5 Books on The Craft of Film Editing
In this fourth instalment of books on film editing for film editors are a five more books that you may want to read to improve your understanding of the craft, workflow and life of film editors.
Film Craft: Editing by Justin Chang
Every editor’s favourite coffee table book, Film Craft:Editing by Justin Chang, is a nice volume to hold in your hands. It’s large, nicely printed and features a raft of interviews with some of cinema’s best editors including Walter Murch, Anne Coates, Dede Allen, Michael Kahn, Joel Cox, Christopher Rouse, Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter, Lee Smith and many more.
Each interview covers their career, beginnings, highlights, key lessons and recollections from the edit suite. Mixed in are plenty of great editing insights and nuggets of wisdom.
“In editing, as in mathematics and music, we all have an in-built clock. When your clock is off kilter or out of step, you tend to feel it quite strongly. I certainly do. It’s like a sledgehammer. If I watch something and it’s wrong, it’s not subtly wrong. It’s like an alarm bell that goes off. The trick is to keep screening the film and get it to the point where you know it feels right.” – Lee Smith
What’s great about the entire Film Craft range (there are books focusing on Directing, Production Design, Cinematography etc.) is their presentation and layout – plenty of great images and pull quotes. They really are great coffee table books. Also each interview is edited to be judiciously long enough to be thoroughly engaging without ever growing tiresome. If you’re interested in an insider’s view of the creation of some of recent history’s best films, this is your book.
Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow by Mike Matzdorff
If this is FCPX’s Cold Mountain moment*, it only makes sense to have a book about it too. Mike Matzdorff was the 1st Assistant Editor on Focus and in this book he shares the precise workflow he used to help bring the film safely through post production. (*To read about Walter Murch’s experience of cutting Cold Mountain on Final Cut Pro 3, check out this excellent book.)
There isn’t really another book quite like Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow available right now and it really is the most up to date insight into what it takes to be a first assistant editor wrangling a Hollywood feature film from dailies to delivery using FCPX, that you could possibly hope to have access to.
It’s practical, detailed and not for the uninitiated. If you’re a working editorial assistant, or want to be one, then it’s certainly a must read, but you will need at least some prior knowledge of FCPX and a general understanding of the overall editorial mechanics of editing a feature film, to be able to follow along closely, let alone get the most out of it.
The book could have benefited from just a little more explanation at times, especially for those who are a bit further behind the FCPX curve than Mike, but where it lays out practical ‘how-to’ steps, which it does all the time, it does so very well.
One crucial thing to note when reading it is that you must to be holding the iPad in landscape mode to get the pages to lay out correctly. When you do there are plenty of great screen shots (which you can enlarge by tapping on them) and from a readers perspective everything flows beautifully.
In reading through the breezy 90 pages it is obvious just how many external applications and workflow bridges were needed (at the time) to pull this off. It would be great to see some of this functionality incorporated into FCPX itself, and here’s hoping the feedback the Focus editorial team have provided Apple might bear fruit in this regard. Acquiring all of these third party apps could get expensive (not that you can’t afford it on a studio movie) but for an indie flick following same workflow on a tight budget, it might be stretch.
If you’re an experienced Avid editor looking on with mixed feelings of curiosity, contempt and/or apathy, then I would suggest that although the established Hollywood world is entrenched in Avid, and will be for quite some time to come, there really is no reason not to engage with FCPX or Premiere Pro, as they are clearly just as viable an option and may very well out live Avid anyway. There more languages you speak the more places you can go.
If you are an assistant editor or want to be then you should definitely read this book. As Steve Jobs famously said (while quoting Wayne Gretzky) “You need to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
— Mike Matzdorff (@FCPxFeatures) March 6, 2015
My one wish would be that Mike Matzdorff and Michael Cioni (Light Iron) would get together with Ripple Training to create a video tutorial series to accompany the book. If that happened, it would certainly be one of the best training opportunities for would-be assistant editors, DITs and editors you could hope to get your hands on.
In summary Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow is a fast and fascinating read. Although it’s not intended to be a manual for newbie’s it could easily be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the cutting edge of post production.
Concrete Wedding Cake by John Heath
The notion of ‘concrete wedding cake’ comes from the phrase “Today’s dailies were concrete wedding cake; beautiful to look at but impossible to cut.” John Heath’s book is largely editing school in 100 pages, containing a complete soup-to-nuts guide to everything a competent editor needs to know to survive in the cutting room. There’s also a bonus chapter ‘For Director’s Only’ which contains advice for directors who want to get better results in the edit suite.
Concrete Wedding Cake is a fast and easy read and is intensely practical in it’s approach.
