[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 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 Freddie Smith

Fred_Dubrovnik 001


Freddie Smith is a passionate offline/online editor and assistant from London, with a keen sense for pace and style and a particular interest in character-based drama.  As a freelancer, Freddie enjoys travelling with work and is now looking for projects in Copenhagen.  Back home, he is currently cutting the Independent, British feature, ‘Fraternity‘ and is the assistant editor for Horror web-series, ‘Bloody Cuts‘.

What got you interested in editing?
Initially, when watching skateboarding videos as a teenager, I recognised the effectiveness of matching the rhythms of skating to the music as well as leaving a dramatic pause after particularly impressive tricks – it made such a difference.  For me, a lot of the excitement came from the introductory montages, the pace and the storytelling, rather than the talent.  Many of these techniques still inspire my editing today, and I always remember the time I first saw them in action.

How did you get started in editing?
I started experimenting with VHS machines, then discovered NLE software and produced short narratives on DVD with two friends, an actor and a writer.  I settled in the editing dept. only after exploring many other roles, including focus puller, spark, producer, 1stAD and continuity and I still regularly find that experience useful.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I use Premiere Pro a lot at the moment as it has great native workflow options for RED.  I also like the slick timeline navigation, search options and customisable user interface.  The option to replace a clip with an AE sequence is extremely useful for graphics-intensive edits, and CC seems to have stylishly closed the gap between PPro and FCP.

Give us a run through of your editing process
Here’s my editing process with narrative drama:
– I start by re-reading the script, then syncing audio and familiarising myself with all the material that has been approved by the director, while marking notable moments in each take.
– I create an Assembly by layering and syncing all of the video and audio, taking my timing from the Master, or any MW where the actors have equal on-screen presence.  I then chip away at the layered block, disabling unused clips to save them from deletion.
– The Assembly timeline looks like a giant chequerboard, so I flatten it, tweak it and roughly mix the audio to create the first Editor’s Cut (EC1).  Every cut is made from a combination of function and intuition, and is entirely subjective.
– I’ll revisit the scene after a few days to add it to a longer timeline of scenes (up to 20 mins) for context and pace, then re-watch and tweak further, creating EC2.
– I export the EC2 of the whole section as an H.264 and send to the Director.  Hopefully I’ll get a promising txt!  I’ll visit him to hear feedback and create DC1 on the spot, including placeholder shots if needed.
– DC1 is usually revisited a fortnight later to add in the newly shot placeholders and to measure the pace as objectively as possible, then shown to a private audience for feedback until locked and ready for the Online.

What tips were you given that have been really helpful?
My face lit up when I was first shown how to ripple delete hundreds of gaps in FCP7 – create two slugs on the above track at the start and end, then hold the delete key in the space between.  Magical!

How organized are you?
Meticulous…  When working with hundreds of scenes, each with several different cuts, it’s a huge waste of time not to be organised.  I liaise with the script supervisor and keep all the information I need on spreadsheets.  Also, as a freelancer and assistant I’m used to sharing project files with other editors, so I think it’s rude not to be clear with a handover.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
The script is so rich with subtextual notes, I wouldn’t want to work without it.  However, during a six-minute foreign language scene (with an English script), there was little choice but to sculpt it intuitively from the footage.  Sometimes it is important to work without the constraints of a script, for example when creating city establishers, action montages or feeling states – there’s so many golden nuggets you could inadvertently miss out.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?
Recently I saw the beautiful, French film, The Intouchables (2011), which admires the relationship between a wealthy, disabled aristocrat and the pitiless working-class man from the street he employs to become his carer.  The storytelling, the humour, the pace and the highs and lows of the characters all combine to make this an immersive treat…  I can’t wait to see it again.  Christopher Cain’s Young Guns (1988) is also an old favourite of mine.

