What Does An Editor Do?

22 02 2008

Mark Helfrich, an accomplished editor himself (X-Men: The Last Stand , Rush Hour 2, Red Dragon, Scary Movie, etc.), does a video for Slate Magazine, which talks about what makes the five nominees for this Sunday’s Best Film Editing Oscar worth looking at. Those of you who edit for a living won’t find anything surprising here, but for those who don’t work in editing, or in the film business at all, will find some of this discussion quite interesting.

Of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, Helfrich takes a scene where Jean-Do, the paralyzed lead of the film, is watching a speech therapist. Because the film is shot, at that point, from the point of view of Jean-Do’s only good eye, every time the character blinks, the screen goes dark for a half a second. Helfrich notes that this enables the editor, Juliette Welfling, to cut from one take of this camera set-up to another (enabling her to stitch together the best complete performance from a number of performances) as well as to cut from one size shot to a tighter one.

There are some editors who believe that it is best to try and preserve one entire performance/take from a character. These editors will try and avoid editing from one performance to another. For other editors, myself included, all that we want is to preserve the feeling of a continuous performance. I don’t care if the performances come from 12 different takes, so long as they combine into one fluid performance. In fact, I assume that if the director printed a take, that it’s fair game for me to use.

I’ve worked with actors whose performance doesn’t vary from take to take, and others who tried something different each time, and all of the variations in between. As an editor, we are always trying to get a performance to tell a story, and these variations are sometimes helpful and sometimes unhelpful. Regardless of where Helfrich falls on the one performance/one take question, his discussion of what the five nominated films have done in their approaches to editing is informative and well worth a viewing.



Best Gazillion Movies of All Time

18 02 2008

I mentioned this back a hundred years ago, in the first incarnation this blog, but I thought it deserved another mention.

USC apparently sends a list of movies that they would like incoming students to have seen and Mike Gerber published the list. It’s actually a pretty impressive list and I wondered how many all of you have seen. As for me, I’ve seen many of them (the films I haven’t seen are in italics — go ahead, razz me now):

MOVIES:
A Hard Day’s Night
African Queen
Alice in the Cities
Alien
All About Eve
Amadeus
American Friend, The
American Grafitti
Annie Hall
Apartment, The
Apocalype Now
Apu Trilogy, The
Band of Outsiders
Band Wagon, The
Barton Fink
Battle of Algiers
Being John Malkovich
Bicycle Thief, The
Big Lebowski, The
Black Orpheus
Blade Runner
Blow-Up
Blue
Blue Velvet
Bob le Flambeur
Bonnie and Clyde
Boyz ‘n the Hood
Breathless
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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The Middle East GETS It

21 09 2007

The Middle East International Film Festival is running from October 14-19th in Abu Dhabi and I wish I could go, but (alas) that simply won’t be possible/affordable this year.

However, there is a really interesting sidebar festival going on, called the Hayah Film Competition. It is designed, according to the site, to “encourage innovation and creativity from filmmakers throughout the UAE and Middle East region.”

Here’s what’s cool about it, according to a note on the MEIFF’s site:

Filmmakers will submit projects, less than 5 minutes in length that will be viewed on iPods and on the Festival website throughout the world.

There are three categories — students, professional, amateur. (For more information, go to the Hayah website right here)

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of films that people can view on their iPods right now (the new iPhone/iPod with YouTube connection guarantees that). But I’m excited that a film festival is creating an integrated event honoring them.  I’m excited but not too surprised that it’s happening in the Middle East.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the Middle East, teaching film in Jordan. Though I haven’t traveled extensively outside of Jordan, the film scene there struck me as incredibly vibrant and at the beginning stages. (The first feature created by Jordanians and shot, CAPTAIN ABU RAED, isn’t out of editing yet but the early cut that I saw is absolutely stunning in its storytelling and filmmaking abilities). It is an incredibly exciting time to be in the area, filmmaking-wise (one of my workshop students, has posted pictures of him shooting a film in Iraq,) and every single one of the filmmakers I met there was incredibly aware of the power of the growing Internet presence.

it bodes really well for film’s future and I’m thrilled to be even the tiniest part of the rebirth.

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Media Literacy

13 09 2007

Two of the complaints that I constantly hear from my fellow oldsters is that “kids just don’t read anymore,” and “They just aren’t literate.”

