Tag Archives: editing

Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14 for editing

By Brady Betzel

Resolve 14 has really stepped up Blackmagic’s NLE game with many great new updates over the past few months. While I typically refer to Resolve as a high-end color correction and finishing tools, this review will focus on the Editing tab.

Over the last two years, Resolve has grown from a high-end color correction and finishing app to include a fully-capable nonlinear editor, media organizer and audio editing tool. Fairlight is not currently at the same level as Avid Pro Tools, but it is still capable, and with a price of free or at most $299 you can’t lose. For this review, I am using the $299 version, which has a few perks — higher than UHD resolutions; higher than 60 frames per second timelines; the all-important spatial and/or temporal noise reduction; many plugins like the new face tracker; multi-user collaboration; and much more. The free version will work with resolutions up to UHD at up to 60fps and still gives you access to all of the powerful base tools like Fairlight and the mighty color correction tool set.

Disclaimer: While I really will try and focus on the Editing tab, I can’t make any promises I won’t wander.

Digging In
My favorite updates to Resolve 14’s Editing tab revolve around collaboration and conforming functions, but I even appreciate some smaller updates like responsiveness while trimming and video scopes on the edit page. And don’t forget the audio waveforms being visible on the source monitor!

With these new additions, among others, I really do think that Resolve is also becoming a workable nonlinear editor much like industry standards such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro X. You can work from ingest to output all within one app. When connected to a collaborative project there is now bin-locking, sharing bins and even a chat window.

Multicam works as expected with up to 16 cameras in one split view. I couldn’t figure out how to watch all of the angles in the source monitor while playing down the sequence in the record monitor, so I did a live switch (something I love to do in Media Composer). I also couldn’t figure out how to adjust the multi-cam after it had been created, because say, for instance, audio was one frame out of sync or I needed to add another angle later on. But the multicam worked and did its job by allowing me to sync by in point, out point, timecode, sound or marker. In addition, you can make the multicam a different frame rate than your timeline, which is handy.

[Editor’s Note: Blackmagic says: “There are a few ways to do that. You can right click on the multicam clip and select ‘open in timeline.’ Or you can pause over any segment of a multicam clip, click on a different angle and swap out the shots. Most importantly, you get into multicam edit mode by clicking on the drop down menu on the lower left hand corner of the source viewer and selecting Multicam mode.”]

Another addition is the Position Lock located in the middle right, above the timeline. The Position Lock keeps all of your clips locked in time in your timeline. What is really interesting about this is that it still allows you to trim and apply other effects to clips while locking the position of your clips in place. This is extremely handy when doing conforms and online passes of effects when you don’t want timing and position of clips to change. It’s a great safety net. There are some more fancy additions like re-time curves directly editable in the timeline. But what I would really love is a comprehensive overhaul of the Title Tool that would allow for direct manipulation of the text on top of the video. It would be nice to have a shortcut to use the title as a matte for other footage for some quick and fancy titling effects, but maybe that is what Fusion is for? The title tool works fine and will now give you nice crisp text even when blown up. The bezier curves really come in handy here to make animations ease in and out nicely.

If you start and finish within Resolve 14, your experience will most likely be pretty smooth. For anyone coming from another NLE — like Media Composer or Premiere — there are a few things you will have to get used to, but overall it feels like the interface designers of Resolve 14 kept the interface familiar for those “older” editors, yet also packed it with interesting features to keep the “YouTube” editors’ interest piqued. As someone who’s partial to Media Composer, I really like that you can choose between frame view in the timeline and clips-only view, leaving out thumbnails and waveform views in the timeline.

I noticed a little bit of a lag when editing with the thumbnail frames turned on. I also saw recently that Dave Dugdale on YouTube found an interesting solution to the possible bug. Essentially, one of the thumbnail views of the timeline was a little slower at re-drawing when zooming into a close view in a sequence Regardless, I like to work without thumbnails, and that view seemed to work fluidly for me.

After working for about 12 minutes I realized I hadn’t saved my work and Resolve didn’t auto-saved. This is when I remembered hearing about the new feature “Live Save.” It’s a little tricky to find, but the Live Save feature lives under the DaVinci Resolve Menu > User > Auto Save and is off by default — I really think this should be changed. Turn this fuction on and your Resolve project will continually save, which in turn saves you from unnecessary conniptions when your project crashes and you try to find the spot that was last saved.

Coming from another NLE, the hardest thing for me to get used to in a new app was the keyboard layouts and shortcuts. Typically, trimming works similar to other apps and overwriting; ripple edits, dissolves and other edit functions don’t change, but the placement of their shortcuts does. In Resolve 14, you can access the keyboard shortcut commands in the same spot as the Live Save, but under the Keyboard Mapping menu under User. From here you can get grounded quickly by choosing a preset that is similar to your NLE of choice — Premiere, FCP X, Media Composer — or Resolve’s default keyboard layout, which isn’t terrible. If this could be updated to how apps like Premiere and/or Avid have their keyboard layouts designed, it would be a lot easier to navigate. Meaning there is usually a physical representation of a keyboard that allows you to drag your shortcuts to and from it realtime.

Right now, Resolve’s keyboard mapper is text-based and a little cumbersome. Overall, Resolve’s keyboard shortcuts (when in the editing tab) are pretty standard, but it would do you well to read and go through basic moves like trimming, trimming the heads and tails of clips or even just trimming by plus or minus and the total frames you want to trim.

Something else I discovered when trimming was when you go into actual “trim mode,” it isn’t like other NLEs where you can immediately start trimming. I had to click on the trim point with my mouse or pen, then I could use keyboard shortcuts to trim. This is possibly a bug, but what I would really love to happen is when you enter “trim mode,” you would see trimming icons at the A and B sides of the nearest clips on the selected tracks. This would allow you to immediately trim using keyboard shortcuts without any mouse clicks. In my mind, the more mouse clicks I have to use to accomplish a task means time wasted. This leads to having less time to spend on “important” stuff like story, audio, color, etc. When time equals money, every mouse click means money out of my pocket. [Note from Blackmagic: “In our trim tools you can also enter trim mode by hitting T on the keyboard. We did not put in specific trim tool icons on purpose because we have an all-in-one content sensitive trim tool that changes based on where you place the cursor. And if you prefer trimming with realtime playback, hit W for dynamic trim mode, and then click on the cut you want to trim with before hitting JKL to play the trim.”]

I have always treated Resolve as another app in my post workflow — I wasn’t able to use it all the way from start to finish. So in homage to the old way of working, a.k.a. “a round trip workflow,” I wanted to send a Media Composer sequence to Resolve by way of a linked AAF, then conform the media clips and work from there. I had a few objectives, but the main one was to make sure my clips and titles came over. Next was to see if any third-party effects would translate into Resolve from Media Composer and, finally, I wanted to conform an “updated” AAF to the original sequence using Resolve’s new “Compare with Current Timeline” command.

