Frame of Reference with Editor Vashi Nedomansky

VASHI NEDOMANSKY

Vashi Nedomansky was born in Czechoslovakia and defected to North America with his parents when he was 5 years old. “My father was a professional hockey player in the NHL and my mother a photographer and artist. I grew up in Toronto, Birmingham (Alabama), St. Louis and Detroit. I graduated from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with a degree in Film and Video Studies. I played professional hockey for 10 years then started by professional career as a film editor in 2001. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, California since 1994. Filmmaking has allowed me to cross paths and work with the most diverse group of people…and in that aspect I have been both lucky and grateful.” Vashi has cut 6 feature films including one for David Zucker (Airplane, Scary Movie), commercials for Volkswagen, U.S. Air Force, Electronic Arts, U.S. Army, Ford, National Hockey League, U.S. Navy and many more. “I enjoy working on the cutting edge of filmmaking with partners such as: Bandito Brothers, Shane Hurlbut, Vincent Laforet, and The Polish Brothers.”

What got you interested in editing?
When I was 12, my dad was playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. He was awarded a VHS video camera as First Star of a game. It was the huge kind of shoulder camera with a cable that attached to the actual VHS recorder. The big and heavy monolithic one. I basically commandeered it, figured out how to use and started shooting. I filmed family events, vacations and soon after, short films for school. I was allowed to turn in videos for book reports instead of written papers. I cast the other students in my class, directed and shot at my house/backyard on weekends. The first book report video I did was “Mission M.I.A.”, a Vietnam War book based on the escape of 4 U.S. soldiers.

I edited the films by connecting 2 VHS recorders to another and building my cuts. A very inaccurate method, but the engine of decision-making in my brain was starting to turn. I even added music and sound effects through a cheap microphone. The videos screened in the English classroom where I received my first good and bad reviews. It was the start of my obsession with filmmaking and editing. The rush and excitement in creating and sharing my work with people was addictive.

How did you get started in editing?
After my self-indoctrination in school, I continued editing short films for myself and other people. I have to also thank my mother because she would take me with her to see movies every weekend and even during the week. From the age of 4 or 5, she preferred foreign films but also the work of Lumet, Friedkin, Woody Allen, Forman and Coppola. I didn’t understand the content of the movie but I know I inherently picked up on the pacing of films from that era and relationships of the characters as opposed to explosions, space battles and shoot outs.

I studied Film and Video studies at the University of Michigan and focused on Russian and East European Studies. Being Czechoslovakian it was nice to learn about the filmmakers from my country and all the challenges they faced in creating their art. After college, I played professional hockey for 10 years and retired in 2001 with 3 herniated discs in my lower back. I had been living in Los Angeles since 1994 but now done with hockey, I officially hung out my shingle as a professional editor.

With no work to show, share or promote…I had no paid work for almost 2 years. I had numerous friends that were actors and directors, so I spent most of my time cutting short films, webisodes, acting reels, pilots and music videos. I read every book on film editing and built a massive library of film post production while honing my craft in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure to meet Martin Hunter (editor of Full Metal Jacket) and William Goldenberg (editor of Heat, Argo) early after my arrival. Conversations with them were inspirational and pure jet fuel to keep working hard.

After a while, I was being referred to other people for paying gigs and was hungry to take on every job I could. “No” did not exist. Any question or task asked of me was responded with “Yes, I can do that.” I would then run back to my library and confirm or learn what I had agreed to do! My first big break was in 2005 when David Zucker (Airplane!, Naked Gun) asked me to cut a couple short films and web videos for him.  I hauled my G4 Mac tower and twin 17″ LCDs into his office in Santa Monica. I commenced 24 long days of furious cutting with one of the Masters of Comedy. I slayed the edits and David promised me I would cut his next feature film. This is where every editor does the biggest eye-roll ever…but David stuck to his word and I edited “An American Carol” for him in 2008.  In that I had the privilege to cut the likes of: Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer, James Woods and Paris Hilton! After that it has been a whirlwind of insanity in the best possible way ever.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I have edited feature films on Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. With the transition to digital acquisition and cameras like Alexa, Red, BMCC, Phantom, Sony F55 and all the DSLRs…my main NLE for the last 3 years has been Adobe Premiere.  It does everything I need in a fast, clean and simple way.  I don’t need to transcode any footage and that saves me and my assistants days upon days of precious time. Also…with editors having such an expanded role, I’m responsible for delivering cuts with full sound mixes and solid VFX passes. With the integration of Premiere with After Effects, Audition and Photoshop using Dynamic Linking…I can do everything with one suite of software that talks very accurately and nicely within itself.

