Craft Insights – Editors in Conversation
Commercial’s editor James Rosen, shares some fantastic creative wisdom in this blog post on the creative potential of intention, and our place as editors in the creative process. I have previously interviewed James on what it takes to be a commercial’s editor here.
Editors don’t just assemble sequences, they also make choices. And what are those choices based on? It would be naive to expect personal tastes and preferences to be kept aside. But, and this is the crucial difference, good editors learn to filter their tastes and preferences through the lens of the idea. Not so good editors let their preferences and tastes rule the roost.
You should also check out his essay on the use of the long take, in this case on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Which brings me to my chosen shot from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a great example of multi-layered storytelling combining dramatic irony, character development and perfect timing, culminating in a wonderful peripeteia. And it happens without a single cut.
Editing as Punctuation is Max Tohline’s latest video essay that takes a deep dive into comparing punctuation devices from literature with those ideas in film editing. The sources he draws upon are a fairly eclectic bunch of film school / art house classics (some of which I’ve seen, many of which I haven’t!) and the whole thing is a really interesting take on the power and potential of the simple edit. Well worth a watch to get that grey matter moving once again.
What I like about this video with Steve Jobs editor Elliot Graham, in this Variety Artisans short, is the way in which you can get a sense of the delicate balance that every editor is managing when they tackle the crucial storytelling structure of ‘pace’. Here it’s about creating action scenes with words, re-starting your film three times over and keeping the audience on track and engaged. Tough stuff to get right!
Editor Joe Walker on Sicario
Sicario editor Joe Walker, has an entertaining chat with the DP/30 chap, in this 30 minute interview, which covers his collaborations with different directors, the evolving dailies process (video review over team screenings) and much more. Well worth a watch!
I came up from that belief of screening rushes in the morning, that’s when I started on film, so it’s ingrained in me that and you really pay attention in those screenings, and you try and learn the dailies, and you learn where everything is, and in the back of your mind you know where to find those different ways of going and also it’s a chance to look at dailies and respond to them and say ‘if I’ll respond to them, everybody will.’
If you only read one interview with Joe, I’d probably recommend this vintage ‘Frame of Reference’ post.
I do remember an action film I cut where I was bothered by how much we were relying on the temp tracks, and I asked the director to let me cut the film with the speakers off for just one day. We didn’t actually make it through the whole day, but it was instructive. If it doesn’t work as a silent film, it points to problems with the pacing and story-telling.
Joe is also interviewed in great detail by Steve Hullfish in this blog post over on ProVideoCoalition, about cutting Sicario, which is a brilliant read.
When we are at the final stages of the director’s cut, where all the major issues have hopefully been sorted, I often want to go back to the dailies and refresh my memory of them, to see if there’s some ignored shot that could do a job better. I want every scene to have had the same thorough workout.
So I’d put all the scene numbers on little scraps of paper and put them in a box. Steve would dig in and pull out a random scene number and we’d review just that scene, not the scene before or the scene after. We’d skip through the dailies and go back, briefly, into assembly mode. 9 times out of 10 things stay the way they are, but occasionally little breakthroughs happen. At least you feel you’ve turned every stone.
You should also check out Steve’s previous interview with Joe after he cut 12 Years A Slave.
“The thing with Roger’s photography is he and Denis together are simply fantastic sequence builders,” he adds. “Each shot is deliberated and discussed at great length long before they arrive on set. They’ve already figured out that we need this shot for this beat of the story. It’s meticulous. It makes my job an unbelievable delight because I can concentrate on getting everything frame-accurate in terms of rhythm and general pacing. That’s where I can show my strength. Although I admit I can be competitive at times and ended up subverting some of their plans, rather than just submitting to them.”
Gordon Burkell from AOTG.com‘s The Cutting Room podcast chats thoughtfully with Joe in this half hour interview. You can check out a full transcript of it here, or listen along above.
The Cutting Room: In all the research that I’ve done before this interview, everyone always talks about how meticulous a planner Denis is, and I’m wondering how this affected you in the post process.
Joe Walker: You know I mean it presents the luxury of something that’s going to work and it enables me to kind of concentrate on perfecting the kind of rhythm of it. But in a funny way – because I’m insanely competitive – David would have these fantastic plans and I would try to subvert them by saying, “There is another way of doing this.”
Studio Daily has a very detailed write up on Sicario, featuring the quote above, about working with director Denis Villeneuve and DP Roger Deakins, which also gets into some interesting editing and temp VFX details.
A lot of what was going on in [the action scene on the bridge] sequence and its build up in editing terms was using the dialogue as almost a sound effect and as a rhythmic device. For example, there’s a lot of additional work on the audio, we recorded temp tracks of all sorts of voices through headphones, constantly keeping that sense that we’re hearing communications between all the vehicles, the helicopter pilot, and everything else.
So you have the rhythmic level of the dialogue, and the other rhythm provided was a great moment he gave me, a shot of a dog barking, the camera pans from the back of the Tahoe [police vehicle] to a car and there’s a dog barking out the window. It arrives at just the right time when everything’s in place and you want to ratchet up the threat of violence, we used this dog barking.
Another decent interview, that repeats a little of the same anecdotes, but also has plenty of fresh insights, can be found here on wheretowatch.com, which features the quote above.
This also gives me a good excuse to play this track from the trailer, and the film, in which composer Johann Johannsson creates a very striking score that sucks you right in. Masterful, and in full below.
Moviola presents a really nice, 30 min conversation with Joe about his work on the film, and how he crafted certain sections of the film, which you can watch for free here.
It’s a rhythm thing. It’s based not so much on continuity, but the cut falling very hard and sharp on a particular beat… that’s what drives the cutting. People cut in different ways, and there’s not one piece of schtick that you can use in every film in your career. But it does seem to work for me to base things on a very hard rhythm, where as other people will cut in the middle of a movement to hide a cut… I’m much more about making that cut very visible and hard. But just not to do it too often. But when it does fall, it falls like a sword of damascus.
Extended Conversations with TV Editors
In these extended conversations editor and Lynda.com trainer Ashely Kennedy chats with editor Monica Daniel, and (former) Sesame Street senior editor Jessie Averna. Ashley previously interviewed documentary editor supremo Steve Audette.
The first thing I always do is try to see what’s the goal? What’s the goal of the show, the overall picture? And then from there, you break it down. What are the goals of the individual acts or sections? And then within that, what are the goals of the individual scenes?And you just break it up. Because you keep all the pieces in mind, but then, once you really start working on it, you just gotta focus on just that section, making that section work.
Monica Daniels is a freelance editor working in LA and has most recently been working on the TV series Minority Report. You can follow her on Twitter and check out her effervescently titled personal blog Sh*tting Sparkles on Tumblr. She also produces and co-hosts the Going Postal podcast.
Jesse Averna was the senior editor at Sesme Street and in that time he won five Emmy Awards for his work. He has also worked as a director on Sesame Street, which makes for an interesting combination. What’s great about his conversation with Ashley is that they get into some of the details of Sesame Street workflow details which depend heavily on green screen and multicam.
Breathing life into these inanimate objects and making the audience and kids feel a connection to them that’s sometimes even greater than with another person. But where my job is incredible gratifying is that with editing we help shape story but we also help shape performance. So everything that’s happening on camera is really the tip of an iceberg. You’re seeing what is intended to be seen, but underneath there’s an incredible choreography of humans working around each other in order to create a dance number…
Jesse is also interviewed about advancing his career through positivity in this post on Creative Cow and you can check out Jesse’s personal blog/reel here and follow him on Twitter here.