NAME: Alvaro del Val
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Uppercut is an editing boutique based in Manhattan. It was founded three years ago by editor Micah Scarpelli and now has five editors who have been carefully selected to create a collaborative atmosphere.
We share a love for creating emotionally driven stories and challenging each other to get the most out of our creativity. It’s important to us that our clients, as well as staff, experience the camaraderie and familial vibe at our office. We want them to feel at home here.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Editing is storytelling. Generally, we jump into a project once the shoot is finished. We get the dailies and start thinking about how to get the best out of the footage, and what’s the best way is to tell the story. It’s a very creative process with endless possibilities, and it’s non-stop decision making. You have to decide which elements create a memorable piece, not only visually, but also in the way the story unfolds.
It is often said that a film is written three times: When it is written, when it is shot and when it is edited. Editing can completely change the direction of a film, commercial or music video. It establishes the way we understand a plot, it sets the rhythm and, most importantly, it delivers the emotions felt by the audience — this is what they ultimately remember. A year after watching a film, you may forget details of plot, or the name of the director, but you’ll remember how it made you feel.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Many people think that editing is just putting images together, that we follow a storyboard that has been done previously, but it is much more nuanced than that. The script is a starting point, a reference, but from there, the possibilities are endless. You can give the same footage to a hundred editors and they will give you a hundred different stories.
People are also surprised by the amount of footage you have for a 30-second commercial, which can easily be five or six hours. Once, I was given fifteen hours of footage for a sixty second commercial.
As Walter Murch said, “Every frame you see in front of you is auditioning to make it into the final piece.” You are making millions of decisions every day, selecting only the best few frames to tell the story the way you want.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
In some ways, editing is like a sculptor carving a block of marble and discovering the figure that has been contained inside, working little by little, knowing where they are going, but at same time, letting the story unfold before them. That creative process is my favorite part. It is so exciting in the moment when you are alone in the room and everything starts to make sense; you can feel it all coming together. It’s a really special and beautiful moment.
I also love that every project is a new experience. It’s amazing to work at something you love that brings you a new challenge every day. What you can offer creatively changes along with your evolution as a person. It’s a field that demands that you learn and evolve constantly.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite part is that it can be hard to balance your personal life with your professional life. As an editor, you often need to work long nights and weekends or change plans unexpectedly, which affects the people in your life. But it’s part of the job, and I have to accept it to be able to do what I do.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
It depends on where I am in the project. If I’m starting to build a story, the evening is definitely my most creative and focused time. There are less distractions in terms of phone calls and emails, and I’ve always been a night person. But I love mornings in order to judge something I’ve done the night before. Coming to the edit room with fresh eyes gives me more objective vision.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would definitely work as a photographer. I got my first camera when I was seven years old and haven’t stopped taking pictures since. I used to work as a photographer in Madrid, years ago. I loved it, but I didn’t have time to do both, and I loved editing too much to let it go.
Editing is what brought me to the most creative city in the world, so I’m really thankful for that. Walking around the city with my camera is definitely one of my favorite things to do.
HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with visuals, photography and films. I had a natural connection with that way of communicating. My camera was a way to express myself… my diary. In college, I started studying cinema, working on TV and making my own films, which is when I discovered the magic of editing and knew that it was my place. I felt that editing was the most special, creative part of the process and felt so lucky to be the one doing it. I couldn’t believe that not everyone wanted to be the editor.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
One of my more recent projects is a short documentary film called Kicking Yoda, which is doing the festival circuit and received a Los Angeles Film Award for Best Documentary. It’s the story of Doug Blevins who, after being born with cerebral palsy, became an NFL kicking coach nominated to the Hall of Fame. I love stories of overcoming obstacles because they are relatable to everyone in one way or another.
I recently worked on a Fitbit campaign called Find Your Reason, which was comprised of true stories about people finding their path in life through athletics. It has been nominated for best editing in the 2018 AICE Awards, which are coming up this month.
