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At Last, a Modern Book on the History of Editing

April 6th, 2015

A good book like a well-edited film just flows along and carries you in its merrily rolling stream. Such is the case with Twilight for the Gods written by Jack Tucker, ACE.

Twilight for the Gods book coverHe has created the most up-to-date, thorough, readable history on editing that I’ve encountered. He packs its 116 pages with facts and concepts and works in anecdotes and true tales from the editing room that, like any good cut, push the story along and make it zing.

In my October 13, 2011 post I opined that “A good history of editing has yet to be written.” Tucker has now done that from the viewpoint of a Hollywood editor.

I crossed paths with Jack twelve years ago when I was teaching Final Cut Pro and writing my first book on editing. He kindly opened his garage where a KEM resided and patiently posed for Jack Tucker at KEMphotos for the first edition of Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video. Then he met me and my photog at a now defunct film lab where he had a film cutting room and taught students about film.

In addition, Jack exuberantly blurbed both editions of Cut by Cut Jack Tucker cutting film(“Finally we have a comprehensive text on the subject. It is what God and DeMille intended.”) I have quoted him in my books and to my classes: “Editing is not a technical process. It’s an artistic process. It’s about story telling. What editors do, is the final rewrite of the script.” So I am happy to repay him and happier still to state emphatically that Twilight for the Gods is a fun, worthwhile read for all who want to understand the process, politics, and evolving technologies on the decades-long road from patchers (the original film cutters) to digital film editors.

Thus Spake Tucker
“It is twilight for the gods of time and space … Now electronic editing has erased the mysticism that long protected them and their craft. The editor’s power over time and space is being usurped … Sitting behind him are the director, the Twilight for the Gods book coverproducer, the executive producer, and the lead actor all eagerly helping him or her edit, and all covetous of the power of the gods. Collaborative art has gotten confused with mob rule.”

Thus Tucker begins his book by explaining its title – which both pays homage to editors past and lays out a challenge to editors present and future. He hopes that the latter “… will love the craft as I have and learn from it. It is magic, and we are the gods of time and space.”

Tucker Enters the Cutting Room
Tucker started his editing career as an airman at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1964 when he was assigned to the editorial department of the 1369th Photo Squadron. Cinema Editor Magazine coverFrom this assignment he became infected with what he terms “‘the holy disease,’ the love of filmmaking—and particularly of film editing.”

Eventually, Tucker landed in Hollywood where he worked on features and TV shows and founded and served as editor on “Cinemeditor,” the ACE magazine. He toiled on many of the same movie studio lots I did. So I got a kick out of his description of Washington Row – two stories of editing rooms at MGM (now Sony) that back up to Washington Blvd. in Culver City – which he likens to “a tenement in a New York slum.”

Tucker on Editing
There will never be another time like this first cut. It is a solitary moment between creator and creation. The editor knows that it is only his skill and instincts that are shaping the film at this point. It is a love affair, a first love, between editor and footage, with no outsiders involved.”

While this is not a “how to” book but rather a “how it’s done” book, Tucker drills beneath the surface to delineate editing systemthe editing process starting with organizing and viewing dailies, proceeding to facing the footage and making your first edit and on to facing the director with the completed first cut of the show to re-cutting. He covers today’s digital editing room as well as yesterday’s film cutting room, bridging them with his deep knowledge and passion for the art of editing, a testimony to art triumphing over whatever technology evolves in the future.

Tucker On Working with Directors
Tucker devotes a chapter to the relationship between director and editor, making many astute observations. He believes that editors are the “real assistant directors” whereas the ADs on the set are function editor and director more as production managers. He recalls talking with Director-Editor Robert Wise who cut for Orson Welles who recounts how directors used to view cuts only in the screening room and never entered the editing room. When the director is in the room, Tucker believes that the editor will work to please the director (or other power-that-be) rather than experiment with the footage to possibly bring out the film better. Just as the editor is the impartial artist removed from what happens on the production set, the director should be the impartial viewer in the theatre, removed from what happens in the editing room. Of course with digital systems this is no longer the case, with everyone thinking they can edit the movie if they just learn the tool but good films and editor-director collaborations can and do occur daily, Tucker notes.