In the most literal sense, it is important to always entertain the audience or hold its attention. Editing style is affected by each editor’s tastes, sensibilities, and experience. The most visceral aspect of style is pace, or the internal rate and speed of the action and rhythm, the flow of the scene of the editing… the appropriate pace is determined by presenting to the viewer only what is needed to completely tell the story.
If you’re new to editing this would be a good addition to your library of editing books. There’s a lot to learn from William’s experience, which was largely cutting TV series (you can check out his credits on IMDB) and Concrete Wedding Cake is comprehensive in tackling the micro and macro aspects of edit suite, with plenty of pithy witticisms like “The Dailies Grind, Working Under Coverage and Follow The Story and Lead the Audience.”
All in all this is a good read for new editors and those who want to learn a thing or two from an experienced hand.
Avid Uncut: Workflows, Tips and Techniques from Hollywood Pros by Steve Hullfish
Avid Uncut:Workflows, Tips and Techniques from Hollywood Pros by Steve Hullfish is a similar book to Mike Matzdorff’s Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow although a lot longer and with a much wider remit than just one film’s workflow. At 390 pages it’s by far the longest book in this round up and the most detailed. Other than Matzdorff’s book it’s also the most up to date, being published in 2014.
What’s also great about the book is that it comes with an extremely useful companion website which is stocked with tutorials, keyboard settings and downloadable R3D and Alexa footage to practice with. This makes it not just a bonus but a vital part of getting the most out of the book, as so often with editing it’s much easier to see things than read about them.
Not only does the book give you the inside track on decades of editor Steve Hullfish’s experience in the edit suite, but that of a plethora of other experienced editors from assistants on The Big Bang Theory to award winning documentary editors like Steve Audette and feature editors like Wayne Wahrman (I am Legend, All the Kings Men, Charlie’s Angels I and II) offering sage advice throughout. Steve’s other book The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction also benefits from this kind of expert input.
Avid Uncut is an essential read for any assistant editor (or anyone whose just blagged themselves a gig as one and now needs to scramble to be ready!) looking to prepare themselves for work on film and TV productions. The book would also be really helpful for experienced editors moving to Avid from other NLE’s to understand how to get work done effectively in it’s unique environment.
Every topic the book covers gets an in-depth explanation from metadata to camera specific workflows, bin organisation, Avid specific visual effects, and onlining. Steve’s writing is practical and results oriented which helps to make the whole thing meaty and not fluffy. For example, there is a whole chapter dedicated to customising your Avid Media Composer settings which goes into a lot of very detailed and practical knowledge, by the time we get to chapter 3 we’re already 183 pages in.
There’s a critical mass to for a film and you have to whittle it down till you get to that point. Pacing really has to know it’s place inside the film… It has to do with the scene itself. What’s the scene trying to do? What’s it’s purpose? Story comes first, then performance. – Wayne Wahrman
Reading Steve’s book almost makes me want to get back into editing with Avid Media Composer again, and if you’re new to Avid it will be offering a massive amount of really useful information. If you’re an experienced hand, you’ll undoubtably learn something new too. But mostly it made me wish someone like Tyler Nelson (Fincher’s editor’s 1st Assistant) would write a similar book for Adobe Premiere Pro.
Dream Repairman by Jim Clark
The Dream Repairman by Jim Clark is probably one of the few (whole book) biographies of a film editor you can find these days, not to mention that it’s about a British editor. Jim Clark has had a lengthy and illustrious career with 43 feature editorial credits to his name, including Marathon Man, The Killing Fields, The Mission, The World Is Not Enough, Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) and many more.
It’s mostly a recollection of his life and work on a film by film basis, which is by turns very interesting and by turns not so interesting. It’s also a little disheartening to think of the number of films that need ‘repairing’ that simply can’t be fixed.
To be honest it’s one of the few books on editing that I’ve started, which I’ve not finished, and in reading the Telegraph’s review of the book I’d have to agree with the following sentiment:
It feels catty and pedantic to say so, but a major drawback with Dream Repairman is that it’s not very well edited. The top of every left-hand page thinks it’s called “The Dream Repairman”, and the back cover prefers “Repair” and “Man” separated by a space. “Unphased” is mistaken for a word, twice. We might let this sloppiness slide if Clark didn’t say, on page 52, “I am often curious if anyone has bothered to edit books at all.” Ouch! He is a good editor in serious need of a good editor, who might have refined the book’s clunky interweaving of his career and personal life.
There are a lot of interesting anecdotes in the book, and it paints what is probably a painfully accurate picture of the working life of a professional film editor, but it doesn’t have the pace and clarity to make it an essential read. That said if you’re a big fan of Jim’s work (which is excellent), then it would make for a rare opportunity to get such a close up view of his world.