This was a standard 1080p, 23.98 sequence (transcoded to one mezzanine DNx175x codec with 12 frame handles) with plenty of slates, titles, clips, speed ramps, Boris Continuum Complete and Sapphire Effect. Right off the bat all of the clip-based media came over fine and in its correct time and place in the timeline. Unfortunately, the titles did not come over and were offline — none of them were recognized as titles so they couldn’t be edited. Dissolves came over correctly, however none of the third-party BCC or Sapphire effects came across. I didn’t really expect the third-party effects to come over, but at some point, in order to be a proper conforming application, Resolve will need to figure out a way to translate those when sending sequences from an NLE to Resolve. This is more of a grand wish, but in order to be a force in the all-in-one app for the post finishing circle, this is a puzzle that will need to be solved.

Otherwise, for those who want to use alternative nonlinear editing systems, they will have to continue using their NLE as the editor, Resolve as a color-only solution, and the NLE as their finisher. And from what I can tell Blackmagic wants Resolve to be your last stop in the post pipeline. Obviously, if you start your edit in Resolve and use third-party OpenFX (OFX) like BCC or Sapphire, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Last on my list was to test the new Compare with Current Timeline command. In order for this option to pop up when you right click, you must be in the Media tab with the sequence you want to compare to the one loaded. You then need to find the sequence you want to compare from, right click on it and click Compare with Current Timeline. Once you click the sequences you want to compare, a new window will pop up with the option to view the Diff Index. The Diff Index is a text-based list of each new edit next to the timeline that visually compares your edits between the two sequences. This visual representation of the edits between the sequences is where you will apply those changes. There are marks identifying what has changed, and if you want to apply those changes you must right click and hit Apply Changes. My suggestion is to duplicate your sequence before you apply changes (actually you should be constantly duplicating your sequence as a backup as a general rule). The Compare with Current Timeline function is pretty incredible. I tested it using an AAF I had created in Media Composer and compared it against an AAF made from the same sequence but with some “creative” changes and trimmed clips — essentially a locked sequence that suddenly became unlocked while in Online/Color and needed to reflect the latest changes from the offline edit.

I wasn’t able to test Resolve 14 in a shared-project environment, so I couldn’t test a simultaneous update coming from another editor. But this can come in really handy for anyone who has to describe any changes made to a particular sequence or for that pesky online editor that needs to conform a new edit while not losing all their work.

I can’t wait to see the potential of this update, especially if we can get Resolve to recognize third-party effects from other NLEs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not oblivious to the fact that asking Resolve engineers to figure out how to recognize third-party effects in an AAF workflow is a pie-in-the-sky scenario. If it was easy it probably would have already been done. But it is a vital feature if Blackmagic wants Resolve to be looked at like a Flame or Media Composer but with a high-end coloring solution and audio finishing solution. While I’m at it, I can’t help but think that Resolve may eventually include Fusion as another tab maybe as a paid add-on, which would help to close that circle to being an all-in-one post production solution.

Summing Up
In the end, Resolve 14 has all the makings of becoming someone’s choice as a sole post workflow solution. Blackmagic has really stepped up to the plate and made a workable and fully functional NLE. And, oh yeah not to mention it is one of the top color correction tools being used in the world.

I did this review of the editing tab using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 14.2. Find the latest version here. And check out our other Resolve review — this one from a color and finishing perspective.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Tatiana Riegel on editing the dark comedy I, Tonya

By Randi Altman

I, Tonya is sad and funny and almost unbelievable in the sense that this — or a version of this — actually did happen. It’s also a fantastic movie.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan “Why?!” incident took place. I think we all knew at the time that what was playing out was more like a soap opera and less like figure skating. Thanks to the Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, everyone gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what led up to that assault, and it’s not pretty. What the public didn’t know back in 1993 was the abuse that Tonya Harding was enduring via her mother, her husband Jeff Gillooly and even the figure skating community, who viewed her as too working class to represent them.

Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

I, Tonya’s editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE, is a long-time collaborator of Gillespie’s, having worked with him now on five features (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours, Fright Night and Million Dollar Arm) and the pilot for the TV series United States of Tara for Showtime. She says the shorthand they’ve developed over 10 years “is thrilling and makes life very, very easy.”

We spoke to newly minted Oscar-nominee Riegel about working with Gillespie and her workflow on the film, which was nominated for a number of Golden Globes and has earned Riegel her own ACE Eddie and Independent Spirit award nods as well.

When were you brought on I, Tonya?
Craig told me about it the fall of 2016, and I officially began when they started shooting in January 2017.

Were you on set, near set? How did that work?
I was far from set. I was in Los Angeles, and they were shooting in Atlanta. It was very nice for me to be able to stay home. That is one of those advantages that I can have with Craig because we do have such a shorthand. And while I have traveled with him on location many times, this time, from a budget standpoint, it was prohibitive. Plus, we were going to be in New York for the six months of post, and I didn’t want to go away for nine months. This was our compromise.

You worked out of Harbor Picture Company in New York, where the post was being done?
Yes. It was lovely. They’re so nice. I really — I have to say — I miss it and I hope I get to go back to New York and work there again. I felt like I was at home, even though I wasn’t.

Can you talk about how you and Craig work together? Does he shoot a lot of coverage?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is he is very prepared and very disciplined. The schedule on this was quite short. It was 31 days, and I think there were 260 or 265 scenes. So it was compact, but he was so wonderfully prepared. For certain scenes, he didn’t shoot as much coverage, but for other scenes, much more. But always with lots of options, which makes editors very happy.

What did he shoot on?
Craig shot most of it on film, which was lovely. It gave it a great look. He shot 2- and 3-perf, 35mm film, but then he did do some stuff digitally. The interviews were shot digitally, just because of the amount of coverage. It was three hours, per person, for the interviews. And then, obviously, some of the extreme slow-motion stuff was shot with a Phantom camera.

Did Harbor do the dailies?
They did not. We did the DI at Company 3. That’s where we finished, and the dailies were processed at Crawford in Georgia.

Who is your assistant, and how do you work together? Are they covering the technical stuff? Are they another eye?
They’re both. This was probably our sixth or seventh film together. Dan Boccoli is fantastic. For this film he was on with me during dailies, because when we went to New York I had to hire a local. His name was Steve Jacks, who was also superb.

Dan and all of my assistants are a wonderful combination of creative and technical. They are preparing everything, communicating with all of the different departments, making sure I have everything I need, and they keep me out of those loops that I don’t want to get involved in.