On TV, I was gripped and inspired by David Yates’ State of Play (2003), edited by Mark Day who won a BAFTA for it.  Since then I’ve really enjoyed Mad Men for its subtlety, production design and dangerously good script.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
Most of my early work was in corporate video, which taught me clarity of delivery and where an audience’s focus lies on the screen.  Cutting mini-documentaries shifted my attention to building up a character’s on-screen personality.  I then began feature-length wedding films as a challenge in cinematically unfolding a story, maintaining momentum and exploring feeling states and tonal montage.  I am now most interested in independent narrative drama where there is tremendous freedom to sculpt the characters and dialogue and unlock even greater meaning from the script.  It took me a while to feel comfortable enough to begin cutting drama but there’s no way I’d hold things together if I’d taken a shortcut.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?
I’d love to ask Michael Kahn how he sculpted the Omaha beach landing in Saving Private Ryan, and how much planning of such a scene he recommends making before the shoot.  I like to make a verbal or written first cut of a scene in my head, with the director in pre-prod, though I’ve wondered what an optimum amount of planning might be to still leave creative room in the edit.  Omaha beach is utterly inspiring when I consider the thought process of editing before shooting.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
– If you have the luxury to choose, begin editing with the easiest dialogue scenes.
– Create a spreadsheet to keep track of progress for filming, importing, audio syncing, Assembly and your Editor’s Cuts.
– Take care of details in a scene while the edit is fresh (continuity, correct level of emotion) before bringing them into the context of a larger chunk of scenes, when you can take a step back and carve out the arc of character and pace.
– When faced with a difficult scene, look for moments of change that you can use to split the scene into sections, à la Omaha beach.  Tackle each section individually to reduce the intimidation of rushing through the whole scene in one swoop.
– Lay down the main characters/elements first to direct the timing before introducing minor characters/cutaways.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I don’t really use plug-ins at the moment, but I know there are some great workflow solutions like Automatic Duck.  The only minor problem solver I use at the moment is AlphafromMaxColor.pbk in After Effects to cleanly remove white backgrounds.  I also do some colour correction with Colorista II, which works a treat.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
For best results there has to be a friendship beyond the professional link, coupled with the comfort to be brutally honest with one another.  I like us to be able to inspire each other regularly and continually build upon each others’ ideas.  When ideas don’t unfold smoothly, I talk about them away from the edit suite where there is an equal chance to explore solutions.  It’s also important to enjoy some time away from the film and reinforce the friendship – the director I’m working with on the feature, Fraternity, is a guitarist so I often bring my fiddle to the edit and we’ll chill out by bashing through a few songs!

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
I try to distinguish which choices are made by the client because they must be, and which are their creative decisions that are perhaps flexible.  Then I pitch my edit that both ticks the boxes and wears my own creative stamp, and I back up the pitch with reasons as to why it works for their audience.  Sometimes clients need persuasion to try a fresh idea.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
As powerful and versatile as editing can be, don’t let it get in the way of telling the story.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Learn to solve problems in the edit rather than just discover them.  An editor who can save production costs is valuable.

You can follow Fred on twitter @fredstreads or his website

Frame of Reference with Editor Vashi Nedomansky


Vashi Nedomansky was born in Czechoslovakia and defected to North America with his parents when he was 5 years old. “My father was a professional hockey player in the NHL and my mother a photographer and artist. I grew up in Toronto, Birmingham (Alabama), St. Louis and Detroit. I graduated from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with a degree in Film and Video Studies. I played professional hockey for 10 years then started by professional career as a film editor in 2001. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, California since 1994. Filmmaking has allowed me to cross paths and work with the most diverse group of people…and in that aspect I have been both lucky and grateful.” Vashi has cut 6 feature films including one for David Zucker (Airplane, Scary Movie), commercials for Volkswagen, U.S. Air Force, Electronic Arts, U.S. Army, Ford, National Hockey League, U.S. Navy and many more. “I enjoy working on the cutting edge of filmmaking with partners such as: Bandito Brothers, Shane Hurlbut, Vincent Laforet, and The Polish Brothers.”

What got you interested in editing?
When I was 12, my dad was playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. He was awarded a VHS video camera as First Star of a game. It was the huge kind of shoulder camera with a cable that attached to the actual VHS recorder. The big and heavy monolithic one. I basically commandeered it, figured out how to use and started shooting. I filmed family events, vacations and soon after, short films for school. I was allowed to turn in videos for book reports instead of written papers. I cast the other students in my class, directed and shot at my house/backyard on weekends. The first book report video I did was “Mission M.I.A.”, a Vietnam War book based on the escape of 4 U.S. soldiers.

