[Frame of Reference] with Editor Jonny Elwyn

Jonny Elwyn

 
Jonny Elwyn is a freelance film editor living and working in London. Jonny loves to cut films with a heart and soul and especially anything that can make a difference in the world. That or make people chuckle. He runs a blog for all things post production on his site jonnyelwyn.co.uk and recently published an ebook on principles for successful freelancing called How To Be A Freelance Creative.

What got you interested in editing?
I got interested in filmmaking when I was really young and started messing around with my granddad’s old camera with my friends. Making stupid short films, animations and the like.  When I started taking film classes at school it was a way of making something out of nothing – to edit bits of other films together or also as a way of making sure the films I was making at school were what I wanted them to be. I was pretty lucky that my school had a tv studio in it, which was pretty unusual back in then (maybe still is??). So I always loved the creative power there was in editing, deciding what was in and what was out.

How did you get started in editing?
I got into editing seriously at university where I did a film production degree. There I ended up specialising in editing – always enjoying being the only one making the film at that time or the only one in a room with the director, deciding how it should go together. I love collaborating but I also love to see my ideas become reality.

When I graduated I decided just to blog my way as an editor, rather than starting out as a runner and working my way up. I’ve been freelance my whole career and loved it. Why does anyone want work everyday?

If the question is how did you get your first job then it was through a friend at Uni who had gotten a job in a post-house and put my name forward too. That’s how I got my first gig.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
My preferred NLE of choice is definitely still good ol FCP7 but only because I know it so well – 10 years of muscle memory, understanding of its quirks and ways of doing things is hard to let go of. These days I’m cutting on Premiere most of the time because my clients enjoy the speed and efficiency of not transcoding anything. Plus FCP7 is too old now.

But I’m still learning Premiere and there’s a lot of good things and a lot of annoyances. But nothing is perfect you’ve just got to get on with it. I wish I could get on with Avid better – and l’m sure I will once I give it some more time. I think FCP X is the most intriguing editing platform out there. Avid is definitely resting on its laurels and is likely to get left behind.

Give us a run through of your editing process
My preferred approach is to start from the beginning myself – setting up the project from ingest, getting everything organised and then having the time to digest the footage and get a feel for what there is. A lot of the stuff I do with J&E Higham is interview based and so we use that as the spine of the film, which is I suppose more a documentary way of working.

What makes stories interesting is the people in them and so my process across everything I cut is to find the stuff with life in it – people being passionate, vulnerable, funny or emotional – anything that sticks out (even if you have to work to create some contrast if things are a little dry) – that will make the film worth watching.

Taking only those bits that are really the best bits, I’ll work them into a structure to tell the story and only then fill in the gaps with ‘lesser material’. Still working on the structure.

It’s easy to fool yourself that your structure is right or a scene is working, if you cut in the music and cutaways too early (in a non-narrative piece – most of what I cut is documentary, corporate, web content and the occasional music video, animation or advert).

So work hard to get the foundations right and then the film will tell you what things you want to be seeing in each section. Putting back in breathing room and any interesting little moments as you go.

Finally I love all the final polish stuff like grading, sound design, graphics etc. I love getting the details just right to really lift the film.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?
Most of the tips I’ve been given have come from my director friend Jeremy, who I’ve known and worked with for the best part of a decade. Nowadays I just try to pass them off as my own! Jeremy’s way of working is highly collaborative in a trusting sort of way, and he would usually just leave me the rushes and see what I would come up with. Then we’d talk and shape it together from there.

So the most helpful tip would be: that if it’s not interesting to you, don’t put it in. Which really helped me to trust my intuition, rather than second guessing what I thought other people might want. To make the film you want to see.

The other tip, from an editor friend Neil, who is far more talented than I, is, always keep the funny in. After all, why not?

How organized are you?
Exceptionally. Ask my wife, it drives her crazy. You have to be as an editor and I can’t stand taking over a messy edit.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
Yeah, in many ways that’s my preferred way of working and the majority of what I cut. Even with scripted stuff the film is in the rushes or it’s not. So find the film that’s in there and follow the performances with life in them because that’s where the film now exists.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
In terms of editing my favourite film is probably The Constant Gardener. Just because the editing and construction of the narrative totally shapes how you view the characters, which shifts over time. A bit like The Usual Suspects I suppose. I never get bored of watching it.

