professional editors


Compared to many of the other Oscar categories, “Best Film Editing” is often a tough one to predict.  With “Best Cinematography,” “Best Art Direction,” and “Best Costume Design,” for instance, you can clearly see how each nominee demonstrated a mastery of their craft and set themselves apart from their peers.  With editing, however, aptly called “The Invisible Art” of cinema, what’s been left out is just as important as what ends up in the final cut.  The audience has no realistic way of knowing what compromises in performance the editor had to make in order to elucidate a specific plot point or which amazing shots couldn’t be used simply because they presented an inconsistency in story or character.  Even a seasoned editor, who knows better than anyone else what the editorial process involves, may not be able to recognize a brilliant feat of editing without a glimpse of what was left on the cutting room floor.  Sometimes a poorly written, haphazardly-shot mess of a story can be turned into something meaningful in the skillful hands of a top-notch editor, and similarly, a beautiful story can be butchered by an editor who doesn’t let the material find its own voice and tries to impose a style that doesn’t fit the material. (more…)

In case anybody was still wondering if Avid’s recent rebranding was a good idea, I recently attended two industry events that helped prove that the company that brought us Media Composer twenty years ago is not going anywhere anytime soon.  With a renewed sense of forward thinking and a commitment to actually listening to the users of their product, Avid’s recent releases of their 3.0 and 4.0 versions of Media Composer, along with a spiffy new series of hardware, helped prove to customers that there are still some advantages to throwing down a little extra cash to buy the editing toolset used by the majority of big-budget Hollywood productions. (more…)

I’m a realist. Long ago I abandoned my dream of becoming a writer/director. It was around the time I realized I couldn’t pen a single sentence of meaningful dialogue or instruct an actor with any degree of confidence. Sometimes it’s best to be honest with yourself. But one thing I found myself drawn to in editing was how you could manipulate images and sounds to construct a perceived reality that was almost totally different from the conditions in which the material was recorded.

Any hack can string a bunch of images together; but as anyone with a real filmmaking sense knows, it takes a skilled artist to be able to control the numerous unseen factors that come into play when telling a story through images. Aside from the photographic decisions of camera placement and frame size that the editor takes into account, there are certain elements – emotion, tone, rhythm, pacing – that are more intangible and flexible when it comes to storytelling. (more…)

Creativity

In order to be a successful editor, you need to possess a masterful ability to control pacing, character, and story, all while using a style that fits the tone and subject matter of the piece, but is uniquely your own. Easier said than done (every editor has probably had numerous run-ins with people who think the editor simply “removes the bad parts” and selects the best takes, and the rest of the film creates itself).

In order to be able to implement your creative vision, though, you also need to possess a certain mastery of the tools used to edit a film or television show together. Until recently, this was done with expensive specialized hardware (KEMs, Moviolas, Steenbecks, etc.); now the vast majority of it is done with computers. The learning curve has been significantly flattened, as anyone with a Mac computer and a copy of Final Cut Pro can edit their own movies as easily as a professional editor can. (more…)

Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse won the “Best Film Editing” Oscar last night for his brilliant work on “The Bourne Ultimatum.” I avoided serious embarrassment in front of my friends by correctly predicting his win. Among the clips shown yesterday at the “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” panel (see my earlier post on the subject), Rouse’s showed the best mastery of story, character, and pacing. While I had already seen several of the nominated films, it’s always good to re-watch parts of them with the sole purpose of analyzing the editing; usually when you’re watching for the first time, the story and characters (hopefully!) demand most of your attention, and the editing is something you feel without thinking about it. The “Bourne” clip showed Desh the assassin stalking Nicky through the streets and rooftops of Tangiers, with Bourne in hot pursuit, culminating in an intense mano-a-mano battle. The suspense that Rouse created by expertly intercutting Nicky’s frantic escape with the emotionless, methodical stalking of a trained assassin sent chills down my spine. While many viewers have complained that Paul Greengrass’s trademark handheld, action-packed close-ups can be disorienting and sickening, it takes tremendous skill to be able to weave half-second fragments of these shots into a coherent scene with logical pacing. There are so many possible combinations of shots that a weaker editor could miss the mark entirely. (more…)

Oscar and Eddie

The A.C.E. Eddie Awards were held last night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. I would have attended if not for the $200 price tag and the fact that a tux would have set me back another Benjamin or two. Maybe once I’m rich and famous (and nominated?) I will make it an annual tradition. “Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic)” went to Christopher Rouse, A.C.E. for “The Bourne Ultimatum,” beating out “No Country for Old Men,” “Into the Wild,” and “There Will Be Blood” – all 4 of which are also up for “Best Film Editing” Oscars this weekend. You can view the complete list of nominees and winners here.

This Saturday is the Invisible Art Visible Artists panel, which I look forward to every year (this will be my third time attending). It is a free event where this year’s Oscar-nominated editors screen a scene from their films, talk about the editing process of that scene and the film as a whole, and answer questions from moderator Alan Heim (president of A.C.E.) and members of the audience. The event is always popular enough that you have to get in line extra early to make sure you get a seat, but it’s still intimate enough that you can usually squeeze in a one-on-one question or handshake with your favorite editor afterwards (Thelma Schoonmaker signed my DVD of “The Departed” last year). While I have seen aspiring professionals slipping their business card to the nominated editors, I do not recommend this approach, and I think it will get you laughed at instead of hired. Anyway, here are the details of the event; maybe I’ll see you there. (more…)