I edited the films by connecting 2 VHS recorders to another and building my cuts. A very inaccurate method, but the engine of decision-making in my brain was starting to turn. I even added music and sound effects through a cheap microphone. The videos screened in the English classroom where I received my first good and bad reviews. It was the start of my obsession with filmmaking and editing. The rush and excitement in creating and sharing my work with people was addictive.

How did you get started in editing?
After my self-indoctrination in school, I continued editing short films for myself and other people. I have to also thank my mother because she would take me with her to see movies every weekend and even during the week. From the age of 4 or 5, she preferred foreign films but also the work of Lumet, Friedkin, Woody Allen, Forman and Coppola. I didn’t understand the content of the movie but I know I inherently picked up on the pacing of films from that era and relationships of the characters as opposed to explosions, space battles and shoot outs.

I studied Film and Video studies at the University of Michigan and focused on Russian and East European Studies. Being Czechoslovakian it was nice to learn about the filmmakers from my country and all the challenges they faced in creating their art. After college, I played professional hockey for 10 years and retired in 2001 with 3 herniated discs in my lower back. I had been living in Los Angeles since 1994 but now done with hockey, I officially hung out my shingle as a professional editor.

With no work to show, share or promote…I had no paid work for almost 2 years. I had numerous friends that were actors and directors, so I spent most of my time cutting short films, webisodes, acting reels, pilots and music videos. I read every book on film editing and built a massive library of film post production while honing my craft in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure to meet Martin Hunter (editor of Full Metal Jacket) and William Goldenberg (editor of Heat, Argo) early after my arrival. Conversations with them were inspirational and pure jet fuel to keep working hard.

After a while, I was being referred to other people for paying gigs and was hungry to take on every job I could. “No” did not exist. Any question or task asked of me was responded with “Yes, I can do that.” I would then run back to my library and confirm or learn what I had agreed to do! My first big break was in 2005 when David Zucker (Airplane!, Naked Gun) asked me to cut a couple short films and web videos for him.  I hauled my G4 Mac tower and twin 17″ LCDs into his office in Santa Monica. I commenced 24 long days of furious cutting with one of the Masters of Comedy. I slayed the edits and David promised me I would cut his next feature film. This is where every editor does the biggest eye-roll ever…but David stuck to his word and I edited “An American Carol” for him in 2008.  In that I had the privilege to cut the likes of: Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer, James Woods and Paris Hilton! After that it has been a whirlwind of insanity in the best possible way ever.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
I have edited feature films on Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. With the transition to digital acquisition and cameras like Alexa, Red, BMCC, Phantom, Sony F55 and all the DSLRs…my main NLE for the last 3 years has been Adobe Premiere.  It does everything I need in a fast, clean and simple way.  I don’t need to transcode any footage and that saves me and my assistants days upon days of precious time. Also…with editors having such an expanded role, I’m responsible for delivering cuts with full sound mixes and solid VFX passes. With the integration of Premiere with After Effects, Audition and Photoshop using Dynamic Linking…I can do everything with one suite of software that talks very accurately and nicely within itself.

To be perfectly honest, I’m NLE agnostic and still have to cut on Avid or FCP 7 on freelance gigs at post houses around Los Angeles. Luckily, it only takes a couple of hours to get back into the groove of each respective NLE. I think anyone that considers themselves to be an editor, should be familiar and knowledgable on Premiere, FCP and Avid. With work so hard to get at any level or time, why would you limit your professional possibilities? In my experience, an editor does about half a dozen different purely mechanical actions 90% of the time. The actual decisions are made in the head, heart and gut before any physical action. Before you push a button…you have to know why.  That said, at my home studio, I have 2 full edit bays that run my main Adobe pipeline all day and night. I also have FCP 7 and Avid Media Composer installed just in case!