TV show wise I would say that West Wing is a firm favourite. But most of the time if I’m watching TV it’s with the wife and so it’s usually a family friendly comedy. Modern Family is a favourite.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
I’ve done a bit of everything.  As I said above I’ve cut corporates (documentary style, short films and even improv comedy corporates). I’ve cut tv ads, music videos, animations, web content (usually long arty adverts), I’ve cut a ton of short films and a feature doc.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?
Probably Walter Murch. Or Tariq Anwar who cut American Beauty and the Kings Speech or maybe Claire Simpson who cut The Constant Gardner. Why? I guess just to ask them for editing wisdom and advice! Given that I think the films they cut are superb.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Unpick it all and go back to your structure. Sometimes that means starting over and just taking the bare bones of the interviews or key moments and ironing it out a fresh. Other times it means scribbling down what should be on a piece of paper and re-arranging your cut.

Often things have gotten a bit muddled or complex because too many layers were added in too quickly. Respect the process of, one bit at a time and things should be ironed out as you go.

That and simply stopping and going for a walk or quitting for the day entirely and come at it fresh the next day. Why make life hard for yourself by struggling through super long days.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I don’t use many plugins to be honest. In FCP7 I used a couple of plugins called Face Light and Vignette but they were just a way of doing re-lighting in the timeline and these days I would do all that in Resolve.

I use little apps like MPEG stream clip, vlc, qt change, rip it, and others quite a bit.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
I like to take a crack at things myself and then work on that cut with the director. Even then I prefer overall notes rather than selecting takes or any form of too specific an instruction.although sometimes that’s important for the director to be sure they have all the best stuff. One thing I hate is anyone telling me where to cut frame by frame, especially with clicking fingers!

Ultimately though as the editor you are there to serve someone else’s vision and purpose so I’m happy to give loyal opposition at first and then if they are super specific and persistent I will give them precisely what they ask for. If they are happy I am usually happy.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
The problems with clients and directors usually boil down to either communication problems or some kind of relationship problem. The best thing is to stop emailing and start talking, as honestly and diplomatically as possible, face to face.

Usually there is something else going on, some kind of insecurity, upset or disagreement and you need to work those out first before you can work out the rest.

Of course, the best thing is to work with people you like and respect. Life is too short not to.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
What I love about editing is that it is the last place the film is made. Yours are some one of the last hands that it goes through and often in that editing space it’s just you and the director.  So I love the creative influence you have but also the challenges to solve all the problems that need to be overcome to tell a great story.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Cut a lot, cut often, cut as much variety of work as you can and don’t give up. That and listen to everyone.

Check out Jonny’s blog where he posts regularly and follow him on twitter @jonnyelwyn

Frame of Reference with Editor James Miller

James Miller

Not having a television in the house until the age of 12 was always going to cause deep-seated issues for James, once there was one, he became slowly fascinated by how these images could cause an effect on people. Upon discovering you could actually connect two video recorders together and change the order of shots, that was it, the path was clear; ignore school completely and focus on inane trivia relating to Film and TV, eventually someone would recognise the worth of this trivia and give him a job making films. Or something.

This didn’t turn out to be exactly true, so instead he got a job at  local video store upon leaving school, developed an intense hatred of the general public and began plotting world domination through the medium of film. He hasn’t quite achieved all those goals yet, but is well on the way, with hundreds of TVCs, Corporate Promos, a dozen or so TV Documentaries and is currently finishing up on two Independent Features.

What got you interested in editing?

I was aware of it as a concept from reading BTS books (I’m old, that’s what we did before DVDs and twitter) then I was introduced to a real live edit suite when I was about 8 or so, an old family friend used to do corporate videos in the 80s, I was amazed at the ability to shape stories, even simple corporate stuff. After that, I just had to wait about 12 years until NLE software was available. Which was frustrating.

How did you get started in editing?

I did some tape based cutting and a few bits and bobs here and there, fair bit of shooting, wasn’t really getting much done, so I saved some cash, quit my job, bought a mac and a copy of FCP 1, and taught myself. I call it “the deep end” technique. We were quite poor for  a few years, but if you want something badly and you’re prepared to work, you’ll get it. And I did. I got a few small gigs early on just from friends of friends and that kind of thing, then I started working for a local company doing corporates and kiosk stuff for museums. They were great because they’d pitch ideas and then ring and say “can we do that?”, which keeps you on your toes…..

Then some TVCs and some low rent docu stuff for TV, then got a great break doing a docu with a budget! I’ve also somehow developed a reputation as an edit paramedic if you will, I get  a lot of gigs where someone else has already butchered a cut. It’s frustrating, but lucrative. Few shorts here and there currently working on two low-budget features concurrently, which I wouldn’t recommend. I remember about a year ago I was in the kitchen getting a coffee or something and it just suddenly occurred to me that I’m paid to do stuff I love. This made me happy.

