What kind of skills does it take to let Nicolas Cage breathe? What are the keys to timeless storytelling? Another dozen of editing's finest put their heads together on these topics, on one of the last days of summer for our latest meeting of the creative minds.
The Editors: Geordie Anderson, Blue Rock; Kim Bica, Lost Planet; Michael Coletta, 89 Editorial; Steve Gandolfi, Cut and Run; Akiko Iwakawa, Final Cut; Nadav Kurtz, Cutters; Tom Muldoon, Nomad Editorial; Randy Palmer, Optimus; Josh Pearson, Outpost Digital; Robert Ryang, P.S. 260; John Smith, The Whitehouse; Brad Waskewich, Spotwelders
Watch video interviews with Kim Bica, Steve Gandolfi, Nadav Kurtz, John Smith and Akiko Iwakawa in our Video section.
Creativity: A lot of you have been cutting not just commercials, but more branded content, long form work. How has this affected your jobs as editors in the advertising industry?
Josh Pearson: I started out at Outpost doing color correction on a lot of the long form stuff that was being cut there a few years ago. Then I cut a few spot campaigns. When you get into long form stuff the most striking thing is that often the agency will still want to treat it as if it is still a 30-second spot even though you've got 6 hours of footage and you have a 30-minute long TV show. It gets kind of interesting toward the end of the job, trying to lock the cut because they want to minutely adjust stuff and there's just no time.
Michael Colletta: The wave of the future is a lot less money, it seems.
Creativity: To that point, does it seem like that wave of the future, or the wave of now just means a lot more people are doing a lot more work for less or the same amount of money? You are just doing more components in addition to the spot, like web films and different things.
Kim Bica: It feels like web and new media stuff, it's not taking any work away from us, its creating more work. Within Lost Planet it's been really good for our junior editors because I'll get on a job where I have 10 spots to cut, but I'll also have webisodes to cut. I can't do all that work, so we pair each editor up with a junior editor. The junior editor is actually able to get in on that and cut the webisode or even cut some of the spots. So it's just creating more work and it's building more editors.
John Smith: Yeah, it's great to help grow new talent, we do a lot of stuff like that at The Whitehouse, but I don't tend to do it. It's a great opportunity to get new talent up and running; and for that, it's a good thing. What we got to be careful of is that we do have businesses to run and people will get used to paying viral money for top grade commercial work. They're two different things.
Akiko Iwakawa: The whole viral thing—from the agency and client side, they haven't quite figured out what to do with the internet, and what will make that campaign successful. There is sort of a sense of, "Let's all figure out how we are going to release this and how it's going to be viewed on YouTube". It's really tricky on YouTube because you are competing against some random clip of someone getting kicked in the nuts.
Brad Waskewich: Also, viral things become popular by accident. So when they are like, "We want this to be viral," what does that even mean? To specifically plan it takes away from what you want it to be.
Robert Ryang: I think that commercial sponsorship too is almost a drawback. I think people are less inclined to send it to each other if they know it was thought of by a bunch of suits in a room as opposed to some kid or just something that was caught on tape.
Akiko: And I think YouTube really doesn't work that well for advertising, and people have to figure that out. There are some really successful things like adicolor. I think as more of those successful viral campaigns happen, then more money will follow eventually. It's kind of a great opportunity because they bring editors more to the table. You're part of like, "OK, what can this be?"
Brad: I feel bad for production. Because when you look at what YouTube has done, it's like now it's OK if it's shot on really shaky video and looks kind of crappy but it works for whatever reason. People are so desensitized to production value now, and I feel bad for production budgets. Like why don't you shoot it on DV, for nothing?
Creativity: Doesn't that trickle down to you? This whole "do it yourself" ethic that's been around for the last couple of years, consumer generated content and the assumption that anyone can edit something?
John: It's dangerous. Dangerous for our craft.
Steve Gandolfi: Anyone can learn to use a computer. But if you just talk to the people around here who have assistants, after three or four years they leave, because they realize they can't edit.
Nadav Kurtz: I don't think high-end production will ever go away though. Even if it's not a 30 second spot or 2 minute film, I don't think it will go away because if you think about it, a badass company like Mercedes, they have a source of differentiation. They're not going to go a do a bunch of user-generated videos. Even in the last Super Bowl you already saw that people weren't as into it as we were expecting. It's almost like how reality TV was five years ago, that's all that was on, and in the last few years you have HBO and more high end, cool shows that people are watching. It's a cyclical thing.
Josh: We were working on some job; I can't even remember what it was for. One of our editors was actually told by the creative on the job, after he did a cut, "It's too good. Can you make it worse?" Like, can you pretend you are a 17-year-old kid that didn't know how to edit? Have things really come to this?