Tucker Covers the Waterfront of Film Editing History
Poster of Edison's invention Tucker does a great job of discussing the familiar as well as lesser known figures, events, and entities in film and editing history including Edison, Muybridge, and his zoopraxiscope, Zoetrope, Eastman and celluloid film, Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1889, first film shot in the U.S.), the Lumiere Brothers, George Melies, Edwin S. Porter, Mabel Clark, patchers, DW Griffith, The Trust, and Margaret Booth, the French New Wave, split screens, and Donn Cambern and the cutting of Easy Rider.

Original Moviola He also details the technological inventions that affected art and craft of editing. He pays tribute to Iwan Serrurier who invented the Moviola and reveals how it got its name.

Tucker looks at the beginnings of TV, including the history of Dann Cahn and the “Monster Moviola” as well as the inception of the Cinerama technique. Who knew Cinerama was originally developed from an Cinerama Dome Air Force gunnery training tool? And that it “was a bitch to edit” Tucker asserts. In his always clear and accessible way he explains how the addition of color and sound on film affected the medium. And he documents the technical developments of video tape, demystifying 3:2 pulldown, telecine, linear editing, and generation loss along the way.

The Long Goodbye
He documents the long fade out from cutting on film that began with the appearance of nonlinear tape based systems in the 1980s and finished in the millennium after digital systems began proving themselves in the 1990s. The last chapter ends with Tucker detailing the current Hollywood editing landscape with Digital Intermediates, the demise of film labs, digital archiving issues, and dailies shot on Red Cameras and Alexas.
Wild Bunch Poster

Looking at the horizon, he concludes philosophically with a line from Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch: “It ain’t like the old days, but it’ll do.”

Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Technical & process, Television

100 years of Rotoscoping

January 16th, 2015

Confession: I’ve watched “Glee” since its first episode in May 2009. I like the message of the show – acceptance – seeing GBLT characters as well as hetero-and metrosexual characters, and its often non-formulaic plots, issues, and nuances not to mention its musical numbers. As a member of Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (the TV equivalent of the Motion Picture Academy where you get to vote on the Emmys) I enjoyed a Glee cast and crew night (Cory Monteith, RIP, was more good looking in person). However, last season (#5) I thought the show died with Monteith, unfortunately.

So I tuned in this week for the beginning of Season 6, the final season, as creator Ryan Murphy has announced, ready for the show to end. I was elated to see new directors and a reboot of the show. I loved this number on Episode 2, “Homecoming.”

It is a scene designed to be completed in post and a nice homage to a particular type of animation, still used and appreciated today. Can you guess the two filming techniques the filmmakers used?

Dissecting the Scene
If you guessed green screen and rotoscoping, you are correct. This energetic scene, uniquely combines green screen (the frame the characters hold and characters jump through) and rotoscoping (the B & W animated part of the scene).

Rotoscoping is where you draw an outline over live action to create animation. This technique was patented in 1915 by its creator, Max Fleischer who put the Bop in Betty and animated Superman, Popeye, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and more.

The more you know and understand about film techniques, the more creative you can be. Enjoy this succinct tutorial


on how you can rotoscope your own films today as well as brief history of Fleischer and his rotoscope machine.

Editing practices, History/research, Technical & process, Television, Visual FX editing

Editing a Book Trailer – Part 1

December 1st, 2014

Introduction
Jay Scherberth is my partner in PictureYourBook, a book trailer company. I do the writing, storyboarding, and marketing to authors, Jay does the editing and designed our website. We both review the cuts and interface with the authors.

We met each other in a cutting room in 1986 when I was his assistant editor. Jay has been on the cutting edge of editing storytelling and technical skills, having pioneered computer editing on All in the Family and other Norman Lear show and cut MTV’s first “Video Album” (Blondie’s, “Eat to the Beat.”) Jay has edited popular shows such as Columbo, MacGyver, Full House, and Scrubs.
Most recently he cut the independent film short El Doctor.

