Sh*tting Sparkles
Staying Flexible in Editing

I am an editor. 

 
Not a comedy editor, or a documentary editor, or a music video editor.
 
I am an Editor. I train myself in telling stories in different forms. At every editing seminar I attend, the question of avoiding being pigeon-holed is always asked. It’s hard to avoid being pigeon-holed. Producers want someone proven in whatever style they are looking for. I am constantly proving myself with each new producer and each new type of show. I have been able to figure out different editing styles and have been successful at being hired on different types of shows such as documentary, scripted, reality, package editing, and multicam studio show format.
But here’s the thing, each type of editing has its own unique techniques. Each show requires a different approach and works different editing muscles. So if I practice in one genre of editing, then I am going to be better at that particular style. There are lots of editors out there known for a specific genre of editing such as cutting promos or reality tv or scripted narrative. That is great if that is their specific editing passion, but I hear stories about how very few editors are able to go back and forth between reality and scripted and thus are not able to get as much work as they would like.
I often work on shows with very fast turnarounds. My average gig is 3 weeks. Sometimes in between my longer gigs, I fill in for other editors on different shows for a day or two. So in one week, I will have worked on a multicam studio show, a documentary, online editing for another show, and doing a recut on an old show that requires me to punch into program masters and make big changes seamlessly without changing timing. Within that week of one day gigs, I will have done music editing, dialogue editing, picture editing, mastering, color correction, multicam editing, and worked with 5 different producers each with their own personality quirks and preferences. My unpredictable work schedule requires me to keep every skill I acquire sharp. 
And I still have so much to learn. I approach everything with a beginner’s mind as much as I can. Being open to new ideas helps me think outside the box and keep my creativity going. Every project is a new adventure to explore the possibilities of storytelling.
Until next time…
From Editing to Directing/Producing

Anyone who follows me on twitter is probably aware that I recently joined a group of post production professionals that produce a podcast called Going Postal Show. First and foremost, I am currently an editor that works in broadcast television, but we all need to have a little fun side project, right? So the criteria to be a part of the podcast: have a passion about production and post production, love movies, be comfortable around tech talk and of course, be a geek. I guess I qualified.

A portion of the podcast is about pop culture. Other than the celebrity scandals and gossip, what pop culture means to me is the modern mediums of storytelling: movies, television, comic books, comic artwork, the list goes on…

Of course, all this talk about pop culture is leading to one event: San Diego Comic Con.

I attend Comic Con every year and a couple of times I worked as an editor for G4’s coverage of comic con. I was a swag bag carrying geek by day and working in the production trucks next to the convention center by night (see first blog entry).

This year was a little different. My podcast colleagues and I decided that since I was going to Comic Con anyway, I should get some coverage for a comic con special of the show. I had never actually field produced anything before except for a couple of sit down interviews with some editors who were friends, so it was a little daunting. Luckily, I had observed producers that I have worked with as an editor for years. This was going to be my chance to create something from scratch that was my vision.

So the question is: How do I cover comic con in a well rounded way that is related to the production/post production industry?

I selected a few topics that I was interested in. I am a huge fan of the comics released by Zenescope Entertainment, and I discovered that they actually have an origin in screenplays and are currently doing work for several production studios. They were perfect to include in the podcast and since I was very familiar with their comics, I had already done most of the research.  I also really wanted to run the zombie obstacle course, The Walking Dead Escape, and I discovered that KNB FX, the masters of makeup behind several big television shows and features, were going to be doing the zombie makeup for the obstacle course.

Then there were the exclusive panels for the next big film and tv projects. I was also surprised to learn that Adobe would be attending as well and were presenting a panel about Photoshop.


I sent out some polite emails to the companies that I wanted to cover and I managed to get press passes for certain events and granted interviews with the Co-Creator of Zenescope and one of the Project Managers of Photoshop.

Now people have complimented me by saying I have the mind of a producer when I am cutting projects in the edit room, but I have never actually had to produce/direct in the field. I was pretty much winging it the entire time I was at Comic Con. I prepared questions for my Adobe and Zenescope Interviews, but had no idea what I would be getting at The Walking Dead Escape. I almost wasn’t allowed into the make-up area and when I did manage to gain access, I was not guaranteed an interview with anyone. So I improvised. I recorded the Zombie Training Course that happened every 10 minutes. I did some interviews with some of the “Zombies,” many of whom were nervous about being recorded. The make-up artists were extremely busy, so during one of the breaks, I just walked up to the artist who seemed to be the most approachable and asked him for an interview. He said yes and gave me a fantastic interview. I have a history with doing special effects make-up at a haunted house years ago, and I pulled from this knowledge in order to formulate my questions on the fly.