YOU HAVE WORKED ON ALL SORTS OF PROJECTS. DO YOU PUT ON A DIFFERENT HAT WHEN CUTTING FOR A SPECIFIC GENRE?
Absolutely. To begin with, it’s completely different to edit a 30-second commercial than a short film or a music video. What drives the story changes; the rhythm and the structure differ so much.
In long pieces, you have more time to create a different, more profound kind of interest. I think advertising is moving more toward longer format pieces because they create a stronger connection with the audience. Television commercials are becoming the teaser, allowing you to discover the whole story online later.
The visual language also has to adapt to the genre. The audience needs to understand what kind of story you are telling, or you’ll lose them. You always need to have the audience in mind, understanding to whom your piece is addressed and on which platform it will be released. Your attention span differs depending on whether you are eating dinner in front of the TV, sitting at your computer or watching in a theater. You need to adapt with those circumstances in mind.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The project I’m most proud of is Volvo S90, Song of the Open Road. It’s a beautiful campaign that was awarded Best Editing in Automotive in the 2017 AICE Awards (Association of Independent Commercial Editors). It was very special for me, not only because I was able to be part of a team with world-class artists, like composer Dan Romer, DP Jeff Cronenweth and actor Josh Brolin, but also because of the freedom I had in the creative process. I think that collaboration, as well as the nonlinear storytelling I was able to use, is why the campaign has the poetry and emotion I always pursue in my edits. Additionally, the story inspires you to live freely and pursue your chosen path. I feel it’s a story that makes you think and stays with you after watching it.
WHAT DO YOU USE TO EDIT?
It depends on the needs of the project, but typically I use Avid Media Composer. I sometimes use Premiere, but I really prefer editing in Avid. I find it’s faster, deals better with large amounts of footage and is generally a much more stable software. It’s true that if you want to end your project in the edit suite, Premiere does a much better job in terms of using effects and exporting. But in a workflow with external color grading and conforming later (in a Flame for example), I would definitely go with Avid.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLUGIN?
It’s not strictly a plugin, but the Motion Effect Editor is fantastic in Avid. The freedom and control you have over the speed curves when creating time warps is really outstanding. The tool is really visual, which helps me in terms of creating nice speed changes. For me, it’s an important tool, as I love editing sports commercials. For action scenes with a lot of movement, it’s a key resource to have.
ARE YOU OFTEN ASKED TO DO MORE THAN EDIT?
Nowadays, mostly in the American market, the editor has become kind of the director in post. We are involved in the sound design, the mix, the color grading, the conform and the final deliverables; we have to be in control of the whole process. This happens because the director is normally not around, which doesn’t happen in Europe. But here, the market asks for quick turnarounds and editors work hand in hand with agencies to get things done in the right amount of time for the client.
Due to this model, I increasingly prefer to be involved in preproduction when the idea is conceived. That way, I have a better understanding of the project and I can get the director’s insight so I am able to maintain the essence of his vision later on. It is also a good opportunity to share ideas that will help later in the editing and post process.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Of course, we all feel nowadays that we cannot live without our phone and our computer. All our music, films, photos and social world are contained there. It is amazing to think that we used to live without all that in the ‘90s, but technology has changed the game.
Besides those, my cameras are my main pieces of technology. I love my versatile Fuji X-T10 that I bring everywhere, but also my Canon 5D, which I use for portraits and trips.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
We all need to disconnect from time to time, and sports are my first escape from stress. I do rock climbing and cycling and I love to ride my bicycle to my beloved Prospect Park. And as a good Spaniard, soccer and tennis are my main sports. I’m a big Rafa Nadal fan.
Besides sports, I love taking advantage of all this city has to offer culturally. I love going to the Bowery Ballroom or Brooklyn Steel for live music, checking out what’s going on at The New Museum or The Whitney and enjoying the opera at The Met every time I have the chance. BAM is also one of my go-tos, as their program is outstanding all year long, from cinema to dance and theater.