I show them scenes and get their feedback, which is wonderful for me — this allows me to show somebody before I show the director or anybody else. Just to make sure everything’s being comprehended properly, and I’m getting the reaction that I want. It’s also a teaching process for them; they get to understand the whole process, and learn for their own future.

Was Craig looking at scenes you were editing?
With all directors, I like to stay up to camera as much as possible. I want to start that conversation sooner rather than later to make sure we’re all on the same page tonally, performance-wise and story-wise. Then there are the practical things like, is all the coverage there? I try to put the scenes together quickly, the best that I can, and send them off on a daily basis, sometimes a couple times a week, sometimes once a week. It depends on what’s being shot.

Another advantage is that when shooting is finished and they come in for the first time to watch the assembly, they’re not surprised by anything. It’s not anywhere close to being done, but they are clear about what they have and how we’re doing tonally and performance-wise.

How were you physically getting scenes to Craig?
A variety of ways, but usually it was a system like Pix or DAX because of piracy issues. It’s very secure, and he was able to watch it online.

Were there any instances where you thought coverage was missing?
Yes, there was one situation. Shawn, the bodyguard, doesn’t really show up in the movie until the second half — there are only some interviews early on. I actually asked for a couple more instances to be added so we would have an introduction to him. This way it wasn’t a new character popping up and the audience thinking, “Oh, I think I saw him once.” I called Craig and he agreed, and the writer Steven Rogers agreed.

Can you talk about editing the skating scenes? I know that VFX was used for some of that and there was a double, but how did that work?
There are four or five larger skating sequences, and Craig and the DP talked very early on about each having their own personality. For example, the first one, the ZZ Top one, is earlier in Tonya’s career, and she’s got an attitude and gruffness and a strength that wants to be portrayed in that sequence. Especially after coming off of the Vivaldi Four Seasons, and emphasizing how Tonya Harding was not the typical ice skater. She didn’t fit the mold, and she really did skate to ZZ Top.

Craig and the DP Nicolas Karakatsanis watched the original skating sequences for the choreography and tried to get as close as possible. They had to do some pretty serious planning for these seamless transitions between Margot and the double. Margot had trained for about five months, so she did a fair amount of spectacular stuff where you have to be an Olympian type moves. She did do some of the dancing and getting on and off the ice, and the beginning and ends of routines.

Then it was a question of following this choreography map they had set up, but also spicing it up and giving each of the scenes their own personality and energy. The ZZ Top scene is very energetic and a bit show-off-y. The one at the end of the film, at Lillehammer, is all done in one shot, or it plays as one shot. We go in and out of Margot and the double, and that’s purposely done to build the tension, the anxiety and the stress she’s going through at that moment with her shoelace having broken.

The soundtrack is fun. Can you talk about that?
There was nothing about music in the script. This is all something that Craig brought to it. He had gotten a lot of music from the music supervisor, prior to shooting, and we began listening to stuff. But after I had the whole thing together, we sat down, about a week into it, and started throwing music against it and figuring out what worked for energy, for pacing, for fun and for emotion. We just kept trying things, moving them around. Sometimes we cut in or out of songs very quickly, for momentum, and that became a lot of what we did in the post process. Experimenting.

There was a scene where Gillooly is on the floor of his house, and then the camera sort of backs away and takes you down a street. Was that one shot?
It plays as one, but it was actually shot as four different parts. He starts on the bed, which I just love. He’s distraught and hunched over, but looking right at the camera. Then the camera pulls away from him and goes into the hallway, and then we find him again in the kitchen, where he’s obviously trying to talk to her but get mad, so he throws the phone. Then it pulls out of the kitchen and into the living room, and he’s sitting alone on the floor. Then it pulls out of the living room onto the front yard and down the whole block. It was all these different shots that were stitched together quite beautifully.

While there was obvious violence and abuse, there was also humor, so it was a fine line you needed to walk. How did you tackle that as an editor?
Craig spoke with Margot and everybody about it very early on, because it was really important to not sugarcoat that stuff. This is what made her who she is and made her react how she did. This is the reality of her life. There’s a documentary about her when she’s 15 years old, and she’s very matter-of-factly talking about her mother hitting her. She says it in a very detached, unemotional way that really struck a chord in Craig. That’s when he came up with this idea of breaking the fourth wall and having the characters talk directly to the camera. It allowed the characters to separate emotionally from that moment in a way that felt very lifelike to us. Although it’s not a lifelike moment, talking to the camera, it gives it detachment. It also shows survival. It’s the 45-year-old Tonya talking back about that moment having survived.

You cut this film on Avid Media composer. What about it do you like, and did you use ScriptSync?
I find it to be just a fantastic tool for sharing media. I know how to use it very well, so I don’t have to think, which is terrific. I did use ScriptSync for the very first time on this film. I just haven’t felt the need for it before, but this time it was helpful because of the way the interviews were shot, which were, for the most part, very long takes. The interviews are spaced throughout the script, so the actors would read all the way through them, doing some retakes within a take, but then continue on. So, just from an organizational standpoint, ScriptSync was a lifesaver. It was just brilliant. I don’t know how I would have done it without it, to be perfectly honest. It would have been excruciatingly time consuming.

Is there any scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging?
The film as a whole was very challenging in terms of balancing the very serious with the very funny. There are moments that portray that, like the knife scene where she’s having dinner with her mother. The conversation grows into this terrible fight, and they are screaming at each other. Then the mother’s throwing stuff, and then she throws the knife, and it’s this amazingly shocking moment.

There is that fantastic pause. You don’t know how Tonya’s going to react or how LaVona is going to react. Then Tonya takes the knife out, but you still don’t know what she’s going to do. She walks over, slams it into the table, and we see LaVona’s reaction as Tonya walks off. I just loved that. It’s about holding that moment as long as possible, almost until it breaks, and then breaking it with this fantastic joke — where LaVona, in her interview says, all families have problems. When we screened it you could hear a pin could drop, and then it just breaks into this great relief of laughter. It’s just a really fun thing to put together.

What’s next for you?
I am going to Berlin to work on The Girl in the Spider’s Web for director Fede Alvarez. It’s part of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. This is something that’s very different, which I find very appealing. I like doing different types of films. I think editors often get pigeonholed very quickly — “They’re a comedy person, they’re a drama person, they’re an action person.” I like to shake it up a bit whenever possible, because I like working on different kinds of films just as I like going to see different kinds of films, and.

A Conversation: Veteran editor Lawrence Jordan, ACE

By Randi Altman

Lawrence Jordan’s fate was essentially sealed upon birth. His father and his grandfather made a living working in post and film editing in New York City.

