Help Me Interview 5 Great Editors

7 06 2010

This coming Friday night (June 11, 2010), I’m going to be running the opening night panel at EditFestNY enititled “The Lean Forward Moment” (try and guess where we got that title from) during which I’m going to be interviewing five great editors: Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E. (Sex and the City 1 and 2), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Precious, Junebug),  Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Remember Me, Chocolat, The Sixth Sense),  Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Wrestler).

Now, here’s where you can get involved.  First off, if you’re in the area, register for this two-day event.  It’s going to be well worth your while and, honestly, with the discounts for students, or many user groups (both FCP and Avid) you’ll more than get your money’s worth — cocktails on Friday, pizza and beer on Saturday, along with some great panels.

But here’s another way that you can involved.  I am going to ask each of the panelists to show a scene from a film that influenced that filmmakers, and then all six of us are going  to talk about it. Here is a preview (the first look — never before announced) at what you’ll see if you’re there:

  1. Michael Berenbaum is showing the opening sequence from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, directed by Sergio Leone and edited by Nino Baragli in
  2. Joe Klotz is showing an early scene from DOG DAY AFTERNOON, directed by Sidney Lumet and edited by Dede Allen in 1975
  3. Andy Mondshein is showing the last scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE, directed by Arthur Penn and edited by Dede Allen (again!!  how fitting) in 1967,
  4. Sandy Morse is showing the opening of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, directed by Julian Schnabel and edited by Juliette Welfling in 2007,
  5. Andrew Weisblum is showing the “birth of the hula hoop” scene from THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, directed by Joel Coen and edited by Thom Noble in 1994.

Whether you’re going to be at EditFestNY or not, what I’d love for you to do is submit questions for these editors.  I’ll select a few and ask them for you.  What is it that you’d like to know about that scene or how it affected each of these editors.  You can submit the questions here, or tweet them to me on Twitter.  My name there is @schnittman.



Meet Editors, Talk Editing, Have Cocktails

30 05 2010

One of the difficulties that many up and coming editors face in this age of DIY has to do with social connections.  With the size of editing crews down to the bare  minimum, it is hard for people to learn from other editors, and much harder to meet with people who might be able to help them improve their skills and job prospects. When I was starting out, back in the Stone Age of editing (I often joke that I cut my first film on a flip book), I apprenticed for a few years, stood next to some really great editors as an assistant for some years after that, and only then did I start editing. It was a fantastic way to learn all of the skills needed in an editing room — technical, aesthetic and political.

Now, I’m not romanticizing those Good Old Days. The idea that my students (and thousands of You Tubers) don’t have to wait eight years to start editing something on their own is pretty great, considering that they’ve grown up surrounded by edited material in a way that I did not. And my students, for better or worse, have spent 3-5 years experimenting with the form and developing great skills.

Still, the chance to meet and hear really fantastic editors talk about their craft is never to be passed up, as is the chance to have some drinks and pizza with them.  Which is why I am heartily recommending that those of you within driving distance of Manhattan on June 11-12 register today for the upcoming EditFestNY.  This is a 1-1/2 day meetup of editors where we are going to discuss our craft.  There are panels galore, with editors such of features and television, fiction and documentaries.

It starts off on Friday June 11 at 7:15pm with a panel that I am thrilled to be moderating (called with the editors Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E. (Sex and the City 1 and 2), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Precious, Junebug),  Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Remember Me, Chocolat, The Sixth Sense),  Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and  Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Wrestler).  I’m asking each one of these editors to show a scene from a film that inspires them in some way, and the entire panel is going to talk about the clips.  It should be a huge blast.

To get more information about this two-day event (including the guests) and to register, just click on the link at A.C.E., which is sponsoring the event along with the Manhattan Editing Workshop.  Discounts are available for students and for members of a ton of user groups (including any Avid or Final Cut Pro user groups — and since membership in LAFCPUG, for instance, is free you can get the $100 discount just by signing up).  The event promises to give you great access and knowledge all in one friendly weekend — and there’s drinks on Friday night, and pizza and beer on Saturday, so how can you go wrong?



The Right Tool For The Job and ROI

27 05 2010

AppleInsider had an article on May 18, 2010 which was titled “Apple Scaling Final Cut Studio Apps to fit prosumers” which generated a ton of blogosphere panic. Even I was caught up in the rumor mongering here, reacting to a post I’d read on Twitter and then, after reading the AI piece, tweeting about it myself. Phillip Hodgetts had a very intelligent post on his blog last week that used a historical approach to take the AppleInsider piece apart, rebutting nearly everything that the article said. Larry Jordan followed up with another article which also took pains to point out why that original piece was Dead Wrong.

But, in doing so, he made another excellent point.

For me, this is the key point — as editors our job is to tell stories visually. The tools we have today do a really great job of helping us put food on the table and pay the rent.

The emphasis is mine, by the way.

Now, I’d be the last one to paraphrase Larry (though I will be doing a bunch of that in a vidcast with him which will start in mid-June — more details on that to come), but let me try. What I think was so cogent about Larry’s comment is this: We only need enough tools to do the best job we can.