I also recorded the panels that I attended by holding my arm up into the air the entire panel and hoping that my Zoom H4N was recording the audio coming out of the auditorium speakers.

I finished off my field producing with some Man On The Street Interviews with people who were waiting in the massively long Hall H line.

So now what?

Oh yeah, I still needed to edit all of my coverage together in some form that was entertaining, informative and coherent.

I’m used to asking someone else what their vision is and to pull their selects, but cutting down my coverage was all on me. So I started out by making a list of everything I had. Then I made an outline by re-ordering the list and grouping elements together to make segments. I had an idea of how long I wanted each interview to be and what the good content was, so I created a segment order based on my memory. It ended up something like this:

VO-Intro
Adobe - 2-3 minutes
Walking Dead Escape - 8-10 minutes
Zenescope - 10-12 minutes
The Panel Recordings - Agents of SHIELD, Once Upon a Time
Hall H Line - Doctor Who and Supernatural Fans
VO-Outro

I structured the entire segment to have a slow build up of content (Adobe talked about techniques specific to comic art) to the pinnacle of information (Zenescope, which was actually a two person interview and was very in depth about all aspects of the company and its process) and then I wound the segment down with some fun pop culture sections that contained behind of the scenes tidbits (Panels) and fan reactions (Hall H Line). I weaved in Voiceover, sound ups and music to tie everything together.

The storytelling knowledge that I have attained as an editor in addition to observing producers and directors for years helped me create this Comic Con segment for the podcast. With no network executives to answer to, I produced and edited together something that I would want to hear and it ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be.

The Comic Con Special Episode of Going Postal Show is available on iTunes, Stitcher and www.goingpostalshow.com

Visual Effects Bring New Possibilities to Editing: Chats with Alan Edward Bell, A.C.E., Barrie Wise and Zack Arnold

"All science touches on art; all art has its scientific side. The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is no scientist." Armand Trousseau

What does an editor do? If you ask someone outside of the film and television industry, you might get the answer,”Editors take out the bad parts, right?” Editing is a mystery to most, because more often than not, editors do not want their work to be noticed. I attend editing events and seminars so I can meet and learn from highly experienced editors. The latest string of seminars that I attended were the VFX Convergence panels presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The panels covered Pre-Vis, Combining Practical Makeup Effects with Digital Makeup, Matte Paintings and Set Extensions. It included the best visual effects people in the industry talking about blockbuster films such as Benjamin Button, Oblivion, and The Hunger Games. So why would an editor like myself, who has no interest in doing intense visual effects work, attend advanced visual effects seminars? 

With the advantages of current software, editors have access to a variety of tools that do more than just add a cut to a shot. An example:

The scene involved a woman being chased by a man. The pacing was off because the man took too long to get from point A to point B, but it was done in one shot. The director went to several editors and asked if they can find a way to get the man to point B quicker and speed up the pacing. Every editor said it couldn’t be done. The director had some compositing knowledge and realized that he could split screen the shot of the woman and man together, thus closing the distance between them and speed up the pacing. He roughly composited the shots together and had a VFX artist match the shots seamlessly using After Effects.

The director’s use of his basic visual effects knowledge helped solve a story issue for his film. It is for this reason that I attended those visual effects seminars. I want to maximize my toolset for storytelling, especially in a world where visual effects and green screen are increasingly used, but I wondered how often visual effects skills are actually used by editors on the studio productions. I chatted with some experienced editors about their thoughts regarding the integration of visual effects techniques in storytelling. 

Has the addition of compositing and effects tools in a NLE changed how you approach editing and story?

ANONYMOUS (Feature and Television Editor): Having the digital tools we now have at our disposal has definitely changed how I approach editing. Once you know what is possible, you need not be satisfied with a take as shot, and so are always thinking of ways it may be improved or repurposed.  I think it has really expanded my approach to any scene, knowing all the digital tricks that can be brought to bear.  It really frees you up creatively.


ALAN BELL (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) : NLE hasn’t really changed my approach to story at all. It has changed many of they ways I can visualize story ideas and made trying things out much faster.

Are there techniques that you use in your editing that are not considered traditional cutting?

ANONYMOUS: I now regularly use re-speed or time warp techniques, fluid morph, animattes, split-screens, camera shake and motion blur effects in addition to the usual blow-ups and push-ins, etc. This is just in regular editing, as the list of tools we use for temp effects is much longer.  In addition I use audio suite effects to shape the dialogue, like pitch shift or time compression and expansion.  I find all these tools to be indispensable, and I rely upon them for every job, regardless of type.

ZACK ARNOLD (Burn Notice) : If part of making the story better means that I have to fix a shot by changing somebody’s eye line so that their emotion changes, then I will go into After Effects and do a six layer composite and render it out.

