[Frame of Reference] with Editor Kenny Miracle

Kenny Miracle

Kenny Miracle has worked in media full-time for 10 years, focusing mostly on video editing and motion graphics. His work has mostly consisted of reality/documentary-style projects for non-profits, with a bunch of commercials and a few live concerts thrown in the mix. He co-edited an award-winning documentary about sex trafficking called Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, and is currently working on another documentary. When not holed up in an editing cave, you’ll find him playing with his wife & daughters or watching super hero movies.

What got you interested in editing?
I first wanted to learn editing in high school when my dream was to do animation, and a broadcast class involving video editing was the closest option available in my small Missouri city. I enjoyed it from the beginning and have made post-production my focus since then.

How did you get started in editing?
I attended a filmmaking internship for three years at another small town – only in Texas this time – called the Center for Creative Media. They produced a variety of work, but mostly short docs, promos, and music videos. I did a lot of assistant editor work there, which included very little sleep and a lot of mistakes. It was a great place to learn where I couldn’t get fired. Plus, I met my wife there. So two thumbs up!

After completing the internship, I sought an entry-level video editor position and landed at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. A non-profit like that was perfect for me as it allowed flexibility to grow and provided consistent work. After about a year, there was an unexpected shift in personnel and I found myself as an interim post production manager. Only a year into my first real media job, this was intimidating. I applied everything I had learned as an assistant editor, and found the skills cross over quite well. This was a time of getting to be involved in the entire creative process of videos and learning on-the-job with great people. I also found that I enjoy leading a small team of editors. Overall, it was a foundational experience with fond memories.

In 2011, I had a baby and began freelancing full-time, but it was more difficult than I expected to be creative and manage a business and be a first-time father all at the same time. So I soon took a lead editor position on an independent documentary, which I am still working on.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
My current NLE of choice is Adobe Premiere Pro, but I’ll use whichever NLE works best for the project. I learned Avid at school, then Final Cut Pro 6/7 on the job, then Premiere through Lynda.com. Lately, I’ve really liked the hover scrub feature in Premiere, because I deal with a lot of b-roll and it speeds up browsing time.

Give us a run through of your editing process
The process changes depending on the type of project. For now, I’ll share on the non-technical, big picture workflow I use for docs. Each step has lots of mini-steps I won’t delve into here.

1) Talk to the director about his/her vision and if they already have a storyline in mind or not.

2) Go through all of the relevant footage. If there a lot of interviews, then I like using transcripts.

3) For interviews or vérité footage, I will organize sound-bites and clips based on topics, characters, themes, etc. For b-roll or stock footage, I use a digital asset manager to meta-tag the mess out of it.

4) Assembly Cut – For me, this is a compilation of everything the director and I think has the potential to make the cut. This will usually be driven by sound-bites and text slates. It’s often quite long, but gives a good feel for all the good content. I’ll review with any decision-makers involved.

5) Rough Cut – There is usually a lot of overlap between assembly and rough cut, but this is essentially when the story begins to take shape in a more cohesive way with b-roll, temp music and graphics. Lots of reviewing and recutting.

6) Fine Cut – Finalize edits and graphics. Get initial score for timing and emotion. Do whatever it takes to reach picture lock.

7) Send to color and post audio. If possible, I like to remain in the creative process.

8) Deliver in whatever formats are needed. I prefer to outsource this stage if budget allows.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?
For story: People care about people more than a product or cause. Craft stories that are both intellectually clear and emotionally gripping.

For work ethic: Never stop learning, and be able to learn when no one is there to teach you. Be faithful with small things or you won’t be trusted with big things.

For editing: Be organized. No one taught me this clearly, but I learned it the hard way by making many mistakes strictly due to lack of organization.

How organized are you?
I am the most organized editor I have ever worked with so far. Some times to a fault because it takes so much time. Either way, I love this quote I just saw on Twitter from a CEO named A. R. Bernard, “The unorganized are always at the mercy of the organized.”

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I hardly know any other way to work. That’s one reason documentaries are appealing. I love finding the story in the edit.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
I never know how to answer this, because I feel like it’s always changing. For fiction films, I liked Big Fish, Batman Begins, Finding Nemo, LOTR. Basically, any fantastical film with very human themes.

For non-fiction films, I’ll mention The Cove, because it was the doc that showed me docs can be emotionally compelling, yet still carry a strong message. This year, I really liked We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.

