KL:What are the responsibilities of a film or video editor?
SR: We cut out all the bad parts. Ha ha. (Sorry, couldn't resist). Actually, it is our responsibility to assemble the film, look at all the footage, and take out the good stuff. Find the story, help shape it into what the director envisioned. To ensure that the story flows, that it has a cohesiveness that keeps the audience drawn in. You never want to lose the audience. One bad cut, one bad story point, and you've distracted the viewer. That is the narrative form. In documentary (in it's purest form), you try to find out what the story is, amongst all the footage obtained. Many times the story the director wanted to tell is not what they got while shooting, but actually something else. And that something else can be even more interesting. It is said that the editor performs the last re-write of the script. That is true. We eliminate scenes that don't fit, or don't add to the story (with the director's approval, of course).
KL: How did you get your current job?
SR:I took a leap. My current job is my second as a creative editor. I have "on-line" edited a dozen plus projects. That is, I took the low-resolution offline cut and digitized it at broadcast quality resolution, performing color correction and formatting the show for delivery. All very technical stuff. I even wrote an article on the subject, Using the Media Composer for Online Editing.
Before that I was an assistant editor. I was working on the Disney Channel series That's So Raven. I had gotten five calls from people looking for editors. I was recommended by people who felt I was ready to move up. I had to turn them all down for my wife was due to give birth to our 3rd child any day, and I needed the time off that my current union (Motion Picture and Editors Guild) job afforded me.
After our child was born I called all the companies back and got nothing.Then one called me on the recommendation of a friend. They were doing a series for VH1 on movies. People reflecting on movies in various genres, much in the vein of I Love the 70's. It was for more pay, it was editing, and I didn't want to be an assistant forever. I could stay in my current job, with another 4 months of work guaranteed (and as mentioned before, a Union job) or take this job editing with 2 weeks guaranteed, and possibly 4 more weeks after that. I felt that if I waited until my current project ended, the editing opportunities wouldn't be there. So I leapt. Then I edited for a week and was let go. The series was put on hold. Oh man. After 2 days of frantic calling, I called a fellow editor who I assisted for and onlined for in the past. I called at just the right time. He was producing a show for the SCI/FI Channel and the need for a new editor had been brought up just that morning. I was hired and asked to work that night. That show is called Man V. Machine and is due to air in mid November. I am one of six editors.
KL: What are some of the professional programs or projects you've worked on?
SR: As a editor, Man-V-Machine, Driven (VH1), Unsolved Mysteries (Online editor, for the Lifetime Network). As an assistant editor, a dozen History Channel shows for a series called History's Mysteries (which I also on-lined).Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Even Stevens (Disney Channel), The Even Stevens Movie. As a tape librarian, When Animals Attack and America's Funniest Home Videos (Daisy Fuentes and John Fugelsang as co-hosts). I also edited two "Behind-the-Scenes" videos for DVD versions of movies, edited a pitch video for HBO, and did motion graphics and video editing on David Mamets latest feature Spartan 2004. I apprenticed on Oliver Stone's U-Turn (1996), which got me into the union, and started on my editing path
KL: What classes at Montana State University, if any, were especially helpful for what you do?
SR: Editing, obviously. Writing, believe it or not. That educated me on plot points, act transitions, and more importantly the telling of a story. And documentary film. Our school just got one of the first Avid editing machines out there (v5) and I was the first person to use it to edit a documentary, which also happened to be my senior thesis. But I will have to say that writing had the most impact. The telling of the story is the most important detail.
KL: What's the most important thing you've learned about being an editor?
SR: Let go. Let go of your cut. In other words, don't take any changes personally. Here is this nice scene that you just worked all day on. You poured your heart into it trying to make it hit in all the right places. Then the director or producer come along and don't like it. They want to shorten it, or change the pacing. Or lose a line that you feel make the scene. Let it go, it is their film. By all means, express your concerns and feelings, but if they insist, give in. Cave. It is ultimately their project. I still tend to get attached to cuts. It's tough.
KL: Describe some of your work experiences. What do you do on a typical work day?
SR: Depends on the status of the cut. Early on we get a script and perform what are called "radio edits" or first assemblies. This involves recording all the temp voice over (narration) and assembling it along with the interview clips in order. Then we go thru and organize it in the way in which tells the story. Cut stuff that doesn't work, move sections to other parts of the cut to make the story flow better. Then we add the b-roll. That is, all the footage that visually matches what is being said. Later on we add and mix audio and do "style passes." That is to say, adding graphics and funky effects to make the cut flashy and stand out. But only after we get the narrative story nailed down. Then we get notes and re-writes. Then the professional does the VO (Voice over) and we have to replace out temp with it, and adjust the cut to fit.