Give us a run through of your editing process
I feel that you only need 2 things to start an edit. First, an editor must have a supremely well-organized and easily accessible project. Everything must make sense and be in a place where you can get to it in a few seconds. If you have to hunt, you’re in deep trouble. This requirement is for your benefit, sanity and efficiency. If you can’t find a file…you are wasting time. Directors, Agencies, Creatives, Clients, Producers or whoever is in your edit bay have limited time. A sure way to scream out that you are an amateur is to waste their time and make them wait. I apply the same expectations upon myself. My time is precious. I want to finish my day of work after crushing the edit. I love the edit cave and time can pass so quickly…but I also want a margarita on the patio of El Cholo while the sun is still up and hitting my face. Alas…most margaritas occur under moonlight. Still tasty.

This leads me to my second requirement before I start an edit. It is critical for me to have intimate knowledge with all the footage. I need to go through all the footage at least twice before I start. I make notes, markers and pull selects along the way. I’m a firm believer in the subconscious mind and the ridiculous connections it can make. The more you see, feel and watch the footage…the more it will help you when you are up against the wall. Only when I become so familiar with all the footage that it is second nature…do I even start to think about editing. Then I blast through it all again to confirm my feelings. Finally…I edit. Once your brain has absorbed all the footage and you can easily access it through your organizational system…your brain will fill in the blanks and remember seemingly innocuous chunks of footage that will solve a scene or save the day.  Put in the hard work up front and you will be rewarded on the back-end.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
1. Build a scene with dialog first. You can literally cut a scene with no regard to picture. Listen to what the characters are saying and what the scene means to them.
2. Pacing and rhythm are the building blocks of storytelling for an editor.
3. Cut shorter rather than longer on any edit that you are having problems with.
4. Don’t cut until you have new information to contribute to the story. It’s okay to ride that amazing master shot.
5. Hide a cut with motion. It can be a head turn, an arm wave, a passing car or whip pan.
6. Overlap action cuts by 3 or 4 frames. The brain needs that microsecond to comprehend the cut.

How organized are you?
Insanely organized. Anally organized. I’m not comfortable starting until my project is OCD’d to infinity…plus one.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I feel that every editor embraces that challenge and secretly wants to build from scratch. No interference, no over the shoulder lurking, no hand holding. You were hired because you evidently proved to the producer, director and post supervisor that you are not an insane person that somehow bullshitted themselves into the job. You have hopefully been hired for the skills and talents and experiences that make you who you are…and for your storytelling powers. A documentary often does not have a script and all of reality TV is a mountain of footage waiting to be crafted into a story.

Every editor has their strengths…but the paramount skill should be to step back from everything and see what the story is. The big picture from a bird’s-eye view. Then I attack…telling the story, using the appropriate footage whilst drinking coffee, vodka, windex or whatever is left in the kitchen. It’s not easy…but it shouldn’t be. Writers are known as pained souls who stare at the empty page.  The editor stares at an empty timeline wondering what shot should be dropped in first. Therein lies the allure and challenge that I live for…to create something from nothing.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
Films: Chinatown, Paths of Glory, All the President’s Men, Le Samourai, A Shot in the Dark, Hunt for Red October, Being There
TV: Law and Order, Mad Men, Curb your Enthusiasm, The Wire, The West Wing, Hannibal, Breaking Bad

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)
6 feature films, 25 short films, documentaries, music videos, national commercials, corporate videos, pilots, web campaigns, webisodes and other projects that cannot be defined by genre!

