By Brady Betzel
Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen lots of good and bad while working in production and post — from people being overly technical (only looking at the scopes and not the creative) to being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. I’ve worked on daytime and nighttime talk shows, comedies, reality television, Christmas parades, documentaries and more. All have shaped my editing skills as well as my view on the work-life balance.
Here are some tips I try to keep in mind that have helped me get past problems I’ve encountered in and out of the edit bay:
No One Cares
This one is something I constantly have to remind myself. It’s not necessarily true all the time, but it’s a good way to keep my own ego in check, especially on social media. When editing and coloring, I constantly ask myself, “Does anyone care about what I’m doing? If not, why not?” And if the answer is that they don’t, then something needs to change. I also ask myself, “Does anything about my comment or edit further the conversation or the story, or am I taking away from the story to draw attention to myself?” In other words, am I making an edit just to make an edit?
It’s an especially good thing to think about when you get trolled on Twitter by negative know-it-alls telling you why you’re wrong about working in certain NLEs. Really, who cares? After I write my response and edit it a bunch of times, I tell myself, “No one cares.” This philosophy not only saves me from feeling bad about not answering questions that no one really cares about, but it also helps improve my editing, VFX and color correction work.
Don’t be Difficult!
As someone who has worked everywhere and in all sorts of positions — from a computer tech at Best Buy (before Geek Squad), a barista at Starbucks, a post PA for the Academy Awards, and assistant editor, editor, offline editor, online editor — I’ve seen the power of being amenable.
I am also innately a very organized person, both at work and at home, digitally and in real life — sometimes to my wife’s dismay. I also constantly repeat this mantra to my kids: “If you’re not early, you’re late.”
But sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s OK to be late, and it’s OK not to do things the technically “correct” way. The same applies to work. Someone might have a different way of doing something that’s slower than the way I’d do it, but that doesn’t mean that person is wrong. Avoiding confrontation is the best way to go. Sure, go ahead and transcode inside of Adobe Premiere Pro instead of batch transcoding in Media Encoder. If the outcome is the same and it helps avoid a fight, just let it slide. You might also learn something new by taking a back seat.
Sometimes Being Technically Perfect Isn’t Perfect
I often feel like I have a few obsessive traits: leaving on time, having a tidy desktop and doing things (I feel) correctly. One of the biggest examples is when color correcting. It is true that scopes don’t lie; they give you the honest truth. But when I hear about colorists bragging that they turn off the monitors and color using only Tektronix Double Diamond displays, waveforms and vectorscopes — my skeptical hippo eyes come out. (Google it; it’s a thing).
While scopes might get you to a technically acceptable spot in color correction, you need to have an objective view from a properly calibrated monitor. Sometimes an image with perfectly white whites and perfectly black blacks is not the most visually pleasing image. I constantly need to remind myself to take a step back and really blend the technical with the creative. That is, I sit back and imagine myself as the wide-eyed 16-year-old in the movie theater being blown away and intrigued by American Beauty.
You shouldn’t do things just because you think that is how they should be done. Take a step back and ask yourself if you, your wife, brother, uncle, mom, dad, or whoever else might like it.
Obviously, being technically correct is vital when creating things like deliverables, and that is where there might be less objectivity, but I think you understand my point. Remember to add a little objectivity into your life.
Live for Yourself, Practice and Repeat
While I constantly tell people to watch tutorials on YouTube and places like MZed.com, you also need to physically practice your craft. This idea becomes obvious when working in technically creative positions like editing.
I love watching tutorials on lighting and photography since so much can be translated over to editing and color correcting. Understanding relationships between light and motion can help guide scenes. But if all you do is watch someone tell you how light works, you might not really be absorbing the information. Putting into practice the concepts you learn is a basic but vital skill that is easy to forget. Don’t just watch other people live life, live it for yourself.
For example, a lot of people don’t understand trimming and re-linking in Media Composer. They hear about it but don’t really use these skills to their fullest unless they actively work them out. Same goes for people wanting to use a Wacom tablet instead of a mouse. It took me two weeks of putting my mouse in the closet to even get started on the Wacom tablet, but in the end, it is one of those things I can’t live without. But I had to make the choice to try it for myself and practice, practice, practice to know it.
If you dabble and watch videos on a Wacom tablet, using it once might turn you off. Using trimming once might not convince you it is great. Using roles in FCPX once might not convince you that it is necessary. Putting those skills into practice is how you will live editing life for yourself and discover what is important to you … instead of relying on other people to tell you what’s important.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
This bit of advice came to me from a senior editor on my first real professional editing job after being an assistant editor. I had submitted a rough cut and — in a very kind manner — the editor told me that it wasn’t close to ready for a rough cut title. Then we went through how I could get there. In the end, I essentially needed to spend a lot more time polishing the audio, checking for lip flap, polishing transitions and much more. Not just any time, but focused time.
Check your edit from a 30,000-foot view for things like story and continuity, but also those 10-foot view things like audio pops and interviews that sound like they are all from one take. Do all your music cues sting on the right beat? Is all your music panned for stereo and your dialogue all center-panned to cut up the middle?
These are things that take time to learn, but once you get it in your head, it will be impossible to forget … if you really want to be a good editor. Some might read this and say, “If you don’t know these workflows, you shouldn’t be an editor.” Not true! Everyone starts somewhere, but regardless of what career stage you’re in, always put your best foot forward.
Trust Your Instincts
I have always had confidence in my instincts, and I have my parents to thank for that. But I have noticed that a lot of up-and-coming production and post workers don’t want to make decisions. They also are very unsure if they should trust their first instinct. In my experience, your first instinct is usually your best instinct. Especially when editing.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but generally I rely heavily on my instincts even when others might not agree. Take this with a grain of salt, but also throw that salt away and dive head first!
This notion really came to a head for me when I was designing show titles in After Effects. The producers really encouraged going above and beyond when making opening titles of a show I worked on. I decided to go into After Effects instead of staying inside of the NLE. I used crazy compositing options that I didn’t often use, tried different light leaks, inverted mattes … everything. Once I started to like something, I would jump in head first and go all the way. Usually that worked out, but even if it didn’t, everyone could see the quality of work I was putting out, and that was mainly because I trusted my instincts.
Delete and Start Over
When you are done trusting your instincts and your project just isn’t hitting home — maybe the story doesn’t quite connect, the HUD you are designing just doesn’t quite punch or the music you chose for a scene is very distracting — throw it all away and start over. One of the biggest skills I have acquired in my career thus far seems to be the ability to throw a project away and start over.
Typically, scenes can go on and on with notes, but if you’re getting nowhere, it might be time to start over if you can. Not only will you have a fresh perspective, but you will have a more intimate knowledge of the content than you had the first time you started your edit — which might lead to an alternate pathway into your story.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.