Editors To Watch

Keep your eye on these young wave makers in the edit bay.

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Age 29 / Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. / Favorite Movie: Gimme Shelter / Favorite spot on reel: Ikea's "Living Room"

A family tests an Ikea living room set.
One need only look at old films to know that this thing we call "timing" is constantly in flux. Comedians who had them rolling in the aisles a hundred years ago are met with indifference today. Trends in everything from fashion to high art owe their successes (and failures) to timing. Geoff Hounsell is one of those people who acts as a barometer for the culture's sense of timing. At Lost Planet, Hounsell blindsides his audience by predicting when their sense of anticipation will reach its climax. "It's about playing with the timing so that when someone is expecting something to happen, you change the rhythm," explains Hounsell who has cut some very well-received commercials, including "Extra Terrestrial" for Hummer. "With something like 'Extra Terrestrial,' you're cutting to the music, but then if you skip a beat or two, it stops the audience short and makes them pay attention."

Hounsell's music-driven spots alter expectations by interacting with the music in different ways. But ads like the Wes Anderson-directed "Living Room" and "Kitchen," for Ikea, toy with our expectations by making viewers wait long past a predictable cut. Both Ikea ads open in the midst of family arguments that get pretty heated. Just when voices are raised, the Ikea salesman interrupts to ask how the room feels. The camera pans back to reveal that people are arguing in store displays. "The Ikea spots are my sense of humor," Hounsell says. "A flat, Fawlty Towers type of comedy. Both spots breaks this weird barrier to reveal the joke."

Hounsell at the Avid is like a DJ at the turntable. He sets the audience up by giving them something familiar and then throws them a curve. He tries to create ways to appreciate the same things people have seen and heard before by establishing new expectations, or, even better, breaking down expectations so the visuals just wash over you. "From A to B to C, these things don't make sense -- but somehow it all works." His style is extremely engaging, precisely because it doesn't seem to work. Viewers seek a pattern in his cuts, and just when one begins to emerge, it slips away and the search for a new pattern begins.(AR)

Age 31 / Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. / Favorite film: Raging Bull, "for the way the sound effects tell the story." / Favorite spot on reel: Coca-Cola's "Trash Talkers"

Karma comes around for Coke.
Jim Ulbrich credits some of his editorial style to his mother; or more accurately, the mother in all of us. Ulbrich, who recently joined New York's 89 Editorial, tries to include as much as possible in his spots. His style is to leave his rough cuts long and when the time comes to trim 10 or 15 seconds, he unleashes the mother within to nag and pester until the spot is where it needs to be. "After a day of making rough edits, instead of banging my head against the wall trying to sort out what's not working, I force myself to leave," explains Ulbrich. "Picture Mike Myers doing 'Coffee Talk,' "Ulbrich suggests, then he assumes his best impression of the SNL character. "Do you really think you should be saying that to people? Look at you, you're a mess! You're all verklempt! You know what, I'm going home and I'll tawk to you in the morning."

According to Ulbrich, the next day brings a new perspective. "I hear the mother inside asking, 'Is this necessary for the story?' If it isn't, then goodbye. Once it starts to flow, I know I've found the pulse and I'm ready to show it to the client."

Ulbrich joined 89 Editorial from Day for Night, the in-house editorial department at Berlin Cameron & Partners/Red Cell, New York, where he cut the agency's spots in relative obscurity for three years. But Ulbrich was able to let his work do the talking with "Trash-Talker" and "Care Package" for Coca-Cola; the widely seen "Sumo" for Reebok; and spots like "Kevin Garnett" for the NBA and "Global Presence" for New York Life, which demonstrate his ability to work with complex layering.

"I had never heard of Jim or Day for Night," admits 89 Editorial executive producer Bob Cagliero, "but each year we go through a best reel and I admired the editing on the Coca–Cola spots, which had a cinema verité feel. And so far, the reaction from our clients has been great. I think they see, as I'm starting to see, that he has a tremendous sense of timing for comedy and he has a reel that runs the spectrum from big corporate work to simple, and at times hilarious, dialogue work." (AR)

Age 32 / Born in Tokyo, Japan / Inspirations: Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Steven Soderbergh, Akira Kurosawa / Reel highlights: FedEx, MasterCard, Red Stripe, The Kid Stays in the Picture, American Movie