Michael: I think they use "viral" now to say what their budget is, which I don't understand, because if it's out on the internet, it's traceable. If somebody is out there on the internet watching it, it's reaching just as many people as a commercial does. I think they are getting a big break the way they're treating it now, budget-wise.
Creativity: What about developing new talent? What are your thoughts about developing younger editors?
Kim: Well, I feel like at least in the context of the company I work for, it's absolutely happening for young editors there. I've definitely seen people move on to a full-on editor position. And it has been these, sort of, lower budget things that help them grow into bigger budget stuff. I haven't necessarily seen that in all the companies I've worked for. It's obviously up to the senior editors, to bring that out.
John: Given what we just talked about—technology and it's accessibility to everybody, it's our responsibility, I believe, as experienced editors, to pass this knowledge on to people that work around us, or our craft will become devalued.
Creativity: Do you have a process?
Steve: I take about a month off a year training editors at Cut and Run. We've got five editors that are now assistants. They first came in with full on show reels and said, "We want to be assistant editors."
Creativity: So people who have already established themselves as editors come just to get the training?
Steve: It's not only the training; it's the meeting people in the organizations. And we do feature films too. You're not only learning the editing, jumping between editors, you also meet a fuck of a lot of people. And they become your clients for the next few years as you come up, the PA's, the assistant directors that work with the directors.
Geordie Anderson: When you have a ton of young people, editors, and maybe they've been working on their software at home, they can be really good at putting things together. But what they are not good at and what they haven't experienced is working with people coming in and going, "Na, na, na, it doesn't work," and dealing with that, and that's what you learn as an assistant.
Creativity: How do you teach that?
John: I think you either have the skills to deal with it, or you don't. The more you work with people in the room with you, you'll learn it or you won't. Some people are better at it than others. If somebody comes to me with a job, to be honest, there are a lot of alternatives sitting around this table, but my certain client, I have a relationship with him. Yes, I'm sure we cut things differently at times, we have different tastes and different styles, but a lot of it is how you communicate in the room. A lot of talented people out there, unless they get that right as well, it's going to hold them back.
Geordie: Clients, they don't want to come and see your version, they want to come in and believe in what you've done, and if they can believe in one of your cuts, that's great. And how they believe in it has a lot to do with how you sell it. If I show 30 cuts to somebody, they just get confused. And then they think I don't know what's good either.
Brad: I think it's how you sell it too. Personally, as much as showing the good stuff is important, so is showing the crap. Your clients want to try stuff and feel like they are part of the process. And if you can do something terrible and say, "Here, what do you think?" they can then say, "Yeah, that's pretty terrible, let's go back to the good thing."
Randy Palmer: It seems like every job has this process where everyone's contributing and it's getting better and better. You try to keep up that progress and reach the apex. You try to keep it at that point before it starts going down, because once it starts going down, it's really tough to recover.
Akiko: Do you guys have a line for when someone comes up with a horrible idea?
Brad: I think the best word in that situation is "interesting."
Creativity: Is the London vs U.S. dynamic changing in terms of working with directors through the edit? Is one becoming more like the other, as far as the process?
John: [To Steve] Do you think they are blending a little bit now? Do you think that agencies are booking us more directly? I think they probably are. More than they used to years ago.
Steve: I shouldn't really say this, but creatives out here know a lot more about editing than back home.
Creativity: In what way?
Steve: They just know the process a little bit more I think. The good ones know the process.
Nadav: I try to encourage the agencies. Some agency creatives I've worked with have had bad experiences with directors and they immediately don't want to have the director involved and they try to shut them out. As much as possible I try to get them to be like, "OK, lets see what the director has to say."
Kim: But you are the filter. You are ultimately the person who says, "This is bad idea" or "This is a good idea." That's our job.
Nadav: For the director it's good too. Because I think sometimes the editor can sell something to the agency that the director may have fought on set about and as an editor you may be able to get that through a little smoother.
Tom Muldoon: It seems like in America, the way productions are laid out, directors are extremely busy. There is something about the immediacy of sitting down with someone and saying, "What were you thinking here?" That does happen with directors who are very involved in the process, but there aren't a lot of them out there.
Brad: It really is amazing what you can accomplish with 20 minutes of sitting in a room with a person, versus three days of posting to them and having them write comments.
Kim: I just worked with Scorsese (on American Express) and I was so impressed with him because he literally made an hour for me, every single day. He's an amazingly busy man and he had me come to the set both days, he required it. It was very impressive to see a man of his stature take the time to do a commercial and be that involved. And when the agency was changing his cut I had to go back to him and explain, and he still was going to call them and he was very, very involved. It has to do with the director to a certain extent.