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
Anne V. Coates because she mastered every genre she touched with such aplomb and made it seem effortless.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Without sounding like a broken record, it all starts in the preparation and organization up front. Spend your time then so the complex edit is not so complex. The moment you are rushing and just trying to get a cut out, is the moment you are doing your job half-ass.  You are just pissing in the wind and getting your face wet. Obviously not every situation allows for unlimited exploration of an edit. There are deadlines, budgets, reshoots, pick up shots, outstanding footage and unfinished VFX shots holding you back. The more familiar and ingrained you are into all the footage…the better chance you allow your brain to fill in those blanks.  I will often delay until the last moment before I dive in to recut or rework a scene. I step away and ruminate on other things. I procrastinate. I make it almost painful for myself by not cutting, until I snap…and then I pounce and slay the edit because ideas and energy are just pouring out of me. That’s just me though…to each their own.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
1. Warp Stabilizer to smooth out bumps or over-shaky footage.
2. Fast Color Correct in Premiere to balance shots as I’m going through the edit.
3. An adjustment layer with a LUT or S-curve to deal with LOG or flat footage so it looks closer to the final image.
4. FilmConvert in Premiere to apply a film stock emulation and scanned film grain for removing the digital look.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
Ideally you are on the same page as the director when you are hired, so that you can work most harmoniously. I always read the script and discuss reference films in the interview or initial meeting. I share my thoughts and concerns and “open my kimono” so that the director knows my sensibilities and views on the story. It’s very much like a 6 month marriage where you see the most beautiful and most ugly in each other. I try (!) to limit the emotional extremes and act like the keel of a boat that keeps the movie steady and always moving forward through the stormy ocean.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
If you want to keep the job or get another one…be as accommodating as possible. It’s a temporary relationship that needs nurturing and constant watering. During an edit, I’ve seen the worst in people but also extreme kindness and generosity . The best advice I can give is don’t take anything personally and focus on getting to the finish line of the directors/clients vision, while offering as much of your own personal viewpoint as is allowed by the situation. Temperament is probably the most critical quality for a successful editor to possess…if technical skills and storytelling are already assumed as solid. I’m actually quite hot-headed away from the edit bay but I check my aggression at the door once I go in to work. I use hockey/tennis/exercise to let loose all my pent-up frustrations and often break numerous tennis racquets and hockey sticks to that end. Whatever works!

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
Editing is the opportunity to contribute your life experience and skills into a completely make-believe endeavor.
If you do it right…the make-believe becomes real…emotional…a journey…memorable…compelling and magical.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Watch as many good and bad movies as you can…over and over again and let osmosis do the rest.

You can find Vashi on twitter as @vashikoo or check out his website VashiVisuals.

Seasons Greeting to You and Yours.

This Holiday Season, may you have the fulfillment of seeing around you
the people you love the most. May you have the satisfaction
of giving the best gift, special memories that will last forever.
This Holiday Season, may you feel peaceful and contented.

God’s Richest Blessing.

Seasons Greetings from the Frame of Reference Team.

See you in the New Year.


Xmas Greetings

Frame of Reference with Editor Gordon Burkell

Today we get to go inside the head of Gordon Burkell. Gordon has worked in the film industry and as a film editor for 15 years. He started Art of the Guillotine in 2007 to help build a community for editors and to create a vehicle to help editors and film academics share their knowledge and expertise to improve the art form. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada where he edits and teaches film editing at Ryerson University.

How did you get started in editing?
I actually started out on set as a boom operator and disliked the hours waiting on the sets.  It was when I moved into post sound as an assistant that I met Alan Collins who had worked as an editor for Roger Corman and David Cronenberg.  I started assisting Alan to help with the new software learning curve and the two of us hit it off.  I continued assisting him for several years.  Eventually, he started directing documentaries and I cut them.

What got you interested in editing?
It was working with Alan Collins that really peaked my interest.  Before that I didn’t really know where I was going, just that I wanted to work in film.  I enjoyed the theories of Eisenstein, Kuleshov and Pudovkin and had studied cultural theory and philosophy in school and his knowledge in these areas facilitated engaging and thought-provoking conversations while we worked.  We rarely talked technology and almost always discussed how to affect the audience emotionally in a scene or communicate ideas persuasively.  It was quite possibly the most fun I ever had while assisting an editor.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
AOTG.com has been keeping quite busy so I’ve been doing less and less editing myself and more on the web.  When I am cutting, I am actually quite flexible, at the moment I have Avid and Premiere on my systems and it really is dependent on the project.  If I am going into a lot of After Effects then Premiere, if I am helping the sound team with sound in Pro Tools then Avid.  Sometimes I get brought on after projects have been started or to fix things and if the cut was done in FCP, Media 100, Avid, Premiere, Lightworks I’ll really just jump in and get it done.

Give us a run through of your editing process?
When I am cutting, I work mostly in documentaries, as this is it is the nature of the genre, I usually find myself flooded with footage.  There may be an outline but no script.  Because of this the director and I really need to be on the same page so I usually have discussed their ideas and hopes for the project and make sure that I thoroughly understand them.  In the documentary world organization is paramount, if I am lucky enough to have an assistant, we work out our organization scheme.  Although, it creates more work for the assistant, I don’t like to label my clips with the reels, tape numbers or takes.  I give descriptive labels that may be followed by locations or content type, we usually generate a list and use the meta data to keep things organized for online.