For TV shows, BBC’s Sherlock, Planet Earth, 24, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra, and Band of Brothers.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
Documentary, promos, live event/concert, corporate, and a wedding. The only narrative was a short film in high school, but I don’t think that counts…

If you could meet any editor, who & why?
I don’t know many editors by name. I would mainly like to meet other feature doc editors to see how they approach their work. For how much talk there is about docs being shaped in editing, I don’t find very many interviews with the editors.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
This is difficult to answer. It really depends on the situation. So here’s something generic: Try lots of options. Show them to different people that you trust. Step away from the complexity for a couple days if you need a mental refresh.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I have used Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista 2 the most because of how they bring color grading right into the NLE.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
This relationship is incredibly important both to have a smooth post experience and to create a great film. The director and editor should be aligned in vision, goals, and – at a certain level – values. My preference is for the creative process to be highly collaborative with the director.

I always liked the analogy of an armor bearer. The editor is there to serve the director and find ways to take their vision to the next level. I try to have a disposition to always say yes to requests, but without becoming a yes-man. I’ll speak up if I have an idea or see a potential hole in the direction we’re going.

Since the director is usually looking at the big picture and balancing more things than the editor, I feel like editors can add value by really diving into the nuances of the footage to find unexpected gold nuggets.

I am also often thinking about how a first-time viewer will receive the video. For example, there have been times where a director and I have crafted a scene that we thought was emotionally compelling, but when we showed it to an audience they didn’t feel the same way. This wasn’t because it was a bad scene, but because we left out a bit of expository information that gave context. It is usually information that we already understood very well, yet the audience was getting for the first time. So I find there is always some balance between following the director’s vision, adding my own creative ideas, and ensuring the viewing experience makes sense to the audience.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Most problems I have had were due to lack of communication – often from both of us. It seems miscommunication is part of the human experience and can’t fully be avoided. If it’s my fault, then I try to own up to it and come up with a solution to the issue. If the miscommunication is more on their side or just something beyond both of us, then I still take it upon myself to help with a solution. Bigger problems arise when the other isn’t willing to be flexible in fixing the issue that has come up, or when they continue to communicate poorly. When this is the case, I try to choose joy, finish the project as best possible, and move on.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
For editing, it comes down to focusing on story and striving for excellence in everything. However, this is talked about a lot. So I’ll share some other personal thoughts regarding the creative process in general.

I believe that all creative endeavors at some level are an expression of the people doing the creating. Because of this, motives are very important to me. A question I often ask myself is: “Why am I doing this?” The focus of this question is more on my motives than on whatever it is I am working on. I want my answer to be free of selfish ambition or desire for recognition (It isn’t always, by the way). Ideally, I want to create things that will help shift people’s views about the world or themselves, and motivate them into loving action.

As a Christian, my relationship with God is also integral to my work. I really resonate with the Biblical idea of God wanting to partner with people to do his work. A big part of that is sharing his messages with people. Story is one way to carry a message, and I want my small efforts in media to be a part of God’s big message, whether clearly or thematically.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Don’t get discouraged by the small, mundane work and give up before giving yourself a chance.

Follow Kenny on twitter @kpmiracle

[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 Eddie Hamilton

EH_IBC2011_2

Eddie Hamilton recently cut Universal’s Kick-Ass 2 for writer/director Jeff Wadlow, and was co-editor on 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: First Class (with Lee Smith) for director Matthew Vaughn. After 17 years in the industry Eddie has cut over 20 feature films (both indies and studio movies) in a wide variety of genres as well as TV dramas, documentaries and award-winning shorts. His enthusiasm for big screen storytelling is matched only by his total dedication to the craft of film editing, his world-class technical expertise and his undisputed love of chocolate. He has also given presentations on Avid Media Composer editing at NAB and IBC. Eddie is a member of American Cinema Editors and BAFTA, and was on the feature film panel at EditFest London 2013. Let’s get started.

What got you interested in editing?