I am lucky to have him as a partner and a friend.

I asked Jay to write up his approach to and process for his first foray into this new form of promo – book trailers. Here’s his first post.

Chronicles of Old San Francisco – 1:49 from Jay on Vimeo.

Editing the Book Trailer for Chronicles of Old San Francisco by Jay Scherberth

My overriding goal was to assemble an effective, quality trailer while keeping the costs as low as possible. To accomplish this, I limited the number of tools needed to complete the project. I decided to create a trailer that could be done entirely using my NLE editor, Adobe Premier CC 2014. Today’s professional NLE products allow for titling, motion control, sound editing and many styles of image manipulation. There are no less than 9 tracks of picture and sound running in the timeline, yet I was able to maintain complete control over all these elements, without sacrificing flexibility or quality.

Budget and the Importance of Planning
The trick of bringing a project in on time and at or under budget is to know how the final product will turn out before any actual editing takes place. With notes, sketches and storyboards, I was able to anticipate problems before they occurred. Planning is an integral part of editing and the more you think about what you want to end up with, the closer you will come to that goal.

The Challenge of Mixed Media
Another challenge in doing this project was working with mixed media. That’s not to say that Premiere can’t handle image assets of different file types, resolutions and codecs. It does an amazing job of including just about anything you can throw at it. But there are limits to what media is usable and practical. For example, in working with historical material, you’re sometimes faced with the dilemma of using material that may be sized below the resolution of the editing project itself.

Choosing the Right Resolution
I decided to go with 720p which is 1280 x 720 resolution in this project. Going any higher would be a waste of storage and bandwidth given the preponderance of small mobile devices the trailer is likely to be played on. Any image or video assets that were at or above the 720p resolution were OK to use. But unfortunately, some of the supplied material was significantly below 720p and presented a challenge in terms of maintaining image quality and clarity.

Accommodating Multiple Viewing Platforms
Because of the many viewing platforms ranging from smart phones to tables to desktops, delivery can be the final challenge. The editor needs to make sure that small screen users have a satisfactory viewing experience. For example, make sure that all title are within the safe title boundaries and that the smallest font size used is still readable.

This first trailer experience was a good one. The icing on the cake was finding Marcia Bauman who composed music that fit our trailer perfectly.

Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Marketing & budgeting, Technical & process, Television

Hiatus

January 19th, 2013

n. hai’eitas (Greek) An unexpected gap.
Encarta dictionary

All good TV shows – well, those that come back for a second season or more – go on hiatus, having delivered the required number of episodes to the network. The time gives everyone a break from the 12+ hour days and 5-7 day weeks.

I began this blog on September 9, 2009. I’ve found that there are a bountiful supply of roads and riffs that lap the topic of editing. I’m not out of subjects now. However, major life events are intervening, primarily the death of my mother in October and my father this month and having to close their estate.

Announcement
On the bright side, thanks to the books I’ve written on editing and this website, I’ve just signed the Chronicles of Old New York covercontract on a new book about a new subject for a new publisher. Chronicles of Old San Francisco will debut later this year for Museyon publishers. It’s the first western city of a series that chronicles Boston, Las Vegas, New York, Paris, London, Rome, Chicago (debuting soon), and Los Angeles (in 2014).

All books in the series are comprised of walking tours and a succinct history of the chosen city centered around its colorful characters. I especially like the character part – it reminds me of editing drama and documentaries. The guidebooks are aimed at all visitors to the cities, whether tourists or locals

Book = Hiatus
I am thrilled to explore, research, and write about the city I returned to in 2010. However, my May deadline leaves no time for other writing. So after 3 1/3 years of continuous blogging, I am awarding myself a hiatus. Please feel free to read previous blogs, explore this website, and make comments as my webmeister will be checking in and I will respond. Also, I will continue the Cut of the Month feature so enjoy the frames and text.