Well, it depends what you mean by literacy.

We swim in a world of multimedia. We thrive in a world of visual and aural stimuli, delivered through digital processes as well as the traditional analog sensory ones. As Elizabeth Daley, Dean of the School of Cinema at USC, has said:

No longer can students be considered truly educated by mastering reading and writing alone. The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio with video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student.

In an interview in the LA Times she further explains:

We’re not attacking the text. We really like texts. It’s just that with multimedia, you’re penetrating things at so many layers and levels that you can’t with just text.

This means that not only will the educated student in any discipline need to be able to create media (whether it is uploading a video, writing a blog, or creating a film/Powerpoint for their non-media work), but they must be able to understand when they are being manipulated by someone else’s media, and how.

These thoughts come up because I am in Albuquerque for a few days where I am a “Key Mentor” for a conference entitled “Cinematic Arts and Literacy: Solutions for a Changing World” (how come all academic books and conferences need to have a phrase, after the colon, explaining what the title was before the colon??). One interesting thing that comes up in any debate on media literacy is how much it overlaps with the acquisition of information. Years ago that meant “book learning” or, in broader terms, the acquisition of information using printed and aural input. Today, that is increasingly an outmoded way of looking at things. Yet the goals are still the same. Here is a quote from the organization ETS, about their iSkills Assessment Tool:

In today’s information-driven academic environment, students need to know how to find, use, manage, evaluate, and convey information efficiently and effectively. As a comprehensive test of Information and Communication Technology proficiency, [the iSkills test] presents real-time, scenario-based tasks to assess the cognitive and technical skills required of today’s higher education students. The assessment provides support for institutional ICT literacy initiatives, guides curricula innovations, informs articulation and progress standings, and assesses individual student proficiency.

Perhaps a bit self-serving, and definitely full of jargon. But it is (I think) a great indicator of what is interesting about working in film education today. It’s no longer just about teaching filmmakers. It has grown into a position which is about teaching everyone how film and other moving media influences everything they do.

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Power Point and the death of teaching

3 09 2007

I’ve often made the point that Power Point has contributed to the death of actual presentation, because so many people just don’t do it right at all.  I’ve been to teacher conferences where the professors droned on endlessly in front of Power Point slides that said (in tiny tiny type) exactly what they were saying out loud.  It made me despair for teaching, in general.

In my other life, as a web analyst, I’ve seen the same thing — people who stand in front of badly structured PowerPoints (complete with horrifying audio and video transitions) and read everything that is up on screen.  If I wanted to have someone read to me, I would have stayed a four-year old, in my parents’ house

Now, there are a few sites that talk about how to better your presentations.  Now, WIRED Magazine has an article on Pecha Kucha, which means “chatter” in Japanese.  Two Tokyo based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, have started a meeting for Japanese architects who have never had a place to display and talk about their work.  But here is what the two of them do that makes this meeting so cool — speakers can show no more than 20 slides, and each slide can last no longer than 20 seconds.  That is 400 seconds altogether, which comes out to six minutes and 40 seconds.  That Is It.

It’s brilliant.

In my editing classes, we work on loglines for scenes that we will be editing.  The key there is to be able to describe an entire movie in no more than two sentences.  Students have to really think about the films they describe, since simple plot descriptions are usually inadequate to describe the film.

What I find is that filmmakers who can succinctly describe their film, can usually more effectively direct and create all of the disparate elements involved in making it work.  KNowing what your film is about at its basic core, can help the filmmaker out of all sorts of production problems.

By the same token, being able to describe your concepts in 6:40 must make for some compelling speeches.  And will also help to separate the people who are just blowing smoke, from those who have something legitimate to say.

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In FRONT of a camera

15 08 2007

I got interviewed today for a short film that the USC School is doing for potential freshman and found myself answering a number of questions about what an editor does and what collaboration is like.

Since I spent last week at the UFVA Conference talking mostly about collaboration, it was fairly easy to get up on my high horse and proclaim that collaboration is the best thing since sliced bread and all of the students need to learn it before the train runs off the rails and the ship runs aground.