Of course, there’s a lot to pick apart in that statement. We were fine working on 35mm and 16mm film, drawing diagonal grease pencil lines down the middle of the film to indicate dissolves. But then videotape editing came along and, soon, we were able to actually see that dissolve. Very quickly, those diagonal lines were not “doing the best job” anymore.

Then there’s the reality that one editor’s “need” is another one’s “nice to have but I don’t care.” New tools in Avid’s Media Composer make displaying 3D footage must easier, but most everyone I know doesn’t work in 3D so (for now) we won’t care about it.

But those issues aside, the truth of that statement is strong. It’s not as important for us to have access to every tool out there, as it is to have the right tool. Until very recently, many feature films were edited on a very old version of Avid’s Media Composer hardware and software because that version of the program was stable, worked beautifully and gave editors everything they needed. Of course, with the advent of HD and visual effects, you can’t say that anymore, except if your job only involves straightforward SD editing. Then the urge to upgrade just isn’t there. Businesses call it ROI (“return on investment”) and the equation holds true in editing as well. Will we make or save as much money upgrading to a new tool as it will take to buy it, install it and (most importantly) learn it?

As the world changes, our editing tools must change of course. But the inverse is not necessarily true; as our editing tools change, the world doesn’t have to change as well. If something works really well in version 4.0 or in version 6, why should we upgrade to 5.0 or 7?

Incorporating new technology into our own work lives can be fraught with peril and we’ll only jump at the changes that make sense. How can we determine what makes sense without reflexively avoiding something just because it’s a change, or darting to every new bell and whistle just because it is new? Good question. We deal with that all the time.

Recently, I’ve been playing with two tools that are designed to make editing life more sensible and I’ve now incorporated them into my own editing life. In each case, I got something more by the change, than I had to put out in order to make that change. That is real life ROI.

I first saw PluralEyes back at NAB in 2009, where it was stuck all the way at a side wall. The way it was pitched to me got my juices excited — this is a tool for editors (FCP only at the time, it has now expanded to Premiere and Vegas; where is Media Composer???) that will automatically sync takes from different cameras that were shot at the same time and have matching audio. This seemed to be a godsend editors of music videos or events (think speeches or weddings) that are captured using multiple cameras. Six cameras capturing a speech can be easily sunk up to each other, even if the audio is of varying quality. Editors who have to sync multiple takes of a musical performance that was shot to a common playback will also benefit from this.

What a cool idea, right? I can hear editors all over the world counting up the amount of time that they will be saving in syncing up footage. In the “old days” this would have involved finding common points between each and every take (a verse where the band sang the word “Killer”, for instance — hard consonants like “K” are useful in finding sync), mark a sync point at those points in all of the takes, and combine the takes into one multicamera clip. This was pretty reliable but was incredibly time consuming and prone to error, especially if the person doing the syncing had to make sure that he/she wasn’t using that same word, but from different verses. In addition, at times the audio on an individual camera might not have been at the same level or quality as another camera, making it harder find the exact match by listening or looking at the audio waveforms in our NLEs.

So, PluralEyes could be a great timesaver but in order to do that, it has to require less work to set up than we benefit by using it. As examples, Avid’s ScriptSync used to take too much of my editing time to set up and so I never used it. Once they put voice recognition into it, it became a very usable tool and I now love it. On the other hand, I’m still waiting for Adobe’s Transcription tool to get to a usable state — right now I get around 50% accuracy, which creates more work fixing a transcription than I’ve saved by doing it automatically in the first place — Scott Simmons has a great review of it in his Editblog.

So, was PluralEyes helpful? Does it pass that test?

Way yes!! It can’t sync everything, but it does a great job of finding the sync points between takes, even if one of the clips is only a partial subclip from waaaaay down in a take. It does a remarkable, though not flawless, job in matching audio recorded at different levels and echo. I was able to effortlessly sync two cameras with direct feed audio, up to one that was using the camera mic, with all of its attendant room echo and noise. In the one or two cases where, for no known reason, it couldn’t sync up a track, it created a separate FCP timeline with those clips on it. This made it easy to see what wasn’t automatically sunk up so I was able to hand-sync those pieces. Synching two or three pieces, rather than thirty, is a huge time saving and so PluralEyes deserved to be in my editing tool chest.

It was the Right Tool for that very limited job and, even at $149, that was way worth it (Honesty Policy: Singular sent me a review copy of PluralEyes, so I didn’t pay that $149. But that doesn’t change my feeling about its worth.) I don’t know what your pay scale is, but if you use this application for three jobs and it saves you two hours in each, that’s about $25 an hour. If you’re not charging at least that for your time, you are either a student or starving or both. One key to this program’s success is its laser beam focus on one thing — help editors sync audio takes together quickly. That’s it. Priced accordingly, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who needs that one thing.

