[Frame of Reference] with Editor Matthew Smith

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Matthew Smith has been working Post jobs in LA for the last decade. “In 2004 I cut a feature film named, ‘Fish Without a Bicycle’. In 2006 I started editing Reality shows and have cut many since.” Most recently, Matthew was an editor on Storage Wars: NY. He’s currently an Assistant Editor on Glee.

What got you interested in editing?

In high school we had a TV studio, and I would shoot news stories and then edit them on the tape to tape system we had. In college I learned to edit on a flatbed and then Avid / FCP. I enjoyed all fascists of production, but I was actually pretty good at editing. Senior year I was cutting some stuff for a professor that had been a producer for CBS News for a while, and she told me that when I got to LA (I was planning on coming here after graduation) I should try to be an editor, and that I would be good at it. I took her advice.

How did you get started in editing?

I had an internship on a Travel Channel show. They hired me as a PA after a few weeks, and I pretty quickly became an AE.

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

Avid. Multi-user support. No other NLE can allow multiple editors and assistants to all be working in the same project as well, and with minimal hassle and workarounds. ISIS is a great system. At home I have FCPX. I know everyone hates it, but something about it fascinates me. It just seems more modern than the rest of the NLEs.

Give us a run through of your editing process.

I like to “radio cut” first to get a skeleton. Basically I just go through and get the story laid out so it sounds right if you’re just listening to the show, then I go in and actually figure out how to tell the story visually. I find it easier to build off something though, hence the radio cut.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?

I had lunch with a veteran TV editor when I first moved out here. He told me to work hard and stay out of rehab. It’s good advice.

How organized are you?

Very. You have to be.

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

Sure. That’s what reality TV is all about.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

Probably depends on the day. I just saw Gravity and it was amazing. I’m re-watching The Wire right now and it is fantastic as well.

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

Documentary/Feature/Reality/Scripted TV/Music Videos/Web Series

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

Walter Murch. He literally wrote the book on editing.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Just make the first cut, and keep pushing forward. Eventually it will start to look like something. I’m always intimidated by the empty timeline, but you just have to dive in. You’ll make sense of it eventually.

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

Not a big plug-in guy, Animatte and Stabilize get used a lot though. I put an EQ and Compressor on my dialog tracks (not that it matters, because the show will get sent off to sound mix before it airs).

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

Fine. I don’t have much of an ego about my cuts, so I’m always happy to try things a Director (or Story Producer in the reality world) want to. I’m pretty easy going.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Finish the show. Move on. I’ve only ever quit one show before, and it was more of just a career thing. It wasn’t a very good show, and I was getting offers for better gigs.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

Get the story right and people won’t notice the editing. I’m not big on flashy editing that draws attention to itself.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor.

Work hard and stay out of rehab. Also, working a low level job with talented people you can learn from is much more important early on than working a high level job on a bad show. I.E. Work as a PA on a good show. That has a lot more upside than editing a web series or something. That said, edit whenever you can. When I was an AE on reality shows, I would constantly cut music videos on the side. It was a little extra money, and good practice.

Follow Matthew on twitter @m67smith

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