A man builds a career on one good idea.
Jun Diaz has barely recovered from his most taxing project to date, cutting the critically-acclaimed documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, about actor-turned-mogul producer Robert Evans, directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein. "It's the most grueling edit I've ever had to do," Diaz notes of the movie, which garnered him an ACE nomination. Not only did he cut the film, but he also acted as creative director, having conceived a startlingly fresh technique that creates "footage" in After Effects out of the heaps of still photographs used throughout the movie. "It was almost a year of working on the graphics and the editing, and it was really painstaking building each scene shot by shot," he explains. "Most of the production occurred in the edit." Sheer exhaustion in no small part explains the editor's entry into spots two years ago, when he joined MacKenzie Cutler. Diaz had met Ian MacKenzie while the Antioch liberal arts grad was cutting another highly regarded documentary, Chris Smith and Sarah Price's American Movie, which took the 1999 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The editors kept in touch, and during production on Kid, Diaz rang MacKenzie up. "I thought, When this is over, I'd like to cut commercials," he recalls. "When I play down a cut, I want it to be over in 30 seconds."

Despite the change of pace, the commercials medium poses its own challenges. "I was used to film breathing differently," says Diaz. "It's completely different in that you can make a cut feel epic, or you can accomplish a pacing that feels as slow as glue in 30 seconds." Nevertheless, his deft editorial touches remain watertight on his advertising reel, on spots for Red Stripe, in which languid rhythms heighten the hilarity of wooden performances; a visually-driven MasterCard spot; and a slew of work for FedEx, including the info-packed "Robocats" and "Joe's FedEx Guy," and several in the recent "Relax, It's FedEx" evolution via Frank Todaro.

On any given project Diaz's approach remains consistent. "I always go in thinking that there's never one answer. I'm not a documentary film editor or a movie editor. I basically edit to develop an idea." He continues to mix it up on new work for AOL directed by Pam Thomas and on another doc with Morgen and Burstein, about boxer Roy Jones Jr., which debuts on HBO this fall. Weaving stories of seconds or hours, Diaz remains fully captivated by what unfolds in the bay. "One of the most exciting things is when every part, the film, music, dialogue, syncs together and creates something that communicates in so many ways. You actually can create a new place that, hopefully, people get lost in. Seeing an edit work, whether it's a commercial or film, is an amazing thing. It's a very emotional process." (AD)

Age 29 / Born in the Philippines / Favorite film: Out of Sight "I like the pacing, so the editing must be good." / Favorite spot on reel: ComEd

14 local bands plug in for Chicago's power company.
Angelo Valencia's first three years as an editor have been very good ones. A spot he cut for the San Francisco Jazz Festival won a 2001 Gold Lion at Cannes and more awards that same year at D&AD and AICP. The following year, another Valencia-edited spot for the PGA, titled "Shopping Cart," took home a Bronze Lion. He has worked on spots from some talented directors including Peter Care on Southwest Airlines and Jeffrey Plansker on the U.S Air Force.

Despite a fledgling career, Valencia has worked at a few well-respected shops around the country. He cut his teeth in the tape room at Filmcore/San Francisco and rose to the rank of junior editor. In 2000 he moved to 501 Post in Austin, and nine months later he got a call from The Whitehouse to fill a position in its Chicago office. Having settled in at The Whitehouse, Valencia is also growing comfortable with how he sees the role of a commercials editor. "When I was first getting started, it was hard to let go," he says. "When you work all night and make something you're proud of, you don't want any changes. But what I have come to appreciate is that the clients give you the freedom to run with it the first time, then they come back and work with you. There is something great that comes out of that process. The production teams come from a place where it's hard for them to let go, too. So you work together to see if there's something even better than what you both thought of. As I've gotten more confident with my work, I realize we are all trying to reach the same goal."

Today, Valencia is all about finding the core concept and expressing it through his contribution. He avoids looking at storyboards until after his rough cut. Instead, he likes discussing with others, reading the script, and then making rough cuts until it's time to show it to the creatives. "What better audience can you hope to have than the people who thought of the idea," says Valencia, "and what better to hear from them than, 'Hey, we hadn't thought of that.'" (AR)

Age 33 / Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa / Favorite film: Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927) / Favorite spot on reel: On-Health.com

The director certainly deserves a great deal of credit for establishing the mood in a commercial, but Sarah Iben has a proven ability for amplifying the emotion with her cutting skills. "I am a full believer in the equal power of images, sound and music," says Iben. "Whether it's a sound effect or a piece of music or the visuals I put together, hopefully you're going to feel something after you watch it."