As an aside, Larry Jordan mentioned in his May 20, 2010 Digital Production Buzz podcast, that he has more editing applications on his computer than you can “shake a stick at”. (I’m not sure why you’d want a shake a stick at a computer — I often shake my fists, but that’s different.) He went on to say that he used different ones because not every NLE is good as another at specific things. I got to thinking about that. I used Media Composer a lot for my editing, but I absolutely hate their Titles creation tool — both Marquee and AvidFX/Boris — so I usually bop over to Motion to create lower thirds and the like and then import those files into my Avid machine. The right tool for the job. This is another example of creating a focus on single tasks. When I want to teach students how to create a simple DVD I’d rather use iDVD than DVD Studio Pro (even in it’s simple mode) because it’s Stupid Easy. But it’s phenomenally awful to do anything more complicated. For that I use DVD Studio Pro.

I apologize here for my total lack of knowledge of most Adobe products. I’ve been quite impressed by their improvements in the last few years, but my main body of knowledge still revolves around the NLEs that we use most here in the US — primarily the Media Composer and Final Cut.

Sorenson 360Another tool that I’ve been testing on and off for several months is something called Sorenson 360, which makes it much easier to upload videos that I’ve created for viewing and approval by my producing and directing collaborators. It will come as no surprise to those of you who have been reading this blog for a while that I am a strong proponent of long distance collaboration. I believe that, for editors of the future to be successful, we are going to have to be working with clients all over the world, often many of them at the same time. The feature I’m cutting now has me sitting in front of my computer in Los Angeles, the director is in Rhode Island and the producer is in Massachusetts. We need to be able to easily show each other sequences without flying all over the U.S. To that end, a number of cloud-based review and approval sites have been born on the web. They make compressing, commenting and approving much easier.

Sorenson 360 does all of that to great degree. Like any good compression tool, Sorenson Squeeze can take a while to efficiently and decently compress your films. For a 2 minute trailer that I recently created for that feature I mentioned, it took over an hour. For a documentary that I’m editing on Global Rivers, I had to create a 12 minute excerpt reel. The compression on that sequence, which was originally shot in HD/P2 format, took at least three hours — I left it after about 50 minutes and let it work overnight. When it was done, I had the site send me and my producers an email message that the upload was ready for them and gave them the password. It could have also sent us a text message as well.

Now, as anyone who has ever done any compression can tell you, finding the right compression settings is never as easy as they tell you. I’m okay at this, but I never can find the proper settings for quality, size and platform right out of the gate. Most compression programs give you a number of presets for each use but I find that these are no more than starting points. I am continually tweaking the settings for optimal image quality and web playability. Of course, once you determine the best setting for a particular project you should save it in a preset so you can use it all the time without the need to experiment each and every time (and I usually create a preset or two for each project I do — compression seems to be that finicky).

So, Sorenson Squeeze does all of that, as does Compressor. But Sorenson also provides a direct connection to its Content Delivery Network — the aformentioned Sorenson360 — as well as the notifications that streamline the approval process. It also gives me some rudimentary metrics — such as how many views each video received as well as the viewing duration for each video. This is great for web videos so you can basically tell where a viewer stopped watching your show (I find that the average viewer often dumps out of a video part way through — this way you can find out a bit of the “why”).

So, is this a tool that you need? And is it a tool that’s worth the cost (after a year of the free service that comes with Sorenson 6, the costs “start at $99″ and, yes, their website is that opaque about the costs saying that it’s “pay-as-you-go”)? Well, it depends on what you need it for. Brightcove, a leader in the CDN space (also acronymed the “ODN space” — Online Delivery Network), already provides pretty strong streaming in a variety of platforms with a full set of the statistics necessary for advertisers and sponsors. Can Sorenson deliver the same goods? Their prices range from the same $99 per month (50 videos and 40GB of bandwidth) to $5oo (for 500 videos and 250GB bandwidth).

I have to say that I’m not a Brightcove user so I don’t know the answer to that question. The real question is whether I’d reup with Sorenson 360 when my free one-year is up, and that is also a decision based on my own needs. I don’t create so many videos per month that $1200/year is worth it for me. But if you’re a video professional who finds him or herself increasingly working over distances this also might be the right tool for the job. I love its integration with Sorenson Squeeze (my compressor of choice). I love that I can drop a timecode window on top of my video in Squeeze to provide my producers with an easy way to key their notes to a specific spot in the video. I like the RTMP streaming which enables viewers to easily start a video from any point within the stream, rather than start at the top. I don’t like the fact that there are presently only two real formats for display — H.264 or Flash. I’d like some HTML5 capabilities as well. But it’s a great tool; well thought out and (with the recent upgrade to Version 2) becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

To see the example of how I used this tool on the Global Rivers documentary, you can temporarily check it out at my Sorenson360 site. I output this 12 minute trailer to a Quicktime movie, compressed it in Sorenson 6 and uploaded it to that site behind a password which, in this case, is “globalrivers“.

But, for many people, these applications could be another example of The Right Tool. Would it be really cool if we could get all of this in Final Cut or Media Composer? Maybe. Would it be awesome to be able to create Edit Lists or Film Cut Lists right in our NLE (the way we used to in Media Composer) without having to jump out to a separate program? Again — maybe.

