[Frame of Reference] with Academy Award winning Editor Mark Sanger

Mark Sanger, Academy Award winning Co-Editor of ‘Gravity’, most recently edited the upcoming action adventure “The Last Knights,” starring Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen. He previously collaborated with Alfonso Cuarón as a visual effects editor on “Children of Men” and on the Tim Burton-directed films “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”Amongst other productions during his twenty-two year career, he was an assistant editor or supervising assistant on ‘The Mummy’, ‘Troy’, ‘The World is Not Enough’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.

What got you interested in editing?
My brother and I used to make movies on Super 8 film when we were kids.  We really enjoyed the whole process but I was surprised to discover that it was the editing that engaged me most.  I used to hang the film, broken down into takes, from a string that ran across my room.  That was of course in the days before digital editing became accessible.

How did you get started in editing?
I took every opportunity available to me and gained a broad experience of how the industry is driven by working in every department I could.  I was always very enthusiastic but not very good in most of them.  Finally a good friend of mine who was a Production Supervisor said ‘You want to be an Editor don’t you?’ and got me a job as an Editorial Runner on a James Bond film.  It couldn’t have been better!

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I use Media Composer for all professional work. It’s the only one I trust for stability and reliability when working on the large-scale projects where many of us are working together. At home I used to use Final Cut Pro for personal stuff but then they upgraded it to Final Cut Pro X and I didn’t find it as useful as Final Cut Pro 7, so I’ve got a copy of Media Composer for home now too.

Give us a run through of your editing process
Editing is story-telling.  The process is different on any project but always driven by the script and the Director’s vision. There are always technical challenges on any film, the key is to never let these outweigh the process of telling the story. The story evolves from the moment the cameras first turn-over. That is part of the thrill of editing. So from a practical point of view it is always good to keep every take, performance and option freely available and to hand.  It means the Director always has the flexibility and confidence to shape the story into it’s very best possible form.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?
We spend so much time editing on a feature, always have a height-adjustable desk.  It means you can stand or sit, keep moving and don’t pile on the pounds.

How organized are you?
You’d have to ask my work colleagues that but I would like to think very organised in the work environment. I like to have performances broken down into moments to have all possibilities to hand. I also like to have a grasp on what the rest of the team are doing to ensure the machine is running as healthily as possible. However at home I am utterly useless.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Depends on the needs of the Director but the short answer is yes. The last film I cut we used the script as a first pass for the assembly and then never referred to it again. ‘Gravity’ was different in that the script was always there but Alfonso Cuaron would sometimes re-write it as we were editing, so the script was our Bible, but he would re-shape it, which would in turn re-shape the edit.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
I have no one film specifically , but as Directors I am in awe of Sidney Lumet, Stanley Donen, Alan J. Pakula, Sidney Pollack, Sergio Leone and Billy Wilder. I don’t really watch television, but I was very taken by both seasons of ‘House of Cards’, both the original series and the US remake.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
When I was 16 I edited corporate videos and wedding videos for a couple of years.  I’ve worked in features ever since.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?
I have been very lucky in that I have met every Editor I’ve ever been inspired by. Among them, Thelma Schoonmacher, Alan Heim, Lesley Walker, Richard Chew, Jay Cassidy and the great Christopher Rouse.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Work hard and long and if it’s still not quite working then leave it a day. Fresh perspective is always important and sometimes the greatest map to find yourself out of a maze.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
To be honest, I’m not aware of using any plug-ins.  You’d have to ask my team that one!

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
It’s different on every film as the Director always has different needs creatively. I see the role as to be there to act as a conduit to bring what’s in the Director’s head onto the screen.  Beyond that it is about being there to reassure them that the shot material is coming together as the shoot progresses, and managing the story.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
There is a magic that happens when a performance is heightened by a considered edit or when the juxtaposition of an image with another can create an entirely new and unexpected dynamic. That is the attraction and the beauty of editing for me.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Whether it be career or creative advice, always take as much advice as possible from as many people as you can. Then pool that information and be decisive with it to create your own path or style. There is no ‘best’ way of achieving anything in this medium, only what works best for you.

Follow Mark on twitter @bluetrundle where he regularly interacts with fellow editors.

[Frame of Reference] with Editor Deb Eschweiler

Deb Eschweiler

Deb Eschweiler is a freelancer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, with clients in Chicago, Louisville, Denver, San Francisco & Los Angeles. “Since we are in the age where exports & uploads no longer take all day, the fact that I haven’t met all of my clients face-to-face is less of an impediment to doing good work with them as it may have been in the past”

Deb’s a facility trained editor, and although she’s not as technical as some, she does find that she’s more technical than many. “My career has spanned nearly two and a half decades that have seen a tremendous amount of change as to how we do our jobs as editors, but one thing always remains the same. Those who are in it for the love of telling good stories will find a way to keep telling stories, no matter how the technology changes our jobs.”

 
What got you interested in editing?

I found myself learning about video production in the ’80s, before it was common for public schools to have a video production department, or even merely a video camera. This was definitely before the days of desktop editing software.

