AICE Winners Dissect the Edits

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We present the winners of the association of independent creative editors' annual editing awards, including a behind-the-scenes look at how six talents achieved their honored cuts. Read about all the results of the awards in News. Also, here we take the opportunity to debut our new video feature "The Breakdown," in which the artists behind notable work give us insight into their creative processes. Make sure to check out the films below from editors Carlos Lowenstein and Jake Jacobsen, who explain what went into cutting their award-winning spots.

National Campaign Rick Russell
Final Cut
Sony PS3 Launch
The PS3 launch campaign was a rare chance to create something more akin to a strange, ominous mood piece rather than narrative or montage. The concept was to have various normally inanimate objects brought to life by the brooding power of the PS3 console. The visual image of the black shiny console in the white cube room was very striking. It was almost Darth Vader-meets-Kubrik.

The three main brand spots were "Baby Doll," "Rubik's" and "Egg," with more spots featuring the game footage. It became clear that the sound would be a key element to develop in the cutting room. Part of director Rupert Sanders' vision was always to explore a unique sound design direction for all the spots. With this in mind, feature sound designer Brian Emrich was brought into the process. Brian and I worked closely together developing the sounds that would create a unique atmosphere and tension.

With "Baby Doll" we really had free rein to experiment with many weird and strange vocal sounds. The brief in this spot was for the doll to experience a range of emotions in response to the energy from the console.

The console itself had many iterations of its own sound before we found the right one. We realized that once we had found a formula for the key elements, we could reinterpret them for each spot. We wanted the viewer to become familiar with the white room, but have a sense of tense expectation of what would happen to the objects within.

With "Rubik's" there was also a very tricky transformation of the white room to the multicolored faces of the cube as the levitating cube explodes, shattering into hundreds of pieces. This was the key moment in the spot, and I was determined to try and illustrate this on the Avid with 20 layers of FX plates. Apart from this being vital to show the client what would happen, it also meant that we could discuss how this would work with FX Flame Artist Rob Moggach from Asylum.

This need to illustrate the climax of the spot was also important in the "Egg" spot. After the eggs have been caused to roll around the floor by the control pad, they suddenly lift off the ground and smash into the wall releasing black ravens that fly across the room as the console levitates. Without temping in reasonably sophisticated offline FX it would have been difficult to sell the idea.

It was very satisfying to see that the campaign was a big hit with the target audience, with "Baby Doll" in particular getting rave recommendations on YouTube.

Jake Jacobsen Crew Cuts
Dairy Queen "Carry On"
Behind the Edit: Dairy Queen
Behind the Edit: Dairy Queen "Carry On"
"Carry On" was an exciting yet challenging spot to create. The fact that it was set on an airplane limited each scene to focus on just one character at a time. With character interaction driving the progression of the overall spot, it became necessary to use the wide shot as a way of creating cohesion while still managing to tell the story. That was the tricky part. Another challenge was to tell the same joke twice, and to make it funny—twice. For me, the comedy rested in the main character's responses, the Blizzard thief's reactions, and of course, the reactions of the innocent victims. And then there was the fun part—dropping bags on people's heads.

Baker Smith did a fabulous job of setting the timings of the foreground action to work as the glue in the cause and effect relationships interwoven in this spot. He also gave us a wide variety of stellar performances to work with. It's not often you have the freedom to explore multiple characters and craft character interaction, like I was able to with the Blizzard thief and his victims. As an editor, that is a completely liberating experience, and a wonderful position to be in. Oftentimes you find yourself with a mix of performances or takes that while great on their own, do not always flow smoothly to tell a story once cut together. With Baker's work, that is never a problem. I had the opportunity to explore all editing options, knowing they could and would work.

Another part of what made this spot so much fun to work on was the unbelievable creative team at Grey. We worked closely together, exchanging ideas and challenging one another to come up with something that adds to the spot. That challenge forced me to rethink not only character performances, but also the chronology of events, which in the end gave the spot better pacing. With "Carry On," it was all about exploration and re-exploration—taking something great, and making it even better—and we did.

Carlos Lowenstein
Hallmark "Taxi"
I've always loved cutting dialogue. It's inherently visceral. Even when staying faithful to the script and the original structure of the story, as an editor you inevitably spill your own rhythms onto each cut point. You can construct infinite rationalizations as to why you must stay on an actor's face a few more frames for that last blink. Ultimately, you choose to cut there because it feels right. If you cut before the blink, it feels wrong and it bugs you and you really can't explain why, but it does. So what was it like cutting a two minute dialogue spot? Simply put, the "Taxi" edit sessions were some of the most exhilarating and exhausting of my career.

Behind the Edit: Hallmark
Behind the Edit: Hallmark "Taxi"
Narratively, the spot posed two main challenges. The first is the big twist. Yes, it was important to not tip the audience. But I also found that the viewer would feel cheated if we tricked them. That played a role in picking every take. The charm of the spot rests in making incorrect assumptions about what you've just seen. You should be able to look at it again and see that it adds up. I loved that take of the daughter leaving the building as the front of the yellow car pulls up, because it triggered the misdirect of her hailing the cab. If you watch it again, you see that she actually anticipates the car being there. She knows dad is picking her up. Similarly, I sometimes deliberately picked takes that would make the characters seem oddly close because I noticed it created a dramatic hook. The audience senses something's off, so they want some answers. They want to get to the end.

The other big question was the ending. The team broke into two camps on this one. Do you show "Love Dad" on the card as she reads it? If so, her line "Thanks, Dad" loses its punch. You already know. If you let her say the line and then go to the card, the product loses its narrative luster. It's fascinating stuff. At least to me.