Larry Jordan’s point is well taken. Not every tool needs to do everything. In fact, at a certain point, a tool that does everything is going to resemble Microsoft Word, where most users don’t take advantage of 95% of what the program can do, but it loads incredibly slow nonetheless because Microsoft is putting everything in the tool. Every NLE is going to need just the right tools to let the editors do their job, and no more. The real trick, with so many different editors out there, is figuring out just what the bulk of our editors need, and then give them The Right Tools to do that.

[PluralEyes disclaimer added – June 2, 2010]



Production and Post Wars (or Why Red Should Buy Final Cut)

29 04 2010

Well, all right, I’m exaggerating there. I don’t really think that Red should buy FCP, and Production and Post aren’t exactly at war (though sometime you’d be forgiven if you thought that) but I want to make a point here.

Every year it seems that camera manufacturers create many “improved” codecs that answer their needs — increased quality with reduced file size. However, that goal is pretty much immaterial to post-production professionals. We don’t care if an image takes up a large file size. In fact, with the faster processors and cheaper storage costs (last I checked, a medium-ish quality 2Tb drive costs less than $300 on Amazon), we don’t much care what size the original file is. If it’s too big to use, we’ll just create a lower rez transcode in ProRes or DNxHD and edit with that. In fact, it’s more important to editors that it be easy to edit.

This means that Long GOP file formats, where most frames are not stored as full frames but as a smaller list of changes from the preceding frame, are horrible. They are exceedingly hard to edit with. Whatever speed gains we might conceivably get from working in a smaller file size are more than undermined by the extra work our NLEs need to do in order to display them.

[Note of ignorance. I haven’t yet had a chance to play with the parts of the new version (5.0) of Avid Media Composer which allegedly make a lie out of that last sentence. Pushing their Avid Media Access technology forward, and allowing the Media Composer to natively work in Quicktime, Red and various Long GOP formats, they promise to make editing much easier with these previously hated formats. This has proved to be true in my experience with the Sony EX-1 and EX-3 cameras, so this could be a great boon. And I’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs, so stay tuned.]

Let’s face it. Editors are never going to get camera manufacturers to stop looking for their version of “better” codecs. We’ve long since learned to live with it. But it does mean that, unless these manufacturers work ahead of time with the NLE manufacturers (the way Red did with Apple, for instance, before the initial release of the Red One) it’s going to take some time for our favorite NLEs to catch up with each new release of a camera codec.

It’s a war and the winner of that war is… well… no one. But the biggest loser is the filmmaker.

This is less of a visible problem on the bigger budget productions where the camera and editorial departments are made up of different people, each of whom have varying levels of tech support that go beyond typing “Long GOP won’t work” into a Google search bar. But as more and more of us are shooting with small crews, and taking it back into the editing room where we have to ingest and edit it (and output it) ourselves, this becomes more than an annoyance, it becomes an impediment to our livelihoods (you know who I’m talking about, you WEVA folks out there).

So, what’s the best solution to this war? Is hope for reconciliation only slightly less feasible than the Democrats and Republicans agreeing on anything in Washington today?

Well, yes it is. But there are some signs of hope.

I’ve already mentioned Avid’s AMA. What that does is create a set of open architecture hooks for camera manufacturers, so that they can more easily create a way for editors to edit natively in the Media Composer. It’s an attempt to make it easier to do what Red did with Final Cut before the Red One’s release.

In both cases, it’s the NLE manufacturers telling the camera manufacturers — “Hey, if you’re going to create your own camera codecs, you’ll have to create your own editing codecs.” Well, not exactly, but Apple and Avid are placing the onus on the camera manufacturers to dig themselves out of their self-constructed hole. And that makes sense, so long as your NLE is one that has enough of an audience to make it worth the camera folks’ attention. I might be wrong, but I doubt that Sony, Panasonic, Red and the HD-DSLR manufacturers are going to spend buckets of money writing plug-ins for Liquid or Vegas.

So, what are our other alternatives?

In the old days, every single camera manufacturer had to create cameras that worked with the industry standard 35mm film gauge. If they wanted to create a film that was a different width — such as, say, 38mm — they had to be able to manufacture the film, the lab processing equipment, the editing equipment and the projectors to accommodate that.

Needless to say, we never saw 38mm film. [We did see 16mm and 70mm film — which at half and double the normal size was easy for Kodak to manufacture film for. When it became clear how it opened up new markets, the camera, editing and distribution worlds came along for the ride (to greater or lesser degree).]

But what if a company could manufacture a camera and editing and distribution equipment (like Sony) and didn’t have their heads up their posteriors (like, uh.., like… oh never mind)? In a frighteningly anti-competitive way, they could then create a camera codec that worked fine in both capture and post production.

