Veteran New York-based video editor Jonathan Moser shares some common editing myths, along with a few rants, and educates us in the process
We Can Fix It in Post
We CAN’T fix bad shooting, bad directing, bad acting, bad lighting, bad planning, bad screen direction, bad conception, bad continuity, bad sound. Not totally. What we can sometimes do is distract the viewer and draw attention away from these mistakes and flubs that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. On even rarer occasions (see article on Annie Hall) we can
completely overhaul a badly conceived project, but it’s painful. If you’re doing a project, don’t
rely on the editor to save your ass. Do it as right as possible while filming.
Editors Make Final Decisions
If only! Early on, editing was usually a collaboration of an editor and a director or producer. In today’s oversaturated, over-suited TV landscape, there seems to be dozens of levels of approval. First the producer/director, then the production company, then the network. It seems almost anyone can put in their two cents… in some cases, family members of the producers can provide input that can create hours or reworking for an already overburdened editor. And in many cases, after all these changes, things can revert back to the editor’s first cut. It has happened to me.
Anyone Can Edit
Well, it seems that way today. Desktop and nonlinear tools have democratized a profession that once was the rarified realm of the top guns of broadcasting in the linear days. It took a lot to get into a million-dollar edit room in the ‘70s, ’80s and ’90s. Superior technical knowledge allowed for understanding of video standards, knowing how to patch and troubleshoot black boxes like ADOs, sync generators, distribution amplifiers, character generators, signal routing and dozens of other sub-specialties. Skills like running switchers, programming e-mems, GPIs, knowing how to run software to clean up edits from multigenerational versions was invaluable.
That was then. Now, for much less than a grand and a few college courses, just about anyone can push the buttons, drop a filter to create effects and get stuff on Youtube or even television. But there still is no substitute for hard-fought experience. Just ask any editor who has had to clean up the mess left by inexperienced and often underpaid rookies who seem to grow on trees today.
Editing is the Easy Part
All we do is “cut out the bad parts” some wrongly believe. Just like a sculptor chips away at the granite to reveal the art underneath — you betcha. Being a good editor is part artist, part problem-solver, part puzzle-master. Being able to find the logic, drama, humor and nuance in often the most meager material. Creating the “beats,” sifting through sometimes hundreds of hours of footage for the subtle glance, the nod, the head turn… stealing moments from other moments that have nothing to do with the original intention: this defines patience, perseverance and creativity.
Daily, we find needles in haystacks, create moments that never existed and alter reality to tell a story not ever shot. There are tons of bad parts, and our job is to reinvent, salvage and make magic — even while being called “technicians” and seeing others take credit for hours spent in the chair. Ironically, many editors refuse to be called ”artists” as if it’s a bad thing. I am not one of those editors.
Editors Are Antisocial Geeks
Think about this: we’re locked in a dark room anywhere from eight to 24 hours a day, often with a producer or director or PA who is having a nervous breakdown for one reason or another. Maybe they’re emotionally and physically exhausted, worried about losing their job or maybe they have just broken up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe they’re worried that the show just won’t work or that they’ve lost the touch. But we’re locked in there sharing cell time (for better or worse) and trying to get through the grueling hours — away from our own loved ones, without strangling the person next to us or being victimized by them in turn. We’re therapists, confidants, captives. I’ve spent more time with overwrought producers going through angst than most shrinks. Sometimes it’s a great experience, sometimes it’s awful, but we DO get through it. Geeks, maybe. Antisocial? Never.
Editors Are Specialists and Not Multifaceted
More and more, job postings require the editor to have specialization in one particular genre. “Must cut crime reenactment” or “must cut documentary” or “must cut food competition” or “must cut docu-reality” or “must cut blind fighting Siamese cats.” Ok, the last one was fake, but you get my meaning.
This specificity is an insult to any good editor and usually indicates the ignorance of the posters or fear of losing their job from a bad hire. Any editor worth his or her salt can cut ANYTHING under the sun. There is no magic formula that says you must have done it before in order to know how to do it. We pride ourselves on versatility, flexibility and challenges. Please stop limiting us…and yourselves.
Producer: ‘This Will Be the Final Cut’
It’s locked… I promise. And the check is in the mail, too.
I want to thank the many members of the esteemed New York Editor’s Collective for their contributions to this article. Among others, Ben Slatkin, Barry Gliner, Jason Pollard, Chris Erdman, Ellie Guapo, Jon Vesey, David Varga. Paul Viskup, Tom Patterson and many others.