[Frame of Reference] with Editor Robin de Jong

Robin de Jong

Robin de Jong is a film editor based in Amsterdam. He started at the bottom as a VTR operator and worked his way up quickly becoming an editor. He has cut several feature films including the award-winning “Regret!” and “Mike Says Goodbye!”, that are currently being shown at several festivals worldwide.

What got you interested in editing?
I saw The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 14 years old and my whole life changed after that. I was in absolute awe of what a movie could do to a person on such a deep emotional and psychological level. The movie had been a very cathartic experience for me. The only thing I could do afterwards was making films, even though I had no idea how to do it.
As soon as I started making my own short films I was immediately drawn to the editing process. It’s in the cutting room where everything comes together and the movie is actually being made. It’s your final re-write.

How did you get started in editing?
I did a two-year course on filmmaking, which covered every aspect in the first year, in the second I focused completely on editing and screenwriting. After that I started working as a VTR operator in a post-production facility. There I learned several disciplines within post-production, one of them being an assistant editor and eventually editor. After a couple of years the company filed for bankruptcy and I started working as a freelance editor. Because I didn’t was a VTR operator anymore, I had time to be an assistant editor on films. From there on out I started doing my first feature films.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
Avid Media Composer, it’s the only NLE that supports working with multiple editors on 1 project very well. Everything works out of the box, no need to buy extra plugins. It’s very stable, media management is perfect with huge amounts of footage and no matter what your post-production workflow is, place Avid Media Composer in it and it will work like a charm, especially since I work with a lot of different post-production facilities, all having their own workflows. That being said, I’ve also used Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro in the past, but at the moment and on large projects, Avid Media Composer is the only NLE I trust to get the job done fast and efficient.

Give us a run through of your editing process
When the rushes come in my assistant editor prepares them for the editing, converts everything to DNxHD36, syncs up the audio and makes bins per scene which look like storyboards. That way, if the director is sitting next to me, he just needs to point to what he wants to see. I start making an assembly of the movie while they’re shooting it, that way I can give feedback very quickly on what they’re doing on set. When the shooting is done I have a first assembly done as soon as possible. I review it with the director and producer and then the actual editing can start. When editing a scene I have several ways of approaching it. When there’s a lot of footage I look at it all to see ‘a way in’, the best way to tell the scene. When it’s a small scene, I first search for the things that are telling the story, what the scene is about, it can be a certain look of an actor, sentence delivered a certain way, it depends on what needs to be told. Then I build the rest of the scene around that. You have to watch everything and know your footage inside and out. When I have a cut with the director, we screen it several times, after each screening we change subtle things, change a character, how information is spread over the film, or larger things like changing the structure. It depends on what comes out of the screenings. When the day arrives and we reach picture lock, I hand over my things for colour grading, visual effects and to the audio department.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?
Learning the insight of when not to cut and recognise all the things you need to tell a story properly. That, and that assumption is the mother of all screw ups.

How organized are you?
I’m very well-organized. All the extra time and effort you put in the beginning of the project organising, you get back 10 times later on in the project. I need to be able to go through and find footage very quickly. When there’s a director sitting next to me, I don’t want to waste our time by endless searching, just because footage isn’t organised properly.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Yes, you need to be able to tell a story, even without a script and finding a story within the footage. You are the last phase in the screenwriting process after all.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
Favourite film would be The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson. With TV shows it’s a bit of a tie between Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
Mostly feature films, some commercials and a documentary.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?
Michael Kahn, he has such a vast work experience and seems like a nice person to chat with.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Make a cup of tea, edit the scene in your head while you’re making tea. Don’t sit behind your computer. After that just keep on cutting.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I don’t use any plug-ins.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
It’s very important you’re both on the same page and you understand what the story is your director wants to tell. Every director has his or hers own ways of working, so you need to adjust to that. But this goes very naturally. Always discuss and most important, listen. You need to create an environment in which your director can function at the top of his or hers game.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Always listen to what it is they exactly want and what their problem is. Every person works differently, everyone requires a different approach.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
It’s all about story. You use your editing to contribute to the story that’s being told. Storytelling is one of the most important things in life, so you need to understand how and why you’re telling a story.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Cut, cut, cut! Cut as many things as you can get your hands on. When you’re trying to get into film, I suggest you learn as much of the technical side as possible and learn the Avid. That way every film editor can use your help and you can learn all the storytelling aspects of being an editor from other film editors. At the start of your career you get editing work from other editors.

Check out Robin’s website or check him out on twitter @robindejongedit

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