BARRIE WISE (CSI:Crime Scene Investigation): For most episodes of CSI,  actors will have to play dead.  As a result, we get a lot of blinkers, breathers and neck pulsers. This is where I will use split screen and freeze frames.  Pretty simple trick, but it often saves heavy Inferno or VFX costs. 

I have heard very few editors speak about the use of split screens to combine different takes for each actor within the same frame. Is this a common practice in general?

ZACK ARNOLD: It’s not very common. Some editors I’ve worked with have done very basic stuff but if they have an idea about something they usually pass it off to an assistant. 

ALAN BELL: As more and more young people start to use these techniques it will become an every day thing. It’s a wonderful tool to have for maximizing the efficiency of character plot and story.

How closely do you work with VFX artists? 

BARRIE WISE: I work very closely with our VFX artists.  We meet during pre-production, where we determine the use and conceptualization of the shots and how we plan on achieving them.  After all the practical elements are shot, we work hand in hand with the artists to find out which elements best work for their VFX, but also best help to tell the story.  In television the timing of the shot is crucial as we tend to be fully onlined well before we see any sort of final visual effects, many of which don’t show up until just a few days prior to air.  This can be tricky when dealing with completely computer generated shots.  Very often we have to find ways of making adjustments to the sequence to service the shot.  To avoid this, it’s crucial we communicate with our VFX team during our cut to find out how much time they will need in the sequence.  

What is the minimum level of VFX knowledge that you would suggest to an editor who is working with VFX Artists or VFX Editors? 

ZACK ARNOLD: At the minimum they should at least understand the basics of After Effects, meaning you should know the language so you can have a decent conversation about it.

ALAN BELL: I would suggest you have an idea of what’s possible at the very least. An idea of what you are asking of the artist is also very useful. What I mean is if you are an editor and you slap a motion morph on a shot that doesn’t lend itself to that sort of effect and then expect the compositor to just make it work. You could be asking for something which is way beyond the scope and budget of the film. Sometimes the idea that we can do anything is compelling but you have to ask yourself at what cost.

BARRIE WISE: In television, I would say it’s very important to be familiar with both Boris and Sapphire plug-ins as well as After Effects. It’s crucial to have early versions of the shots, even if they are very temp. It’s extremely important for the directors and producers to be able to get an early idea of the look and feel of the shot.  Basic compositing is essential as well. In almost every episode, green screen is used or we add something to an existing shot (i.e. adding Vegas to a background). Some shows are shooting entirely on green screen sets. 

ANONYMOUS: The beauty of having assistants, VFX editors, and VFX supervisors is that they really free up the editor to be able to focus on story and the piece as a whole.  With the right team, and an understanding of the digital tools the AVID provides, an editor need not know anything about VFX. Of course, that said, the more you know about the process the better, as it makes you a better communicator, but it is by no means required.

It is becoming an unofficial requirement for Assistant Editors to be able to use After Effects and have compositing skills. As these assistants are the future editors, do you think this will lead to an evolution in the editor’s role in a production?

ALAN BELL: I think it already has. I am a perfect example of that progression. In a value added world of service industry professionals it’s a good idea to have more skills and a fearless approach to your job.

BARRIE WISE: I believe that our role as editors and assistant editors is already evolving.  With the onslaught of heavy effects ridden series and features, it’s essential for the editor to be involved at the early stages in the process. Often times these shots can drastically effect how we approach a scene and the story as a whole. 

My pursuit of knowledge and desire to become a better storyteller has lead me to some very talented and wise people. I have used my own visual effects knowledge to edit the show opens for the Award Show Red Carpet Events (see previous blog entries). I have used nested layers, timewarps, Boris and Sapphire, composited images using animattes and custom matte keys. No one ever told me what techniques I should use to achieve the vision of the Show Opens. I used whatever tool I had at my disposal in Avid Media Composer. The next step for me is applying these same techniques in a more invisible manner. It is obvious in my flashy Show Opens that effects were applied. Now all of the techniques that I have taught myself can be applied to my narrative projects, where it won’t be obvious that any effect techniques were used to tell the best story. I often wondered if all of the time that I spent advancing my effects skills would be useful as I start editing more narrative projects, and now I know that my visual effects knowledge is an invaluable asset to my storytelling.

Until next time…Happy Editing!

***Special Thanks to the extremely busy Alan Edward Bell, Barrie Wise, and Zack Arnold, as well as the many editors who take the time to answer my questions. Your knowledge and experience is invaluable.

ERGONOMICS OF THE EDIT BAY

Hello Fellow Storytellers!