I got to thinking afterwards, as I was driving home, that collaboration is one of the most difficult skills to learn.  It’s all well and good to say that we need to collaborate, but there are times when you want to throttle the other person and collaboration be damned. However, like anything that’s worthwhile, I’ve always found that if you stick with it, you come out the other end feeling way better. Some of the most difficult collaborative experiences for me have come when I wasn’t being particularly collaborative. That’s not to say that it is always the editor’s responsibility to collaborate — in fact, I feel that it is the leader/s who have that greatest responsibility.

Still, my experiences tend to show me that it is way easier to derail collaboration than it is to make it work. And, like difficult sessions in therapy, that’s when things are getting more productive.



Top Ten Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before They Start

9 08 2007

I figured I’d use the same title as Mike Curtis did on his blog posting today.

I’ve been on a few panels here at the UFVA Conference in Denton, Texas including a fantastic interview session with keynoter Steven Cohen on Tuesday night, but this one was really interesting. The stated topic was “10 Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before Making Their Movie. A guide to making a great film on a budget — and doing it right!” (you can see why I abbreviated it in the title of this post). It was moderated by Ashley Kennedy from Avid, Mike Curtis from HDForIndies, ad John Sterneman from Dragonslayer Post in Burbank, a facility that offers complete post services for the indie filmmaker.

Last night we all went out to dinner to talk about the panel. We had previously had one long phone conversation so we could get the ten points together, but now we wanted to get to know each other.

The top of my head exploded.

These two guys know so much about the technical world of post production that I felt like an idiot. I was worried that I’d be completely out of my depth. But those of you who know me, also know that I fight gallantly to put the storytelling aspect of film front and center. And that is what I wanted to make sure we included.

I needn’t have worried. I’ll reproduce the ten talking points below (as copied from Mike’s blog), but we ended up talking about many of them (thanks to Ashley to keeping us on track) set within the framework of collaboration and advance planning. Sure, there are ten points here, but they really all boiled down to these two. Put together the right team and let them advise you (and listen to them — don’t be an asshole) to create a thorough game plan for the entire process — from pre-production through distribution and exhibition.

  1. Put together the right team. Be sure you have the right members involved at the right time. For instance, the editor should be involved in pre-production and the producer should be involved in post. This was a far flung and all encompasing topic – this also includes getting the right team that knows the nitty gritty of their jobs and will see to all the granular implementation details to make sure stuff goes right. By default, the right team will include folks to steer you clear of certain pitfalls, warn you of expensive or limiting choices, and be able to think on their feet when contingencies are needed to be invented on the spot.
  2. Work backwards and know what you want to deliver before you start shooting. Plan your post workflow (i.e. deliver on film? HD?).
    I say this all the time to clients when they start asking about what to shoot on – I say STOP – what do you want to end up with at the end of the day? Work from there.
  3. In pre-production know what budget is for post and stick to it! Perhaps even account for more $$ in POST. Many producers end up
    spending 3x the money in post because they didn’t plan accordingly. This folds into a saying I’ve come up with – “Most indies would rather save a nickel on Friday that costs the $20 on Monday…and even if they knew they were doing it, many still would, because they didn’t have the nickel on Friday.”
  4. Don’t just try to piece the workflow together. Make sure your NLE (Non Linear Editor — like Avid or Final Cut Pro) supports your camera and the formats that you are shooting in. Be sure that your offline edit will seamless make it to the online. Know how to get final product out of the system. This one
    was all me – for a good example, see the post from a couple of days ago about Pull Trigger, Then Aim (link to follow).
  5. Have a realistic schedule from the get go. Based on your budget – know how many days you will need to shoot, weeks you’ll need to edit, etc. Many have unrealistic post schedules. As an add-on to that, just because you only have enough money for a 6 not 12 week creative edit DOES NOT MEAN that you’ll get it done in that timeframe.
  6. With so many choices – be smart about what you choose for technology, talent, location, etc. Overprepare and execute. Small projects can take the same or more amount of prep as larger projects. Small budget = use every penny wisely.
  7. Know your story! If changes need to be made – make them on set, not in post. Plot point vs character point. If the story isn’t coming together based on the shots – it can cause 2-3x increase in post production.
  8. Producers need a better grasp on the distribution process – particularly for indie film. Understand the requirements that distributors have. Avoid getting a 20 page document after QC of what needs to be “fixed” before the film is ready for distribution.
  9. Understand how to appeal to distributors. It’s always about the best story. Know whether to spend funds on name power vs. technology. Discern hype from reality – when It comes to vendor marketing. Know how to get your “name” out there.
  10. No role is unimportant in film. Even if tools have a color application – you still need a “real” colorist to do the job. Best use what tools you have (media management.)