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

I really don’t want to sound flippant, but I’d say my brain. By that, I mean that I play scenes in my head, alter the order of shots, imagine what I’d like to see as it were. Now that I’ve said that, it doesn’t sound flippant. It sounds pretentious. It is true though. In terms of software, been a long time FCP user, I’m currently cutting some gigs in FCP 7, some short form stuff in FCPX, and everything else is looking increasingly like Premiere. Given how much I used to truly despise Premiere, I think it’s a tribute to Adobe that it’s improved so much, especially the last couple of versions, it’s like, well, it’s like the first 4 or 5 versions of FCP; they’re hungry for this market and they’re giving people stuff they want. Premiere does seem to tick most of the boxes these days, it’s fast, the interface has improved massively, (though there’s still some weird choices…plus cancelling a render shouldn’t ditch everything you rendered before you cancelled!!!!!!) and with the cloud thing, it’s kind of hard to beat price wise.

What I loved about FCP was that there was 5 different ways to do most stuff. Which is also what sucked about it. Premiere, I ‘ll get back to you on, still early days. I have no meaningful comment on FCPX, except to say I’ll be interested to see what it’s like in a few years, but I think it’s a little immature now.

Give us a run through of your editing process

That’s a broad question……Not sure if you mean physical process or my thought process, so I’ll answer both.  On a big job, I usually transcode everything to a low res offline, start making notes, watching material, marking fave takes etc, spending a day or two to organise the project into bins and get familiar with the footage as I’m doing it. That’s one thing tapeless has really ruined for me, there used to be a time as you captured to get  a handle on stuff, now it’s done in an instant and there’s no time for watching rushes! I’ll stay in offline until the last draft, switch over to whatever the primary deliverable is, and go from there.

I actually really like offline cutting, I’ve tended towards it to encourage discipline, otherwise I start getting carried away with FX/grades etc. Offline is fantastic, because it’s just about story. Wow, could that sound any more trite? It’s true though! The other thing about offline is the sheer speed. The pictures might not look great, but my god you can go fast, which matters to me, I’m fairly impatient.

As to my mental process, obviously I start with the script, I’ll make lots of notes, share them with the director/producer and talk about styles/feel, what their intent was in particular scenes and basically try to get to know my collaborators if I don’t already. It really helps if you’re on the same wavelength as the director. If you really find you don’t gel, it’s probably a good idea to think about leaving the project, because you’re going to be spending some time together…….

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

Learn how to learn. Sounds simple, but the ability to take something away from every experience and apply it to future projects is easily the most useful thing I ever learnt. Specifically relating to editing, look at the end of shots to see if there’s anything good after cut was called, can’t tell you how many times it’s that stuff that ends up in the cut.

How organized are you?

I have slight O.C.D. I’ve yet to meet a successful editor who is not pretty well organised, at least in terms of project structure. On the other hand, I’ve met some who spend more time moving files around than actually cutting, continually refining the workflow instead of letting the work actually flow…….

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

Absolutely, a lot of projects I’ve worked on the script has kind of “evolved organically”, or as I like to call it, not been properly written…..You have to be able to make decisions about scenes that work or don’t, sometimes the answer is to change the story to fit what’s been shot. On narrative stuff, I will read the script once or twice, make notes and then I try not to read it again, which some directors find irritating, but the thing is, the script usually changes, continually referring back to it leads one to become bogged down trying to achieve something that may not be there in the footage.

In documentary, that’s the name of the game really! You’re looking for material that supports the thesis of the docu (or indeed, you’re looking for the thesis!) and it’s often a really simple moment that ties it all together.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

I can never answer this one…… Alien, Blade Runner, Being There, Withnail & I, Life Of Brian,  many others…..TV, I’m not that big on, but I enjoy Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, that sort of thing. I love a good docu, probably because that’s where I cut my teeth and I like to see how others visualise these stories. I’m always watching stuff trying to find new ideas and ways of telling stories, be they fictional or real, the notion of favourites is a bit odd to me, it depends on my mood.

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

All of the above, though I gave up on weddings after doing two or three, I couldn’t bear to basically tell the same story again and again…..I guess I’ve done most kinds of things, I’d get bored cutting the same stuff all the time, so I’m happy doing lots of different things to keep it fresh.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Terry Rawlings, not just because he cut Blade Runner, though I’d certainly want to ask about that…….. He’s the quintessential cutter, he’s the dude the big guys call when stuff isn’t working. He must have some fantastic stories to tell.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Be patient. It isn’t always possible, but I try to build in some time to walk away from the edit for a week or two (or  a day or two, whatever time you can take), come back with fresh eyes, you always see stuff you didn’t before, plus often you find things you were really worried about aren’t the massive problem you thought they were. Also, save often.