He grew up around it; it encircled him. His path became pretty clear at a very young age. “I was very fortunate to be born into a film editing family. The running joke is that a trim bin was my first playpen,” he laughs.

Even with his rich family history, Jordan wasn’t handed a job. He started the way many did, as a runner. “I learned all the things that someone in that job learns about the cutting room — while trying to hone editing skills in my spare time. I then got into the union and became very focused on feature film editing.”

Some of those feature films include Jack Frost, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Riding in Cars With Boys, Fallen and Are We There Yet? He also embraced dramatic television series such as NYPD Blue and CSI Miami. He most recently cut a feature for Netflix, called Naked.

Naked

Not long ago, we threw some questions at Jordan, about his love for editing, how he evolved with the technology of industry and his online class, Master the Workflow.

What was your path to editing?
My father, Morton Fallick was a film editor who started Cinemetric, one of the first integrated commercial post companies in New York in the 1960s. He followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, a projection and sound engineer, who helped organize the unions in New York. He worked for CBS News for many years. Because of this history and my love of movies, I knew I wanted to work in film from a very young age.

Many of the film editors who I ended up really admiring came out of my father’s shop. They were young guys who wanted to get into film, and his commercial house was one way to learn the craft. People like Richard Marks, Barry Malkin, Craig McKay and Evan Lottman — they went on to become some of the most respected feature film editors of the ‘70s, ‘80s and beyond.

My first job was as an apprentice in the Warner Bros. film library. Soon after that I got a job as an apprentice sound editor working on a picture the legendary Dede Allen was cutting. It was called Mike’s Murder directed by James Bridges. I worked directly for supervising sound editor Norval Crutcher.

How has editing evolved since you started in the industry?
I started back in the days of 35mm film. It was a completely different industry. The editing community was incredibly small back then. I think there were only about 1,000 or 1,500 people in the entire guild, and we all edited on Moviolas or flatbed machines like the Kem or Steenbeck. Back then, editing was a much slower and more deliberate process. Things were done by hand and ideas were executed at a different pace.

I saw videotape becoming a popular means of editing. Videotape annoyed me because it seemed that it had a lot to do with punching numbers into a keyboard and timecode. Kind of ironic isn’t it? I wasn’t particularly fond of that way of approaching editing. I liked the visceral and physical feeling of handling the actual film. And with the exception of experiments by Francis Coppola, back then, nobody else was cutting features on videotape, so I focused on working in 35mm.

But as time went by, I couldn’t really avoid the technological change. New systems were being developed that used multiple videotapes to approximate the nonlinear nature of editing on film. Then there were systems that worked off of laserdisc, but I was building a career as an assistant in features and none of these new systems really seemed like they were “there” yet.

Then, in 1991, while I was working as additional editor on Jodie Foster’s directorial debut, Little Man Tate, I got a call from my dad who said, “They’re editing off of hard drives now!” He went on to tell me about the Avid Media Composer and how it was being used in commercials. This was very exciting to me because I had started to get into computers in my personal life, and in those days we were all awed by the power of even the most rudimentary computer systems.

I went down to the Avid offices in Burbank and got a demo of Media Composer. I think there were maybe four or five of us in the room, and when I saw the demo, I was floored by the power and simplicity of digital editing. I knew this was what my future was going to be if I was to continue to pursue a career as a film editor.

I spent a year learning everything I could about the Avid system and digital video — the hardware, software and compression algorithms. At the same time, an editor friend of mine, Steve Cohen, who was also into nonlinear editing, asked if I’d be interested in doing a show on the Montage Picture Processor. It was a hybrid/digital version of their multi-deck Betacam system, and just not up handling the demands of a feature-length project. About a week into dailies we decided to make the switch and cut on the Avid. That project was Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story.

How did that change the way you worked as an editor?
With the speed and flexibility of digital, editors were soon expected to do many of the tasks that traditionally were given to other departments. More complex sound editing was first. On films, temp dubs were prepared by the sound department, but this became something you could do pretty well on the Avid. As digital editing evolved and CPU speeds accelerated, it became more common for the film editor to rough-out visual effects. The way it is now, the spectacular VFX that are being done with CGI and the like still have to be subbed out to the VFX team. But you can do an awful lot, especially for temp in the offline.

Today, directors, producers and studios all expect these tasks to be accomplished in the offline. Although you can execute ideas much faster, there’s a ton more work. Additionally, with digital cinematography, editors are getting more footage than ever before. Whereas an average-budget feature might have had 200,000 or 300,000 feet of film on 35mm, now that same project — not even one of the large tent-poles films — could easily have a million feet of dailies. Think about it. By comparison, it took Francis Coppola three years to shoot a million feet of dailies on Apocalypse Now!

Do you have a particular editing philosophy?
If I did, it would be that I let the dailies speak to me. I say this because, of course, we’ve all read the script and talked to the director about his or her vision, but once you actually get the dailies —for any number of reasons — you could be looking at something totally different from what you expected.

This could be affected by whatever the conditions were on the day of production. Or whatever discussions might have gone on between the actors and the director in terms of how they approached a scene or interpreted the script.

So I let the material in front of me dictate how I’m going to make my initial cut on a particular scene. Then it’s a process of looking at the film as a whole and going back to the script and finding the best way to tell the story with the material you have.

You have worked on TV and film. Do you wear a different hat depending on what you are working on?
In television you’re dealing with much tighter schedules. The workflow is highly structured, and although you don’t get as much film every day, you really need to bang scenes out quickly. TV is also a writer/producer’s medium. You only get to work with the director of each episode for a few days and then the producers come in and give you their notes. All of this is usually done in a few weeks’ time.

On feature films, it’s completely different because you’re the head of the department. And even if you’re working with an additional editor, you are communicating directly with the director on a regular basis. A feature film can often go in many more directions than a television show. In the case of comedy, there can be all kinds of improvisation and you are dealing with different situations each day.

When cutting a feature, you’re much more intimately involved in the DNA of the film because you’re living with it for a much longer period of time.

Then, of course, you get into the director’s cut period, which usually lasts around 10 weeks. During this time, you’re typically developing tone, and not only with the story, but in terms of sound effects, music and visual effects. Depending on the situation, the editor is often much more involved in the final mix, color correction and delivery. That level of involvement just doesn’t happen for editors in television.

Do you have a preference in how you work? On-set, near-set?
I guess cutting on-set is happening more often these days, but if I had my preference I’d be in a cutting room near the set. As an editor it’s always nice to have the luxury to be in a quiet space where you can really take in and sort through the material. We want to give it as much thought as possible and have the maximum amount of uninterrupted time to solve whatever problems may come up. I do know that more editors are being asked to edit on-set in real-time. And I guess that’s a necessity for certain films.