To be perfectly honest, I’m NLE agnostic and still have to cut on Avid or FCP 7 on freelance gigs at post houses around Los Angeles. Luckily, it only takes a couple of hours to get back into the groove of each respective NLE. I think anyone that considers themselves to be an editor, should be familiar and knowledgable on Premiere, FCP and Avid. With work so hard to get at any level or time, why would you limit your professional possibilities? In my experience, an editor does about half a dozen different purely mechanical actions 90% of the time. The actual decisions are made in the head, heart and gut before any physical action. Before you push a button…you have to know why.  That said, at my home studio, I have 2 full edit bays that run my main Adobe pipeline all day and night. I also have FCP 7 and Avid Media Composer installed just in case!

Give us a run through of your editing process
I feel that you only need 2 things to start an edit. First, an editor must have a supremely well-organized and easily accessible project. Everything must make sense and be in a place where you can get to it in a few seconds. If you have to hunt, you’re in deep trouble. This requirement is for your benefit, sanity and efficiency. If you can’t find a file…you are wasting time. Directors, Agencies, Creatives, Clients, Producers or whoever is in your edit bay have limited time. A sure way to scream out that you are an amateur is to waste their time and make them wait. I apply the same expectations upon myself. My time is precious. I want to finish my day of work after crushing the edit. I love the edit cave and time can pass so quickly…but I also want a margarita on the patio of El Cholo while the sun is still up and hitting my face. Alas…most margaritas occur under moonlight. Still tasty.

This leads me to my second requirement before I start an edit. It is critical for me to have intimate knowledge with all the footage. I need to go through all the footage at least twice before I start. I make notes, markers and pull selects along the way. I’m a firm believer in the subconscious mind and the ridiculous connections it can make. The more you see, feel and watch the footage…the more it will help you when you are up against the wall. Only when I become so familiar with all the footage that it is second nature…do I even start to think about editing. Then I blast through it all again to confirm my feelings. Finally…I edit. Once your brain has absorbed all the footage and you can easily access it through your organizational system…your brain will fill in the blanks and remember seemingly innocuous chunks of footage that will solve a scene or save the day.  Put in the hard work up front and you will be rewarded on the back-end.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
1. Build a scene with dialog first. You can literally cut a scene with no regard to picture. Listen to what the characters are saying and what the scene means to them.
2. Pacing and rhythm are the building blocks of storytelling for an editor.
3. Cut shorter rather than longer on any edit that you are having problems with.
4. Don’t cut until you have new information to contribute to the story. It’s okay to ride that amazing master shot.
5. Hide a cut with motion. It can be a head turn, an arm wave, a passing car or whip pan.
6. Overlap action cuts by 3 or 4 frames. The brain needs that microsecond to comprehend the cut.

How organized are you?
Insanely organized. Anally organized. I’m not comfortable starting until my project is OCD’d to infinity…plus one.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I feel that every editor embraces that challenge and secretly wants to build from scratch. No interference, no over the shoulder lurking, no hand holding. You were hired because you evidently proved to the producer, director and post supervisor that you are not an insane person that somehow bullshitted themselves into the job. You have hopefully been hired for the skills and talents and experiences that make you who you are…and for your storytelling powers. A documentary often does not have a script and all of reality TV is a mountain of footage waiting to be crafted into a story.