How the doc is shot determines how I start to organize.  If it is verité then I cut things in the order they occurred.  This, of course, won’t stay this way but it gives the director a sense of what they shot and when, and the natural flow of events.  Then I start to chop out the unnecessary bits and move elements around.  I work to engage the audience and make the most compelling doc. that reflects the intent of the director and the rest of the production team.

If the footage isn’t shot in any particular order, then I begin by grouping shots and scenes based on similar content.  Event A, Event B, etc. OR by story elements or arcs.

Most of my rough cuts on docs come in well over the running time. Five hours isn’t uncommon.  After the initial cut we chizzle the footage more.  Remove characters, story lines, unnecessary content.

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and explore every path.  Your job is not to be an assembly line worker but to be analytical, inquisitive, and creative.  Question every element, how you can improve scenes, cuts, the character arcs.  I laugh because a lot of the time people state that directors and producers treat the editing room as a psychiatrists office and vent about others on the set or in the crew.  People have told me that this role is often evident in my questions, I will ask how does this scene make you feel?  Are you engaged in this character, do you want to learn more?

How organized are you?
In the cutting room I am beyond organized.  Almost to a fault.  Everywhere else in life is a different story!

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I can and do! I don’t do much scripted work but when I do, if need be, I can go off script.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
This fluctuates constantly and is being added to or shifted almost daily.  For comedy, I love Flight of The Conchords. Just the thought of some of the jokes make me laugh out loud.  For drama I am currently on a Sons of Anarchy kick.

As for films, it ranges, I repeatedly watch François Truffault’s, The 400 Blows, Planet of the Apes (The original), I also love Singing in the Rain, and my go to Christmas film is either Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life.  Of course, there are many many others.  Really if you ask me in a few months I could give you a completely new list.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/
I mostly focus on Docs but I have cut narrative.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?
I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting some of my editing heros.  Malcolm Jamieson, Michelle Hozer, Michael Tronick are just a few of the amazing editors whose work blows my mind everytime I see it and my interactions with them in person were just thrilling.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Go home, sleep, take the weekend off.  You’ll be surprised how a problem you’re facing on a Friday has a solution Monday morning. Also, explore arts and entertainment outside of film.  We all love film, we all love going to the movies and being absorbed into the film world.  But go see art exhibits, go to the theatre, go to a sports game, the museum, go out and engage in life! You can’t translate emotions onto the screen unless you’ve felt them!  You’ll be surprised how art, museums, sports, etc. inspire you and give you ideas when you are back in the cutting room.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
Funny, I don’t really go out of my way to purchase plugins unless I absolutely need them. I have BorisFX, Tiffen Dfx, Noise Industries stuff on my systems and I’ve used Plural Eyes to sync doc audio issues.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
Drastically different each time.  There are one or two directors who I have short hand with but I typically work through the footage with the director and try to come to understand their vision so I can execute it.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
I stand up for the project but at the end of the day it is the director’s head on the line.  I’ll present the case but if the director refuses despite a persuasive discussion then I move forward.  With tight schedules we don’t have days to fight it out.  I usually suggest we try it both ways and see what works best, then I have my version in case the producer doesn’t like the director’s version.  I have options to demo for the producers which makes them happy.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
You aren’t an editor until you learn when not to make a cut.  This was told to me by Michael Tronick and has really stuck with me.

The other idea that I follow is that you need to internalize theories, cutting techniques, ideas, and the technical aspects of the job.  Really have a deep understanding of all areas in the editing room.  Then when you are cutting, don’t focus on these things just cut, let it become a natural reaction to the emotions on the screen.  If you understand these ideas, the technology, etc. and I mean really understand them, they will become second nature and you will naturally apply them while working.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor?
Cut whatever you can get your hands on. Doesn’t matter if it is an infomercial, corporate video or a friend’s short.  Just get your hands dirty. Make mistakes, learn, and move on.  It worked for Kuleshov didn’t it?

You can catch up with Gordon on twitter or on AOTG.com.