In our quest to tell our stories and be creative, I think many of us artistic types often forget one of the most important aspects of our jobs and that is maintaining our health. I am one of many that are guilty of being so involved in work (what can I say, I love what I do), that I often ignore signs of pain and fatigue until someone else notices and slaps me upside the head. And that is pretty much what happened when one of my superiors noticed my wrist braces while I was working. I am lucky enough to be working in a facility that works with an ergonomics consultant. It turns out that my positioning was wrong, the chair didn’t fit me right, the computer setup was not optimal for reducing strain and as a result, my body is a mess of pain and aches that I am still working to repair the damage that I have done. Here are some tips that I thought I would share for creating the optimal editing workspace for your health.

VERTICAL MOUSE

A regular mouse angles your wrist in an unnatural position and I am often working many long hours with my hand on the mouse. The solution I have found that works for me is a Vertical Mouse. It holds my wrist in a neutral position that keeps me from bending it at the wrist joint (which is part of the source of my pain). It also only takes about a day to get used to and I can’t afford to let anything slow down my editing.

Some people also love to use a Graphics Tablet. It depends on who you ask.

A FLAT KEYBOARD

While consulting with the Ergonomics specialist, he was going to order me one of those curved ergonomic keyboards. I explained to him that as an editor, I need to be able to access the entire keyboard with one hand. He thought for a second and then told me that I needed to use a flat keyboard instead of one that angles upward. Never use the little elevation tabs on the bottom. An angled keyboard makes it more difficult to keep the wrist straight (bent wrist=strain=pain). Several editors also use a programmable small gaming pad instead of a typical keyboard.

Since I am often moved around edit bays on a daily basis, I can’t install any custom software drivers, so the flat keyboard is the best option for me.

CHAIR

A good chair is very important to help maintain positioning and provide support for your back, (especially the lower back). Do not use the armrests while working, keep them low. They can be used for taking breaks. Each person’s body is different, so there is no universal chair that will work for everyone. Or you can forget the chair and go with…

STANDING

There are several editors who stand while working. It is something that takes time to get used to but some say it helps with their energy levels and focus. It is still important to maintain good leg positioning. An anti-fatigue mat is also recommended for those who stand. It is basically a padded mat. 

The ergonomist did warn that too much of sitting or standing is not good and a combination of both is best for our bodies.

MONITORS

I use 3 monitors every day (2 computer monitors and 1 broadcast client monitor). It strains the eyes, neck and shoulders if they aren’t in the right position. Ideally, they should be arms length distance from your face and the top of the monitor should line up with your eyes. Unfortunately, I can’t always put the monitors I work with in the perfect position because of the type of desk I am working on, but I do my best and try to be very aware of the strain I am putting on my neck and eyes. 

FOOTSTOOL

I am short. My short legs often dangle off of my chair as I adjust the chair to work with the desk height. This is bad for the circulation in my legs. I use a moving stool that I adjust so that my feet are flat and my knees are at a 90 degree angle. The legs should not touch underneath the desk. The backs of thighs should not touch the end of the chair seat. Since my stool also moves, I often wiggle my feet back and forth to help with my circulation. Aaaahhh, I have feeling in my legs again.

POSITIONING

-Wrists straight

-Arms should not be touching any surface (desk or armrests), place your keyboard and mouse at the edge of the desk to help with this

-Elbows at 90 degree angle

-Feet flat, knees at 90 degree angle

-Back straight and upright (no slouching)

Even though these are proper positions to improve my ergonomic health, I am always reminding myself to move my body as well. We are not meant to stay in a rigid position for hours on end. Exercise, stretching and moving the body will do wonders. I am still recovering from my ergonomic mistakes but I want to have a long career, so I have taken my new knowledge very seriously.

Happy and Healthy Editing!

THE STORYTELLING OF A SHOW OPEN

Hello Again!

I have had a crazy couple of months working, and for those who don’t already know the origin of my blog name, it is about to be revealed! The origin of my blog name, Shitting Sparkles, comes from the several Red Carpet Award Show Opens that I edit every year for E!’s Countdown to the Red Carpet and Live From the Red Carpet with Ryan Seacrest. E! loves glitz and glam for their show opens (translation: Lots of GenArts Sapphire Effects). One day while editing, my supervising producer was reviewing my pre-effects rough cut for a show open.

The conversation went something like this:

Producer: “Think you’ll be able to finish this up in time for Network Notes?”

Me: “Don’t worry, I’m just going to shit sparkles all over it. It will be great.”

Producer: ”You’re gonna WHAT?!?!”

And the rest is history.

So now for the subject of this blog: How the hootenanny do I cut these crazy show opens with a crazy amount of effects in 2-5 days exclusively in Avid Media Composer? I do it with lots of patience, a very well thought out approach, and lots of swearing at my Avid Machine. 

Timeline for one of the show opens. Lots of layering and effects are used to help tell the story.