Initially I wanted to edit film. I was enamored with the tactile aspect of physically cutting film. However, film is expensive, especially for a high-school kid from a middle-class family. My parents were not too keen of subsidizing an expensive “hobby” like filmmaking. My junior year of high school was spent with a mentor who taught me the basics of video production. Someone in the mentoring program had a connection at the local CBS affiliate. The mentoring folks, not knowing the difference between film production & video production, figured that video was almost the same as film, so they were going to send me to the news station for my mentorship. However, they felt that I needed to get up to speed on some things, so they first sent me to the local cable station to be trained by the cable station’s media specialist. That man & I got along very well, and I ended up working with him for the entire run of the program. I’m sure very much to my mother’s relief, as she probably would have been apoplectic at the thought of her suburban-born & bred 16-year old baby daughter driving into downtown Minneapolis five days a week.

How did you get started in editing?

The mentoring program in my county apprenticed smart kids who had exceeded what high school offered and would benefit from a different learning experience in virtually any discipline. While I learned the basics of shooting in the studio & field, as well as editing, early on my knack for editing was readily apparent. I was always good with puzzles. Having pieces to fit together to make the whole was a challenge I enjoyed and was an aspect of production with which I had early success. Like most people my age, I am of the MTV generation. To the younger me, the job of an editor was much more apparent in music videos than it was in the film-making process. Although I have only done a couple of music videos in my career, I have always thought of myself as being inspired in the early days by music video editing.

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

It depends on the job, really. Each one that I use has strengths & weaknesses in certain areas. Sometimes I don’t have a choice, as the client either owns the gear, or there are multiple editors working and we all need to be working with the same software, or the project was started using specific software and there isn’t money in budget to convert it to another NLE.

I am an Avid editor from way back in the early days. My first facility had 2, then 3, then 4 Avids, along with digital linear online suites. As senior assistant, I was responsible for maintenance & archiving projects, so I became very familiar with the systems and how they needed to be treated to be kept happy. Avid will always have a special corner in my heart.

I learned Final Cut Pro in the early ’00s when I started my freelance business. It didn’t really take off until 2003 when I upgraded to a G5 from a G3 and unintentionally built my suite around it because my clients heard that I had Final Cut Pro experience & my system. They started calling to book me before I even realized I was on my way to building a suite. My business went from 100% Avid to 30% Avid/70% FCP by the late ’00s.

I’ve always had a couple of clients who had their own Avids, so I was able to stay fresh with both Avid & FCP for the better part of a decade.

In the early ’10s, I had a client that wanted to explore Premiere Pro as a replacement for FCP Classic. So I learned Premiere Pro.

I am currently getting up to speed on FCPX, because now more than one client has decided that is the NLE that suits their needs. Which NLE I use swings from season to season, it seems. I logged more hours on Avid in the last two years than the previous five years combined. I now have in my suite the ability to use Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Classic, Premiere Pro CS6, & FCPX.

Give us a run through of your editing process

Usually I first take stock of what I have and what I need. Do I have a script? Do I need a script? Do I need to find stock music or footage? Is it a multi-day shoot and do I have everything or will they be augmenting this media with more shooting?

I tend to ingest/import camera media first so I can have an idea of what is there. Sometimes I log right away. Sometimes I wait to log until I’ve seen a script or an outline so I know what I need to log. Often I cut all the interview answers together to know what the content is and whittle it down to what they want the message to be. I work with Producer/Directors on content most of the time, so I don’t necessarily have control of the message, I just fashion it to the needs of the client based on input from the producer/director. I tend to focus on nailing down content & the message first before I move on to how it looks – unless I’m waiting for answers on content and I don’t have anything else to do.

Then I move ahead to the “make it pretty” questions. Do I need to make a graphics package from their branding elements or the theme from the event? Do I need to do color correction or add effects or treatments to the video to help make it more effective? There are a handful of clients who can’t wrap their heads around the concept of “Work-in-Progress”. Sometimes I have to make the video look nearly finished before the clients can even have a hope of following the content. They get distracted by the jump cuts if I haven’t put B-Roll in yet because I figure what’s the sense of spending their money putting in B-Roll if we’re going to cut that SOT? But they need it. There are scads of projects that I re-cut after we thought we were near the end because the people responsible for feedback just couldn’t focus on content when there was so much left to do on the “make it pretty” part. It’s only when they can sit back and watch it from the beginning to the end that they can absorb it.

So I’ve learned how to build some projects in a way that I can easily back out and go another direction. For example, I make use of transitional elements so I can take things apart, rearrange, add or delete if need be without causing a domino-effect on the rest of the piece.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?

Triple-redundant backups. Always.

“It’s not about you”. A very well-meaning producer told me this during a rough edit session when I was but a wee assistant editor. The details of the story elude me these many years past, but the gist of it is sometimes you just have to bite the proverbial bullet and get the job done whether or not you are in agreement with all the people in the room. It wasn’t one of my “horror-story” sessions. If it was, I think I’d remember it better! It was just the way he stopped, looked at me, and earnestly said it. It didn’t sink in right away. One day, a little while later, I had the epiphany, “Oh, that’s what Steve meant!!”