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

Not really all that big on plug-ins really, aside from Pluraleyes I guess, but it’s not exactly what I’d call exciting. I don’t feel the need to cover my edits with flares, leaks, cine grain or any of that other crap, I use a new technique called “the right cut”. /sarcasm.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

Very much depends on the director.  With a good director, there should be a fair amount of back and forth about the cut, with some you get notes like “cool” or “awesome”, which isn’t really helpful. I find totally brutal unflinching honesty to be the best policy. If I think something is crap, I’ll just say so, but I’ll also explain why. I expect the same in return, I find it’s faster than dancing around people’s emotions. Some people are a bit taken aback with this approach in the edit suite, but it saves so much time to just be able to speak your mind about the scene/project when there are issues. I think most smart directors find this useful, even if it occasionally makes them uncomfortable.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

Extreme violence. Seriously, I spend time up front making sure that I work with people I’m on the same wavelength as. I can deal with anyone really, but the worst ones are either indecisive or they do the “what do you think?” routine. I find getting the client to sign off on various milestones a valuable ass saving method. I print DVDs with mini contracts on them, they watch the DVD, sign it and give it back. Then, a month later when they want to change something, I pull the disc out and say “remember when we locked the edit?”  I’m told I’m becoming a grumpy old man, so I’ve found just research is best, make sure you work with people who aren’t dickheads basically sums it up.

The only ones I can’t deal with are the ones that say “I’m really visual, I need to see it”. No, dickhead, if you were really visual, you’d be able to visualise it. Those I dispatch with an axe.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I suppose I’d say figure out what the story is (and that applies just as much to a 30 second ad as it does to a feature) and try to find something within it your audience can relate to or “connect” (I hate that word) with or what’s the point, regardless of how many shallow dof slider shots there are? Also, save often.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Just edit. Lots. Then do some more editing. Make mistakes, learn from them, eventually, you get pretty good at it, but only if you do it a lot. In fact, why are you reading this, shouldn’t you be cutting something? I know you only asked for one thing, but I’m special, so I’d add that looking at other mediums like novels, theatre, painting, whatever, try to learn as much about communicating ideas as you can. You’re here for 80 years with luck, or even less, so pack as much info in as you can and use it. Also, save often.

You can follow James on twitter.

Frame of Reference with Editor Teresa Simmonds


Teresa Simmonds is a video news editor for WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 of Detroit, a local ABC affiliate and one of the original Circle 7 stations. Teresa has been editing your favorite local news for about 9 years.

“Our station was one of the first to transition to an all HD broadcast, with much fun and headaches. I love movies, TV, books, news, just about all forms of media. I also work as an audio/video production assistant for Discovery Communications’ (Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet) every Upfront season for the Detroit ad sales office.”

Today we talk with Terry about the process of a news editor.

What got you interested in editing?

Ever since I was a little girl I knew that I wanted to work in TV and film. My parents took us to all the cool kid sci-fi movies of the 80s – ET, The Last Unicorn, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins. We also had HBO and were allowed to watch whatever we wanted. I loved being sucked in by the narrative and I also loved finding the artifice and the artistry of what I was watching. When I studied radio/TV/Film at Eastern Michigan University, I originally thought I wanted to write screenplays. My minor was creative writing – I was all set to go down that path, until I made my first student film, “Devin’s Dream.” I had to write, shoot and edit the whole thing and I found that editing and creating stupid little effects to be the most fun of all. Editing incorporated all of my nerdiness – computers, graphic design, story-telling, and my need to organize chaos.

How did you get started in editing?

A friend of mine from Eastern worked as an editor at Channel 7 and recommended me. I showed up for my interview in my best purple suit from Lord and Taylor, ready to be grilled just like in any job interview. I was handed a piece of paper and told, “this is where you get your drug test. If you pass, come back. You’ll get one week of training. If it doesn’t work out, we won’t ask you back.” I was like, really? I am wearing the suit, don’t you want to ask me any questions? Nope. I guess they like me, because they’ve been asking me to come back for the past nine years!