Every editor has their strengths…but the paramount skill should be to step back from everything and see what the story is. The big picture from a bird’s-eye view. Then I attack…telling the story, using the appropriate footage whilst drinking coffee, vodka, windex or whatever is left in the kitchen. It’s not easy…but it shouldn’t be. Writers are known as pained souls who stare at the empty page.  The editor stares at an empty timeline wondering what shot should be dropped in first. Therein lies the allure and challenge that I live for…to create something from nothing.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
Films: Chinatown, Paths of Glory, All the President’s Men, Le Samourai, A Shot in the Dark, Hunt for Red October, Being There
TV: Law and Order, Mad Men, Curb your Enthusiasm, The Wire, The West Wing, Hannibal, Breaking Bad

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
6 feature films, 25 short films, documentaries, music videos, national commercials, corporate videos, pilots, web campaigns, webisodes and other projects that cannot be defined by genre!

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
Anne V. Coates because she mastered every genre she touched with such aplomb and made it seem effortless.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Without sounding like a broken record, it all starts in the preparation and organization up front. Spend your time then so the complex edit is not so complex. The moment you are rushing and just trying to get a cut out, is the moment you are doing your job half-ass.  You are just pissing in the wind and getting your face wet. Obviously not every situation allows for unlimited exploration of an edit. There are deadlines, budgets, reshoots, pick up shots, outstanding footage and unfinished VFX shots holding you back. The more familiar and ingrained you are into all the footage…the better chance you allow your brain to fill in those blanks.  I will often delay until the last moment before I dive in to recut or rework a scene. I step away and ruminate on other things. I procrastinate. I make it almost painful for myself by not cutting, until I snap…and then I pounce and slay the edit because ideas and energy are just pouring out of me. That’s just me though…to each their own.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
1. Warp Stabilizer to smooth out bumps or over-shaky footage.
2. Fast Color Correct in Premiere to balance shots as I’m going through the edit.
3. An adjustment layer with a LUT or S-curve to deal with LOG or flat footage so it looks closer to the final image.
4. FilmConvert in Premiere to apply a film stock emulation and scanned film grain for removing the digital look.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
Ideally you are on the same page as the director when you are hired, so that you can work most harmoniously. I always read the script and discuss reference films in the interview or initial meeting. I share my thoughts and concerns and “open my kimono” so that the director knows my sensibilities and views on the story. It’s very much like a 6 month marriage where you see the most beautiful and most ugly in each other. I try (!) to limit the emotional extremes and act like the keel of a boat that keeps the movie steady and always moving forward through the stormy ocean.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
If you want to keep the job or get another one…be as accommodating as possible. It’s a temporary relationship that needs nurturing and constant watering. During an edit, I’ve seen the worst in people but also extreme kindness and generosity . The best advice I can give is don’t take anything personally and focus on getting to the finish line of the directors/clients vision, while offering as much of your own personal viewpoint as is allowed by the situation. Temperament is probably the most critical quality for a successful editor to possess…if technical skills and storytelling are already assumed as solid. I’m actually quite hot-headed away from the edit bay but I check my aggression at the door once I go in to work. I use hockey/tennis/exercise to let loose all my pent-up frustrations and often break numerous tennis racquets and hockey sticks to that end. Whatever works!

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
Editing is the opportunity to contribute your life experience and skills into a completely make-believe endeavor.
If you do it right…the make-believe becomes real…emotional…a journey…memorable…compelling and magical.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Watch as many good and bad movies as you can…over and over again and let osmosis do the rest.

You can find Vashi on twitter as @vashikoo or check out his website VashiVisuals.

4 thoughts on “Frame of Reference with Editor Vashi Nedomansky

  1. Great interview, thanks. One question though – what do you / does he meen by:

    6. Overlap action cuts by 3 or 4 frames. The brain needs that microsecond to comprehend

    Thanks

    Ulf

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