How organized are you?

I have quadruple-redundant backups of my working project files. :-D. In addition to my current working project files, I have one backup on a separate hard disk on my RAID, one on a USB stick that lives on my desk, one uploaded to my Dropbox, and one saved to my personal Transporter. Sometimes I have a fifth on my FTP if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. I usually have one full-media backup of my active projects. (though right now I probably should double-check my current projects… I may have lapsed this month).

I am a logger & and organizer. Some projects I spend more time organizing than I do editing. My process is always evolving, I find new ways to make things even easier to find on almost every new project it seems. If necessary, a non-eidtor could open up my media drives and with a short explanation, find virtually any piece of media without batting an eye.

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

Often I am given a rough outline, a pile of media (I used to say, “box of tapes”, but that’s so rare these days…), perhaps a music track, and the direction of “Let me know when there’s something to see”. Sometimes there are interview stringouts and a pile of B-Roll that may or may not be logged. Sometimes there are bona-fide scripts, complete with B-Roll timecode notated & graphic sections mapped out. Each project has it’s own challenges.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

My first love was The Wizard of Oz. I am still in nerd-love with the original Star Wars movies, though I’m always skeptical of Ewoks.

As for television, I miss Leverage and am still a bit sad about Firefly being cancelled. I have a few current shows that I find interesting, but I’m waiting for the next big character-driven show that makes me miss the characters between episodes. I don’t have HBO, but according to many of my friends whose judgment I trust, Game of Thrones is probably one that I would dig quite a bit. I was able to watch the first season recently, and they may be right!

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

My first staff job was cutting news. My second job was staff editor at a facility that did a lot of marketing & training work with the Fortune 500 companies and the like that are headquartered in & around Minneapolis & St. Paul. Now that I’m freelance, many of my clients are corporate, medical & government. We do the standard fare of marketing, informational, patient-focused, physician-focused, customer-focused, employee-focused & training videos. I also do a bit of pre-event video production for live events, editing on-site for live presentation during events, as well as post-event documentation for posterity. I also have done series work for production companies with contracts with HGTV, The Travel Channel, & Discovery Networks. I’ve done spot work and narrative work. I’ve done promotional videos, training videos and web videos. I did a series of eye surgery videos.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

I had the opportunity to get Walter Murch water during a Las Vegas FCPUG SuperMeet several years ago. He is very generous in sharing his experiences with the next generation(s). Though I was able to hang out backstage, we didn’t have the opportunity to have a personal chat, so I’d love to sit and listen to his stories and have perhaps ask a question or two. Also, Marcia Lucas. I recently read an article about the making of the first Star Wars movie and her contributions to the script as well as in the edit suite. It would have been a very different film had it not been for Marcia Lucas’ vision of the characters.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Break it down. Find the pieces. Find where the middle is and where the edges are. Find out who has final say early on & try to get them involved in the process if you can. There’s almost nothing worse than spending three weeks on a project and getting to the end and finding out that your client’s boss wants to rewrite everything because they never were given the opportunity to read the original draft. Also, take breaks. Recharging makes the work go faster in the end.

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

Plug-ins that fix problems are very helpful. I have seven different ways to do a light pass, & that’s great. I use some of them for different reasons depending on the circumstance. But I love plug-ins that solve problems or improve workflow. Automatic Duck, before it was released in to the wild, solved so many workflow problems for me. Though not strictly a plug-in in all cases, it is/was a peripheral piece of software that let me spend less time doing the tedious bits and more time doing the interesting bits. I also am a fan of Intelligent Assistant’s products for the same reason. I have been using 7-to-X and Event Manager for a few months now as I figure out my workflow for FCPX. The amount of things I didn’t have to re-do when translating a recurring FCP Classic project to FCPX was stunning. And though not plug-ins in the traditional sense, I recently acquired a few volumes from Rampant Design and hope to use them more in future projects when I get my next chance to be more design-y.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

Most of my clients & I have been working together for quite a while. When we are working together, we sometimes are extensions of each other’s brains. I know what they want because they know what they need to tell me to get the results they want, but they don’t always need to use all the words. One producer says of our relationship, “When I say it needs to be blue, you already know what shade of blue I want”. I have several producers that I can read like a book. I can tell when they are frustrated. Sometimes it’s with the client. Sometimes, yes, it’s true, it’s with me. We talk about the project, the process, where we are and where we should be. I talk openly about budget. I take responsibility when I made a mistake & I fix it. If my producer makes a mistake, and I need to fix it and there’s no budget, I fix it anyway. If the paying client makes a mistake and there’s no budget to fix it, then we discuss the situation to see if it warrants additional billing before I fix it anyway. I have only once felt like it was necessary to stop work because the project rapidly outgrew the budget because the producer failed to rein in the client and manage their expectations.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