For this blog post I will focus on the storytelling approach to the opens. They all have an abstract theme to them, kind of like an artistic dance routine. It is an artistically visual story supported by careful audio editing of music and dialogue sound ups. If you would like to know how I actually construct my layers of complex effects, then you will have to see one of my demos.  But for now…


THE STORYTELLING OF A RED CARPET SHOW OPEN

I construct every show open with careful thought down to the frame, using the abstract story as a guide for my decisions.


GOLDEN GLOBES COUNTDOWN OPEN

THEME: SIMPLICITY AND BOXES. I used Panels to wipe the color on and off. Every transition used was some kind of wipe that revealed black & white and colored panels.


GOLDEN GLOBES LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET OPEN

THEME: PARTY VIBE. Took the idea of thick bold stripes and made them transparent with a whip pan texture as a background. The background was black & white and the foreground was color most of the time. There was constant movement in the frame and it was like the background was a spinning disco ball.

 


GRAMMY’S COUNTDOWN OPEN

THEME: LOST IN THE MUSIC REALM. I used two types of visual imagery to give the surreal feeling that the sound waves of the music are a living, breathing entity. I made shots pulse to the beat of the music as well as used pulsing, concentric circles as a manifestation of the bass beat.

I also used a hazy, glimmering cloudy filter to give the sense of being in another realm (the music realm, get it?)

 

ACADEMY AWARDS COUNTDOWN OPEN

CONCEPT: THE GRAND ENTRANCE. The story of this open was a first person perspective of the walk the oscar attendees make to enter the theatre. Ghostly images of famous dresses from the past appear on every surface. The open has only 3 cuts in it and was shot in one take. This open is the most simple and elegant looking, but it is also the most complex and difficult open to cut because of the composited projection effects used throughout. Plus, there are several invisible effects that I used to clean up the look of the staircase. Some of the invisible effects included: overall color treatment, glow glimmer added to red carpet area only, glimmering red sparkles added only to area between each step, softening and removal of plastic sheeting on the floor area at the top of the staircase, brightening of the final entrance area.

 

 

ACADEMY AWARDS LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET OPEN 

Theme: MOVIE TRAILER. There are no flash or glam effects used. I only used hard cuts or fades to black. A 2:35 aspect ratio effect was used and a film look applied. Music, Title Cards, and sound ups were used in a typical movie trailer style.

 

There you go! A peek into the abstract editing world of a red carpet show open. I actually cut 9 show opens total for the 2013 award season. It is very tedious and creatively intensive, but I like to think of it as a very fun challenge where I get to feel a little bit like a painter, as well as an editor. 

Until next time…

Happy Storytelling!

DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS

"Success isn’t fame, Success is just working and being good at what you do." Jonah Ray, Comedian, The Nerdist Podcast.

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How do we define success for ourselves as editors?

If you follow me on Twitter, you might be aware of my ramblings about making a transition into working on more scripted narrative projects for the studios. All the editors that I have ever talked to all have the same end goal: To work on a major scripted episodic television show or feature film. And why not? You get paid well, work with many talented people across the whole production, maybe get to attend a fancy premiere party as a reward for all of your hard work, and if you’re really lucky, the show/film gets nominated for awards and you can say you worked on it. There is no shame in having these dreams, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to go to the Emmy Awards as a nominee or even the A.C.E. Eddie Awards. 

 There are only so many feature films the studios are producing, and even the Indie film world is extremely competitive and doesn’t necessary pay well. These are all factors I am taking into consideration as I navigate my editing career while trying to take care of my family. Recently I was getting to a point where I wasn’t feeling very successful because I wasn’t working on projects that I was passionate about. I’m not working in the major TV/film world and even to attempt it, I would need to go back to assistant editing. 

I decided to start researching what it would take to push my way into the major scripted feature/episodic television world. First, I had to meet people who actually worked in it. I started attending user groups, seminars, and mixers over several months. I friended people I met on Facebook and became an active tweeter. Networking is a tricky art and those who are already “successful” editors working on scripted projects are constantly approached by hungry editors wanting to break in. So to distinguish myself from the crowd, I took a slightly different approach. To quote the phrase, I “put my money where my mouth is.”  I have edited all types of content for small independent companies and major cable networks. I just haven’t worked in scripted narrative for the networks/studios (to clarify, I have worked on scripted narrative for small independent companies). I put together a demo of some of my more complex cuts and gave presentations to rooms full of editors, assistants, and producers. I presented myself as an expert first, and then I introduced myself one on one. This gave me more credibility to those I wanted to meet. Not everyone I have met and befriended has seen these demos, but you might be surprised how small the editing community is. Someone who saw my demo in Los Angeles, also knows another editor I met in New York, who also knows some distinguished editors who invited me to their cutting rooms (one of them I met on Twitter and another I met at a seminar). 