We haven’t yet seen that company, though if Red bought Final Cut from Apple (or MC from Avid, let’s say) it would certainly be a start in that direction. Please note, I have absolutely no inside information on anything that Red, Final Cut or Avid might be up to. For all I know, Apple is planning on buying Red, though that would shock me in ways that I can’t describe in public.

In the meantime, Red Cine X and AMA are two ways that post and production are attempting to bridge the gap. last time I looked, Avid wasn’t manufacturing cameras, which will make it more difficult to keep up with Red Cine X.

When Cisco bought Flip last year, I was hoping that we’d see some real synergy in the production and post areas. At the very least, I was hoping that we’d see some changes in the Flip that would enable them to interact with the web backbone much more easily. That hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no indication that it’s imminent.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if someone came up with a series of codecs that could take footage shot by a camera, make it easily editing ready and trivially distribution ready. By this, I mean more than projector-ready (something that I am hoping that Red Ray will pave a path for) but will make it easier to distribute files safely to theater owners, television networks, web distributors, mobile device partners, et al.

And, I’m hoping that these solutions are provided by multiple companies so we don’t have to be tied to one technology.

Whoever creates that chain will be the Dag Hammarskjöld of all things digital video, and their company will be its United Nations. Peace at last!



I’m Not Afraid Of Organization!!

22 02 2010

Shane Hurlbut is known for more than just being the guy on the other end of the Christian Bale shouting match. He is a DP who has been tirelessly touting the value of shooting high-end films using HDSLRs (High DEf still cameras that can also shoot HD video) like the Canon 5D Mark II. In fact, in a recent fxGuide podcast (podcast #56, about half way through) he makes a passionate case for why these cameras will eventually “kill film.” It’s a thought provoking and (frankly) pretty exciting podcast. For those of us who step back from a headlong rush into something new just because it’s new, this will raise some great issues about what earthly use celluloid film really has.

Shane also has an interesting entry on his blog at Hurlbut Visuals, talking about the digital workflow issues that he and his crew dealt with on a recent Navy Seals film (that he also talks extensively about in the podcast). In it he talks about media management, a skill which is sadly lacking in many crews who shoot file based cameras. There is an illusion that, because it’s easy to keep shooting, and because stopping to reload cards “interrupts the creative process” (as if decades worth of shooting 11 minute loads of 35mm couldn’t create good creative films), that media management is an impediment to creative filmmaking. Hurlbut takes the piss out of that one:

The unique skill set that my Elite Team brings is that they all have a film background and are comfortable with certain rituals that accompany being a motion picture film loader and 2nd assistant cameraman.  These include: managing the truck; keeping  track of the gear and specialty pieces of equipment; creating an inventory and log; assessing how many magazines you have to load and color coding it according to the stock; labeling the magazines with the date, job, film stock and amount loaded on the magazine itself; and writing a camera report with the same information.

When I see students of mine with disorganized editing bins, into which they’ve loaded unlabelled takes digitized from tapes that have not been sub-clipped for easy access, it drives me insane. One of the great advantage of digital editing is that it should make it easy to find anything that I need to create a finely edited sequence. If I have to scroll through a ten minute series of takes in order to find the one that I want, it’s going to stop my creativity much quicker than taking the 20 minutes to subclip and label each one of those takes before I edit them.

by the same token, dumping dozens of takes of unslated, unlabelled takes, into my NLE does nothing to help my creativity. And having to hunt through all of the dailies because the production people didn’t bother to create usable camera and sound reports, or script notes, makes the editing process so much more difficult.

One of the things that encouraged me to write my recent book on editing room procedures (THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK) was the awareness that filmmakers were wasting countless hours and brain cells because of lack of organization. And that this organization, which we use quite naturally on higher budget films that have assistant editors by the score, was easily adapted to low budget films with no assistants. A little bit of work at the start, saves a whole boatload of work later. And that work is complicated by the fact that the director will be standing over your shoulder while you’re scrolling through a 25 minute clip, looking for the one 50 second take that has the piece he or she wants to look at. Or that opening and clicking through a dozen badly-named sequences, in order to find the version of the cut that you liked from two months ago, is just a really stupid idea.

There are ways to avoid that nonsense and creative DPs like Shane aren’t afraid of them.

And neither should you.



The Eddie Awards — And The Oscars

15 02 2010

The Eddie Award Statue (courtesy A.C.E.)

The A.C.E. Eddie Awards were handed out tonight (see the article at The Hollywood Reporter‘s site) and, as usual, they are very mainstream but also indicative of what Hollywood is thinking this week, as it revs up for the Oscars (ballots are due something like March 2nd, so it’s getting close). Here, in a nutshell, are the winners:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC): “The Hurt Locker” (Bob Murawski & Chris Innis)
BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY OR MUSICAL): “The Hangover” (Debra Neil-Fisher, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: “Up” (Kevin Nolting)
BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY: “The Cove” (Geoffrey Richman)
BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES FOR TELEVISION: 30 Rock: “Apollo Apollo” (Ken Eluto, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION: Breaking Bad: “ABQ” (Lynne Willingham, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION: Dexter: “Remains to be Seen” (Louis Cioffi)
BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION: Grey Gardens (Alan Heim, A.C.E. & Lee Percy, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED REALITY SERIES: The Deadliest Catch: “Stay Focused or Die” (Kelly Coskran & Josh Earl)
STUDENT EDITING COMPETITION: Andrew Hellesen, Chapman University
TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD: Avid

There are a number of things that I could comment on here, including the fact that the reality series winner (the involving “Deadliest Catch”) was edited two editors who aren’t members of ACE. The American Cinema Editors organization (full disclosure here — I became a member last year) is a bunch of really great, but very accomplished editors. Reality television editors are fast becoming a younger breed, who will — of course — not be part of A.C.E. This is a situation which I hope will go away eventually, but that is a discussion for another post.