I go back to that advice Steve gave me all those years ago, I remind myself that “It’s not about me”. I do my job. I offer suggestions when appropriate, but experience also tells me when the person on the other end is unreceptive to input from the editor, & I’m really just there to push the buttons in the right order. Sometimes the situation calls for the ol’ saying, “Smile and take their money”. And later decide if you want to risk it again if they call back with another project. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes you just know it will never be worth it, & sometimes you have to take the chance that you can learn to work together over the course of a couple of projects. It’s rarely smooth-sailing the first few projects together. Either you can figure out what makes each other tick, or you can’t. Sometimes it really is a personality conflict. Not everyone gets along with & understands how best to work with everyone else. Sometimes it’s best to part ways amicably and hope they still feel they can recommend you to someone else who has a different working style.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

As one of the editor’s I used to assist is very fond of saying, “Sure beats working for a living”. There are plenty of jobs I could be out there doing to put a roof over our heads and food on our table. And I might even make more money doing some of them. But what we do, though it has it’s moments of tedium punctuated with long hours & adrenaline-soaked deadlines, is not a rote, 9-to-5, rat-racey, working for the WEENUS kind of job. Most days, I love what I do, and the rest of them, well, they don’t add up enough to make it worth doing the math to add them up.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

If you don’t speak up, they won’t hear you. Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut. This is a career of dichotomies, ironies & contradictions. Learn to be flexible and the Edit River will take you exactly where you need to go.

Follow Deb on twitter @debesch for more insights on her editing journey.

[Frame of Reference] with Editor Joe Walker

LIAD Headshot

Joe Walker is best known as Steve McQueen’s editor having cut “12 Years A Slave,” “Shame” and “Hunger.’ Originally working in London, his editing on films such as “Harry Brown” and “Life in A Day” put him in the international spotlight. But it is his contribution to “12 Years A Slave” that brought him nominations at the BAFTAS, the EDDIES and the OSCARS. He has recently moved to Los Angeles where he is cutting the latest film from Michael Mann.

What got you interested in editing?

My parents were given an 8mm movie kit as a wedding present. They would project family films onto a white wall and there was always the unintentional lava lamp effect when the film got stuck in the gate and melted the celluloid.  When I was little I took to buying Keystone Cops films with my paper round money, projecting them at low-speed whilst playing Wagner 78s at 33rpm – and consequently feeling rather depressed.  At around the same time, there was a do-it-yourself-animation show on TV, and one of the episodes featured my hero Terry Gilliam.  That gripped me and I started making films of my Frankenstein models treading around the garden.  That was my introduction to the world of cement joiners. But then I flipped over to music and playing in bands as a teenager, so my focus detached for a while.

How did you get started in editing? 

I studied Music at York, writing orchestral stuff, then got a temp job at the BBC in London posting LPs around the world.  We’d queue for the tea trolley stationed in the BBC Music and Arts corridor, eavesdropping on all these amazing programmes being made for Omnibus and Arena.  The workers there were flamboyant.  One editor was cutting a series called Brick is Beautiful and rather than a name plate, he had a massive brick nailed to the door.  I managed to blag some work experience with a friend of a friend of a friend who was cutting a profile of Italo Calvino. That helped me get onto the BBC Trainee assistant editor scheme and eventually I found my way into Drama, first as an assistant editor then as a sound editor, and a long while later as an editor. I got busy at the BBC for 15 years, cutting crime shows, comedy series and music documentaries, leaving in the 90s to cut feature films.  I kept my music plate spinning, writing for all manner of children’s programmes, documentaries and even a big orchestral score for a BBC/HBO drama called ‘Dirty War’.  I was happiest writing cartoon music, supplying trombone slides whenever someone’s trousers fell down.

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

I started with sprockets, then moved through 3-machine Beta SP editing, Lightworks and ultimately AVID.  I was very fond of Lightworks but that fell into disrepair for a while and I moved on.  I’ve never cut on FCP. But basically, if the story’s great, I’d cut it on wet string.

Give us a run through of your editing process 

Well, on a practical level, one ritual I have right at the start, is to write a brief description of each scene onto an index card, ready to stick on my cutting room wall. It’s a great way to learn the script, and during shooting you can, at a glance, tell where your characters are at that exact spot in the story.  In ’12 Years A Slave’ for example, when Solomon is woken to play fiddle for Epps’ entertainment, it helps to know that he’d been beaten in the previous scene and would find it painful to rest on his back.  If you ever have to swap the order of scenes, later in the fine-cut, you can move the cards around on the wall without getting distracted by joining the scenes together on the AVID.  Here’s a picture of my cutting room wall on ’12 Years’ :

Joe Walker 12 Years

In the case of Steve McQueen’s films – because he shoots very economically – I can watch everything they’ve shot.  I try to keep distractions to a minimum while I’m watching.  It’s the closest I’ll get to an audience’s perception, until the end of the process.  I’ll keep the script supervisor’s notes at hand – it’s not always obvious why they’ve gone again after a great take.  I remind myself of the script beforehand, but blood is now running through its veins and it’s a living breathing thing, so I am more alert to what new subtexts have been brought into play.  I do remember an older editor telling me that anything that he saw screening dailies that really intrigued or moved him, you hope it will end up in the film.  I’ll talk to Steve a couple of times a day about the dailies, and what’s coming up in the schedule, and he’ll come over at the weekend to look through preliminary cuts and we figure out what might be worth adding to the shopping basket.