Geordie: Two weeks ago I was at my house on the beach and I had my Avid on my laptop. And the director I was working with was a friend of mine and he came out and stayed with me for the week. I made the mistake of telling him I had my Avid up there and he said, "Let's do a directors cut! It was fun, and we got a good cut; it was kind of nice working closely like that. I wish I could do it more often, but we can't get everyone up at the beach.
Robert: As a younger editor, having a director there helps you have leverage when you're conflicting with the agency a lot of the time. Because I'm less experienced, having a director there backing you up helps give you a little more credibility.
Creativity: What about the craft itself? Do you find certain genres particularly hard to cut? Tom, you've talked to us in the past about cutting action, the difference between spots and features.
Tom: When you are cutting action on a big screen sometimes you can overcut, double cut and leap frame, whereas on a television screen, the information is so quick and it's so easily read that sometimes you'll cut the action in the exact same line, as opposed to overcutting a cut. You know, four or five frames going past and you cut to another angle. It's all about retention in what you see. You guys know, when you do a movie and you go see it on the big screen for the first time after you've been cutting it, you go, "Holy shit!"
John: It's interesting talking about genres and stuff. I think one of the hardest cuts to craft is comedy. I like to tell a story unconventionally, a non-linear story. That kind of storytelling interests me. But I think comedy is the most underrated of the crafts. It's just really difficult to tell a joke well, especially when it's not funny. That's what I hate. When it's an unfunny script and it's not shot funny and they want you to make it funny. They say, "It was funny in the dailies." And I'm like, "No it wasn't."
Brad: Everyone finds different things funny, so you're trying to maximize the funniness. So I think something cool and grand that can give you the chills is a little bit more universal than comedy.
John: The golden rule: Cut the funny bit in. Cut to the joke when the bloke says it. Don't lay the line off someone else or don't get all clever about it. Cut to the guy delivering the gag and nine times out of 10 that will work. Keep it simple. Thats what I learned. It's not true with everything you do but, I try and stick to that philosophy.
Creativity: Back to youth versus experience, when you are training people or working with new editors, is there a generation gap? We had a discussion at another roundtable about how film language has changed over time in terms of things like speed of cuts or whatever standard you want to measure it by. Do you ever feel that or is it just people know how to tell a story or not?
Steve: People know how to tell a story. I sit in a room with my youngsters and they are not my youngsters anymore, they win every award in the world, they are just editors. Age doesn't matter.
John: I think there is a style of filmmaking and stories coming out nowadays. It's moved on so much.
Steve: It's equipment isn't it?
John: It's equipment but also there was a conventional way you'd tell a story 10-15 years ago, and now, cuts are much faster, it's done in a much more nonlinear way and people accept that. People are receptive to experimental storytelling so I think yes, I think youngsters today, and their storytelling skills are different than what we were taught. I think you can get away with more now. I don't think it's as good at times. I think the people have been allowed to push it sometimes, where the story isn't told well.
Tom: But the film tells you what you've got. You sit down and look at that cut, you look at that film that tells you what you're going to do. You're going to hold the shot for 30 seconds, you're going to do some fast cutting because you've got to help something. What we do for a living—we pace. We pace things out, we give stories symmetry. That's what we do, everyday of the week. And that's our job, whether it takes three fast cuts in the middle to be impacted by something or to make a point or 'cause you fucked it up, or you have to repeat the same shot three times because the product has to be seen, that's what we do. We fall back to whatever the film's deficits are. You're right that editors can impose a style on top of it, but on average, I would say, the film dictates how we cut it. And we all cut differently, we look at it differently but it's not that I cut everything the same way every time I get the film, you just can't do that.
Nadav: When I started out it was definitely the peak of that, the quick cutting, and it felt very natural to me. As I've cut more, I find myself watching more old films and I'm more interested in more classic ways of telling a story. Those are universal. You can watch films from the '70s that are timeless and then you watch other ones that use a lot of crazy techniques and now they just seem super cheesy. As I've been editing more, in the back of my mind I think, How do you edit a story in a way that it timeless? There is something to that that goes beyond flashy technique.
Creativity: Does anyone have any thoughts on that? What is a timeless story?
Brad: Beginning, middle and end is always a nice thing.
Kim: I almost challenge anyone to watch anything and tell me there isn't a beginning, middle and an end in that thing.
Akiko: I think that's where an editor's individuality comes in because you are just reacting to the film. Editing tests your reaction to certain things. I might see emotion in one shot, but you might not. And that's how it's different, because different people cut it.