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So in my adventures in networking, I discovered something about myself and my career. Working for major studios pays well, but it also demands a lot of your time. I have small children that I want to see grow up. Working on the next Avengers films would be really cool, but then I would miss seeing my children grow up and I realized that I would sacrifice my family’s well being. I actually passed on someone’s offer to help me get assistant work in features. I know, you must think I’m crazy, but unless a feature has family friendly hours, then it isn’t the right fit for how I want to live my life. Episodic Television has less crazy hours and assistants are more likely to move up to Editor sooner. This is a better option for me, but there are still many long hours involved and I would not see my kids very much. I am still considering it.

Now let’s back up, this blog post is supposed to be about defining success, right? Well, in my journey of discovering how to break into major scripted projects so I can be considered a successful top notch editor, I realized that my perception of success is totally wrong. I work year round as an editor in all other areas of television for major cable networks and haven’t had time off for the last 8 years. My work has aired internationally and been seen by millions, but you will never know I cut it, because I barely get on screen credit. My work doesn’t get submitted for consideration for awards (you have to submit your work, and then the awards organizations decide if your work will be nominated, and by the way, politics plays a big part in nominations). I have been asked to give demos of my work in other cities, been invited to visit the cutting rooms of major features and episodic television shows, and been asked to speak to students at the top film school in the world. It took all of these opportunities for me to realize that I am a successful editor. I actually love working on the different types of projects that I cut, I would just like to add some more scripted narrative into the mix. The content that I work on allows me to work family friendly hours, stretch my editing muscles in interesting ways, and cover my finances without issue. 

Meeting and speaking to people across the country has shown me how rich in content and variety the editing world is. There are features, documentary, television, web content, corporate, art installations, commercials, trailers, and even weddings. Now when I look at the next step I want to take in my career, I remember what is actually important to me in my own life and I try not to compare my editing path to others.

I am still considering moving into scripted episodic television, but my reasons are different now from when I started my journey. I am still discovering the kind of editing career I need to have in order to live my life happy and fulfilled.

Until next time.

Happy Editing!

Perception and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trailer

Hello again!

Today’s blog entry is inspired by Kylee Wall and a comment she made on twitter that sparked an entire tweetfest debate. It goes something like this:

@kyl33t: Dragon Tattoo is still the best cut teaser trailer ever.

@Chrisvisser: you think so? I found it to be super boring in terms of cutting. It’s just cutting on the beat.

@kyl33t: That’s why its so brilliant to me. The editing happens within the frame.

And so on and so on. I, among several other people, chimed in with our two cents about why the trailer is a well cut trailer or not. This went on ALL DAY.  For those who haven’t seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Teaser Trailer, it is cut to the beat of the cover version of “Immigrant Song.” Shots change every 12 frames, or 1/2 second, with hard cuts. No dissolves, flashes, fades, or swish pans. Just straight cuts to the next shot every 12 frames for 1:40 minutes in a very rhythmic pattern to the music. 

Watch the Teaser Trailer here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKWXEfXGWtA&feature=plcp

Watching the trailer, I timed how long it took before I started getting light headed and had to rub my eyes. It was about 25 seconds. I hadn’t even gotten through a third of the trailer before I couldn’t stand to watch it anymore because it physically hurt me. Some tweeters argued that pain was part of the point because of the painful events that happen to the main character, Lisbeth. I highly doubt that distracting their audience by impairing their visual senses was the goal of the marketing department in charge of the film. On the flip side, I think the point was to bombard the viewer with images from the film in an intense manner in order to convey the intensity of the film’s story. For some the teaser trailer succeeded, for people like me with sensitive vision, it failed. 

Perceptual Thresholds

At the core of editing is pacing manipulation, both with when we cut and actions that are occurring within the frame. I have edited many fast paced montages, trailers, and show opens. Sometimes the shots I use last as little as 3 frames (or even 1 frame). The key to cutting fast images without disabling the viewer’s ability to process what they are seeing is using variable shot lengths. There are processing thresholds for the human brain. If I have a shot that has a lot of action in it, then I hold on it longer and let the action drive the energy. This also allows the viewer to process what they are watching. You see this pacing in many trailers. Most shot lengths usually last around 12-20 frames (I know because I have had to use footage from trailers as b-roll. It’s a pain in the ass.) So the Dragon Tattoo trailer is not any different from other trailers as far as shot length goes, but the consistent length of shots throughout and hard cuts are unique to it. The trailer did try to account for visual processing by cutting back to the same shot several times near the end. It allowed for shots to linger without breaking the timing rules that the trailer establishes. Unfortunately for me, at that point I was already reaching for the aspirin because of the headache I developed from watching it.