It’s impossible not to watch dailies and do the chess game in your head of how you’ll put it together, but it normally just comes together when you start cutting from a bin. Editing is really staying mindful of an imaginary audience – what you are tuning into is some kind of universal imperative, born of watching a gazillion films, to see or hear something at a particular moment in time.  Once you perceive it, you can choose to obey it or play against it.  Eventually, the film takes on its own rhythm and shape, and you begin to obey that instead.  As you can tell from Steve’s films, part of the game is trying to find ways not to cut.  It just hands you an enormous benefit when you do, cuts are as sharp as a Damascus sword.  I am often thinking of that during dailies – keeping up the momentum whilst getting around the scene simply.

When it’s time to assemble the scene, I spend way too much time finessing the sound.  I’ll volume graph dialogue in and out on separate tracks, record sound effects and work on atmospheres.  It just helps me find the rhythm of things to do it this way.  I envy editors who crash and bang things around, they probably have more imagination than I do and get their results with fewer mouse clicks.  But for me, intensely worked sound is my way in.  It also means that we can project test screenings straight from the AVID audio without any elaborate temp mixing, which costs you time just when you want to be at the coalface making important changes.

I try to avoid using music for as long as I can, except for some key moments which help start a discussion about what kind of score we need.  My friend Matthew Herbert says : “music is in an abusive relationship with film.”  There are so many pitfalls to using temp music.  We have to dance with the devil and use temp tracks in order to survive the screening process, but the dangers are twofold : you can often end up with the music disguising a lack of momentum in the edit and blinding you to its pitfalls, or you can end up queering the real composers’ pitch if you fill the movie up with unpurchasable music you end up addicted to.  That can end up with an unoriginal patchwork score and a frustrating experience for the real composer.  I do remember an action film I cut where I was bothered by how much we were relying on the temp tracks, and I asked the director to let me cut the film with the speakers off for just one day.  We didn’t actually make it through the whole day, but it was instructive.  If it doesn’t work as a silent film, it points to problems with the pacing and story-telling. My favourite working method would be to have a CD full of the composers’ ideas based on the script and their discussions with the director, something you can listen to in the car before you start filming, which gets adapted and developed once the fine-cut is starting to solidify.

Later in fine cutting, when the order of the film and the essence of each scene is already decided, I’ve started to use a new strategy.  You can often spend more time on the first reel of a film than anywhere else, and I’ve seen a lot of films where the last act clearly hasn’t been through the same workout as the opening.  So I write all the scene numbers onto small pieces of paper and put them in the box.  We pull these numbers out one by one, lucky dip style, and work for a while on that scene alone, looking at the dailies again and just seeing if we can discover any way of improving it.  There might be something in the dailies which you’ve forgotten about now that your requirements for the scene have shifted.  It’s good to go back to working on scenes individually, and out-of-order, like you do during the shoot.  I also tried using Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies‘ playing cards once – they’re very thought-provoking.  It reminds me of mixing in a music studio – sometimes when you step away from the speakers and hear the piece playing down a hallway, you have a fresh perspective.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful? 

I assisted a really inspirational editor, Ardan Fisher.  He truly developed my appreciation for editing. Ardan alternated between cutting these amazingly free arts documentaries at the BBC and cutting high-end drama.  Each would inform the other.  He cut the seminal series “Edge of Darkness,” but also Leslie Megahey’s great documentary on Orson Welles which is one of the best films about film-makers I’ve seen. Ardan’s choices were always gloriously perverse and interesting.  A lesson I learned from him was about not cutting. It’s not like I apply this rule to everything, but that’s where I learnt it.  He let me cut a scene which had been covered by a three-shot and then singles. I merrily got stuck into the singles after establishing where everyone was in the three shot. I was a pool of sweat on the cutting room floor after dutifully hitting every beat of the sequence, manipulating every reaction I could fold in.  He looked at it and said, “You’re not getting any more from the singles than you would from keeping it wide, and with the three-shot you have all of the reactions built-in, unforced.” I looked at the three-shot again and he was right, it was a great performance.  Better still, it was an ensemble performance, which in context was what the scene needed. The attitude was “Just because they shot it, doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it’. That was a real lesson for me.

How organized are you?

A normal level.  You develop a sense of anticipating things to take care of, ahead of time, like the Chinese plate trick of old.  I’m attracted to the organisational side of the job, but it’s the moments of flow when you’re trying things out and pushing yourself to accomplish something interesting that really excite me. On days like that I leave the cutting room thinking “.. and they’re paying me.”