Creativity: Well, what about cutting features? What is the storytelling arc in that? How does that begin and end?
Tom: You create it like you do a commercial, I think. You go into each part individually, start to string it together, say, "Oh, this is confusing, we need to rewrite this, re-do that," and you get the same crunch in the end.
John: It's interesting, going from commercials to features. The first feature I cut was Leaving Las Vegas. I was cutting commercials for the director, Mike Figgis, and he said he had this low budget movie about an alcoholic who wants to drink himself to death, "Would you like to cut it?" It was the first time he cut on Avid. He wanted to shoot in Super 16 and edit on Super 16 on a flatbed and he was going to give it to me on Avid to do my funky stuff with it. I remember being terrified of overcutting it because the performance was so powerful and I was like, Let it breathe let it breathe, let's savor Nic Cage. The first cut was two hours and 50 minutes. We knew we had a fantastic film, but it was too long. What's amazing with Avid is that we were able to cut an hour out in like 10 days. I wanted to stay away from all the fast cutting of commercials and stuff, but I ended up using what I learned in commercials when I cut it down to length.
Creativity: How do you guys evaluate a good edit? The AICE has its award show, but how do you tell what deserves recognition as a good edit?
Geordie: When you look at something and you forget what prompted those decisions.
Brad: When you don't see the process, you just see the what it is. That's the problem with editing though, is that you don't notice good editing. People can watch a movie and appreciate the cinematography and say, "Oh my god look how beautiful it was." But the best editing is the kind you don't even notice is happening.
John: I think we have to be more careful with our juries. No disrespect, they are probably good at what they do but let the editors, or the directors, or a producer judge it. Or discuss it with editors. At D&AD I was on a jury and we talked about why this didn't get a pencil and really opened it up. But people are just like, "Oh that's fast, there's a lot of sound effects, let's give that one an award." It's actually the subtlety of comedy that sometimes gets overlooked.
Creativity: On the subject of equipment, many shops are split between Avid and Final Cut. Talk about your gear configuration now and why you've chosen that and where you think it will evolve to in the next couple of years.
Brad: I think it's what you are more comfortable on and what you are faster on. For me, I'll use both Avid and Final Cut but Final Cut I feel is faster and with clients, can make stuff happen much easier. I started to cut on Avid, and made the transition to Final Cut.
Kim: The more I go back and forth it seems like Final Cut has way too many tools. Can you tell me why?
Brad: Like basic stuff. I love being able to move stuff around on the timeline easily. I find that to be vastly easier on Final Cut than Avid. I like being able to resize and move still images. Final Cut will also have a lot of good integration with After Effects. I can bounce back and forth between programs pretty easily.
Nadav: The model that I've always been dreaming about is where you have a box that almost everyone uses and you get rid of this thing where you take something from one house to another to another. For this new media thing I'm doing I'm trying to set it up so we can cut it in three weeks and have a quick workflow. These boxes are eventually going to be powerful. The color corrector in Final Cut is supposed to be amazing. I haven't used it, but you bring in a colorist into your environment, rather than taking everything to different facilities, that could be an interesting way to work; when people are brought in on a per job basis.
Brad: The color correction is amazing, and as much as I am a proponent of Final Cut, I think people get really spoiled. People say, "Oh, you're using Final Cut we could just do everything and finish it." And I'm like, "No, not really," because as much as I finish spots on Final Cut, when I see them on the air there is something not quite right about them. Even finishing something uncompressed on Final Cut just doesn't look quite right to me.
Kim: It's interesting, I'm one of the older editors here and I don't want to sound stodgy, but when you talk about color correction, to me, it doesn't have a lot to do with editing in my mind. It is part of the process, but unless it's getting in the way, I'm not really worried about color. I am worried about sound, I would love to do more sound work and see more integration of that because sound so much informs the edit. But color, I'm not really thinking about. Steve: Color is a skill, like editing.
Creativity: What's the best lesson you've ever learned about editing?
Kim: To me it's always about that moment where you love everything and it's perfect and you are forced to take out the one thing you feel is the foundation to that edit and you see that it can work without it. I've had that happen to me, and it's very humbling. As an editor you can get stuck on something that is really the downfall of what you're editing, and you don't know it. And you're forced to take it out and you're like, "Oh man, it works."
John: My best lesson would be to always cut it for me first. It can't be for the director, can't be for the agency, it has to be for me. If it works for me, that's how I judge it. Nine times out of 10 it gets changed and they do what they want, whoever they are, but I always cut for myself first.
Tom: Never say, "That won't work." Every time I say, "This won't work," it always works.
Steve: Remember that Scorsese takes milk in his coffee.