I will return to blogging in June or later this summer.

Announcements, Editing & life, Television

Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video, 2nd Edition is here!

May 26th, 2012

There’s nothing like the smell (and look and feel) of a new book in the morning
(to steal from that famous phrase in Apocalypse Now).

Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video

For over a year now, I’ve been mentioning why I felt it important and necessary to re-write my first book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video and excerpting parts here. Now the result of my year of labor – 477 pages of newly minted book – has arrived on my doorstep and I can share it with you and the world.

Learn all the details about the Cut by Cut 2 here . Or tour the book’s highlights below.

What’s new in Cut by Cut 2:

  • Workflow charts and explanations for film, tape, and file-based shows HD and 3D practices throughout the book.
    • Updated music and sound editing workflows as well as the disk authoring and DI (digital intermediate) workflows.
  • HD and 3-D content and VFX editing process and types of edits.
  • Up-to-date info for finishing on film via DI or traditional negative cut process.
  • An in-depth look at modern, “MTV” style editing vs. traditional, Hollywood style that employs current research and a chart detailing the differences.
  • Advice from 15 experienced editors working in all film genres from comedy to corporate videos to news to music videos to reality shows.

Like the first edition, Cut by Cut 2:

  • Clearly and completely lays out the editing journey from the first frame of the shoot to the final show exhibited on tube, theater, disk, or Web. Editing System
  • Concentrates on the why and what to do next, delineating how editors perform their job on Avid, Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and other digital editing systems.
  • Details the post production process from dailies to finishing via online, negative cut, disk authoring, and the DI process.
  • De-mystifies codecs, telecine and reverse telecine, aspect ratio, time code standards, and a multitude of other video, film, and digital editing concepts.
  • Explains how to approach cutting the footage: Make your first edits, deal with mismatches, and conquer action and dialogue scenes and more.
  • Spends two chapters describing how sound and music are designed, recorded, and mixed.
  • Defines and explains the terms, apps, and practices that working picture, sound, and music editors use.


Cut by Cut 2
contains:

  • Editing exercises and over 150 tables, charts, photos, and illustrations.
  • A meaty section on how to find an editing job whether you’re starting out or looking for that next job or career move.
  • An extensive glossary and an editor’s resource guide.

I wrote the book for:

  • Editors of all stripes: Indies, students, and professionals.
  • Aspiring editors: Assistant editors, apprentice editors, and career changers.
  • Filmmakers: Directors, producers, writers, and everyone who want to understand editing.
  • Professors and teachers of editing.
  • Prosumers who want to make the leap to professional.

I sincerely hope Cut by Cut 2 helps you with your projects.

Check the book out and let Joy know what you think.

Announcements, Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Jobs, Sound & music editing, Technical & process, Television, Visual FX editing

Part 2: Editing Jobs by the Numbers: Current Government Statistics

November 15th, 2011

Is editing a growing profession? How does its economic outlook stack up against other professions? Here’s what the U.S. BLS says.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Outlook

The BLS expects that the number of film editing jobs to increase by 12% from 2008-2018. This projected rate is slightly greater than average for all careers during this period. However, BLS finds that “competition is keen” as so many people want to enter the profession. Tell us something we didn’t know! Here’s the official table:

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title Employment

2008

Projected
Employment

2018

Change,
2008-18
# %
Film and video editors
(SOC code 27-4032)
25,500 28,600 3,000 12
Note: Data in this table are rounded.

Where are the jobs?

Current answer: 75% of us work in television (on nontheatrical projects).

Future answer: In 2010 a Forrester study found that for the first time, people in U.S. divided their screen equally between TV and the computer.  So the ‘Net should bring in more work – webisodes here we (continue to) come!

Let the predictions flow! Let Joy know what you’re seeing and what you think will happen. And good luck to us all!