Mike promises to go back up and go into detail on the points, so you should loop back there periodically over the next day or so. But all in all it was a great experience.

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I’m Off To Texas

6 08 2007

Every year, as soon as it gets really obnoxiously hot in the States, the UFVA (University Film and Video Association) has its annual convention in someplace really really hot. This year, it’s in Denton, Texas. So there’s going to be a whole slew of film professors converging on the University of North Texas, and sweating their asses off. The ever inaccurate Yahoo weather promises temperatures up to 100 this week, so I’ll probably get to lose some weight just through sweat along. Luckily, in the night time it ‘s going to go down to the high seventies.

Actually, I really like going to UFVA. As it turns out, there are a whole lot of cool people who like film and who like to teach it. Plus we all get to watch or sit on panels.

This year, I’m sitting on a panel called 10 Things You Need To Know Before Making Your Film, and I’m also leading a Question and Answer session at the Opening Keynote evening. I’ll be interviewing Steven Cohen, editor, teacher and blogger (see Splice Here; no, really, go see it!). Steve and my lives parallel each other in strange and eerie ways. He’s been editing for a gazillion years. So have I (I used to edit by carving images on stone tablets). He’s taught — he did it at the AFI, I’ve done it at UCLA and USC. He was a super early, bleeding-edge adopter of Non Linear Editing technology — bringing the Avid to Hollywood back when people were sweating that they’d never give up their Moviolas, KEMs and butt splicers (about which you can ask, but I won’t tell). I started on Lightworks, Montage, Ediflex and Avid.

So, it’s always fun to sit down and talk to him. We’ll just be doing it in front of a group of people who actually will care about what we say. Should be fun. I’ll keep you posted.

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Filmmaking Is The Same

20 07 2006

Spent 13 hours on the set of one of our Jordan Digital Filmmaking Workshop short films yesterday. The ironic thing is that, here in the middle of the Middle East, at the junture of several continents, the process (craziness and all) seems very familiar to what I’ve experienced on USC Student film sets as well.

Here are a few pictures from the shoot.


Samer (in the yellow shirt) is the director.



The View From The Middle East

19 07 2006

I haven’t posted in a long time because of how crazy busy I’ve been. Right now I am in Amman, Jordan teaching with several other teachers, at a workshop for beginning digital filmmakers.

It’s very interesting being here as Israeli airstrikes hit Lebanon and Amman receives tons of refugees. I had a conversation yesterday with a Lebanese television producer who has come here because neither she nor her family feel they can stay in Beirut. Normal middle class people, like you and I, are watching their neighborhoods destroyed. Either the bombing isn’t accurate or there is a plan to target civilian areas. It’s puzzling.

I know that when I was back in LA last week, the news coverage was fairly slanted towards the Israeli side. Luckily, the blogosphere is helpful in showing both sides. If can stomach it, check out this blog entry at itoot.net, which is a blog that culls entries from ten or so other blogs. [ADDED NOTE: This post now seems to have taken down. Perhaps the pictures were too graphic. I’ve changed the URL to point to the general crisis page at iToot.] Some of the pictures are pretty graphic, but that is precisely the point here. It’s easy to turn the pages of the newspaper, or fast forward on our Tivo’s when everything is soft-pedaled.

There’s also a very personal story from an actress/writer named Najla Said, who writes on Electronic Lebanon about her ordeal in fleeing Lebanon. She contracts it, in a beautiful way, with her father’s recent death, and their attraction to their homeland.

The point for me is this — I have no idea whether this can ever be settled. I’m often convinced by the stories of the people on both sides — many of whom have no desire or need for war. Most are not political people.

But politcal decisions made at the highest levels of many governments don’t care about these people. And, in my discussions here and reading lots of blogs, this is creating anger in Arabs that was not there before. One woman told me that she was a person who demonstrated against Hezbollah for years. Now she is on their side. When you look at pictures like the above, or