in any relationship, there has to be trust and communication. If neither is there, then you’re not going to see eye-to-eye on the cuts that matter the most.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Not with a TASER, that’s for sure. For me, when dealing with a client, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Remind yourself that, when you go into a barber for a haircut, you want your hair cut how you want it. The barber only knows how you want it cut if you tell them. If you don’t communicate, you end up going next door to the hat store. So in this, engage the client or director…have them talk it out. Have them describe their vision. Don’t settle for “It’s not right”…ask why. If the answer you get leaves more questions, ask those questions. Once you have their vision, you can add your ideas based on that, to help compliment it.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I have two philosophies on editing, and I tell this to my students all the time. First…editing is 10% technical, 90% artistic. After enough practice, anyone can push the buttons and make a computer do stuff. But just “doing stuff” isn’t editing. I don’t think there’s an editor or director out there that would disagree with the notion that editors are true artists. Like a musician, an editor elicits emotion with the tools of their trade. For a guitarist, a long, sustained note can be more powerful in a solo than trying to cram a convoluted scale into a 2 bars. The same goes for an editor…sometimes a long tracking shot tells the tale better than a series of cut-aways would. The editor has done their job when the viewer’s back is not against the back of their chair. The other philosophy is that editing is organic…it breathes and it bleeds. If your edit is a sterile, linear cut with no flow or rhythm to it, then it isn’t alive. Just look at your timeline…..if it’s a series of straight cuts up and down throughout….it’s not alive, and anything alive is organic.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

I’m fortunate in that I get to teach at a phenomenal school that has seen a number of students go into sports television. For me, teaching these students and helping them through that first year of discovering the edit suite is amazing, because you see the excitement they get when they make those first edits, and you’re reminded about just how magical an edit suite can be. So with that in mind, here are some of the things that I tell my students….

1)    The editor is more than just a person who puts pictures and sound together…they are storytellers…so tell the story
2)    Always Be Learning. I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth saying twice. It’s that important.
3)    Feel it. Editing has the ability to turn a series of shots into something greater…but it won’t become that unless you feel it too…so make something that you feel is great and others will feel it too.

You can follow-up with Jason on twitter at @fixinpost

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