During my initial cut, I try to keep it as simple as possible. I’m focusing on two things: story and performance. I try to fill-out my cut with as much sound and music as possible, and as many temp visual effects as necessary. In regard to music, most films nowadays have music supervisors who can be of great help pulling material. Because source cues can be expensive, often they’ve had discussions with the director, even before the editor comes on board.

What system do you work on? Are there any plugins that you use regularly?
I work on the Avid Media Composer. As I said, I was involved with its introduction into feature filmmaking and television in Hollywood, and it’s still the primary tool for 99 percent of all feature films and television shows for studios and networks today.

I know that there are other pieces of software out there, and I’ve had some experience with them, but the longer you work on a tool, the more ingrained it becomes in your muscle memory. With the Avid, the speed at which I can execute ideas is much faster using software that I’ve been working with going on 25 years now.

As far as peripheral software and additional tools, I do like to use Adobe After Effects to work with temp visual effects. It’s a very powerful program. It does have its limitations in terms of getting metadata in and out of the system, but I can create temp comps and the like relatively quickly with it. Of course, there’s Photoshop. I’ve also used Boris FX pretty extensively, and their Mocha tracking tools are pretty amazing.

What are you working on now?
I just finished a feature for Netflix called Naked, starring Marlon Wayans. It’s a comedy that has a tremendous amount of improv. I worked with a great director named Mike Tiddes, with whom I had worked previously on another feature called Fifty Shades of Black.

We had a lot of fun. It was crazy, because for an editor, improv comedy is always challenging —sometimes you’re literally creating stuff that wasn’t shot! It was also exciting because it was for Netflix. Although it didn’t have a theatrical distribution, it was an original film for them and was distributed in 180 countries on the same day.

The power and possibility with the new streaming networks just amazes me. These production companies have tremendous resources and are really giving the film and television production world a shot in the arm — it’s a real boost for employment opportunities for editors and assistants. I think it holds tremendous promise for our industry in general.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Do you give them a chance to cut?
Because I spent 10 years as an assistant, I really have a lot of respect for what they do. Assistants are essentially the glue that holds the editorial process together. Without an assistant who is at the top of their game — focused, organized and generally passionate about what their role is in the process — an editor can really find himself/herself in a pickle.

Today, much of the assistant’s job has become a metadata manager. There are so many different types of media. It’s the same media that we used to have, but it is delivered digitally and in so many different formats.

I always try to give my assistants a shot at cutting at least a scene, if not a couple of scenes, on every project I do. There really is no other way to learn the editing craft, besides having it handed down to you by an editor. To me, this was something that existed when I was coming up and was essentially at the core of the apprenticeship nature of our craft from the time it started. This was how we learned to do our job.

It’s pretty much still the same way, but it’s the proverbial Catch-22. You can’t learn the actual nuts-and-bolts of the job in a cutting room, unless you have a job in a cutting room. You can’t learn this in theory while in film school. They don’t really teach the sort of inner workings of the feature film workflow, or even television workflow in film school. It’s much more of a macro approach — an overview to how the work is done. I’m not aware of any film programs that teach the job of the assistant editor.

NYPD Blue

Now, of course, there are certification courses and specialized schools, but unless you’re working on the front lines on a feature film or television show you’re really not going to get an understanding of the full spectrum of what the job entails.

So, yes, I do try to give my assistants a chance to cut. I also solicit their opinions on scenes that I have cut. I ask for their ideas. I ask for their feedback. I ask whether they remember anything in the dailies that I might have missed. That’s the nature of our work. It’s a collaborative process, and it helps me do my best work.

I hear you are doing something called Master the Workflow. Can you explain what that is?
Yes, Master the Workflow is something my assistant Richard Sanchez and I came up with on our last film, Naked. Richard had developed a comprehensive database in FileMaker that tracks all of the media and metadata created on a feature film. It made me realize how much the job of the assistant editor has changed from when I was an assistant. With the explosion of digital production and post, I thought that it would be of tremendous benefit to detail the critical role that the assistant editor plays in the editorial process.

We decided to create an online education course and named it Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion 1.0. It takes a potential assistant editor from their initial meeting with their editor through final delivery of a finished film. I felt strongly about creating something like this, primarily because we wanted to show a way for people to learn what goes on in a cutting room in the way it used to be learned.

As I mentioned earlier, there has been an apprenticeship model in post and film editorial throughout its history, but because of digital technology, the editor and the assistants have become somewhat siloed. An assistant doesn’t get to sit in the room with the editor as they are creating the cut as much anymore. So the craft is not being handed down as it was traditionally.

The course is a detailed view of what takes place in the editing environment. For example, we discuss how you deal with the director, how an assistant deals with his editor, how to navigate the sometimes touchy political nature of dealing with producers and studios. Things as simple as when to express your opinion, and when not to.

We wanted to impart all of these things to a new generation of filmmakers and make it available online so that those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get inside a cutting room and learn how the job is done could learn those skills. We’ve already had our first session with 50 students. They’ve been very, very positive with their feedback and we’re excited to see where it goes.

Behind the Title: Whitehouse editor David Cea

NAME: David Cea

COMPANY: Whitehouse Post in New York

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Originally, we were an editorial shop that has grown into a one-stop shop for all things post production.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Editor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Being the one responsible for expressing the creative vision in filmmaking. The film editor takes all of the hard work and ideas and gives it shape and form for the world to see.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The human component. I find a large part of what I do is making my clients feel comfortable. Filmmaking is a tough and sometimes exhausting process. Just shy of the finish line is where I come in. I want to be the one that helps relieve some of the stress from the process. As a former bartender, I learned how to be a pseudo-therapist. Keeping everyone positive and showing them that all of their work will lead to a great end-product is important.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Creative problem solving. Inevitably there will be a missed shot or last-minute client ask that seems impossible. Finding a way to fix it with what I have in front of me keeps things interesting.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Second guessing. When anyone on the creative team, myself included, begins to doubt their instincts, I feel the end product starts to suffer.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
5:30pm… much to my wife’s chagrin.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
In an ideal world, a surf instructor in Costa Rica.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
In college I knew I wanted to work in the film industry in some capacity. I took an editing class and was sold from there. Editing also seemed to be the sanest leg of the process.

Target

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Target’s fashion forward rebranding campaign
– A short film for Mercedes featuring Mariel Hemingway and her daughter Langley Fox
– A skate film for the Loke app launching soon

YOU HAVE WORKED ON ALL SORTS OF PROJECTS. DO YOU PUT ON A DIFFERENT HAT WHEN CUTTING FOR A SPECIFIC GENRE?
I certainly have to place myself in the right mood when cutting each specific genre. It may be a certain type of music during the selection process or watching the works of the masters of the field to gain inspiration. I try to put myself in the director’s shoes: “Why was this shot done this way? What is the broad feeling he or she is trying to achieve?”