In her selects, Iben seems to gravitate towards people's bare humanity. The cuts are edgy and tend to linger a touch on the long side. The visuals and timing encourage a sense of kinship in the viewer, and from there, emotion just oozes.

A Timberland ad on Iben's reel, titled "Anthem," out of The Martin Agency and directed by Ralf Schmerberg, may be the best example of her style. A video collage -- mostly of people experiencing the North American countryside -- is set to Cat Stevens' "The Wind." Whether taking in scenery or challenging it; grouped, coupled or alone; warm, mild or frigid; each scene has weight, as if you are peeking in on a moment of self-discovery. "In the Timberland spot, you don't really know why you're feeling something," she says. "It's not so obvious, and that's nice. There is something big and something small about that spot."

A Rolling Rock commercial for McCann-Erickson/New York, "Diablo,"directed by Todd Philips, shows how Iben's cuts will sometimes mirror the subject. The spot follows frenetic basement musician Jai Diablo as an example of the tagline, "Unsellout." "I was trying to get into Diablo himself," Iben explains. "When he speaks, he's all over the place, so I chose to edit like that. He's talking, then he's driving, then he's playing an instrument, then he's in the bathtub -- then it stops and he's playing one long note on the keyboard."

Iben considers it her challenge to slice through a complex culture and give people something they can relate to. "There is so much chaos going on in the media; I think in order for people to deal with it all, they tend to shut down. People can become a little bit numb, so today, more than ever, whether it's a TV show, an interview or a commercial, if it allows someone to feel, then I guess I have done my job." (AR)

Age 26 / Born in London, England/ Favorite films: Top Gun, Cinema Paradiso / Reel favorite: Cornershop, "Lessons Learned. . ."

Cab drivers train their most important digit.
Not every editor can say that one of his formative cutting experiences was the legendary Guinness "Surfer" spot. Four years ago, Nick Lofting was sitting in London beside editor Sam Sneade, director Jonathan Glazer and Abbott Mead Vickers writer Walter Campbell, assisting on the four-month edit that birthed the famous commercial. It figured then, that when the wacky "Loafers" spoof of "Surfer" came into Sneade's shop, that Lofting would be the one to cut it, this time taking only six hours.

Directed by Douglas Avery, now one of Lofting's frequent collaborators, the good-natured piss take for EB Pils brought early notoriety to the editor's reel, as did his first solo gig, the D&AD-nominated "Landmines" PSA for the Mine Advisory Group. Featuring stilted pauses that heighten suspense as a young girl unknowingly drifts through a minefield, that commercial set the precedent for his editorial approach. "I've kept the same mentality from that spot, which is, Fuck it, just do what you think," he says. "Call it as you see it, go first from your heart and then work it out later with your head. I cut that in a few hours straight from the heart, did a bit of fine-tuning with my head and then it was done."

As Sneade's assistant, Lofting got osmotic exposure to top talents like Glazer, Frank Budgen and Tarsem. On his own, he's already demonstrated a broad spectrum of storytelling skills: comedic prowess on the Cannes-shortlisted "Cyclist," for Preparation H and on Erich Joiner's quirky testimonials for the Newport Beach Film Festival; effects-infused fare for "The Sun"; and a massive music video undertaking for Cornershop, another by Avery, which involved sifting through tons of grainy doc-style footage to create a wild, freewheeling '70s vibe. "This was the most fun because there were no rules," he explains. "Most of the time you're trying to make things slick, but this was making something look like it was done on acid." His most recent work includes a new spot with Joiner for TBWAChiatDay, for the Nissan Armada.

If there's one thing that connects Lofting's eclectic stylings, it's his Everyman sensibility. "I edit as the audience," he explains. "What do I want to see to sell me this car, to make me laugh at this film? That's all it is. I judge dailies or a script by looking at what I like, at how it entertains me and how I can get it to entertain others -- and, of course, sell as well." Lofting's fun-loving mindset also makes him decidedly selective about the projects he takes. "I don't want this ever to become work," he says. "I don't want to ever have a job." (AD)

(This article appears in the October 2003 issue of Creativity.)

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