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

‘Life in a Day’ had no script or blueprint.  We had no idea what people would shoot that day.  Kevin Macdonald used to say that if we were to try to force the film into some specific shape only we wanted, we’d be hacking our way through a jungle path and end up with aching arms.  Keeping alert to what people did shoot was so much more surprising and life-affirming than anything I could have anticipated.  Who’d have thought someone would choose that day to emulate an experiment in how to startle a snail?  That ended up as our end credits sequence.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

Too many to list.  I’m a big fan of Czech cinema from the 60s, and I love everything the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer make.  There’s some amazing editing in those films. Check out ‘Dimensions of Dialogue’ or “‘Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies.’  Two, more commercial films I love watching over and over are Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, and Milos Forman’s “The Fireman’s Ball.’  As for TV : I’ve just watched ‘True Detective’ which took me a while to get into, but boy did that pay off.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

Being nominated for an Oscar meant I got to spend time with my fellow nominees, whose work I much admire.  One of these was Thelma Schoonmaker who I met at the BAFTAS. I love her work, so bold. There’s a grittiness and angularity to what she does. I watch her movies twice, once to enjoy and once to dissect. I’m a big fan of Christopher Rouse’s work.  He’s a master.

There’s one editor I’d love to meet  : Pem Herring.  He cut ‘Groundhog Day.’ I”m fascinated with how editing dances with time, and that is a great example of a story about time. Bill Murray’s character starts off bored numb by his endless day in a small town which brings no surprises, no escape.  But by the end, he hasn’t enough time to accomplish everything, to catch the boy falling from the tree, perform a Heimlich manoevre and save an old man from dying in the street.  I’d like to talk to Pem about one of the scenes they apparently ditched.  Once the Bill Murray character had realised there were no consequences to his behaviour, he gets a Mohican and destroys his hotel room with a chainsaw, only to wake up to Sonny and Cher the next morning and the hotel room back to normal.  But they dropped this elaborate scene and replaced it with the beautiful, simple device of snapping a pencil before going to sleep, and the pencil being whole again in the morning.  Same story point, completely different comic temperature, brilliant decision.  I’d love to know how that came about.

Manipulating time and the perception of it is one of superpowers unique to the art of film-making.  As Mark Cousins points out, there were no flashbacks in Shakespeare.  Here are some examples from things I’ve cut.  There’s a scene in ‘Shame’ where Brandon (Michael Fassbender) listens to his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) singing “New York, New York” as a slow blues number in a chic club.  There were only two shots during the song, more or less, and I cut them very very simply.  There’s a close up on Sissy, up to the point where she seems to look at her brother and sing the words “It’s up to you..” then the close up on Brandon, unexpectedly moved by hearing his sister – and then back to Sissy until the end of the song. Only that in the whole song, in the middle of the film. Here’s an odd contradiction : if I’d filled it with cuts between the two of them at a more ‘normal’ event rate, and not trusted the fascination of watching these characters engage with this song and chosen just one great moment to go across, it would have felt slower, and probably less meaningful.  Compression of time, also, that’s a great weapon.  After Sissy joins Brandon and his boss at the table – Brandon’s boss starts making a move on her and they order champagne.  Originally they shot a scene of the three of them rolling out of the club, worse for wear, and walking past ice skaters, to hail a cab.  It was beautiful, very ‘Jules et Jim’.  But we dropped it in the cutting room to bang straight from inside the club ordering “champagne” to a shot of Brandon looking through the cab window whilst Sissy and his boss snog in the back of shot.  From flirtation to tongue gymnastics in 1/24th of a second.  The audience fills in the steps, and it’s an enjoyable timejump.

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

I make preliminary temp VFX shots using the usual tools on AVID like p-in-p, animatte and timewarp (I like using fluid motion).  Just enough to get the timing right.  My assistant Javier takes these over and perfects them in NUKE.  There’s a simple 7-band eq effect in the Audio suite which I use a fair amount.  But my favourite gizmo at the moment is MetaSynth – it’s not an AVID plug-in but a piece of software I run on my laptop.  Hardly anyone in editing knows about this one.  It was originally devised to convert images into sounds, but it’s an effect called grain I am crazy about.  Pete Tong the London DJ gave me a copy.  It enables you to freeze sounds, so that you can generate long, fadeable chords which help you come out of music early without having to loop or use cruddy reverb effects on a short chord or note.  It works best on music without sharp attacks, like choral or string music.  I’m no expert, and have yet to read the manual, but by pressing a few buttons you can quickly generate some amazingly spacey atmospheres.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

There are no hard and fast rules, it really depends on what’s shot.  We all have strong opinions, and we’re hired for them.  So long as you’re not a dick about expressing them.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

One of my first big breaks in TV was when I cut a two-week clip show called ‘Queerspotting.’  I threw myself at it, had a great time, even shot a title sequence.  I didn’t know that the producer’s partner was an executive who noticed me just at the time she was looking for someone to cut ‘Jonathan Creek.’  So apply yourself to everything you do, you never know where it’s going to lead.

Go follow Joe on twitter @huckabaloo

[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

[Frame of Reference] with Editor Michael Alfano

Michael Alfano

 

Having managed a successful freelance career for over 17 years, Michael has dedicated the last nine years primarily to the craft of editing. His experiences in production, along with many years as a musician, have contributed immensely to his skills as a storyteller, and have given him valuable insight into the art of collaboration.

Michael works for large corporations, small production companies and broadcast clients in and around New York City.  He lives in New Jersey and is currently co-producing his first documentary film titled “The Nuremberg Raid”

What got you interested in editing?

