Tobias Beul is a film editor based in Munich, Germany. He studied Film Editing at the Bavarian Academy for Television and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Literary Studies. Tobias currently works in advertising, TV commercials, social media and corporate films for clients like BMW, MINI, Siemens, KFC and Playboy. He has a love for narrative and experimental storytelling and is always keen to get involved with compelling projects. While his work has extended into almost all parts of post-production, he has developed a particular fondness for color grading. He also loves to write and just started a blog on editing and post-related things.
What got you interested in editing?
While in university I was a bit of a competitive gamer and used to engage quite heavily in an online community for the video game franchise Tekken. Now this was before YouTube and high-speed internet. I think Google had just been invented :-). Still, people on the forums would record videos showing off their gameplay and share them through FTP servers. At some point, I decided I wanted to step into the spotlight as well and have a video of my own. And that decision inevitably made it a necessity that I edited my recorded video game footage into a watchable form. Which meant I needed editing software. But I obviously had no idea about anything. On Amazon I found a piece of software called Magix Video Deluxe :-D. My first edit then was a miraculous experience. A revelation really. While I always had a very expressive mind, I was rather introverted as a kid. If that makes sense. This visual language of editing now allowed me to shape and articulate my thoughts precisely and reach people through it. In essence, I had stepped into my very first edit out of necessity with my focus on playing a video game. And got out of it with a love for cutting.
How did you get started in editing?
A career in filmmaking seemed like something ridiculously unrealistic at first. But the more I edited my own little projects, the more I directed my studies towards film theory, the less I was able to imagine doing anything else. So having finished my Bachelor in Media and Literary Studies, I went on to study Film Editing in Munich. After that, I had to learn the hard way that no one in this industry cares about your grades, degrees and qualifications. No one hires you if you have no experience to back up your expertise. Which is why, after some pretty rough months of vain job applications, I grudgingly accepted the fact that I would have to go for an internship first and slowly climb the ladder. I got one at a post-house in Munich and a year of hard work later I was steadily employed senior editor at that company.
What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
Avid, wholeheartedly. I’ve cut projects in FCP “Classic”, Premiere and even FCPX and all of those have their strong sides and get the job done: Premiere is about horsepower and interoperability, FCPX about metadata and FX plug-ins. Media Composer, however, is about the actual Editing. Because at the core of what we do is how we interact with our footage, how we manipulate and arrange images to tell our stories. So all performance benefits and database features become secondary to that.
Give us a run through of your editing process
My approach depends a lot on the type of project I’m cutting. It will differ from scripted narrative to storyboarded TV ad, to go-wild web clip, but whatever the preconception for any project is, the one constant in my process is that I try to look at the footage without bias. I always want to look beyond what was written on the page, unaffected by the intricacies and side-stories of the shoot and see the raw material for what it is. I also make special note of my very first time watching footage. My initial response to everything I see. I try to conserve the memory of that, because you get so used to the images, even the most mesmerizing ones. It is important to always stay conscious of the impact any image has on the unbiased viewer.
What tips were you given that has been really helpful?
“Kill your Darlings” is the one that always rang truest to me, I guess. It’s so easy to fall in love with a particularly beautiful shot or a fun little montage you spent lots of time creating. So much so that you can’t stand even the mere thought of removing it from your cut. Even if it compromises your scene, if it’s wrong for the mood you need to build or simply not adding anything else to the story but running time. But if something is not truthful in context, it needs to go. The other one that I cannot stress enough is that performance always trumps continuity. Never let something trivial influence your take choices. Gaffer complaining that you picked a shot with a C- stand in the background? Oh well. Your actress’s hairdo shifting from cut to cut?! Too bad. If you remained true to making your decisions only about performance, your audience won’t even notice.
How organized are you?
A lot. And it’s tough because the digital end-to-end workflows have brought about this feeling of immediacy. You sometimes have to fight for your time to organize and actually WATCH all of your footage before committing to your first cut. Some people get impatient and just wanna dive right in. Only to end up getting lost in the footage. So it’s important to step up for a workflow that doesn’t neglect the organization and orientation process of an edit,because you need to know your playing field.
Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Absolutely. And I do believe there are certain formats that just have to be “found” in the cutting room. I love writing and conceptual work, so I enjoy these kind of jobs, too! That being said, nothing inspires me more than a well-conceived script or concept. A clear vision is the strongest foundation for any creative endeavor. Still, working With a script is never a “connect-the-dots” kinda process either. I always have to be the interpreter of that script and still find the story and build it accordingly from the materials at hand.