This is a very simple answer. When I was seven I saw Star Wars on tv and I noticed the names at the end of the film for the first time and I thought that people must do this for a living. So I became a film knots from the age of seven. I then read as many books as I could and watch films and documentary about how films were made. I was never really taken to the cinema by my parents and I had to beg my friends parent to take me to see all the big movies in the 80’s like Radars of the Last Ark and Temple of Doom. I grew up in a very small town in the South of England where working in the film industry seemed like an impossible dream. So I read as many books as I could, listened as many film sound tracks and I watched a lot of movies. When I was about seventeen, I thought I would be a director at that point I hooked up 2 VHS machines and I basically edited little music videos and family holidays videos on 2 vhs machines and the hours would fly by in the creative process. I found that the combination of story telling and technology really suited my personality. Effectively we are professional storyteller and what I study is story telling. When I am not editing, I am reading books about story telling and I’m trying to learn how to be a better storyteller. And then I actually studied Psychology at university but that was because there weren’t many films school in England and they had a really good student film society at University College of London, which is where I studied. The guy who was the president of the film society, the year above me, was Chris Nolan and he went on to great success. he was an incredibly nice person and very intelligent, he was studying English Literature at UCL. There were quite a few people there who were very passionate about films and we use to hang out every day talking about making films. I spent about 4 hours a day editing student films, I mean about everyday through the 3 years of university I would spend  about 4 hours editing even though I was studying Psychology. I then applied to film school but back then there were only 3 or 4 film schools in the UK that were very good. I applied to them all and I didn’t get into any of them. So I didn’t get into film school but I still really wanted to do this so I got a job as a runner in an editing facility in central london and I taught myself how to use all the hardware and all avid editing software. I also taught myself how to use all the hardware machines and how to copy tapes and all the technical stuff that you need to know. Somebody was making a very very low-budget film and I asked if they had an editor and they didn’t so I went straight to where their production office was and I managed to persuade them to give me the job editing the film.

When I started in the first 2 or 3 years I did a lot of television and I actually spent most of my time editing portuguese and spanish sport programme and I don’t speak portuguese or spanish and I don’t really like sport. It was very pressured editing and it was very time sensitive. There were very hard deadlines so I had to work hard and fast so I got to learn the media composer very well in that time, but I really wanted to work in film. If you have a passion for something you need to single mindedly aim for it otherwise you will get sidetracked and end up doing something else and then its quite hard to get back on track, so you have to make sure that you are always aiming for what you want to do.

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

Working on a movie where people are collaborating, where you have an editor or 2 and several assistants Media Composer is the only choice, especially for a movie of a certain budget. I haven’t used the new Adobe Premiere very much. I’ve done 2 films on Final Cut Pro 7 and i find it not professional. I found that it was a struggle to work with it professionally and its very hard to work with for anything longer than half an hour.

Give us a run through of your editing process?

I’m one of these editors who work quite a lot with sound effects and music to polish what i do. So I normally bring audio and sound effects into the project straight away and set up a folder structure that works well for me. I’m very strict on quality control and I make sure that everything that goes into media composer is video legal and there is no illegal blacks or whites. I make sure the sound is perfectly synced. So I will get my assistant to check the sync on the sound and make sure its perfect. They will group multi camera clips for me so that I can switch between multi cameras if there is 2 or 3 camera filming a scene. Then they will lay out the bins for each scene with a certain structure that I like and that I have developed over the years. I like to have all the sound imported not just the editors mix tracks so that I can dip into the isotracks and make sure that I am using the best quality recording for each line of dialogue. What I’ve been doing over the last couple of years is that I won’t watch all the dailies before I cut the scene, what I’ll do is I’d watch a wide shot to get the idea of the pace and the flavour of the scene and then I’d just cut the scene quite quickly without worrying too much about whether I’ve got the best performance or anything. So I will just go through and I will just cut the scene so I’ve got like this framework. Then you’ll start to get the sense of what the strengths and weakness are within the scene when you’ve done that, you start to get a feeling of where the actors are struggling or where they are doing well and you will start to find out the problems that you need to solve to make the scene work well. Then I will sit and watch all the dailies and I normally load out the dailies in a single sequence on the source timeline and I will play it through and anything that i like or anything that strikes me as being good I’ll just drop it in my sequence that I’ve thrown together in roughly the right place. After I’ve watched like an hour or 2 hours of dailies or however much there is, I’ll have like a big sequence, which is all the best fits of the scene and then I can go through and refine that. It’s fairly quick but also once you’ve watched the dailies you then intimately know what the director was trying to guide the actors to do in each take. I will then go through and work on the sound for the scene and often spend as much time on the sound as I do on the picture because its half the storytelling. Sometimes I will cut with no sound and I will just listen to the sound after I’ve put the scene together. So I make sure that all the dialogue tracks are beautifully clean and I have my edit suite calibrated to a theatrical level so when I’m playing with sound back I know how it will sound in the theatre. I also like to work with 5.1 in my edit suite so that I know what is coming from the centre speakers, the  sides and back and the subwoofer. On the timeline I have 4 mono dialogue tracks, 4 mono effects tracks, 2 stereo effects tracks and 2 stereo music tracks. I have quite a detail soundtrack built up and for a simple dialogue scene you don’t use very much, you might use a couple of dialogue tracks and a bit of music, but when you get to the effects heavy scene you use all the tracks and the timeline gets very full. Then I’ll work on it and refine it and make sure that it is presentable and it looks and sounds great. Then lastly show the director. I’m one of those editors who must be left alone at the first assembly to watch the footage and figure it out and then ill let the director watch it when i think I’ve got something thats worth watching.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?