KL: How does the apprenticeship and union card process work in terms of becoming a full-fledged editor?
SR: It gets your foot in the door, but just barely. It gets you in the union, which affords you the ability to work on Motion Picture and Editors Guild union shows. That gets you health insurance (very good coverage) and a free movie every other week. And access to several editing stations so that you can practice and keep up with the current technology. That is about it. They don't assist you in getting work other than putting your name on a list of people available for work, which companies might refer to if they are desperate. The only calls I got from that list were people looking for audio assistants, which I was not. They don't introduce you to editors or any of the people who can actually get you work. When I first became a member I asked them how I could find work. Their suggestion was that I sneak onto movie lots and try to get into production edit bays. That might have worked in the 50's, but if you do that now, you get arrested. Being a member of the union means that you have a minimum wage scale and get health insurance. To me, that is the only good that they do.
KL: What's the most fun editing job you've had?
SR: Editing video footage and doing motion graphics for David Mamet's new feature Spartan. Not only because of the chance to work with David Mamet, but also because it was a very challenging project and required some innovative, on the spot problem solving.
My main job was the creation of graphics for video footage that is to be a news broadcast. The task of creating the graphics was simple. It consisted of the stuff you normally see when watching CNN, or MSNBC or FOXNEWS -- a ticker of news information at the bottom, a graphic bug identifying the station, and an area that had various Chyron, including the news story of the moment. Pretty straightforward. But I was also given the task of editing the b-roll footage that was to play behind the anchors, or as footage that they cut to in the newsroom. Then after they shoot the news program on two cameras I was to edit the footage. Four segments in all. I did all of this on my laptop...an iBook. I had an external firewire drive and used Final Cut Pro. All the footage I was given was DVCAM.
I met with a new producer and we cut the footage much like a news station would. Then I output this to tape for playback in the studio. But the producer I worked with knew Mamet's mind and suggested that I be on the set too, with my edit system, to make any on the spot changes. Good thing to, because, sure enough, the scene as playing too long so it was re-written on the spot (with typewriter that Mamet always has with him) and I had to adjust the b-roll accordingly.
We ended up just playing the footage out of my computer. Having a little portable edit system in the corner making changes and playing back hi-res on the monitor behind the actors impressed the producers. I then edited the news footage, incorporating the b-roll and gave it to the production on two tapes, texted (with graphics) and textless. They played back this footage on monitors on the set. One of these news programs is the final shot of the movie, which does great things for my ego. So does the fact that big time producers and directors were impressed with my ability to make the changes they wanted immediately. Producers hate to wait.That was my funnest experience editing. And I got to meet Val Kilmer (the star), and on a night after TNT just aired Top Secret, so I was able to chat to him about his role in that, specifically the underwater sequence. He said that one one of the toughest scenes he ever worked on.
KL: What advice would you offer to anyone trying to get a job as an editor?
SR: Be prepared to start at the bottom, and know that it will take a while to get where you want to be.
You might end up being a production assistant for a year, Then apprentice (for film) or be a "digitizer" for reality TV. Then you might take 3 to 4 years as an assistant editor before you get the big break. Before 1990 there were specific rules in place that you had to PA for 1-2 years (or work in a tape vault, like I did), then assist for 5 years before you can become an editor.
Things are much looser now. You can be hired as an editor right away, if you had the ability and know how. But generally it takes a while to get the technical expertise, the storytelling ability, and the knowledge of Hollywood politics down before you can make the move. I knew of too many people who quit after only ONE YEAR, thinking that things were going too slow and they would never get there. As the assistant, try to hang out with the editor as much as possible while they are cutting. See what their style is, see how they tell the story. That can teach you a lot when it is your turn.
My style incorporates styles from three editors that I liked. It also allows you to know what not to do; what doesn't work for you. Be very social with the editors you work for, or any superior for that matter, if they will let you. Having your name in their head when they are looking for people to hire is the biggest thing. It isn't who YOU KNOW that gets you the work, it is who KNOWS YOU. You can know countless editors or producers, but unless they know you and remember your ability and personality when they need people, you won't get the job. And being very personable and easy to get along with is more important to most people than raw ability. If you are the best assistant in town, but a complete prick, no one will want to work with you. Be likable and get to know people. 'Nuff said.
KL: Thanks a lot!
SR: You're welcome.