Archive for September, 2012

Letterman Countdown: Part 2:
10 Popular Beliefs about What Editors Do that are Just Plain Wrong

September 27th, 2012

Today’s post concludes the Letterman-style countdown designed to counteract the misconceptions held by way too many people.

5. Putting footage together is a no brainer.
Au contraire. I, and filmmakers far greater than me, believe that editing is what set filmmaking apart from other arts. Editing mimics thought. It accomplishes this with the selection of shots – close-ups, wide shots, POVs, etc. – and their juxtaposition. Editing uses flashcuts, flashbacks, flashforwards, short and long cuts, close-ups and manipulates the “real” filmed time to do this. Editing imitates the brain and it takes brain to do it. To quote John Huston who directed Chinatown, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon and many more, “Film is like thought. It’s the closest to the thought process of any art.”
editor poster
4. Editors leave actors on the cutting room floor.
In reality, the editor is the actor’s best friend whom they rarely get to meet. Editors coordinate actors’ timings and reactions so that each performance is consistent and attains its dramatic purpose and builds the character’s arc. Sometimes this means holding a beat on an actor to expand the emotion and time. Sometimes it means cutting tight to sustain a performance and keep a taut pace. Always, it means molding the best performance to fit the character and the scene.

3. “We’ll save it in post.”

While postproduction (editing) has rescued many a project from doom, it cannot resuscitate a poorly conceived or written story, abominably lit scenery, or sound that is distorted or otherwise poorly recorded. Again plan. Or ignore post at the peril of your pocketbook and the look and sound of your show.

2. Editing is a craft, not particularly creative, and not nearly as important as screenwriting, directing, acting, or cinematography.

Try it. You‘ll see. Here’s what Francis Ford Coppola has to say, “The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

1. Editors just take out the bad bits.
The show is mere footage until editor sculpts it. Or, to put it crassly, the show on arrival at the editor’s cutting room is merely a hunk of meat (or raw carrot for you veggies). It may be filet mignon but it’s not a meal until the editor makes it into a meal. Or as director Angle Lee puts it more eloquently: “Shooting is like buying groceries and the real cooking is at the editing table.”

Just as house selling comes down to “location, location, location” for editing comes down to “story, story, story.” Each cut that an editor lays down must be motivated to move the story forward. It must give more information, up the conflict, drama, or emotion – or do all of the above. As the 2-10 above show, editing is far more than a taking out. Rather, it’s a joining of frames taken from shots to make a whole. We’ll leave the last word to Walter Murch, the reigning editor-guru who cuts picture and sound on such film as Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, and On Cold Mountain. “Editing is not so much a putting together as it is the discovery of a path.”

Editing & life, Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role

Letterman Countdown:
10 Popular Beliefs about What Editors Do that are Just Plain Wrong

September 18th, 2012

In talking about my upcoming editing course debuting in October, friends suggested that I write down the most serious misconceptions about editing. So here’s the list – a Letterman-style countdown – to combat the delusions and set down the realities of editing today.

editor poster

10. Editing requires no planning
You need to backward engineer your show. In other words, to know where you’re going when you’re planning and designing a project, you must know the end result: Where your audience will view your show, what your show’s final forma(s) will be (file, ape, disc or film), and what its delivery requirements are e.g. what Film Festival rules stipulate as to show length, format, etc. But only think about these and other postproduction issues if you want your show to be efficient in terms of cost, time, process, and effort.

9. Editing is easy with digital equipment. Anyone can do it.
Yeah. Look at the all the teen videos on YouTube. How many nanoseconds did it take you to click away from it? Digital editing systems are complex: you don’t learn all the features overnight – and, due to the type of show you’re working on, you may never use some features e.g. reverse telecine tool. You will need to know how to choose the correct codec for your project, upload, download, troubleshoot when system goes down or won’t talk to another device and use all the tools: VFX, sound, color correction, V scopes, etc. But knowing an editing device doesn’t make you an editor anymore than being able to chop celery makes you a chef. It’s a tool, albeit an incredibly multi-faceted and powerful one, but not a decision maker.