History/research, Jobs, Television

Emmytime, 2011

September 19th, 2011

Didn’t come out the way I voted but I was happy with the winners (see below) in the editing category I voted in (Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie) – whom I scored #2 (out of five). Sherlock Holmes I thought the premiere Sherlock Holmes episode, “A Study in Pink” exemplified modern editing and updated the cerebral, acerbic, aspergian Holmes fittingly, as opposed the Downey film series which turns him into just another action detective (I love Robert Downey’s acting and have read all the Holmes’ stories multiple times but couldn’t get past the film trailers).

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in

“A Study in Pink” ©2011 Hartswood Films, BBC

Productions, & Masterpiece Theatre. All Rights

Reserved.

Too bad the rest of the BBC series didn’t live it up to the premiere. I’ll be talking about its editing in the online course I’m presenting next month: “Inglourious Editors: The State of Editors and Editing” on October 13, 6-8:30 p.m. PST. (Click link for more info and to register. I’d love to have you there.) In the meantime, watch it – it’s worth your time for the editing alone.

Emmy 2011 LogoKudos to the all the Emmy winners and nominees as well as all the editors who toil in TV land – you cut more in less time and often do wondrous, ground breaking work – we “out of the closet TV viewers” appreciate your work.

Here’s the official list:
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 63rd Annual Creative Emmy Awards

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie
Sarah Flack, A.C.E., Editor HBO
Robert Pulcini, Editor
Cinema Verite

Outstanding Picture Editing for a Comedy Series (Single or Multi-Camera)
Sue Federman, Edited By CBS
How I Met Your Mother
Subway Wars

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series
Sidney Wolinsky, A.C.E., Editor HBO
Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire (Pilot)

Outstanding Short-Form Picture Editing
Matt O’connor, Editor ESPN
Anthony Marchegiano, Editor
The 2010 Espy Awards
Images Piece

Outstanding Picture Editing for a Special (Single or Multi-Camera)
Michael Polito, Editor HBO
Bill Deronde, Editor
Kevin O’dea, Editor
Katie Hetland, Editor
Lady Gaga Presents The Monster Ball Tour:
At Madison Square Garden

Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming
Lewis Erskine, Edited By
Aljernon Tunsil, Edited By PBS
Freedom Riders

Outstanding Picture Editing for Reality Programming
Josh Earl, Supervising Editor, Discovery Channel
Kelly Coskran, Supervising Editor
Alex Durham, Editor
Deadliest Catch
Redemption Day

Awards, Editor’s role, Television

Ten years later

September 11th, 2011

Susan Perla, CBS news editor, reported on her 16-hour days following the obliteration of the World Trade Center:

“The images that I could not air were pretty awful. I do think about some of the footage and it disturbs me. I hope that as I work with people, I can bring humanness to any aspect of a news story. There are times when I feel we are vultures, looking for scraps. Then there are times when I finish up and look at the work and it makes me proud of a day’s work or a package cut well. It might make an impact or force someone to think about an issue.”

On the tenth anniversary of this world-changing event, I think we’re all re-viewing the burning images, commemorating the lost lives, and contemplating what they all mean.

At first we didn’t know what to call it. Nine-one-one?  Nine-eleven? The latter stuck, too close to the chain store in nomenclature for me. We learned many more words: Kabul, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Iraq, Afghanistan, IED, Freedom Fries, Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, rendition, waterboarding, insurgency, terrorism. And those were just a few of the words applied to horrors beyond our imagination aboard. At home, we learned the tragedy of words such as foreclosure, red, blue, PTSD, recession, unemployment, homelessness.

911 New Yorker CoverI’ve been reading articles, pondering the last ten years, and like most of us, trying to make sense of it. I am saddened and sickened by our nation’s inability to heal itself and its increasing the hatred of our country abroad with our aggressive, astronomically costly wars. An article in the September 12 issue of The New Yorker focuses on the fracturing of our country over the wars, the economy, the meaning of 9/11 itself, and who the enemy and what the real problems and issues are. The article contends that we now lack a common narrative of the last ten year’s worth of events, due to the divergence of our leaders and the callous blindness of the Bush administration.

