By Randi Altman
If your job involved editing a short film for Saturday Night Live each week, sometimes needing to turn the job around in less than 24 hours, how would you spend your summer vacation? On a beach? Sleeping?
Well, not if you are Adam Epstein. Last weekend, the SNL film unit editor started his 32-city Cutting Edge Post Production Tour. This Emmy-nominee will be zig-zagging the country, with a couple of stops in Canada, sharing tips, stories and examples of his work, until the third week of September when the new season of Saturday Night Live begins.
Why in the world? Well, he got the idea from co-worker Alex Buono, the DP on SNL’s film unit, who did a Cinematic Lighting tour last summer. “It went really well and he had a great time,” explains Epstein. Attendees loved it, so much so they asked for more info, in particular how the bits were edited and delivered to air. Buono mentioned it to Epstein and — voila! — the Cutting Edge Post Production Tour was born offering attendees three options: They can spend the entire day, from 9:00am-8:00pm; or take part in the Daytime Workshop, from 9:00am-4:00pm; or attend the Evening Seminar only, from 5:00pm-8:00pm.
Epstein, who wants it known that what he does editorially is a direct product of his work with Buono and SNL film unit producer/director Rhys Thomas, says tour’s focus is what it means to be an editor in today’s world, where now the title often means so much more.
“There are many different aspects to being an editor these days,” he explains. “When people say, ‘I’m looking for an editor,’ they obviously mean someone who can cut and understand story and rhythm. But some people are also looking for a compositor, a color corrector, a sound designer, someone who knows motion graphics and music, and someone who can be an armchair psychiatrist when necessary. It means so many different things nowadays, especially with tools that we have at our disposal.”
In Epstein’s experience on SNL, and with the film unit’s unique timeline and turnaround, he’s often called on to do a lot of the things mentioned above. The seminar, he says, is going to be a combination of what can be done with the tools, but more importantly knowing when and why these disciplines should be used.
“It’s not a short day,” explains Epstein. “It’s soup to nuts. It’s how do you start a project? You have a blank timeline. What’s the first thing you do? Then we start building off of that. We will also talk about sound and why it’s so important. How do you design sound beds for pieces by using the script in the context of what you’re working on? Let’s look at compositing… here are some ways to get a nice clean key while also being mindful of the background. So it’s a combination of the technical and how-to, but with the knowledge that any one of these subjects could be a day of its own. It’s meant to give attendees the opportunity to discover what they want to learn more about going forward.”
Epstein acknowledges that this isn’t for everyone. That there are some editors, film editors, for instance, who just focus on editing. “I’m going to be showing a wide range of things and why at SNL these things are important. I embrace all aspects because it’s necessary for the show, but this is taking nothing away from straight story editors.”
In fact, he feels there is value in knowing more about all of the disciplines, whether you expect to use them or not; just having that frame of reference is valuable. “Even if you know how to color correct and you understand why you are doing it, you’ll never be as good as someone who is a dyed in the wool, full-time colorist, and nor should you be,” he says. “But when working in full team-based collaborative environment, which is my favorite part of filmmaking, you need to understand why they are doing it.”
Tool of Choice
Epstein calls on Adobe’s Creative Cloud for his work, but recognizes there are many options out there for pros. “Whatever you like to do your job, god speed, they are all incredible products, and no one will know what it’s edited on in the final product.”
But for SNL’s film unit, Adobe Creative Cloud fits. They use a ton of different camera formats, says Epstein. “What we shoot on is based on what the piece is and the context of the piece, not the other way around. I also have to do a lot of After Effects work, so anything that cuts down on rendering or transcoding or exporting and reimporting, is hugely beneficial. This tool allows us to get more done within our short timeline, so we can be bolder about the amount of locations we shoot at, and the graphics and compositing work we do. It allows us to be bigger and take more chances.”
If you do decide to attend The Cutting Edge Post Production Tour, don’t expect to sit quietly in your seat. Epstein encourages interaction. He might be showing short cuts and tutorials and offering tips, but if someone has a better way of doing something, bring it on. “I will steal it,” he laughs. “I don’t fashion myself as some deep insane authority on any of this. I can only speak to what I do and what I’ve learned from what I do, and hopefully people can take away things that they can find beneficial and vice versa.”
Keep an eye out for David Jasse’s upcoming blog about his attendance at one of the seminars and what he learned.