8. Music videos are no brainers to cut: Just lay down the music and fill in the pictures – like paint by numbers.

Granted, they’re often mindless, repetitively using the same footage in ways that don’t tell any kind of story or achieve the purpose – to sell the music. BUT they can be quite creative. In essence, music videos are documentaries – non-scripted shows where the editor commonly gets a lot of footage and an outline but there is no clear story as with scripted shows.  So the editor can have a big hand in creating the story and the final show more than on many scripted shows. Dean Gonzalez, editor of Green Day: Heart like a Hand Grenade among other music, relates, “On a music video you get a treatment that the crew didn’t completely shoot. So you have to be very creative with the footage. I find it exciting and daunting to create something without all the elements – to make a story out footage that isn’t always there. I love storytelling.”

7. Editing doesn’t take very much time.

Editing takes a lot longer than the uninitiated ever know. It takes time to log and organize footage, ingest the footage, then comb through it to find the right shot for the right time in a show. And then there’s rendering which can render you hairless while you wait. Not to mention the time required to review what you’ve edited to make sure a scene and a show hang together, that there are no audio drop outs or other things that distract from seeing the show as a whole. And yes, as with all creativity, in addition to execution time there’s time to cogitate and consider, experiment, make mistakes, and start over. No show, no matter how superbly acted or shot, goes together without time and thought.


6. Editing is more of an assembly job: If the director does his/her job the footage cuts like butter.

I’ll let a few directors take this one:

“As [the great Japanese director] Kurosawa used to say, ‘The only reason you write and direct is to get material to edit.’ And that’s exactly true. Editing is where you make the film. It’s a very beautiful thing… I shoot to cut”

Alexander Payne, The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, Election

“There is a brotherhood in filmmaking…between the film editor and the film director.  It’s a brotherhood of trust and interdependence, and it is a sanctuary.  It is for me where the filmmaking really gets started, and it’s where I feel most comfortable.”

Steven Spielberg,

“Editing is the voice of the film, and also a deeply collaborative art…Out of all processes I love editing the most.”

James Cameron

The next post will continue the countdown to numero uno.

Editing & life, Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role

Assignment = Dollars: One Student’s Successful Quest to Create a PSA on the Environment for his Generation

September 10th, 2012

Note: This video came to me by way of the sister of the filmmaker who is my nephew. But you needn’t be a family member to have Joy blog about your project. So send me the links and let me know about your editing trials and tribulations along the way. Anytime!

Steve McCord, a sophomore at Houghton College, took a digital video class last fall and his professor made an assignment: Create an environmental video pertaining to our generation. McCord emailed me: “Personally I was super sick of all the lame videos that guilt you into action by showing you pictures of pretty sunflowers. I tried to stay away from that but looking back I inevitably ended up doing it which annoys me but yeah c’est la vie.”  He adds, “I wanted to try to reveal the ‘Oz behind the curtain’ hence the FCP shot and say ‘Look, you’ve seen these videos and as great as they might be, it’s still your choice on what you’re going to do.”

Check out the results yourselves:

Writing and Shooting
How did McCord get started? “I wrote a speech thing for my ‘actors’ to say then took them out in a random part of the woods and filmed them. Initially I only had one guy in the whole movie but then after a class critique half way through the project, I got some feedback saying that there needed to be more people to give it more of a “voices of a generation type of feel” [Good advice, class!]

McCord returned to the woods with four more students. “I got through three of them but then I ran out of daylight so I had to wait till the next day. Lo’ and behold it snowed that night so then I had to wait for another couple days for it all to melt or else it wouldn’t look continuous.”

Editing – Picture
McCord reports “it was fairly straight forward to begin with. I just laid it out to the script.”  He used FCP, Soundtrack Pro, and 27″ iMacs. “After I laid it out, I figured no one would want to listen to some random guys talking to you for 2 minutes. So I tried to add some variety with the text.” Still he wasn’t happy with how the lighting turned out but found that “when you are shooting outdoors like that, you kinda gotta take what you got. I tried my best with the color correction in post but it didn’t quite have the effect that I wanted.”

