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Blog: Sight, Sound & Story takes you inside the edit suite

By Eugene Vernikov

Just over a week ago, I sat it in on a number of panels at the Sight, Sound & Story event. All provided invaluable insights into the editing and creation of stories in four major sub-genres of entertainment editing — reality television, documentary, television (broadcast/streaming) and narrative.

The Sight Sound and Story event, organized by Manhattan Edit Workshop took place at the NYIT Auditorium in New York City. The first panel was on reality TV editing, which included Alanna Yudin (Ink Master, Mob Wives), Joe Schuck (Alaskan Bush People, Best Funeral Ever) and Julie “Bob” Lombardi (Teen Mom OG, Town of the Living Dead). While I’m not a huge fan of what reality TV has to offer I did find myself fascinated with the world of reality TV editors. The amount of creativity and originality they use for their edits amazed me. It was as if they could manipulate reality itself — helping create a more dramatic and interesting story.

Lombardi was talking about a scene in her show (World of Jenks), in which one of the characters was reminiscing about his brother, who had died after being shot in a drug related incident. In the scene, it appears that the character is walking on the same street where his brother was shot. A memorial had been laid on the ground for his brother. This was intercut with the conversation between the character and Jenks talking on the street. The audience learned that the conversation between the two wasn’t actually taking place on the street where the brother was shot. They had visited that street earlier in the week, but for the scene the memorial was stock footage and the editing was mostly nonlinear.

At first, I was put off. I thought, “The nerve! First get a script, have it acted out by non-actors who sort of relate to the story being told and then manipulate the footage shot and add footage that is not related at all and then call it reality?” But then I took a step back. I realized that all editing is an illusion. It’s there to make you suspend your disbelief and enjoy the story. So if it’s doing that, then it’s doing its job. So that’s how I ended up being enlightened by reality TV.

There was a fascinating discussion on reality ethics and seeing that editors have more pull over manipulating footage than I previously thought, I came away from the panel thinking differently about the sub-genre.

Editing Docs
The next panel was documentary and included Andy Grieve (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Armstrong Lie), Zac Stuart-Pontier (The Jinx, Catfish) and Pax Wassermann (Cartel Land, Knuckleball!). The panel was super-informative. The audience was given an insider’s perspective of how a documentary can change during the process of its own conception. This proved to me that this sub-genre of editing is never dull.

We got to hear how the editor for The Jinx (in which the now infamous in-documentary confession of Robert Durst was shown to widespread audiences) went through the footage and found the damning evidence of Robert Durstʼs crimes. It was truly an experience to hear Stuart-Pontier walk us through his process and share how he felt while helping to solve a crime that spanned the better part of 20 years — and how it felt to work on the project for upwards of five years.

The documentary panel

Another noteworthy moment was seeing two different cuts of The Armstrong Lie, which was almost called The Road Back. Interestingly enough, it was supposed to be a documentary on how Lance Armstrong came back and won another Tour de France, but instead, because of the events that unfolded around the Armstrong steroid scandal, the film was re-titled and re-purposed. It instead became a deep look at this fallen hero. It was interesting to see — with both The Jinx and The Armstrong Lie — how during post production, the events in real life can change the course of a doc.

Editing for Television
The next panel, about editing in the world of television, was by far my favorite. It included Fabienne Bouville, ACE, (American Horror Story, Masters of Sex), Sidney Wolinsky, ACE, (Ray Donovan, The Sopranos) and Jesse Averna (Sesame Street, Monicaʼs Mixing Bowl).

The audience was very curious about how television is evolving from broadcast to digital streaming. We learned that TV is becoming a more cinematic experience with bigger budgets for VFX and color. Also, with the advent of streaming services, content is expected to be able to have replay value, including certain Easter eggs, with viral marketing on the web, content-related merchandise and so on.

A big question was how is the culture of full-season releases and binge-watching affecting the content creators? The content creators answered it this way: They said that this industry shift is creating demand for better, higher-quality pilots, which ultimately puts more pressure on creatives to make a better series.

Inside the Cutting Room
The last panel was called “Inside the Cutting Room With Bobbie OʼSteen: A Conversation With Oscar-Winning Editor William Goldenberg.” Goldenberg told stories and showed clips from some of the huge films he has worked on over the past 20 years including Heat, Argo, The Imitation Game, Zero Dark Thirty, Unbroken and more.

Billy Goldenberg and Bobbie O’Steen

Here are some key points he shared:

“Know the director”— It helps tremendously if you understand where your director is
coming from and where he needs to go.
“If you want to go faster, slow down” — When trying to convey an idea, you should use the time you have on screen to let ideas marinate in the audience’s mind. He offered an example from Heat, where Robert DeNiroʼs character is contemplating going back and satisfying his addiction. The camera stays on him for almost 30 to 45 seconds, allowing the audience to feel his torment. Slower cuts, more emotion.
“Cutting actual film allowed me to appreciate every cut, because of the technical limitations” — Goldenberg spoke about how cutting film strips together allowed him to focus in on what cuts needed to be there because no one wants to do more cuts than necessary on a cutting floor. These, and many more were present at the conversation with William Goldenberg and it was a true honor to hear a legend speak.

Summing Up
All in all, Sight Sound & Story was a fantastic event with great content, moderators, panelists and personnel.

A great way to improve our beloved art form is through events like Sight, Sound & Story, which allow more inspiring editors and filmmakers to understand the processes and learn from the industry’s top-tier talent.

Eugene Vernikov, is IT coordinator at NYC’s The Artery VFX.

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