While I do get into a different headspace when cutting different genres, I definitely borrow from each style no matter the project. Not being married to a specific genre is key to keeping me engaged and making for a more well rounded end product.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The Jeep 4×4 Ever Super Bowl spot. This a spot that went through a several evolutions until it was the final piece that won the big game spot for FCA Chrysler that year.

Ford

WHAT DO YOU USE TO EDIT?
Avid Media Composer

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLUGIN?
Waves Pitch Shift. It will make even the dullest scratch VO talent sound like Sam Elliot.

ARE YOU OFTEN ASKED TO DO MORE THAN EDIT? IF SO, WHAT ELSE ARE YOU ASKED TO DO?
Yes. Many projects you see coming through the door nowadays are comprised of found footage. Sometimes all we get is a script. This is sometimes fun because we are then in essence put in more of a directorial role.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
– Wireless silent mouse — Since I don’t use Wacom tablets to edit, this is key to not drive the people in the room nuts with constant clicking
– Noise-cancelling headphones — the streets of NYC become downright pleasant when wearing them, smells aside
– Swell bottle — that’s technology, right?

DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Plenty of screen-free time with the family.

Editor Chrissy Rabe joins BlueRock

New York-based creative editorial company BlueRock has added Chrissy Rabe as editor. Prior to joining BlueRock, she worked for Box Motion and Gloss VFX, collaborating with clients such as Nike, Prada, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Godiva, Harley Davidson, Zara, Gap, Sephora and MAC Cosmetics. Rabe also cut the Lane Bryant This Body campaign for Laird and Partners.

A Texas native, Rabe started in the business as a model at age 14. From there she went on to become a producer and photography manager before finding her way to editing. She says that modeling taught her “to not take things too personally” and how to work with a variety of personalities. As a producer and photography manager, Rabe learned to be extremely organized. “I would scour through thousands of photos to make selects to send onto the client,” she says, “which was ideal training for my future as an editor.”

“Chrissy’s unique style is reflected in the way she creates, allowing the viewer to feel pure emotional reactions while watching her pieces,” says BlueRock executive producer/managing director Courtney Ryan Law. “She is able to seamlessly blend genres, knowing just how to achieve the perfect shot at the perfect moment. That’s the beauty of her editing, and what makes her such a valuable addition to our roster.”

Cutters Chicago ups Billy Montross to editor

Billy Montross has been promoted to editor at Cutters Studio in Chicago. He joined the post house back in 2012 as an intern after working as a P.A. for director John Komnenich. By early 2013, Montross earned the role of assistant editor, supporting many of the Cutter Studio editors and key clients, but primarily working with managing editor Grant Güstafson. He edits on Avid Media Composer.

Montross has worked with agencies such as DDB, Leo Burnett, Mcgarrybowen, Ogilvy and We Are Unlimited, among many others. His reel features work for Capital One, Esurance, Fairfield Inn and Suites, McDonald’s, Oscar Mayer, Scotts, Spalding and Western Union.

Montross edited Scott’s :30 “Bill’s Yard” from DDB Chicago. It was directed by Christian Bevilacqua. The DP was Tim Hudson. Color was via Luke Morrison at The Mill.

“Billy is a rare talent,” says Güstafson. “He is an incredibly creative and instinctive editor with a very engaging and positive personality. This combination allows him to provide his clientele with beautifully nuanced edits while making the long hours working in the room extremely enjoyable and relaxed.”

In 2015 and 2016, Montross had the opportunity to work at Cutters Tokyo. There, he helped cut projects for Jeep, McDonald’s, Nissan and Suburu, all of which he says, “definitely made me into a more rounded editor.” He also acknowledges managing director/partner Craig Duncan. “He has always been tough in pushing me to work harder and grow.”

Montross continues to be busy with work at Cutters. “I’m already having a lot of opportunities that are building on the groundwork done over the past several years. Right now I’m finishing up a fun 30-second spot for Western Union with Mcgarrybowen Chicago. And then coming right up I start a Modelo project with Ogilvy and that’s being directed by Matt Bieler of Reset.”

Editor Sidney Wolinsky and Guillermo del Toro team on The Shape of Water

By Randi Altman

People love movies for their ability to transport us to another world, or another version of our world, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water does. And speaking of love, the film has been getting some now that awards season is upon us. The Shape of Water was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won two: Best Director — Motion Picture for del Toro and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. It also got plenty of Academy Awards love as it was nominated for 13 awards, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.

This film takes place during the Cold War, at a government run lab in Baltimore and focuses on a cleaning lady who follows her heart and does the right thing.

We recently checked in with the film’s editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE. An industry veteran, he has cut such acclaimed TV shows as The Sopranos, House of Cards and Ray Donovan, among many others.

Wolinsky was recently recognized by his peers, earning an ACE Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors for his work on Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water. Let’s find out more about the film, this editor’s second collaboration with del Toro and his process.

You have worked with Guillermo del Toro before?
Yes. About three years ago, I cut the pilot for a series called The Strain, which Guillermo created. He also directed the pilot.

How did you get involved in the film, and when did he bring you on?
The film’s producer reached out to my agent before it was greenlighted. I’m based in LA, but the film was shooting and cutting up in Toronto, so my wife and I found a place to stay and went up there about a week before they started shooting. I started cutting the second day of production when I got my first day of dailies.

Well you were near set, but were you ever onset?
Not really. The sets and the cutting room were at Cinespace Studios in Toronto, but Guillermo knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need an editor there to talk to. Occasionally, I might have walked over to the set because I had a question to ask Guillermo or something to tell him, but primarily I was in the cutting room.

What kind of direction were you given in terms of the edit?
From day one, I had Guillermo in the room with me working on the material, and that continued throughout the production. He would come in before call, and on his lunch hour, and we’d work together. When they were shooting at local locations, my assistant and I would go out to the set on his lunch hour to show him cut footage on a MacBook and get notes. Guillermo and I worked together continuously throughout the production.

How did that relationship work?
Once I started getting film, I’d show him my cut of the scene and I’d modify it based on his notes. When we had two scenes that were contiguous we’d work on transitions. As the show grew we would watch whatever could be watched continuously and make changes. I’d get an idea and we’d try it, or he’d say, “Try this other thing.” It was very collaborative. I really felt like he was my partner throughout the whole cutting process. It wasn’t like in most shows where you finish your cut, you show it to the director and then you start working with him.