Moral of the Story

Kylee appreciated how the Dragon Tattoo Teaser Trailer manipulated pacing by using the actions within the frame, but because of the repetitiveness of the cuts between shots, my mind could not process what I was seeing. Editors need to always be aware of how cuts can physically affect the human body and mind. We can make people laugh, cry, and scream, and isn’t that part of the fun?

Things I’ve Learned About Editing from Random Bits of Life

I did not go to film school. 

I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. 

And I didn’t know what an Editor was until I was 23.

Right Before I moved to LA to beg for a jobin 2004

Me right before I moved to LA in 2004 to beg for a job as a P.A.


I had never heard of an NLE until after I graduated college and I attended a filmmaking bootcamp program in San Francisco called the Digital Video Intensive. From the time up until I was 23, I was a Math/Science Geek who happened to always be performing, whether it was Marching Band, Colorguard (I twirled huge flags around and dropped them on my head a lot), or dance. I also choreographed dance performances for my College dance department that were performed in our Annual Spring Dance Concert. I also worked as a scare actor in a Haunted House. That’s right, I got paid to chase people and scare them. 

As you can tell, I have a very non-film background. I love watching movies and television but I had never studied them with a critical eye until after I was already working in the industry. I’ve learned to appreciate and take advantage of skills that I learned from my non-film background and apply them to my storytelling. 

DYNAMIC PACING

As a dance choreographer, I was trained to create movement that is dynamic and interesting. The same concept applies to each dance performance as a whole. The dance piece I choreographed was 15 minutes long. I had to make sure that it felt dynamic. When I say dynamic I am talking about changing the rhythm of the movements, changing the rhythm of the music, changing the lighting, and  changing the relations of the dancers onstage to one another. Sound familiar with cuts? Editing is all about pacing, and how a scene plays out depends on how it is paced. There are other factors to a scene, of course, but I am just talking about pacing for now.

MUSICALITY

Music plays a big part in editing a story. As a dancer, I learned to feel the subtleties of music in my body. I can easily count the patterns in music, which is really helpful when I am cutting a music track. I sometimes conduct the rhythm of a scene with my hands as I am watching it down. Understanding how music can change the mood in a scene is also an important skill. I have met editors who have trouble cutting music to a scene because they haven’t developed their intuitive understanding of how music affects human emotion, and they also cannot detect the basic patterns in a music track.

HUMAN EMOTIONS

While working at a haunted house, I learned how to read people’s body language so I could time my scares to maximize their fright. Even the concept of asymmetry, which I used when I would contort my body in an odd way, unsettles people. Editor’s are masters at reading body language when they are deciding which actor’s performance to use. In an Emmy Nominated episode of American Horror Story, jump cuts (which, in a sense, is an unbalanced, noticeable cut) were used in combination with Dylan McDermott’s performance to create a strong sense of dread and unease.

These are just some examples of how I have used my random life experiences to develop my editing and storytelling skills. I sometimes wonder where I would be right now if I had a formal film school education, but I am a working editor in television, so I’m not doing too badly for myself. For those of you whose time has passed for a film school education, you never know what your non-film life experiences can teach you about storytelling.

Happy Editing!

Cutting the Horror Documentary!

When I think about documentary, I usually think about two types: the fluff piece that promotes a celebrity’s new project, or the one that is going to change the world. 

There are actually many types of documentary. Documentary storytelling is about revealing the truth of an event, person, or subject matter. Or they are supposed to be about revealing the truth. Some docs are so skewed in their perspective that they don’t let the audience have a fair chance at making up their own mind. The facts are too manipulated. I tend to shy away from these types of documentary for this reason. I really have to search hard for a doc that I enjoy watching, which brings me to the subject of my latest post…

STILL SCREAMING: THE ULTIMATE SCARY MOVIE RETROSPECTIVE

While I was working full time for a television network, a Producer friend of mine got a project on his plate about the movies that revived the teen slasher genre. That’s right, I am talking about the original Scream Trilogy. He was producing a feature documentary about the behind the scenes stories and the influence that Scream had on pop culture. I absolutely love the movies, and I really wanted to cut the project. We had already worked together previously and he trusted me to be the editor on the doc. 

So after I was cutting all day at my network show on Avid MC on a PC, I would come home and edit the doc on FCP7 on my MacPro. There was a lot of swearing involved when my fingers got confused and I would hit the wrong shortcuts for the wrong NLE. Whoops!

AND IT BEGINS…

The format for the doc was to devote roughly 30 minutes to each movie in the trilogy so we would have a 90 minute feature. There were about 40 interviews to sift through and we were not going to use voiceover at all to tell the story. So that meant that we had to create a cohesive story about each film based on interview bites. We also used pictures, headlines, articles, and sound bites from the films. We had a short turnaround time for the doc and there were no transcripts for the interviews, so my director agreed to create a selects stringout for me for each film section. Since he directed all of the interviews and had a working knowledge of FCP, it worked out nicely.

