Archive for January, 2010

Blog Talk Radio Podcast on Editing

January 31st, 2010

Two weeks ago Jamey DuVall, producer and co-host of Blog Talk Radio,
interviewed me on a host of editing topics: the editor and the director, the editor and the producer, the editor’s contributions to films, editing trends, the role of digital editing, my two books and more.

Today the podcast will broadcast at 3 p.m. PST. It will be available through Wednesday here: Talk Radio

After Wednesday, the podcast will be archived and available on the Blog Radio siteBlog Radio or its main site: Movie Geeks United!

Announcements, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Fun & games, History/research, Sound & music editing, Television

Trailers: Trash or Treasures Part 2

January 29th, 2010

“They give away too much of the movie.” “They’re better than the films.” “They only show the spectacular parts.” “All the best jokes are in the trailer.” “They lie.” “They’re the best part of going to the movies.” “They’re too loud.”

Coming Attractions: Reading Movie Trailers by Lisa Kernan

The dialectics of trailers

Most of us have contradictory attitude toward trailers. Trailers are a bonus – we get to see a part of another film – for the price of seeing the movie we just paid for. They help us get in the mood for the feature. We can use them to reject a movie and save ourselves time and money. They can also be refreshers, helping us relive and remember a movie.

Trailers are often overplayed so that we’re tired of a trailer re-run before we even see the movie. We dismiss them as crass commercials and don’t worry about entering a theatre in the middle of them. As filmmakers we embrace them as incredible compressed versions of movies we hope will transport us. I’ll give the last word to the Independent Film Channel, “But considered from another perspective, trailers provide a version of cinema that’s essentially utopian, in which every film is perfect, if only for two and a half minutes.”

So here are a few more examples of trailers that spotlight the editors’ talents and show how audience’s expectations, film knowledge and sophistication have grown:


Sleeper directed by Woody Allen, 1973

Sitting at a Moviola, Woody sets up this futuristic comedy with contradictory comedic brilliance.

South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, directed by Trey Parker, 1999

This trailer makes fun of blockbuster trailers – notably Matrix – in true SP style – a winning advertisement for the movie.

Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman, 2009

This theatrical trailer – on the movie’s clever website – captures the essence of the movie and served as a refresher, making me appreciate it all over again.

Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton, 2010
All we know of Burton, Alice, and Depp are here. We’ll see if they pay off when we plunk down our money.

Further exploration

This part of IFC’s site rates the top fifty trailers with commentary. Some of which have been pulled for licensing issues.

Trailer Park has a great website for its many trailers.

Turner Classic Movies has more than a festival’s worth of trailers:

Coming Attractions: The History of the Movie Trailer, directed by Michael J. Shapiro and Jeff Werner

This feature documentary, narrated by Robert Osbourne, covers the history and evolution of the trailer and includes interviews with the voice of trailers, Don LaFontaine as well as with director Joe Dante and other Hollywood luminaries. Scroll down to download the entire movie for free in two parts from their website:

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research

Trailers: Trash or Treasures Part 1

January 27th, 2010

As a digital editing systems trainer in the 90s and 00s, I enjoyed training and demoing for all types of editors. For a session, day, or week I got to inhabit their worlds and see firsthand their unique challenges, methods, and triumphs. None surprised me more than a veteran trailer editor. So this post and the next will be devoted to the joys of trailer editing and the works of the always uncredited trailer editors. It will also serve as a memorial to Dr. Lisa Kernan, a friend, and author of Coming Attractions: Reading Movie Trailers, the unequaled, scholarly book on the subject, who died way before her time.

By way of an introduction to part 2, here’s the trailer to a movie about trailers:

Trailer a.k.a. Preview or Coming Attraction

If a film is a distillation of life or an expansion of an imagined life, trailers are compressed versions of them.

Trailers are mini-movies, typically two minutes or shorter today. Trailer editors use all the editing arts to make them. Studios regularly spend over $100,000 per trailer.

To create a trailer, the editor must pull the footage that can be pieced together most succinctly to spark an urgency in the audience to plunk down their hard earned money in the future for a movie. Trailer editors use music, VO, wipes and other effects, and titles along with clips and shots from the movie in ways that reflect editing styles and culture of the time and often in ways that breakthrough to new editing styles.


Trailers, like movies in general, started from humble beginnings. The first trailer ran in Rye Beach, NY in 1912 in an amusement park. It trailed the Edison serial The Adventures of Kathlyn, (hence the name), teasing the next installment by asking whether the heroine would survive the lion pit. Early trailers showed whole scenes. Soon titles and music were added, along with wipes, and trailers were outsourced to the National Screen Service. As filmmakers skills evolved and audiences’ ability to understand the language of film and make plot leaves, the shorthand of trailers evolved.