I don’t usually write politically here but after ten years, with our country and countrymen and women, especially returning soldiers, in terrible, ever-worsening shape, I am sick and sad. Perhaps as editors – as writers with sound and image – we can, like Susan Perla remarked, bring humanness to our projects. God knows the world needs it.

To end on a contemplative, memorial note, here’s a video doc that consists of an interview with the architect of the water memorial in NYC to those who died in the towers which opens to the public 9/12/2011. I see the water as leading to the void. Please, let’s reach out across the divides and firmly put our nation on a path that is true to all those founding beliefs of liberty, happiness, equality, etc. that we so cherish.

Editor’s role, History/research, Television

Summertime and some more Riffs on Bad Editing from Mystery Science Theater 3000

September 7th, 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000Here are a few more riffs on bad editing from an anonymous editor who watched the 197 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000), a comedy series from Minnesota’s twin cities that ran from 1988-1999 mostly on Comedy Central and is now available on DVD.

The editor’s comments are on the first line in purple as he (I’m assuming) watches the episode. The second line references the character’s name and the episode title. See August 3rd post to hear from the editor and for his first set of riffs.

Stop cutting!!!
(to Sam, to Buffalo, to Sam to Buffalo, back forth back forth forth back faster faster…AHHHH!)

Servo, Riding With Death

Watch out for the editing!
(as our heroine gets “stabbed” and “falls”)

Mike, Deathstalker & the Warriors From Hell

He’s hitting him with jump cuts!
Mike, Terror From the Year 5000!

Home movies are more tightly edited than this.
Servo, Laserblast

I think she just got edited to the ground.
(as our other heroine “falls” from her horse)

Servo, Deathstalker & the Warriors from Hell

Why you clever bastard! So the editor’s working with you?!
(after Deathstalker miraculously appears in a doorway during a fight)

Mike, Deathstalker & the Warriors From Hell

I think the editing philosophy of this movie was ‘don’t stay on anything too long, it doesn’t look good enough’.
Mike, Gorgo

Passed from editor to editor in a desperate attempt to save it!
(during the many editor names in the opening credits

Mike, Space Mutiny

Well, grips the interest of one disturbed editor.
(during many newspaper images that claim some murders are “gripping the interest” of the public)

Servo, The She Creature

This movie must have had the hell edited out of it!
(during the many many editor names listed in the opening credits)

Servo, Horror of Party Beach

You see it doesn’t matter how slow I go, I’ll catch him — my son’s the editor.
Crow, Outlaw

C’mon! I just teleported here! It’s impressive!
Crow, Girl in Gold Boots

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Television

Prime Cuts Annual Panel of TV editors

August 22nd, 2011

There have been a lot of worthwhile courses and seminars to announce lately. Here’s another one I recommend and which I’ve attended a couple of times. If you want to understand what worklife is like for editors on reality and fiction TV shows and you’re in the LA area, go! Details below. In previous years I heard editors from Breaking Bad, Grey Gardens, 24, and Top Chef among others.
It’s free! And there’s always a Q & A session at the end. The whole thing is very low key – come as you are – no need to dress up.
Prime Cuts Poster
Date: Saturday, August 27 • 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Location
American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue at 14th Street
Santa Monica, CA

More info = Official announcement
For the fifth consecutive year, we are proud to present this unique seminar that focuses on the art of editing. Prime Cuts is a premiere event where the editors from top television shows discuss their work.

Don’t miss this insider-only discussion with nominated editors from some of this year’s Primetime Emmy® shows.

Moderated by Shawn Ryan
Creator and EP of The Shield, Ride-Along on Fox.
EP on Terriers, The Unit and Lie To Me.

No reservations will be taken. Seating is on a first-come first served basis so arrive early to guarantee admission!
Note: It’s been held in different LA venues and I’ve never seen the event fill up; the Aero is a good sized theatre. So bring people who don’t understand editing or what you do but love TV shows and/or you!

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Television