When I received my first selects stringout, I put on my driving gloves (or ergonomic wrist brace) and started watching the selects and taking notes. Each of my three stringouts were 90-120 minutes long for sections that had to be 30 minutes each. I had less than a week to get each section cut down for content. There was no outline to work from, no script, and I had a general knowledge of the scream movies themselves. After watching the selects, my next step was creating my own outline based on the bites that were selected by the director. I didn’t know exactly what his priority of stories was, so I only cut out redundancies and bites that did not fit anywhere or offer some fun insight into the films. I reordered, cleaned up and created new story sections from random bites. When I was done, I sent the outline to the director so he could use it as a roadmap for his thoughts about the cut. I cut each section down to be about 15-25 minutes heavy. I always like to leave a lot of padding because it is easier to cut something out than to try to add story back in. This is especially true in documentary where you are actually writing the story in the edit. This gave my director a lot of leeway when it came to guiding the doc in the direction that he wanted. I also left markers where each story section started so that I could easily navigate my sequence while editing. 

The creative workflow on the project was a very healthy, collaborative one. We all have our projects that still give us nightmares because of the work conditions. I was allowed time to work with the cut, and then the director was given his time. After we felt comfortable enough with the cut, the producer would give his feedback. It was an open forum of creativity that really helped the project become the fun, pop culture documentary that it is.

Have I mentioned that I was also 8 months pregnant at the time that I was working at a network and cutting the feature documentary? Will power is a wonderful thing and it is what you need to survive in this business and grow in your career.

Until next time…

Editing as a Team

The stereotype amongst us industry folk is that editors are solitary, quiet beings that love sitting in a dark room all day lost in their own creativity. Well, actually, that is kind of true, but in many situations you may actually find yourself working with another editor, or four on the same show. Here are some tips for working with other editors and surviving to work another day.

BE NICE

Most editors are very competitive. This makes sense because we generally work in a freelance world, and we are hired on a project by project basis. Treat other editors as part of a team, as opposed to competition for future work with the Producer.  I find that the editors who are friendly and easy to work with get hired more often, as opposed to those who do not play well with others.

ORGANIZATION IS KEY

I am amazed at how many times I come into a show after it has already started cutting, and I find a disaster area of media files, bins, and sequences all over the place. It is very important to have everything organized, not only for your own sanity, but for the sanity of others who have to work on the show. Whether you are working on multiple episodes or the same episode, every element should be easy to find. This includes graphics, clips, photos, sfx, music, current cuts and anything else you need for the show. No one likes wasting time looking for media elements. 

Different editors also like to organize elements differently. Discuss the best way to organize the elements for everyone.

RESPECT EACH OTHER’S CREATIVITY

Editors are storytellers, and we each tell our stories in different ways. Creativity is subjective. Sometimes when multiple editors are working on the exact same episode, they redo each other’s work. This is detrimental to the working relationship between the editors. Avoid changing someone else’s work if all you are doing is making it different as opposed to furthering the cut along.  This is the trickiest part of working with another editor.  Sometimes I have no choice but to change another editor’s work because of notes, and out of courtesy to the other editor, I will mention to him what I changed and why. 

COMMUNICATE

Agree upon the cutting style so it feels like one editor cut the show and not several. When updated global notes are received, make sure everyone cutting the episode understands what they are.

UNDERSTAND SKILL LEVEL

I work with several editors whose experience cutting professionally ranges anywhere from 1 month to 20 years. I often work as a Lead Editor, but if I am working with someone who has edited for 15 years longer than me, then I give them their due respect and treat them as a partner. I will often split the show up into equal sections and each of us are in charge of our own segments. I communicate any stylistic choices that I discuss with the producers and I have open discussions with my editing partner about stylistic choices that he would like to implement as well. 

Once again, communication is key! 

If I am working with a green Editor (someone who is newer to cutting), I give them no less respect than I would someone more experienced, but I establish a mentor relationship with them. I still remember how nerve wracking it is to be new to cutting. I was always afraid of not being good enough. For the newer editors that I work with, I don’t want them to be afraid of messing up. I would rather have them focus on improving their skills. I will look over their cuts and make suggestions. I might focus more on the aesthetics of the show while they work on the mechanics of it. I make sure that we work as a team to deliver quality entertainment. And when I learn something new from the green Editors that I work with, I am pleasantly humbled.

There you go! Some tips on working with other editors. It is one of the trickiest parts of the job. One thing is certain though, if people like working with you, you will get recommended for more work. 

 Happy Cutting!