Let’s talk about the films that won — THE HURT LOCKER, UP and THE HANGOVER.

These were all great films and, as can be expected from this group, were all well edited. THE HANGOVER maintained a great pace and its style all of the way through and Debra Neil-Fisher kept her usual unfailing eye for comedy always open. Kevin Nolting’s work on UP was sure-footed and, considering how involved Pixar editors are with the writing and crafting of the script, his award is not only not surprising but incredibly valued.

But how the hell did THE HURT LOCKER beat out the juggernaut of AVATAR (or the early Oscar favorite UP IN THE AIR)? I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. HURT LOCKER was probably my favorite film of 2009. From the very first scene, it had a sense of tension that more accurately described how the soldiers on the battlefield in Iraq actually feel about being there, than all of the war films since PATHS OF GLORY. In fact, the last time that I can remember feeling that consistently tense was during another Stanley Kubrick film — THE SHINING. That is not an easy thing to do. It requires a perfect combination of performance, camerawork, production design, sound, music and editing — not to mention a script to die for.

THE HURT LOCKER had all of that. And the movie has been a darling among critics as we head down to the Oscars this year.

So it was especially gratifying to see the A.C.E. recognize that consistent, powerful editing, even though there is no doubt that AVATAR had some amazing editors, working in new, uncharted territory, crafting performances from motion captured acting. You could say that it’s the very fact that most of us in A.C.E. are old folks, who go for a more traditional technique. But that’s actually selling the group short. Most of the A.C.E. editors who I’ve spoken to loved AVATAR (as did I). But there is no doubt in my mind that it suffered from the same problems that most other films do — a slowness in the middle, as its characters and plot is redefined.

So, A.C.E. rewarded the more amazingly shaped film. But what does this mean for the Oscars? Well, let’s look at some numbers.

As of the end of 2008. there were 5,829 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that votes on the Oscars. Of them, there were 223 editors, about 4%. The largest branch is the Acting Branch, with 1243 members, about 21%. In my opinion, that’s why the Best Picture Oscar usually goes to the same film that’s won the Best Editor. The actors and actresses (along with the 440 executives, the 369 PR members, and the 254 members at large, who together make up another 12%, for a total of one-third of the potential voters) take a look at a film and say “Yeah, I liked that film. So it must have been well edited.”

And, while that’s true, that doesn’t address the realities that we editors deal with every day in our own editing rooms.

So, what do I think is going to happen this year? Do I think that AVATAR has impressed enough actors, executive, PR people and at-large members, to overcome the extraordinary editing of THE HURT LOCKER? I’ll go out on a limb here and say, “No.” Bob Murawski & Chris Innis’s editing was just that good.

And it doesn’t hurt that the actors branch didn’t think any of the actors in Avatar were worth noting.



The iPad, Film Editing, My Book and Delays

10 02 2010

My book sitting quietly in a Barnes and Noble bookshelf

Long time readers of this blog will realize that it has been a long time — since I’ve posted. There are some very good reasons for that, not the least of which is that my new book was being written, rewritten, rewritten again, and published — all of which required a time sucking amount of work.  All of which I’m thrilled about.

This is the fourth edition of my ancient book on editing room workflow, written originally back before anyone knew what the word “workflow” meant. It is a total page one rewrite and, because I’m not an assistant editor any longer, I had to do a ton of research with assistants (those that are left). I learned a tremendous amount about what assistant editors do today and much of that shows up in the new book. I’ll be dropping some of that on you in the weeks ahead.

Of course, I want each and everyone of you to go out and buy 50 copies each of the book.  But that’s not what I’m interested in talking about today. So, let me go on.

Another reason why this latest posting has been inordinately delayed is that I’ve been editing one or two films. One of them is a great comedy road movie that follows a self-destructive screenwriter as he drives across country accompanied by the young kid who’s been assigned by the film producers to babysit the guy . The film is, I think, going to be loads of fun, but what’s really interesting about it for me is that I’m editing it long distance. My co-editor is in Massachusetts and my director is in Rhode Island.

That means that the three of us are going to spend lots of time shooting copies of our Avid bins back and forth to each other so we can see what each of us are doing. This excites me a lot, but that may be because I’m slightly crazy about the future. A conversation I had a little while back, showed me that not everybody shares this mania.