It’s more of a kind of work ethic. I would say always try to do your best work everyday. Never settle for second best, set your quality bar very very high because your reputation is everything in the industry and if you have a reputation of somebody who works fast and hard, and completely reliable then you will succeed because producers need you to do your job and they need you to do it fast and well. Once you have all those qualities then people will want to hire you again. The main thing is always work incredibly hard and never turn in a work if you don’t think it’s as good as it can be.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

If the director is open to discussing the problem then we can find a solution but if they’re not open to discussing the problem then there isn’t much you can do. You have to let the director make the film they want to make and my job is to help the director make the film they want to make. So if they disagree with me then its their film and they get to make the final choice. All I can do is bring my storytelling experience and tell them what I think but if they disagree with me then there is nothing I can do.

What advise can you offer to get through complex edits?

The most important thing is to just get to the end of the scene somehow. don’t worry about the quality of what you are doing just get to the end because it is similar to when you are writing a script, you have to get to the end of the script and then you can actually start to refine it. If you get stuck on a scene just force yourself to go through it even though it is painful and then get pass it and then one of 2 things will happen, you either come in the next day and say hey thats not bad or you will look at it and you will be fairly clear on whats wrong and what you need to do. But you must have something so that you can start assessing whether you can turn left or turn right. If you just have a blank canvas there is nothing you can do. So my advise will be to just get through the scene, get to the end of it. If you need to take a break for 10 minutes then do that, if you need to take a walk or go buy an ice-cream or get a smoothie or something then do that but get through it and don’t waste time on the internet checking social media just sit and force yourself to get through it because once you get to the end it will be much easier to figure out how to get to the next step.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

The most important thing is the emotion of the story at that moment. The editor has to be puppet for the audience’s emotion. You have to understand what you are doing to the audience’s perception of the film when you make a cut. You have to understand what story am I telling here and then when I make a cut what story am I telling here and are the audience’s emotions going to alter. So effectively your job is to make sure that you manipulate their emotions in the best possible way. So you have to make sure that with every cut you are telling a particular story or inferring some emotion whether its tension, or excitement or action or love or fear or horror; every cut contributes to that. In my opinion, the editor is the master of emotions.

What advise would you give an aspiring editor?

I would say edit as much as you can because you only improve by doing the job. So get in touch with young film makers or directors and offer to edit their films for free and do as much as you can. The other thing I would say is working at a professional level as an editor is not just about storytelling and creativity, it is very technical and you have to be very meticulous and very organised. It is very important that you understand how the technology works intimately so that you don’t make technical mistakes that cost a lot of money to fix. So I would say strongly, if you want to be a professional editor you need to get professional experience somehow and that means getting a job in a post production facility and working there for 2 or 3 years teaching yourself how everything is done properly, so that you understand how every single piece of equipment works, you understand how everything is done, you understand how not to make mistakes. Then you can either get yourself a job as an assistant and watch the editor or just start editing and i did that, I just started editing very low budget and feature films and slowly built up from there and this process takes a long time, it will take a few years unless you are incredibly lucky and one of the films you worked on wins the palm door at Cannes, it will take quite a long time to get established. When you are working on studio/hollywood films you must have a strong track record and they prefer to hire older more experienced people that they know will do the job quicker and better than younger people who are inexperienced.

So the main thing is, edit as much as you can, and if you don’t have any footage to edit then go and shoot something on your phone and go edit and put it on youtube. Write a script on saturday morning, go and shoot on saturday afternoon, edit it on sunday and put it on youtube on sunday night. and if you do that for like every week for a year then you will be pretty good.

Bonus Insight

Be grateful that you are doing the job and don’t complain.  I meet a lot of editors who complain and I don’t understand why because you are doing the best job, you have one of the best jobs and you are very lucky being paid to do that. So even when it seems bad it’s no where near as bad as virtually every other job you could be doing.  So be grateful that you are being paid to do something that you love.

I feel like we have the best job because when you make a film you have many people working on the film to make the magic happen between action and cut, to get the images in the camera, teams upon teams of people such as art department and wardrobe, hair and makeup and special effects and visual effects and actors and camera teams, and then all the footage comes to you and it’s just you and you are the first person to see the film come to life before anybody else on the planet and thats a very privileged position to be in because you heard that a lot of people will see the film but you are the very first person even before the director so how the scenes are coming to life and how the actors are bringing the scene to life and that’s great and I love it, I never lose sight of that. I really treasure that every day.

Follow Eddie on twitter @eddiehamilton or his check out his website

[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 Robin de Jong

Robin de Jong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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