What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
Wow, I couldn’t possibly narrow that down to a single one. I’m already having a hard time not listing more than just a couple :-). Lost In Translation is a film to which I cannot find the words to describe how deeply I feel about it. It’s the one truly unique film to me. Kill Bill is the first Tarantino film that I got to see in the theater and not on VHS or TV. So it has a special place in my heart therefore alone. This is only surpassed by the fact that it samples and remixes a lot of the old Kung Fu and samurai films I dearly love and grew up with. The Matrix might be the One film that made me want to become a filmmaker. I was addicted to movies ever since I was a kid, but seeing that one in the theater kinda reconfigured my perspective on film. It’s my perfect escapist phantasy. And there’s the Kung Fu references again ;-). And as far as German film is concerned, Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen is one brilliantly funny and sincere film. For TV shows: Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, True Blood, Walking Dead. I’m seriously addicted and will drop everything to watch any of these. BUT, my one and only favorite TV show of all times is Avatar: The Last Airbender. And if you’re chuckling now because that’s a childish cartoon series, let me tell you I have never seen as stringent and elegant, heart wrenching storytelling in any other series or any story of that proportion. It is amazingly good. And naturally, it got Kung Fu in it.
What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
I currently work in advertising mostly, but will pick up any interesting narrative project I can get my hands on. So accordingly, I’ve cut everything ranging from TVC’s to short films to web shows to short form documentaries, music clips, corporate films and trailers.
If you could meet any editor, who & why?
I always was a great admirer of Sally Menke and was devastated when she passed. Such iconic film work went through her hands. And I feel the influence of editing is especially pronounced in Tarantino’s films. William Chang is the editor of Wong Kar-Wai’s films. Whose works are so rich in mood and extremely stylized in terms of editing, yet everything’s always integral to the story. I’d love to talk to William about his process and how he approaches that kind of work. But the thing I love about Twitter is that I interact daily with amazing editors from around the world now. You can exchange stories, ask questions, bond over similar experiences. I’m very grateful for having that kind of community.
What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Know your footage inside out. Watch, re-watch, make notes, cut select reels, create subclips, categorize by subject, color-code, whatever system works for you to mentally structure it. Then step away for a while and let your brain process. It will lead to a clearer overview of where you stand and thus inform you where you should go with the edit. And in case you get lost in the edit, I find that watching a cut in the presence of others automatically makes me look at it from the outside again. And lets me usually spot any issues instantly.
Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
Video Copilot Optical Flares for obvious reasons. Frischluft Out Of Focus is an amazing DOF plug-in. Neat Video is the cleanest noise reduction I’ve ever used. If for whatever reasons I have to grade in After Effects, I will look to Magic Bullet Looks for that. During offline I usually don’t need much else than the native NLE toolsets for resizing, splits and timewarps. Not necessarily plug-ins, but I use Cinegrain overlays for all my grain needs (and I do love me some fine, gentle grain on everything I finish) and have been getting some quite lovely grading results using Film Look LUTs by Juan Melara and VisionColor OSIRIS LUTs provided through Color Grading Central.
How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
It should be honest, sincere, lighthearted. Based on mutual respect at the least, trust and friendship at best. Because you need to be able to challenge one another and speak your mind without egos getting in the way. It helps to have similar sensibilities though. So that even if you look at something from different angles, you still share the same overall intent. That being said, I do prefer to have the initial editing pass for myself. Because every film has sort of its own verbal system and having that initial time with the material allows me to become literate in the film’s speak to arrive at a point where I’m just as knee-deep in the story and all its elements as the director is.
How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Yeah, there comes the time when you have someone in the edit suite who likes to flip his fingers for suggesting cut points. That’s when you know you’re in trouble ;-D! For me, it is important to remain integer to the project no matter what the personal circumstances might be. Filmmaking is a collaborative art and I believe that being able to handle very different kinds of personas is an essential skill to have in this industry. However, once someone’s actions or demeanor threaten to diminish the outcome of a project, it’s a different story. People who always take the easy route not contributing to their utmost or who abuse their leading position to enforce their opinions for whatever egotistical and/or narcissistic reasons, who basically undermine everyone else’s mutual efforts. I try to steer clear of those. And just in case the heat is about to be on in the cutting room, there’s a rule of thumb: The more someone likes to frame f*ck, the more receptive he is to the phantom trim ;-).
What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
Georg-Stefan Troller is a German documentary filmmaker. When he visited our editing course during my studies, he said about his work: In all things that concern life, it’s about finding a form. To give structure where is chaos in order to create meaning. To channel the loose ties of human life, processed and put into context, to form stories out of the uncontrolled stream of experience, insight and coincidence. To strive for sincerity, devoted to the undisguised truth, yet with a keen sense for situational poetry and emotional momentum. He called his approach “lyrical documentation” and put in words what I think I’ve always felt editing was to me. An interpretation of life. A system to understand it a little better.
Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
The great thing about these times is the availability of resources. You have amazing ways and sheer endless possibilities to practice editing. Editing software is so cheap now. Cameras are even cheaper, relatively speaking. Write a scene, go shoot it with friends and cut it. Go download some raw footage from forums and edit it into something, grab a short film from Vimeo and make a trailer of it. Every little thing you make will be a step towards proficiency. Ironically though, the technical democratization in our industry has kinda made it become all ABOUT the gear and gadgets. Don’t get caught up in that and always remember that it’s never mainly about the tools. Because in the end, they’re just pen and paper. And learning how to read and write is one thing, employing those skills to tell a story is another.