Kirk Baxter Rock Paper Scissors
Levis "News Story"
The test in editing Levis was not to shove it all in, which is surprisingly hard because all the footage looked great. I think the less words in a script, the more attracted Frank Budgen is to it. The looser it is, the more room there is for Frank to find his own honest path. There is no strict story board or an obvious plan. I think he's always searching for simplicity, the smartest most efficient way to tell the story. But with Frank, the "less is more" approach always begins with more. More footage, more options, more set ups. Levis was no exception.

Before I start cutting, I always painstakingly file and select. It took me about two days to do this with Levis, but by the end, everything is committed to memory. I set out to be as familiar with the material as the director, hopefully more so. This is the part that takes a lot of discipline and patience, but always pays off in the long run. I find as long as I have prepped well, I move very quickly in the edit.

The first cut I showed Frank had twice as many edits in it compared to the final spot. Looking back at it, I would have given myself a C-. The first cut was far too choppy—it had twice as many cuts in it compared to the final. It's the most common mistake I think editors make, to try and shove it all in. Frank shot more set ups than we needed to tell the story and I tried to use them all.

After reviewing with Frank, he suggested that we try cutting it with the fewest amount of edits possible. That's when the spot began to take shape. The goal was to make shots sit and feel natural, so the story had a real-time believability to it. A lot of set ups were thrown away to achieve this, but I feel the end result benefited. When Frank returned the next day I had probably worked my way up to a B.

That's how the next three days worked. We focused on telling the spot in a very clean and sparse way and then rubbed all the finger prints off it. The final spot that ran on air is 99% true to the cut we did. The creative director Thomas Hayo loved the cut. He asked to look at opening with a wide helicopter shot, we did, it worked. Done!

Neil Gust Outside Editorial
Jaguar "XKR Launch"
Hal Wolverton and Alicia Johnson, the creative directors on Jaguar, wanted the XKR Launch to be aggressive, fast, and iconic. They wanted the car to come across like a jewel, like an object of fetish. And they wanted the spot to evoke a bigger story, like a movie trailer, but without being bound to a narrative.

My creative relationship with Hal and Alicia goes back to 1997, when I was hired at their Portland, Oregon studio Johnson & Wolverton as an assistant to Hal. It was there that I learned how to edit. When I moved to New York in 2005, Alicia and Hal were working as creative directors on Jaguar. Alicia asked me to come in and I've been working on Jaguar ever since. Because of our long history together, the three of us have a great amount of trust and respect for each other, as well as a large body of shared references and interests. This makes executing some of the more impressionistic ideas easier.

For this project, the starting point was going through 35,000 stills, about 10 hours of footage, and about 300 songs, looking and listening for the coolest bits and the most iconic looking frames. I put together sequences of vibe, without worrying about timing, trying different songs to the selects. Once I felt it was starting to look good, I'd review with Hal and Alicia to see what they thought was working the best.

As with all our projects for Jaguar, there were no storyboards. So the challenge was to get the piece to evoke a larger story without actually telling one. The only way to get this to work was through trial and error. There's a lot of freedom in working this way, and the rewards are tremendous, but it's time consuming.

I look for chemistry between footage and sound. And I look for combinations that imply a story. The idea is to get it to walk by itself, to be its own thing where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Obviously, my role as editor is only one part of many in the process of making Jaguar ads.

My favorite bit of this :90 piece is the stop in the middle. For a product shot that's just sitting there, it seems to have a fair amount of tension because there's an expectation that the song is going to fly back in. And when it does, and the car is off and running again, it's incredibly satisfying.

Visual Effects
Chris Franklin Big Sky
American Express "Animals"
40,000 feet of film. A four-day shoot with Ellen available for only three, and for just a few hours each day. All 20+ animals shot separately from Ellen, except for the turtle. Due to the amount of set-ups per day—no green screen. 90% percent of the spot was composite. What could have been a blistering rough-cut schedule actually developed into the beginnings of a blessed project.

Starting at the script stage, creatives Jon Wagner and Dustin Duke had a clear idea of what they wanted. Bryan Buckley's direction was sharp and seamless, especially in creating an atmosphere that allowed Ellen to deliver a beautifully offhand performance. The writer's room sequence is a great example, in which she played to an empty table with cards noting what animal was sitting where. After Ellen, Bryan went back and covered each animal individually with multiple set-ups.

The process of the rough—Ogilvy executive producer Alice Mintzer and producer Rachel Watson had the confidence to give me week and a half to work by myself. I worked closely with Big Sky's visual effects supervisor Ryan Sears, who also covered the shoot. We started from the top, one scene at a time with Ellen's performance as the base. We would then find what we needed for the animals in the scene and Ryan would begin compositing while I worked on sound effects and music. Each scene was tightly worked out with VFX and sound before we moved on.

The idea of black & white was Bryan Buckley's, taking inspiration from Good Night and Good Luck and The Dick Van Dyke Show. This gave me direction for sound effects and music, building a sound track of electric typewriters and old telephones (with bells), and music that suggested '60s sitcoms and the Doris Day film The Thrill Of It All.

Bryan viewed work in progress on-line and offered the best encouragement—"Keep going, I want to see more."

When it came to the initial rough-cut screening with Ogilvy, all effects work was in place, and the sound work was essentially complete. In fact, the final spot changed very little from the first screening. Blessed with collaboration, with no blood and tears.
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