Last summer, when Final Cut Pro 7 (or whatever they’re calling it) came out, I remember enthusiastically talking to a friend about the iChat Theater function, which allows the editor to play out anything in FCP over an iChat video conference, simply by pointing to it. It’s an easy way to play dailies or your sequence to any of your collaborators. It doesn’t have any of the real interactive functions that would make it a true shared editing platform (I’ll be looking at Fuze soon, which promises much more), but it certainly is a start to long distance communication in the editing process and I was telling my friend about it.

He looked at me horrified and said “I’ve got one word for you — outsourcing.” He was worried about his job going overseas.

“But you’ve got to look at it from the other side,” I told him. “You’re an accomplished Hollywood feature and television editor. There will be plenty of people around the world who would love to work with you. But they haven’t been able to because you live here in Los Angeles and they don’t.”

He agreed that this was possible but then said “A lowering tide lowers all boats. Even if I could get those jobs, my salary is going to go down. Way down.”

Hard to disagree with that.  Welcome to the 21st century. With the collapse of television syndication and the advertising market, the days of 10 month guaranteed jobs for tv editors are going away. As Hollywood moves more and more to large tentpole films, the number of mid-range films is also disappearing and, along with them, a sizable number of cushy mid-level jobs. Those of us who live off of these types of projects are going to have to get used to the fact that our incomes are going to go down, unless we adapt to the new markets.

And, miraculously, those markets are all over the world. What my friend, and all of us, are going to have to do, is to learn to juggle multiple jobs across multiple time zones. Some of us are doing that already. It’s really only the larger job markets that haven’t been doing it. No producer is going to share his/her editor’s time with someone across the globe. But if that same producer is hiring his/her editor for a few months, laying them off, bringing them back on again for a month or two, and then laying them off again — well, they’re going to have to get used to sharing them with the rest of the world.

So working long-distance is going to be a smart thing to learn how to do. And somehow I’ve stumbled right into it.

Apple's new iPad

Then, enter the iPad. I’ve been asked endlessly whether I’m ready to rush out and buy one. Honestly, not really. I’ll wait until the device matures a bit more (just like I waited for the iPhone 3G and am thrilled that I did). However, the possibilities that this new device gives us in the vertical market that is filmmaking are thrilling.

Imagine a producer pitching a project to a studio. Right now they send a script and, perhaps, some accompanying materials, to the studio where (if their readers like it) it is sent home with 50 or so executives to be read over the weekend. This is called, in a predictable burst of studio originality, the “weekend read.” Many studios have moved the weekend read from paper to the Kindle, which saves paper but does nothing to brighten the experience for those poor junior executives.

Now, imagine if you will, that the producer has loaded the script onto an iPad and that there are embedded links within the script to location photos, audition tapes, CAD drawings of sets, and 3D mockups of the worlds that are only hinted at in the script. That is going to be a clearer, more interesting vision of the story for every single one of those bored-to-tears weekend readers. It’s also going to be more helpful to me, when I read a script before an interview, or to an art director as he/she tries to figure out what’s inside of the director’s mind.

And that’s just one single use for this device. If you take a look at the dozens of applications for filmmakers available on the iPhone (Taz Goldstein has a great list, adapted from his recent Supermeet talk, up at his site Handheld Hollywood and, by the way, the Supermeet was a great event, even if I did have to watch it streamed on Ustream — you should go and look at it right now). There are slates galore, some of which even will help you import your footage into your NLE. There’s a very cool application to allow you to remotely control your f-stop settings on your camera. There are director’s viewfinders, storyboard creators, teleprompters and research tools. And that’s for the iPhone.

Imagine what we’ll be able to get with a 10″ screen.

Here’s my point. For years we’ve been on the cusp of something really new and exciting in the filmmaking world. We’ve gone all digital — from capture through editing. We’ve also seen the world of distribution change — so the need to print film for theaters is fast disappearing, and we will be easily distributing to each of the four screens that people watch their entertainment on (see an earlier post of mine about Four Play).

What’s been missing is the ease of getting from this digital creation, to the digital consumption in any way that resembles a realistic viewing format.

The iPad is more than a hint into that future, it’s the door ajar (not fully open yet, but not closed).



Assistant Editor Appreciation Day

26 08 2009

Just found out, thanks to Scott Simmons and the French web site FinalCutMtl, I’ve learned that tomorrow, August 27th, is I Love My Assistant Day.  Awwww.  Go out and hug your assistant.  For those of us who don’t have assistants (I’ve presently copying my media from the transport drive that I was sent from the East Coast yesterday to a backup drive), go out and hug yourself.



Real Collaboration – Editors and Directors, Editors and Editors

21 08 2009

Over on my other blog I long-windedly answered a question that someone sent me on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago: “How do you deal with directors who ask you to do stupid things?”

The short version of my answer was that, if each of you are doing your job right, then there really aren’t any stupid requests because each one is a window into what the director really wants, even if he or she isn’t capable of communicating it well.