Does Guillermo shoot a lot of footage?
He does not. He’s very specific about what he wants, and he moves the camera all the time. That works against the possibility of shooting a lot of footage because you have to plan your setups based on where the camera starts and where the camera ends, and plan in conjunction with where you’re going to pick up the coverage next. So, often it’s interlocking coverage. He rarely shot multiple cameras.

The film’s two main characters don’t speak in the traditional way. Was that a challenge for your process?
It did not affect my editing per se, because regardless of having no speech, Sally Hawkins’ character Elisa has sign language. You had to let the person say their line, so to speak, even if Elisa was doing it with her hands and not her lips. The creature had gestures and expressions too, so you play a scene for what the scene is about. It’s the same way if people are talking or yelling at each other. You’re still playing that scene, and that’s the challenge of editing generally — just making the scenes work.

I never felt that I was slowing things down because of the sign language. For example, if you think of that scene where Sally tries to persuade Giles (Richard Jenkins’ character) to help her free the creature, it’s a giant dialog scene in which Giles speaks for both of them by repeating what Elisa says in sign language back to her. Elisa only talks in sign language, but you never miss a word.

That was an intense scene.
It was. The editing challenge was to coordinate his saying the line with her signing it, and make sure they were more or less in sync.

Is there a scene that is your favorite or most challenging?
The scene I just described with Sally and Richard is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those two actors are so good. That scene is so moving, and they both give such a good performance. They really nailed it.

The most challenging sequence is the heist, because it involves all of the characters. They start off in different locations and come toward each other leading up to the clash at the end. That’s really the most challenging part of the movie, in terms of pacing and making sure everything’s working and the people following it … it’s not too slow, and stuff like that.

You used Media Composer for the editing. What is it about that system that you like?
I’ve cut on Avid for years, so I know it really, really well. It has so many ways of doing the same thing that can be used for different situations. It’s an amazing tool.

The heist.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
It depends on the show and who it is. On this one I had a first assistant, Cam McLaughlin, and a second assistant, Mary Juric. I had worked with both of them on The Strain pilot, and was glad to work with them again. Mary was on the show through a couple of weeks beyond the end of shooting. Her primary job was setting up the dailies in ScriptSync, which is a fabulous tool within Media Composer. She also did a lot of the complicated temp effects. She also created most of the Russian and ASL subtitles.

My first assistant, Cam, primarily put together the dailies … although Mary helped with that as well. He also did the temp effects and chose and cut most of the temp music. My assistant editor is always an ally, somebody I show cuts to, ask for feedback from and bounce my ideas off. Cam’s a wonderful colleague in the cutting room. He’s very smart and talented. I believe he is cutting a feature right now.

Let’s change gears. You’ve cut a lot of television, a lot of really good television. Do you wear a different hat when you’re cutting one over the other?
The nice thing about features is the shooting schedules are longer. And what you’re doing is a unique piece; it’s one of a kind. You show it to audiences, you get feedback and you work on it. Usually, you work closely with the director until the project is completed.

In some ways this is very much like a television pilot — it’s never been done before and a lot is riding on its success. Depending on the project, the director of the pilot will follow it through to the end. This was true for The Strain, where I believe Guillermo had final cut. In series, you usually work with the director through the end of his cut, and then you begin working with the show runner and the studio, and finally the network to complete the project.

I always hope to be working with someone who has a clear vision of what the project should be and the stature to make the final decision. On features it is usually the director, in television if is the showrunner. However, as an editor I always must retain my own vision of the best way to edit scenes, solve story problems and be prepared to work with anyone who is shepherding the show to its completion.

The edit suite.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer features because of the time that’s taken and the close relationship you have with the director. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in television, and the most important thing to me is to be able to use my skills to help realize the projects I’m working on.

What’s next for you?
I just got back from a trip to Italy to visit my son and his family, who live there, so really just taking some time off. I’m hoping that this film will help me another film. In this industry, it’s easy to get buttonholed as a television editor, so hoping another film opportunity comes my way soon.

Based on the attention this film has been getting, and your recent ACE Eddie nom, I think you’ll have that opportunity. One last thing before I let you go. Do you have any advice for an editor just starting out?
Most editors who are starting out have already been assistants and are trying to make the transition to editing. You have to be careful to make sure people perceive you as an editor and not as an assistant, and that could be tough because it could mean turning assistant jobs down. Obviously, if you need the money you may not be able to, but the most important thing is to grab any cutting opportunity that comes along. Don’t be picky. If you want to become an editor you have to be cutting. Also you never know where something will lead, and you want the people you meet along the way to see you as an editor — and hopefully, the editor of their next production.

Main Image: (L-R) Golden Globe-winner Guillermo del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinksy.

A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but for Lady Bird, another editor was actually on during dailies, for various reasons. I came on after dailies, which is unusual, but it worked out. Plus, they were shooting in California and editorial was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. But what I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during the shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

ACE celebrates editing, names 68th annual Eddie nominees

Awards season has begun, as evidenced by the American Cinema Editors (ACE) naming their nominees for the 68th annual ACE Eddie Awards. The Eddies recognize outstanding editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries. Trophies will be handed out during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 26.

Here are the nominees for the 68th annual ACE Eddie Awards:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):
Blade Runner 2049
Joe Walker, ACE

The Shape of Water

Dunkirk
Lee Smith, ACE

Molly’s Game
Alan Baumgarten, ACE, Josh Schaeffer & Elliot Graham, ACE

The Post
Michael Kahn, ACE & Sarah Broshar

The Shape of Water
Sidney Wolinsky, ACE

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):
Baby Driver
Jonathan Amos, ACE & Paul Machliss, ACE

Get Out 
Gregory Plotkin

I, Tonya
Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

Lady Bird
Nick Houy

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jon Gregory, ACE

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Coco
Steve Bloom

Despicable Me 3
Clair Dodgson

The Lego Batman Movie
David Burrows, ACE, Matt Villa & John Venzon, ACE

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):
Cries From Syria
Aaron I. Butler

Jane
Joe Beshenkovsky, ACE, Will Znidaric, Brett Morgen

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Ann Collins

LA 92
TJ Martin, Scott Stevenson, Dan Lindsay

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (SMALL SCREEN):
The Defiant Ones – Part 1
Lasse Järvi, Doug Pray

Five Came Back: The Price of Victory
Will Znidaric

The Nineties – Can We All Get Along?
Inbal Lessner, ACE

Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge – 01
Ben Sozanski, ACE, Geeta Gandbhir; Andy Grieve, ACE

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Black-ish: “Lemons”
John Peter Bernardo, Jamie Pedroza

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge”
Kabir Akhtar, ACE & Kyla Plewes