Only Angels Have Wing directed by Howard Hawks, 1939

Here the characters and the actors are introduced, like a playbill. Danger is promised to lure the men and romance to charm the women. Notice all the wipes and dissolves!

The Manchurian Candidate, directed by John Frankenheimer, 1962

This trailer of this outstanding political thriller uses BIG FONT SIZE typical of this period (but soon to be out of fashion) that mimicked movie posters and music to make its point. It also employs repetition – still an essential element of trailers – repeating the opening line at the end, in case you entered the trailer five seconds after it started. Notice that it uses no sound effects does use not dialogue, except for a couple human cries which serve as exclamation points. The trailer works to foment the audience’s anxiety and curiosity and make clear these can only be relieved by seeing the movie.

Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston, 1964

Enjoy a trip to the early 60s in a breakthrough trailer that reflects the avant garde and sexual climate of the period. This VO narrator later became famous at voice of Darth Vader and CNN as well of course, as outstanding actor in his own write.

Charade, directed by Stanley Donen, 1963

This romance-thriller trailer’s swooning color and urban sophistication reflect Americans’ contemporary obsession with all things French, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn and hint at the blooming of the sexual revolution.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research

Your Cutting Room View

January 25th, 2010

Susan Ades

Susan B. Ades, Editor, NY, NY in front of her home editing suite.

Latest project: NRITYAGRAM: For the Love of Dance, a short documentary, screens January 25th at Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival. Susan emailed me that “It was truly a joy to work with the director, a long time dance photographer and reviewer for the New York Times, Nan Melville, and the film and subject were simply gorgeous.”

The movie is about, well, Alastair Macauley says it best in his review in the NY Times: “Nrityagram was built in India in recent years as a dance village by Protima Bedi, a vivid socialite who changed her life when she became an enthusiast for the Odissi genre of Indian dance. Yes, a dance village! Fabulous idea; glorious – though modest and practical – fact. Many intelligent points are made, and much of the dance footage, not least during the closing credits, is spellbinding. I wanted the film to be twice as long.”

Contact Susan at:
Putting It Together Editing
310 West 94th Street #5A
NY, NY 10025

Your cutting room view

Yours Truly interviewed by Blog Talk Radio

January 22nd, 2010

Movie Geeks United Logo I just got off the phone with Jamey DuVall, producer, writer and co-host of Movie Geeks United!, a top social networking media site that features interviews with John Sayles, Paul Shrader, and Francis Ford Coppola and many others filmmakers and film writers. Recent interviews include film journalist Peter Biskind, (author of recent biography), composer Atticus Ross, and actress CCH Pounder. So there’s something of interest to everyone here.

Jamey questioned me about a bunch of editing topics: the editor and the director and the producer, the editor’s contributions, editing trends, the role of digital editing, my two books and more.

The podcast will be available next Wednesday, January 27. JoyofEditing will let you know and provide a link to it. In the meantime, check out Movie Geeks United! for yourself.

Announcements, Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Television

Announcing Kindle Edition of Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video

January 20th, 2010

Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video Kindle Edition

I never had kinder but now I have a kindle. Yes! Amazon will now make a wireless delivery via Whispernet of my first book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video. You can sample it for free or order it here: Amazon


Martin Luther King Day 2010

January 18th, 2010

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Tombstone
OK, all you creative maladjusts, it’s time for a great contemporary movie on King as well one about Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan.

In the meantime, I hope you, like many of us, are smiling at the words, deeds, and promise of our current president.


Avatar, Creating the Na’vi Language: Part II

January 13th, 2010

Here’s the conclusion to my interview of my friend Paul Frommer, the creator of the movie’s fictional language, Na’vi, and a linguist and professor of Clinical Management Communication at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

I must say, although I am a skxawng (moron) about the language – that is the one word I came away from the movie remembering – I am glad I have a little more insight into Paul’s mind and the world of linguistics.

GC: Where does the word Na’vi come from? Did Cameron conceive it?

PF: Yes, it’s his word. I made sure, though, that the apostrophe meant something–that is wasn’t just there for decoration. It indicates a glottal stop–the sharp break you hear in, for example, “uh-oh.”

GC: Does the language have gender?

PF: Only rarely. There’s a general word for he or she, po. But if you need to specify he vs. she, then he is poan and she is poe. There are a few other such examples: itan, son; ite, daughter. As you see, the -an ending is masculine, the -e ending is feminine. But as I said, only a few words have that distinction.

GC: How does Na’vi relate to Klingon?

PF: Klingon is a rough-sounding language with a complex and difficult phonology and grammar that now has a devoted base of followers. To some ears, Klingon sounds like a cross between Russian and crawfish, but the Na’vi language is far more gentle on the ear. Cameron wanted something melodious and musical, something that would sound strange and alien but smooth and appealing.