But that led me to start thinking about two times when I’ve seen editorial collaboration help enormously in the editing room.

I was an assistant editor and assistant music editor on the film HAIR, way back in the Editorial Stone Age. We had two great editors on the film – Lynzee Klingman and Stan Warnow – as well as a director (Milos Forman) who really knew editing. But there was once sequence that none of the three could quite figure out how to edit. It was a song called “Black Boys/White Boys” in which a row of Army medical examiners decided whether a line of inductees were healthy enough to march off to Vietnam. Choreographer Twyla Tharp had designed this clever set of homoerotic dance moves for the two trios of examiners to be intercut with two trios of women who sang and made eyes at the boys around them in Central Park. The idea was that the juxtaposition of these very straight military men, the naked inductees in front of them, and the trios of seductive women in the park would make the entire medical exam seem absurd and somewhat surreal.

It was supposed to be clever and funny and it absolutely didn’t work.

So Milos and the producers hired Alan Heim with the specific goal of having him edit that sequence. Alan had been Bob Fosse’s editor for quite awhile and had cut films like ALL THAT JAZZ (still one of the most amazing biographies in Seventies cinema – and way ahead of its time), LIZA WITH A Z and LENNY. He was hired one day and disappeared, with an assistant, into a room at the Trans Audio Building on 54th Street in New York (above the famed Studio 54) and came out a week or so later with a first pass that blew everyone away. It wasn’t perfect and underwent many changes between then and the final cut of the film. But it so clearly pointed Milos and his other editors in the correct direction, that Alan was convinced to stay on and work on the film in its entirety.

It by no means belittles the editing contribution of Lynzee and Stan to say that the scene could not have been shaped as well without the outside viewpoint that broke the logjam of their preconceived ideas.

The second example came the second time I worked with director Michael Lehmann. We had previously worked on the film HEATHERS together and it was a fantastic experience for me. When he asked me to move onto his next film, MEET THE APPLEGATES (a satirical farce starring Ed Begley Jr, Stockard Channing and Dabney Coleman, about large Brazilian bugs who get sick of humans destroying their habitat and turn into humans and move to Ohio to blow up a nuclear power plant terrorist-style) I jumped at the chance.

The film came together relatively easily, considering its low budget nature and high ambitions, but it still didn’t feel like the movie that we wanted to make in places.  There were areas that weren’t funny enough. Other scenes had great moments, but didn’t propel the story forward enough.

So we brought in a mutual friend, editor Barry Malkin, to look at the areas of the film that most concerned us (and any others that he wanted to work at).  We put Barry, who had worked with on THE COTTON CLUB and had been an editor with Francis Coppola for years, in a room with a Moviola, an assistant and a ton of film. In a few days he did two things. The first was, he told us that he understood perfectly why we had edited the individual scenes the way we did. He would have done it the same way. But he had some ideas on rethinking scenes in ways that we hadn’t really thought about. We let him go back into the room and, a few days later, he started showing us a few scenes that had been subtly or greatly revamped.

Like on HAIR, the changes weren’t perfect, and they went through many changes before we locked the film a little while later. But they opened up thought processes and brain synapses that we hadn’t used before. It helped to bring us out of our mindset. (Barry got a credit as “Editorial Consultant”.  He should have been credited as “Logjam Breaker”)

Every project needs a place where its creators can step back and re-evaluate what they’ve been doing. Most of the time, there’s neither the time nor the money to do that. What is most painful is when you could do it, but don’t because you’re locked into a conception of your project that can’t move.

The Greeks, I’m told, talk about it this way. Every idea (a “thesis”) needs to meet up with a second different idea (the “antithesis”). When they are allowed to work off of each other, they create a third, usually better, idea (the “synthesis”). The key to making this work in both HAIR and APPLEGATES was to allow the new editor to actually sit and work the material, as opposed to simply giving notes. Sometimes great ideas can come from a comment, but often those ideas just don’t work when they’re exposed to the light of day. You can’t find a character’s smile, or there is no close-up when you’d need one. But with enough time and freedom, a good editor will work towards that alternative goal.

The goal of good collaboration is to allow good new ideas to bubble to the surface without distracting the leader from the overall spine of the project. It’s not easy sifting through thousands of ideas over the course of the day-to-day work on a film. But that is what distinguishes a good director from a mad or mediocre one.



Even Orson Welles Makes Mistakes…

29 07 2009

… but you have to be over 40 to know it.

Shane Ross, over at his fantastic blog Little Frog In Hi-Def, has posted an old video in which Orson Welles talks about editing.  It’s an incredibly wise, and short, piece in which, standing over a 16mm flatbed, Welles talks about the musicality of editing and how being in an editing room is “home” for a filmmaker.

“A Moviola is as important as a camera… This is the last stop between the dream in the filmmaker’s head and the public.”

But there’s one big mistake which makes me realize just how divorced he was from the actual mechanics of editing. See if you can spot it.

This does raise the issue of the difference in involvement from the great editors of the past and today, but we’ll talk about that when I see what sort of response I get to this challenge.