[Frame of Reference] with Editor Tyler Cook

Tyler Cook

Tyler Cook began work as an Assistant Editor on Independent Features before transitioning to scripted television in 2009. After three years as an Assistant, Tyler was promoted and began editing full-time on the hit CW show The Vampire Diaries. Last March, he cut the pilot episode of The Originals (a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries), and is currently working on its first season.

What got you interested in editing?

I first became interested in editing in high school, when my friends and I started making short films together. I was really lucky to go to a school that would let you rent out a camcorder and a laptop loaded with Final Cut Pro (a super early version at the time) for the weekend. So we would sign the equipment out on a Friday, shoot all Friday Night and Saturday Night and I would edit the shorts all day Sunday. I taught myself how to edit this way and over time grew to really prefer it over shooting/directing.

How did you get started in editing? 

I majored in Filmmaking at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC, which is an art conservatory connected to the UNC system. One of the great things about my alma mater is that it has an incredible alumni base who are very eager to pay-it-forward so to speak by hiring current students as interns on their films. After finishing my 1st year at the school, I worked as an Editorial Intern on Craig Zobel’s first feature Great World of Sound. That film was a combination of HDV and 16mm and I was brought in to digitize the video & organize it for the editor. When they needed a script supervisor for the film part of the shoot, I volunteered and they surprisingly let me do it, which was such a great experience to watch how a film is made and to be in charge of thinking about continuity and how a film will eventually need to be cut together.

And I can pretty much trace every job I’ve had from that first internship opportunity. The next summer I was hired by that crew to be an Assistant Editor on a low-budget feature. The editor I met on that show, a fantastic editor and great guy Travis Sittard, hired me again post-college to work on an indie called That Evening Sun. That got me into the union. I transitioned into scripted television and over the next few years worked my up from Assistant Editor to Editor.

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

I’m a firm believer in the old editor adage that the NLE is a just a tool and it really shouldn’t matter what piece of software or hardware you use. That being said, if you put a gun to my head I would easily choose Avid. That wasn’t always the case but I noticed when I finally made the jump from FCP to Avid MC it just felt more intuitive to the way my brain worked. I got hired to work on a FCP show for a short amount of time and I had a really tough time going back.

And sadly, I’m woefully behind when it comes to Adobe Premiere Pro. I need to pick it up and teach it to myself. I’ve heard such great things about it and I’m dying to see what all the fuss is about.

Give us a run through of your editing process

I tend to cut a scene three times.

The 1st time is basically getting a scene up on its feet. I watch the dailies in a very fractured way. I start by scrolling through each setup to just see what footage I have, does the camera dip down to grab an insert in a certain take, is this the designed shot the director wants me to start in, etc. It just helps me get a full idea of what coverage I have before I even watch a second of dailies or make an initial decision and it helps me form an image in my scene of what the scene will look like once it’s completed.

From there, I’m a firm believer that the best way to get started is to just put something on your timeline and react to it. You can get so inundated with all the variables and all the choices so getting your first cut down as fast as you can is the best way to go. So for my first pass I usually find the best take of the intended opening shot and lay it down and ride it until I feel like it falls apart or it loses my interest or I feel like it’s time to cut to something else. And I start building from there. As I go, I watch every line, every beat from every angle and choose what I think is the best option and then I ride that out until it falls apart. And I work my way through the whole scene that way until I reach the end. I watch the whole thing back, make any mental notes I have on things I want to fix, and put it away. I move on to the next scene.

After a few days, I’ll come back to a scene and I’ll watch it with fresh eyes. And I’ll start to rip it apart. Is that the best opening? Is there a better line reading for that line? Am I hitting this moment hard enough? Should I make more room for that reaction? I don’t believe this moment, how can I fix it? And the list goes on. I just put it through the ringer and try to make it the very best it can be.

The third time comes when I’m building the show. Usually, I’ll do this by Acts. I’ll lay out all the scenes of a given act back to back, build the transitions how I think they should go, and watch it. Here is where I’ll tighten things up if I feel like a scene is playing too slow in the larger context or slow things down if things are moving too fast and solve any problems that I couldn’t solve in the first two passes. I’ll then lay in music and sound effects, which inevitably causes some changes as well, and from there that’s basically my editor’s cut.

 What tips were you given that has been really helpful? 

I think the best advice I’ve ever been given involves how to collaborate with Directors and Producers. It’s pretty simple advice and sometimes it’s hard to follow but it boils down to this: Always say, “let’s try it.” As an editor you’ve been through the footage backwards and forwards and you have a really good idea of what you can and cannot do. So it’s easy to just say, “oh no that won’t work,” and you may be right. But if you say that every single time, you’re not going to have anyone that enjoys working with you. Besides, art is about exploration and you can find some incredible things through experimentation. Some of the best moments spring from, “but what if we tried this…” or I’ll get a note and I’ll try it and it won’t work but the simple act of trying it leads me to a third, even better option. Lastly, it’s easy to get too close to the material and be unable to see the forest for the trees.

How organized are you?

I try to keep my projects as organized as possible. You don’t have a lot of time working in TV and you’re always up against deadlines so being able to find things quickly and efficiently helps you get more done in a day.

But if you looked in my closet you would think I’m the most unorganized person in the world.

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

I can and I do often. I think it’s a great skill to cultivate. There’s often a difference between what they scripted and what they were able to achieve while shooting so you really have to analyze the film and build it yourself and make it work.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

Too many to name just one so I’ll give you a kind of short list. Films: Any Kubrick Film, Vertigo, Fanny and Alexander, Solaris (Tarkovsky), Thin Red Line, Seven, Almost Famous, Empire Strikes Back.

TV: The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Scrubs.

I feel bad even limiting myself to those. There are probably so many glaring omissions.

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

Pretty much exclusively narrative.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

At this very moment, I would love to meet Cristiano Travaglioli, the editor of The Great Beauty, which I saw recently. From an editorial standpoint that film really invigorated me. It was so fast-paced but sure handed. What that film reminds me of is in when people put their hand flat on a table and take a knife and dance it between all of the spaces between their fingers but never cut themselves. The film was like that for me, dangerous but with such confidence and not a missed moment.

So I would love to talk to him about his approach and how he was able to achieve what he did.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Don’t look back, just keep going until you get through the first pass. Once you’ve got it up, look at it as often as you need to until it feels right. Trust your gut. Don’t give up until you love it. If you’re really stuck, come back the next day with fresh-eyes, the solution is usually easier than you think.

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

The effects I use the most are resize and stabilize. I couldn’t live without those.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

In TV, it’s more of showrunner-editor relationship, a lot of times the director doesn’t have time to come into the editing room and will often give notes by email while they are prepping or shooting their next show. I’ve been working with my current show-runner for a few years now so we have a really good rapport. Mostly we talk story, what moments are working, what moments aren’t. She deals mostly in story, tone, & emotion and allows me to find the editorial solution to the problem unless it’s something simple.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Speak your mind and fight for your opinion, but always do so in a courteous and respectful manner. Understand that being an editor is a service job, you are a conduit for someone else’s vision and you have to respect that. Know when to concede and learn how to pick your battles.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

Story above all. Find the most compelling way to bring a story to life given the footage and resources you have. There’s never one way or one style or one approach. You have to be flexible and multi-faceted to find what fits best for the given material.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Watch movies and make your own. Watch your favorite movie and try to figure out why they cut when they do, what makes your favorite moments so great. Take the things you are able to glean and try to apply them to the things you are making.

Follow Tyler on twitter for more insights on editing @tyleredits

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