Thursday, August 8, 2013

What's Expected of a Student Editor?

Continuing our "What's Expected" series, let's now take a look at what makes a good Student Editor for narrative film projects.

1. Know Throw Away the Script. Read the script thoroughly, make notes about it, and discuss the intent and mood of the story with the director. But then ultimately don't feel beholden to what's on the page. Be prepared to throw it away and start building the story fresh from what was shot. The script is the blueprint for the director's intent - but that intent may or may not have been captured on camera. Understanding the original story helps you to find it in the footage, but knowing that you have the freedom to deviate from the script allows you to craft the best possible version of the film.

2. Be Organized. Name your takes. Synch your dialogue. Set up multiple bins for sequences, sound effects, dialogue, music, discarded takes, etc. Do all of that up front. DON'T skip those organizational steps "because I just want to start editing." Yes, I get it. You want to be creative right away, and all that organization stuff is BORING. So train an assistant! (See #4, below.) And as you go, you're going to create sequences, titles, etc. - name those too! "Untitled Sequence" is not the movie's name.

4.  Do It All Yourself Train an Assistant. I know your inclination is going to be to do everything yourself. "No one knows how I like things organized." And then you're going to fall into the "I just want to start editing" trap (see #2, above), and you won't be organized anyway. So do yourself and the project a favor and find someone a few semesters behind you to train. Teach them how to organize, how to synch, and how to set up a project the way you like it. Then go re-read the script while they set it up for you.

5. Help Force Everyone Else to be Organized. After you (and/or your assistant) put in the time to organize everything, train your team to follow your organization model. Particularly the VFX folks. They are going to deal with a lot of files and can get confused easily with naming conventions. So get them on your same page early, and remind them often. And then be an absolute stickler for names. Don't let someone hand you a VFX shot called "That Shot with That One Guy" when it's properly called "V7.05." The VFX artist who misnamed it won't be happy about having to rename or re-render his frames... but he won't do it again.

6. Serve the Director the Film. Directors can be bullies. They can stamp their feet and say "But it's MYYYYYY vision!!!" Well, great. But what if the vision doesn't work? What if the movie the director intended isn't really there in the footage? Well then it's up to the editor to speak for the movie as well as for the phantom audience out there that will eventually see the finished film. You, Mr. or Ms. Editor, serve the MOVIE and the AUDIENCE. Not the director or the writer. If the movie isn't working, fix it.

7. Focus on the Characters. In general, plot will take care of itself provided you've been given enough coverage. It's the characters that need your love and attention. What are they thinking and feeling? And how do you get that across to the audience? Look for those moments that give us a peek inside the character's minds, and the film will be better for it. It's up to you to make the actors' performances shine. A slight shift of expression, a glance downward, a deep breath, a moment when the actor didn't know the camera was rolling - these are the editor's bread and butter in terms of crafting great screen performances. Seek those moments out and bring them to the foreground.

8. Make the Tough Choices. Plot points don't make sense? Clarify 'em or cut 'em. Dialogue is too expository, too on-the-nose, or just bad? Trim it. Extraneous characters? Eradicate 'em with extreme prejudice. Do the things the director can't (or won't) to make the movie better. Notice this blog post does not have a #3.

9. Take Care of Dialogue. You're probably going to have a sound editor or sound mixer who will at some point take over the audio tracks. But it's on you to make their jobs easier by finding and plugging in the best available take for every line of dialogue - both in terms of performance and in terms of audio quality. Avoiding ADR (a.k.a. "automatic dialogue replacement" or "looping") is your ultimate goal. You can't always get there, but you should make it so that the sound team has to do minimal ADR and can get on with the business of mixing and designing a compelling audio experience for the film.

10. Hand it Off - But be Ready to Take it Back. Once you've reached "picture lock" - in other words, the point at which there will be no more edits to the video track in terms of timing or shot order - it'll be time for you to hand the movie off to the sound and visual effects teams. They've got lots of work to do that probably won't include you for a while. But as VFX renders and sound mixes start being completed, it should fall back on you to insert them into your timeline. There will be a lot of back and forth during this period of postproduction, and when it's over the movie will be in your care again as you export final renders for distribution. Your work isn't done when you and the director call "picture lock" - it's done when the movie is shown to an audience for the first time!

1 comment:

  1. This needs to be in one of your famous video lectures