Portlandia: “Amore”
Heather Capps, Ali Greer, Jordan Kim

Will & Grace: “Grandpa Jack”
Peter Beyt

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Fatwa!”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Curb Your Enthusiasm: “The Shucker”
Jonathan Corn, ACE

Glow: “Pilot”
William Turro, ACE

Veep: “Chicklet”
Roger Nygard, ACE & Gennady Fridman

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Better Call Saul: “Chicanery”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Witness”
Kelley Dixon, ACE & Skip Macdonald, ACE

Fargo: “Aporia”
Henk Van Eeghen, ACE

Fargo: “Who Rules the Land of Denial”
Andrew Seklir, ACE

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Big Little Lies: “You Get What You Need”
David Berman

Stranger Things

Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall”
Tim Porter, ACE

The Handmaid’s Tale: “Offred”
Julian Clarke, ACE & Wendy Hallam Martin

Stranger Things: “The Gate”
Kevin D. Ross, ACE

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:
Feud: “Pilot”
Adam Penn, ACE & Ken Ramos

Genius: Einstein “Chapter One”
James D. Wilcox

The Wizard of Lies
Ron Patane

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Deadliest Catch: “Lost at Sea”
Rob Butler, ACE & Ben Bulatao, ACE
 
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath: “The Perfect Scientology Family”
Reggie Spangler, Ben Simoff, Kevin Hibbard & Vince Oresman

Vice News Tonight: “Charlottesville: Race & Terror”
Tim Clancy, Cameron Dennis, John Chimples & Denny Thomas

Final ballots will be mailed on January 5, and voting ends on January 18. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary film category take place, occurs on January 14. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 950+ ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Jay Nelson on editing Bryan Buckley’s The Pirates of Somalia

While Cut+Run editor Jay Nelson’s list of credits includes many high-profile commercial spots — such as the Emmy-nominated and AICP-winning The Chase for Grey Poupon, as well as those for Xbox, Skechers, Hyundai and Heinz — he is no stranger to feature film editing. In fact, he most recently collaborated once again with director Bryan Buckley on The Pirates of Somalia. Buckley, who has an Oscar nomination under his belt for the 2012 short Asad, has directed over 50 Super Bowl spots since 2002, many of which were edited by Nelson.

The Pirates of Somalia, starring Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Melanie Griffiths and Al Pacino, follows a young journalist who travels to Somalia to write a book on the country’s pirates. Nelson used an Avid Media Composer to cut the film. Let’s find out more.

Jay Nelson

What were the biggest creative challenges in editing the film?
I’ve had a lot of experience editing with subtitles and foreign languages. Personally, I find it to be unpleasant because you can’t just freeform flow the edit and the dialogue; you have to be cognizant of the translations and the tone. On this film, Bryan wanted to approach these scenes in an original way and not make the viewer have to work through subtitles. The challenge was to integrate Barkhad’s on-camera translation into the dialogue without being clunky, to keep the dialogue flowing from Somali to English.

It’s essentially a dialogue between two people, but with a third person adding their own character into it. Two of the scenes took close to half the time I edited the film in order to get them just right. The scenes went from an initial 12 minutes apiece to about three or four minutes, and I think they work incredibly well. I learned a lot, and I think the approach contributes to the uniqueness of the movie.

Any technical hurdles, expected or otherwise?
Honestly, the hurdles in this film were pretty standard stuff, which is refreshing. The language and the clarity of dialogue throughout is something I spent a considerable amount of time dialing into shape. We didn’t have to “fix” anything. Bryan and his crew just laid it all out beautifully.

As someone who is known for largely comedic narratives, what did you learn on this feature about dramatic content?
I don’t draw too much distinction between editing comedy and editing drama. I just take it one minute at a time when making a feature. But Bryan is a very funny person, and naturally it’s easy for him to infuse humor into things, and it’s natural for me to want to accentuate that because he and I both like to laugh as much as we like making other people laugh. The challenge with this and all things I get to create with him is making sure the humor is deftly placed and balanced with the drama. We spent a lot of time determining the right balance. It is a film with a message, and it’s often gripping to watch. So we paid attention to our beats and reminded ourselves never to cloud the purpose.

How long have you been working with Bryan, and what are some of your favorite collaborations?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Bryan for five years now. The first project was an incredible spot for Grey Poupon called The Chase. I think I grasped his vision and we agreed on everything. In fact, rarely do we not see eye to eye. He makes my job easy. I can’t honestly pick a favorite collaboration. We’ve done all manner of media together (including the 2015 feature The Bronze). When I do get to work with him, it’s always purely about the love of doing what I do with someone who is a master at what they do. It’s about the friendship and the laughs for me. I’m lucky to get that on anything I do with him.

How has your process together evolved?
He’s a great communicator and is always available when it’s about the job. I wake up to his emails and get cracking. All great collaborations are about synergy and removing the guesswork. I can relate it to sports or music — the more you practice with someone, the easier it is to know what they’re thinking and what they intend. That’s the evolution, and it’s always been free of the BS and insincerity. I genuinely love the way he sees things. He’s taught me a lot about improving at my profession, and I’ve learned a lot about life from him as well.

Any advice for short-form editors looking to expand into features?
Take it one minute at a time, and don’t be overwhelmed. Any other advice than that might come across as jaded. Features stand the test of time when they’re good, and they actually mark periods of your life as all great works of art should when you suffer for them. There’s a lot of reward in that legacy. But not every editor is cut out for features. It’s a different discipline, the politics are different, and so is the discipline of objectivity. Choose your projects wisely. There’s nothing worse than being two weeks in on a feature and realizing that maybe it’s not your cup of tea, or you don’t connect with the execution. We sacrifice a lot when we vanish to make a film, so make sure it’s worth it and it’s really what you want to be doing.

From having projects at film festivals to editing ads for the Super Bowl, you’ve had an exciting career trajectory. What’s next?
When I started my pursuit of an editing career I vowed to approach it like I was training to be a surgeon. I wanted to understand all the jobs of the people I’d work with — producers, VFX artists, assistants, reps, directors. In some form or another I’ve embodied all of those roles along the way. Part of that vow was to embrace the notion that one is forever a student of the craft.

As I continue that pursuit this coming year I’ll be taking improv and acting classes because I’ve just never done it. I don’t have designs of being on-screen, but I know it will only round out my understanding of editing performance. Beyond that, my fundamental goal as an editor is to expand my knowledge of the language of film — I’m constantly searching to discover that treatment to add a technique to the dictionary of editing — to approach something in a whole new way. There’s an expanding universe of techniques out there, and I’ll keep doing this as long as I feel challenged and retain that desire to search. Inspiration from collaborating with the likes of Bryan Buckley will also keep the sails full. Long may it last.