I became interested in editing while working my first job out of college as a production assistant for a corporate television facility.  I would deliver tapes to the edit suites and think how cool it would be to actually put videos together.  I was intrigued by the amount of equipment in the rooms, and that the editor had to know how to use it all.  I viewed the editors as half engineer and half artist and I knew it was something I wanted to do.

How did you get started in editing?

Starting out on the production side of the industry, it took me a while to find an entry into the post-production side of the business.  I was working as the in-house audio engineer for a large financial institution when I saw an opportunity to make the transition into post. I asked my boss if I could work after hours in one of the edit rooms to learn how edit.  He said “no problem” and encouraged me to learn as much as I can.  I purchased every book I could find on learning FCP as well as doing online tutorials, and reading manuals. For six months I worked at learning the software and understanding the basics of the editing process. Eventually the long hours and hard work paid off when I was asked to cut my first project.  When I finally moved on from that job I was managing five edit rooms.

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

Being a freelance editor, part of my job is to stay current with the software my clients are using. At the moment most of my clients are either FCP 7, AVID or Premiere Pro.  I have all three on my home system and like them all for different reasons.  

Since I’m a longtime user of After Effects and Photoshop, Premiere Pro, was very easy to learn.  The feature I like most is the dynamic link functionality, which is a huge timesaver when incorporating graphic elements.

I have a soft spot for FCP since it was really the first NLE I used.  Obviously it’s showing its age, but there are still a lot of facilities using it.  I have not taken the leap into learning FCPX Yet.  I’m keeping an eye on its progress, and some of the features look really good.  When I start to get calls to work on it, I’ll learn it.

I’ve really been enjoying AVID the most lately.  It has so many great features, especially when it comes to multi-user shared projects.  I think my favorite feature by far is the trim edit mode, especially the four-up display during slip and slide edits.  This is crucial to the way I edit.  I use this all the time and it is amazing!

One final thought on software.  It’s easy to get caught up in the “which is better” debates, and there is always going to be debates, however at the end of the day the editing process happens in my head and the software is just a tool.  Software should help you to create and not thwart creativity!

Give us a run through of your editing process

I work on many different types of projects and the process varies slightly depending on the project.  One type of project that I really enjoy working on is the short 3-5 minute profile story.  I cut a lot of these for my corporate clients, and as an editor they are fun to work on and give me a lot of artistic freedom. Most of the concepts translate to other projects, so I’ll outline this type of workflow for you.

First I like to have a discussion with the producer/director about the project to talk about the goals and deadlines of the project. I’ll ask if there is a script, log notes, transcripts, outline or anything special I need to know that may impact my workflow.

Next, I’ll import and sort all the footage into bins according to content.  While I’m sorting I like to scan the footage to get an idea of what was shot and to get me thinking about coverage when I’m pulling the story together.  Viewing the B-Roll can also help me get a feel for how I want to pace the video.  Slow moving dolly shots give a different feel than handheld shots and this may play into music choices and pacing.

If I have a script, I will string out my clips in a timeline and see how it flows from a content perspective.  If I don’t have a script I will listen to my interviews and make a selects sequence based on story points, and then start to chip away and organize the sound bites in a way that makes sense to tell the story. Once the content is close I then try to listen to inflections, cut out any “ums” and see if there are any Frankenbites that need to be smoothed out. I’ll also listen for areas that I want to make my transitions or add “sound ups” and make some gaps in the timeline to add these elements.

By this stage I am starting to get a feel for the personalities of the interview subjects.  This is very important to me.  I like to see the personalities come through in the edit, and it’s often a challenge to do this.  I try to look for moments in the interview that I know will work well on-screen and let those play out.  Sometimes it’s a smile, sometimes it’s a pregnant pause, and sometimes it’s the moment that’s not supposed to be on camera, but it’s a real and genuine moment that needs to be included.

I like to bring music into the fold next and usually spend a lot of time trying to find the right tracks for the project.  I want the music to reflect the mood of the story and the personality of the interview subjects.  I will pull way more music than I think I’ll need, and then start roughly placing them in the timeline where I think they will work.  I’ll then listen to the cadence of the interview against the music track and see if they are working in unison or fighting each other.  I’ll also listen to the dynamics of a music track and see how I can use it to my benefit within the cut. Things like key changes or accents within a track, if placed properly can really enhance a project.

Once the music is in the ballpark, I move on to the B-Roll.  I’ll roughly block out sections of B-Roll first, not being super critical of the shots, just so I know what sections of the interview I want to cover.  Once I get the entire sequence covered, I start to refine the edit.  I’ll go into each scene and really start to tweak the shots, look at continuity issues, adjust pacing, and tighten up the overall flow. I want to get the sequence to a point where I can start watching it as a whole piece as soon as possible, because I feel this makes for an overall stronger more cohesive edit in the end.  I really enjoy this part of the process the most and will continue to refine the edit watching and tweaking, watching and tweaking some more as long as I can, until I’m out of time!

What tips were you given that have been really helpful?

One tip that has really been helpful to me over the years is to listen to your edit with your eyes closed.  If you listen to an edit and it flows nicely and makes sense, the visuals will most certainly enhance the story you are telling.  