Editing – Sound
McCord confesses: “That class was the first time that I really learned how to do audio correction so looking back I wish I had done it first rather than go through each clip to send to soundtrack pro for noise reduction. It would have saved a lot of time. I had this buzz from my lapel mic that I wasn’t a huge fan of but thankfully was able to get most of it out of there then send it back to FCP.

McCord submitted the video to the National Association of Evangelicals Creation Care Video contest around the first week in December then got notified in the last week of February that he had won. What was the prize? “I won $1000” he states, “and I plan to use that money to reinvest in equipment.”

Keep up the good work, Steve. And let me hear from the rest of you!

Editing practices, Joy views your film, Technical & process

Editors and Actors: The Real Story

September 4th, 2012

The image from the last post is a popular misconception of what editors do to actors – leave them on the cutting room floor in a heap of film. Wrong on so many levels!

  1. We cut digitally, not on film these days.
  2. We are the actor’s best friend (more below).
  3. While an editor may participate in the decision to drop a character from a show, it’s the director, producer, or client that makes the decision.
  4. Before I elaborate on #2 and 3, let me say that this is a serious, widely held misconception. It cost me some money once. In the 1990s an insurance company upped my premium because of this entirely erroneous belief. The company was convinced that an actor left on the cutting room floor would sue the editor! No matter how much I protested the factual basis of this prejudice – and the agent called his boss – I could not dissuade them. When I was able to switch companies, I did.

    How Editors help Actors
    Understanding the core issue of the characters — finding it in a look, creating it in a moment — is my joy in the editing process.

    Editor Nina Gilberti

    In the course of a show, the editor seldom meets the actors or interviewees. Therefore, to an editor, an actor is a character, an interviewee is a subject. The editor deals objectively with each character or interviewee’s words, lines, looks, and total presentation with an eye to the purpose of the scene and the show as a whole. Writer-director John Sayles, who always edits his own films, lays out the editor’s approach: “You usually give yourself one or two cutting points so you can put together the best of the actor’s work. You might be able to cut three different takes together. One take was very strong in the beginning, one was very strong in the middle and another was very strong in the end.”

    Editor as Actor
    An editor is very much like an actor in a film. You are the actor’s actor, in that your responsibility is to take the most interesting moments from all of the performances and find ways to make them hang together in a way that enhances and clarifies everything even further.

    Walter Murch from his book In the Blink of an Eye.

    Editors coordinate the actors’ timings and reactions so that each performance is consistent and attains its dramatic purpose. Sometimes this means holding a beat on an actor to expand the emotion and time. Sometimes it means cutting tight to sustain a performance and keep a taut pace. Always, it means molding the best performance to fit the character and the scene. Chris Innes and Robert Murawski, husband and wife and co-editors on The Hurt Locker, reflect on the film: “The through line of the piece for us was the clash of wills between the characters…Sometimes it is as simple as two characters exchanging glances that another character doesn’t see. If audiences care about the characters then they will be willing to submit to almost any film structure or rhythm.”

    When an Actor’s Character does get cut
    The decision to lose a line, a scene, or, more rarely, an entire character or interview subject, is made by the director and/or the producer, sometimes with the editor’s input. There are many reasons for the decision, but it mostly isn’t attributable to a weak performance or interview, rather it’s made because the performance or interview slowed down, confused, or otherwise negatively impacted the show. For example, a character is axed or minimized because a scene or a plot line is axed or minimized; an interview is jettisoned because the point is covered by another interviewee or the narrator.

    True story: An MOW (movie of the week) I worked on had a convoluted script which the director and producer realized after the third cut. After many re-cuts, conversations with the writer, and screenings, they were running out of ideas and the show was running two weeks behind schedule. They decided to drop a minor character in attempt to salvage the script problem. The producer called the actor, praised his work, and made sure he got a copy of his big scene.

    Editing practices, Editor’s role