GC: What was the process for transmitting the language to the actors?
PF: I met with all seven of the Na’vi-speaking actors off-set before their scenes were shot to help them with the pronunciation, and I also supplied recordings in the form of mp3 files so that they could listen to and absorb the dialog…

…it was quite a challenge. They had to learn their lines in a language no one had ever heard before, including learning to make unusual sounds and sound combinations, and then they had to act convincingly in that language! That involved not only memorizing the sentences but mastering the stress and intonation, so that they could place emphasis in the right place. It wasn’t easy, but they did a remarkable job.

When I couldn’t be there, however, the dialog coach, Carla Meyer, took over. She didn’t know the grammar of the language but did understand the pronunciation, which was the main thing.

GC: What things did you create in Na’vi: dialogue, song, video game, lexicon and ?

PF: Yes, all of those. I translated lyrics for four songs that JC had written in English–that was fun! Gave me a chance to try my hand at Na’vi poetry.

GC: How did ADR go?

PF: There was no ADR for the Na’vi.

GC: Is there a word for editor or editing that I could possibly use?

PF: No word for edit or editor, yet. :-)

Follow this link to an extensive, well written and in-depth article about fictional languages and sound design.

Joy goes to the movies, Sound & music editing

Avatar, Creating the Na’vi Language: Part I

January 13th, 2010

I have been hearing about this movie since 2005 from longtime friend and creator of its fictional language, Na’vi, Paul Frommer, a linguist and professor of Clinical Management Communication at USC’s Marshall School of Business.Paul Frommer

When I first heard the news I was thrilled for Paul – how many people get to create a language – and he was just as thrilled to get the job. Since the movie’s exploded everywhere, he’s been up to his non-blue ears in interviews but happily consented to answer my questions.

Paul Frommer and his Na’vi language
Photo: James Watson,

Here are Paul’s answers along with the astute insights of Ben Burtt, Sound Designer on many movies including all the Star Wars flicks.

GC: How did you go about creating the Na’vi language?
PF: I didn’t quite start from zero, since [director James] Cameron had devised 30 or 40 words of his own for the original script-some character names, place names, names of animals, etc. That gave me a bit of a sense of what kinds of sounds he had in mind.

“Overall, the creation of alien languages has been the hardest task. A language, or more accurately, the sensation of language, has to satisfy the audience’s most critical faculties.”
Sound Designer Ben Burtt in Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide: Beeps, Bleats, Boskas, and Other Common Intergalactic Verbiage

PF: The next step was to develop the phonetics and phonology-the sounds that would and would not appear in the language, along with the rules for combining sounds into syllables and words and the pronunciation rules that might in certain circumstances change one sound into another. The major constraint, of course, was that although Na’vi is an alien language, it has to be spoken by human actors, and so the sounds it included had to be ones that the actors would be able to reproduce.

“Our minds are trained to recognize and process dialogue. The task, therefore, of creating a language is all the more difficult because of the strength of the audience’s perception.”
Sound Designer Ben Burtt in Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide: Beeps, Bleats, Boskas, and Other Common Intergalactic Verbiage

PF: To create some interest, I included a group of sounds not often found in western languages-“ejectives,” which are popping-like sounds that I notated as kx, px, and tx. I also needed to determine what other elements in the language would be “distinctive”-that is, would be able to differentiate words: for example, stress (the eventual answer was yes), vowel length (no) and tone (no). I presented Cameron with three different “sound palettes” or possibilities for the overall sonic impression of the language-he chose one, and we were off!

“We are all experts at identifying the nuances of intonation. Whether we understand a given language or not, we certainly process the sound fully and attribute meaning–perhaps inaccurate–to the emotional and informational content of the speech.”

Sound Designer Ben Burtt in Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide: Beeps, Bleats, Boskas, and Other Common Intergalactic Verbiage

PF: The next step was to decide on the morphology and syntax. For those, I was on my own. Since this was an alien language spoken on another world, I wanted to include structures and processes that were relatively rare in human languages but that could be acquired by humans, since according to the plot of the movie, a number of humans had learned to speak the language. The verbal morphology, for example, is achieved exclusively through infixes, which are less common than prefixes and suffixes. And the nouns have a system of case marking, known as a tripartite system, that’s possible but quite rare in human languages.

Stay tuned for the next post which explores where the word Na’vi comes from, what the process was for training the actors, and how the language compares to Klingon.

Joy goes to the movies, Sound & music editing

Joy to Editors Everywhere

January 11th, 2010

candle Spent new year’s in a small town snowy Vermont where the blue moon on new year’s eve was invisible and it was impossible to upload posts…So here’s hoping your holiday season was swathed in caring and close times with loved ones, accompanied by great food, exercise, and sufficient time alone to contemplate, appreciate, and absorb the events and the year.

May 2010 move us all closer to peace, connection, and good work.

Editing & life