The other tip, which I’m sure you hear from a lot of editors is, cut from the gut.  I like to interpret this as, follow your instincts and they will take you in the right direction.

How organized are you?

As an editor you have to be mindful of organization, and I think every editor will have his or her own way of organizing and searching media.  To me, the most important part about organization is that it should make you more efficient.  If your naming or sorting is overly complicated it could actually make you less efficient.

Another aspect of organization that should be considered is the environment you are working in and if you will be sharing your projects with other editors.  There is nothing worse than opening up a project someone else worked on and seeing five sequences all named Final or Final-Final or This-Is-The-one.  I want other editors to be able to open up my projects and know exactly what sequence is current and be able to start working straight away. Some facilities I work for have protocols and naming conventions that must be followed.  I really appreciate this and am more than happy to comply with them.  It ensures that any editor can open up any project and understand where the current cut is and where the media is located.   

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

Yes Absolutely.  Quite often I’m given nothing more than a general idea of what the message of a video should be and a target runtime.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one favorite TV show or Film.  There are just too many that have influenced me over the years.  That being said, I’ll approach this question as “What is your favorite film and favorite TV show at the moment?

Currently one television show I am really enjoying is AMC’s “The Killing”.  There are so many things about this show that I like; characters, story, pacing, acting, writing, overall look, set design, music, mood. All amazing!

If I had to pick a favorite film, at the moment I would have to say Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The cinematography, music, color pallet, and casting all work brilliantly together to create a quirky heartfelt story and characters you can connect with.  Whenever I watch this film I think to myself, wow, what a fantastic film.  

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

One aspect of being a freelance editor I enjoy the most is being able to work on different types of projects.  I could be working on a DIY home improvement show one day, and the next day cutting a commercial.  I have done promos, meeting openers, music videos, as well as web videos, and find them all rewarding in their own ways.  

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

I really enjoy talking to any editor who is as passionate about the craft of editing as I am.  A lot of time it’s the young student who is just getting started that I enjoy talking with the most.  Their excitement, enthusiasm and eagerness to learn as much as they can about the craft, reminds me of why I started editing, and gets me re-energized about being an Editor.

If I had to choose one editor to have a chat with, I would have to say Michael Kahn.  He has worked on so many iconic films and so many different genres I think it would be fascinating to hear some of his stories.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

I’ve found the best way approach a complex edit is to simply break it down into smaller sections.  Figure out how you want to approach each subsection and start working.  If you approach your edit in this way, it will come together in no time.

If I’m faced with a problematic edit and having difficulty coming up with solutions, one thing I like to do is step away from it for a while.  I’ll put it aside and move on to something else, let it stew in my mind and come back to it later and take another crack at it.  Sometimes all it takes is a little time for the ideas to start flowing.

Another thing I like to do when I’m stuck, is ask someone to screen the cut with me. I’m usually working around other editors and generally they are more than willing to take a break from their work to watch something different and offer some advice. A lot of times the discussion that follows will help lead to a solution.

The important thing to keep I mind is to keep the story at the heart of all your editorial decisions.  If you do this, you’ll always come up with a solution to those complex or problematic edits when they pop up.

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

I don’t really like to use third-party plug-ins when it comes to editing software, however, when it comes to Adobe After Effects, I really enjoy the Trapcode Suite, as well as the Video Copilot products.  Something I find really useful is to carry a drive loaded up with royalty free assets.  It always helps to have an assortment of texture elements, film backs, graphic elements and sound effects that I can quickly access and use to enhance a project. I use these all the time on my corporate jobs and they have paid for themselves many times over.   

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I find that trust and respect go a long way.  When I trust a producer or director and they trust and respect my talents and opinions the collaboration is great, and I know we will turn out an excellent product.  It takes time to build up a trust and respect, but when it’s there, it’s amazing, and these are the people I want to keep working with.  

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

A good friend of mine once said to me when we were dealing with a difficult client, “You start out giving them what they need, and you end up giving them what they want”. This stuck with me, and I always think about it when I find myself in difficult situations.

If I’m working on a project and realize that all my opinions are being dismissed, I unfortunately have to reside myself mentally to just being a technician.  I put my head down, let them call the shots, get through the project, and give them what they want.

At the end of the day, if the client is satisfied with my performance, and they got the product they wanted, I then have the option to choose if I want to work with them again or gracefully decline the next time they call me.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?  

Work hard and find creativity within every project.  

If you work hard, your good at what you do and you’re easy to get a long with, I’m convinced you will always stay busy, and if you try to find something creative about every project you work on, you’ll satisfy you’re artistic needs and be happier at the end of the day.  

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor.

Be generous with your time and advice, be nice to those you collaborate with, and never stop learning!

You can visit Michael’s Website or follow him on Twitter:  @maelstrompost  
 

[Frame of Reference] with Editor Matthew Smith

MS

 

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

[Frame of Reference] with Editor Tobias Beul

Tobias Beul
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.

 
Tobias Beul Twitter: @MyMasamune Blog & Portfolio: www.tobiasbeul.de