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

I use FCP7 because that is what we use at Channel 7. The station chose it because it was easy to use and it could handle 4×3 and 16×9 video in the same timeline, which was important for our transition to HD. We were one of the first stations to broadcast the news in HD. I *still* have to deal with 4×3 video from various news feeds (I am talking to you, CNN! Get your act together, sheesh.) I love Macs and I am a huge Mac nerd. I really can’t think of using any other program for editing, and I am sure I will jump to FCPX when they make it more news-friendly. Occasionally I use After Effects for graphics.

Give us a run through of your editing process

The first thing I do is look at the rundown for my assignments. I write them down in the order that they will air in the show. Each “slug” has its own sequence. I make two bins “Clips” and “Done.” Editing for news broadcast is a lot different from editing a film or TV show.  There are about three of us that work on each show and we each have our own stories to cut. I have a lot of little VOs (voice-overs) or VO/SOTs (vo, soundbite) that are no longer than 36 seconds. I’ll do about 40 of those in a day. Basically when you watch the news, it’s the little videos that the anchors yap over. Sometimes I will do a “package” called an Insert or Wrap (SOT- Sound on Tape) that is about a minute and a half long. This is local news, so most of my stories are about crime, shootings, fires – we love fires!, local corrupt politicians, water skiing squirrels, what the President is doing that day, etc. It’s a lot of fun but a lot of work, and you have to be fast and accurate.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?

“Hey! This isn’t film school! Get it done!” I guess I was taking too long to decide on which shot to use. I learned to make a decision and stick with it.

How organized are you?

I am very organized and I try to keep my desktop and folders clean because the editor on the next shift will have to use my computer. I really hate siting down to edit to find that there are a million files on the desktop that are OLD as dirt. There’s no excuse for that. If you want to keep your nonsense, put it on your own personal drive.

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

Yes, and I have to do that often, especially in the morning shows because there are just so many assignments. Besides I’ve been cutting news for nine years, I can pretty much cut a VO about a flood without looking at the script. It’s water. It floods. Damage and shenanigans. Also many assignments simply say “file of” such and such. If its something more complicated, I will have to wait for the script and where to get the video.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?

My favorite film is Trainspotting because I love the dark twisted humor of it. There’s all kinds of fun stuff for an editor to do. The story is told a bit out of sequence, there’s an amazing soundtrack, stills and silly effects, voice-over narration, sports, a dream sequence you name it. I love television and it’s so hard to choose just one show. I love Lost, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, classic Norman Lear sitcoms like Good Times. Currently my favorite show is the Vampire Diaries. It’s like a supernatural soap-opera. I pretty much watch one show of each genre. You gotta have your vampire show, your doctor show, your cop show, etc. My favorite news program (besides my Channel 7!)  is CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: GPS.

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

News, corporate, and fun stuff on After Effects. I am interested in motion typography.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

I would love to meet Masahiro Hirakubo. He’s worked on a lot of Danny Boyle’s early films, like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and A Life Less Ordinary. He was a part of a team that really revived British film in the 90s. All of those films have a wonderful dark sense of humor to them and comic timing is everything. Honestly, I really would like to meet all of the editors featured in this blog, because I would love to just ask everybody all sorts of questions about everything.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Make a decision. It’s not rocket science. If it looks stupid, it probably is.

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

I don’t use any plug-ins because we don’t have any. Whatever came with FCP7 is whatever we have to use.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I don’t work with the director but I work a lot with writers and producers. We’re a team and our job is to provide our viewers with news and information that will help them make informed decisions. The writers usually know what they want and over the years I have learned to anticipate what they will ask for. And sometimes I have no clue whatsoever and I am like, “hey what’s this nonsense all about?” Communication is key. I love it when the writer has logged everything and has it all laid out for me, but if they don’t, I just ask.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

News editing is a lot like a factory. I churn out lots of little edited VOs every day and the way I edit is pretty much the same, day in and day out. Only the stories change, and that’s where the fun lies. If there is a problem it’s usually because of equipment failure. We beat these things to death. The computers in the edit bays, the live trucks, all of it is pretty much running 24/7. We don’t have many personal problems because we’ve all been doing the same thing for years and years and we are all professionals and know our jobs. I am so happy and grateful to be in the company with such awesome people. Gone are the old days of the super ego reporters and producers you can and will be easily replaced. Having said that, sometimes the fast pace of news gets to some people and they freak out. For that, I just put on my noise canceling headphones.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

I am interpreting words into pictures. It’s like a puzzle I am putting together for you, the viewer, to watch and understand.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Make a decision and stick with it. Stop dilly-dallying. If you don’t know what to do, find someone who does and ask them how.

You can catch up with Teresa on twitter.