+ March 14, 2017
A college student recently interviewed me for an assignment and I thought my answers might be interesting to others. They also give a window into my process and philosophies of documentary and editing.
What got you into Film Editing?
My first experience with film editing in its most crude form was playing around with my parents VHS camera when I was nine years old. I edited "in-camera" by stopping and starting recording to make this little "magical" sequences where my sister would throw a ball into the air and it would disappear. This was in the early 90s, so there were no consumer NLEs available. I literally dreamed of having a non-linear editing system. In high school, I got a mac powerbook and Final Cut Pro, and shot / edited short films with my friends and family. I liked shooting and directing, but felt the most freedom with my computer in my room editing. I attended USC for film production where I mostly focused on editing, writing, and lighting.
What editing programs did you start out with? Do you have a favorite program you use to edit now?
I started out with Final Cut Pro (v1), used an obscure program called "screenplay" in high school, and now my favorite program is AVID.
How would you describe your style of editing?
This is a loaded question for me because good editors, by their nature, are adaptive, almost chameleons in a way. We can change our style for the project, to whatever style serves the film in the best way. That being said, some producers and directors don't always realize this and think that an editor who has edited a bunch of horror movies can only edit things that are frightening, or that someone with 15+ feature documentary credits would have no idea how to edit a narrative film. As a result , editors can easily become pigeonholed into a genre or style.
All that being said, I would describe my "style" of editing as charged, bold, and emotion-first, explanation-later. I like to "lean-into" the edit, meaning making strong editorial choices that are driven by the emotional content of the scene and/or ideas the scene/film is exploring. In my documentary work, I especially enjoy re-contextualizing moments of pop culture to reveal their deeper truth within the story of the film. For example, in a scene I edited for "Cobain: Montage of Heck" the footage of the music video for Smells Like Teen Spirit is recut to a children's choir version of the song while we see the making of the video, ending with Kurt being consumed into the mosh pit made up by the throng of kids in the video. I wanted to play against the audience's expectation of the video footage being paired with the bombastic rock of the actual song to make the viewer contemplate the dark side of this moment for Kurt; how fascinating and prescient that at this pivotal turning point in his career, even in the video that he shot before the band blew up, he is seen quite literally being crushed by his fans, by his fame. The first time screening the dailies from the video the director and I noted the incredible prescience of this, but it wasn't until I paired the footage with that version of the song did I fully realize the direction of that scene.
Is Film Editing your only occupation?
Yes. For now at least. I've also considered getting into software development and teaching.
How frequent do you write?
Every day when I'm editing documentaries. Editing documentaries is writing. It's no different, in basic concept, than writing a research paper. Only instead of print sources, I'm using the footage I have. Whether its an espionage-thriller real-time verite documentary about doping in sports, or a 95% archival documentary about Pearl Jam, the process is basically the same. It's a deep assessment of the material to find the truth within it, then a structuring of that material into a form that an audience can recognize as a story. And the story structure should hopefully serve the revealing of that deeper truth. To answer the question more bluntly, I don't write (using words) all that often beyond emails and an occasional note to myself about some idea I have. The writing I do daily for my non-fiction editing leaves me pretty creatively drained. When I started editing, I think I wrote more, even working on some narrative screenplays now and then, but the more success I've had as an editor, the more that has taken up my time and the less creative energy I have left to dedicate to writing in other forms. I find my favorite way to write now is to use my notes app in my phone and dictate ideas.
What are some difficult things you've encountered as a film editor? Most enjoyable?
For me, the most difficult thing I've encountered as an editor is learning how to give everything needed to make a project great while also remembering / dealing with the hard truth that the project is not just "yours". As editors, we are the final writers on films, but ultimately we must serve the film's totality, and the director's vision for the film. Sometimes the two are in sync and sometimes they are not. The most enjoyable thing for me is watching people emotionally react to something I made, watching someone's perspective of a person or issue empathetically expand.
Impossible question. I'll list a few... "The Act of Killing," "Welfare," "Mulholland Drive," "The Dekalogue," "The Apartment," "Some Like it Hot," "Almost Famous," "The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover," "2001 A Space Odyssey," "The Shining," "Stroszek," "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans"
Words of Wisdom?
The key to being a great editor is striving for sensitive objectivity. Practice watching a cut as thought you know nothing. When screening cuts, don't watch your film (you've seen it way too many times by that point) watch the audience. Study their reactions. Practice the sensitivity necessary to feel the vibe in the room. Don't think about yourself, your ego, or making your editing look good. Always serve the film.
+ February 23, 2017
I collaborated with RocketJump Film School on a video essay about Embracing Accidents in filmmaking. Check it out below!
Here's another video with RocketJump Film School that I wrote and narrate.