EditFest Los Angeles, 2015
ASE members Melanie Annan and Christine Cheung were in L.A. for Edit Fest 2015.
Once a year the ACE (American Cinema Editors) holds a day long series of panels on the art of editing. It’s an exciting opportunity to hear from some of the best editors in the business.
Panel 1: From Cutting Room to Red Carpet
The opening session was moderated by Alan Heim, ACE (Liza with a Z, Network, All That Jazz). Panelists were Elisa Bonora, ACE (Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me), Tom Cross, ACE (Whiplash), Catherine Haight, ACE (Transparent), Wyatt Smith, ACE (Into The Woods).
The discussion started on the topic of Apprenticeships. These used to be the best way to get your foot in the door and learn from an editor. With the advent of digital, Apprenticeships have all but disappeared and assistant editors are now in separate rooms to the editor. However there are still ways to mentor the next generation.
Bonora was an assistant at a time when they were right there with the editor – handing them trims, working together and almost sharing a brain. Bonora thinks it is the editor’s responsibility to take the time to mentor their assistants and give them a chance to cut. She often choses a junior editor to be her co-editor and has no problem sharing the credit to give someone new a chance.
For Cross there are never enough assistant editors. At the moment he is cutting the David O. Russell film, Joy, with four editors and only two assistants. Cross agrees that the best thing to do is make sure assistants get creative work to do. But obviously with tight deadlines that is sometimes hard when everyone is so busy.
Haight agrees about needing more assistant editors. At the moment on Transparent they have three editors and two assistant editors and they are swamped. Haight thinks there is always a way to figure it out. Editors and assistants should try to commit to a twenty minute block once in a while where the assistant can come and sit with the editor. It’s a juggling act for everyone to find the time – but it’s important.
Smith said he is not precious about cutting and it is good to give assistants opportunities to cut. He tries to get them out of the technical and into the creative and he keeps them creatively engaged.
The discussion turned to politics in the edit suite. Legendary film editor and director Jim Clark once said that the job is 10% editing and 90% politics. Smith said he navigates the politics by always keeping the audience in mind, “It is easier to take all those different comments and field them if you know it’s working for the people who are going to watch it.”
It’s a balancing act agrees Haight. Hopefully you all share the same vision for the film. Then there are sometimes notes from a producer – do they make it better? No. Worse? No. In that case it is good to do the little things like that. In TV the show runner should be across all notes and act like a filter. There should be one person in charge so you are not going around in circles.
Cross said that you become one with the director and trust is built up. You would not dream of betraying that trust. Cross said he learnt from his days as a commercial editor that it is so important that people like you, “When people like you, they are less likely to blame you.”
For Bonora working in social documentaries is always political. You have to stay true to the original vision of the film and don’t bow to making compromises due to outside pressure. It’s a constant dance and you don’t want to cut the soul out of the film. There’s also a lot of psychological work as an editor especially in a documentary that the director has been shooting for nine years. You have to be a cheerleader when they despair.
Each editor then showed a clip of their work. Bonora showed a touching section of her documentary Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me. She said the toughest thing with this documentary was choosing how dark to go as there were many hours of footage from his home. They filmed for two and a half years and ended up with 2000 hours of footage. Her first cut was four hours and it was hard to whittle it down.
Cross showed the first part of the drumming finale from Whiplash. They were very prepared for this intense drumming shoot with storyboard and animatics and they had a drum track to work to. In the edit Tom focused on the two characters and the arc between them. That’s the backbone to this scene. Otherwise it was just going to be fast shots with cool camera moves (most of the camera moves did not serve the story so are not used in the final version). The whip pans where stitched together in post as the in camera pans ended up missing some of the action. In the moments where they needed more time for connection with the characters they added more drumming score in post. Tom made sure to thank his assistant as without that level of organisation they would have never made their deadline. Whiplash was shot in September and screened at Sundance in January.
Haight showed the dinner scene from the first episode of Transparent. Originally the whole scene was shot with cameras spinning around so with each take timing varied. After the first cut show runner Jill Soloway realized that the cameras should all stop at a certain point (when Jeffrey Tambor’s character bangs his fist on the table). So they actually re-shot the second half of the scene with fixed cameras. There was also a lot of ADR added to get overlapping dialogue.
Smith showed the opening of Into The Woods. A very complex sequence of multiple characters singing. The main goal with the edit was actually pulling it back and making it less complex. The original plan was to cut to split screen but it was soon evident there was enough going on and making it too complicated sucked the emotional air out of the opening.
As to their favourite thing about editing, Haight responded, “It is all about emotion, making people feel.” Smith reiterated his belief that films and television are ultimately for the audience, “It is all about the group experience.” Heim concluded, “We do manipulate the audience. It’s fun!”
Panel 2: The Hero’s Journey: From Comic Book to Screen
This was an eye-opening and quite a technical discussion by some of the leading editors of The Marvel Universe. Moderated by Michael Krulik, the panelists were Jonathan Chibnall (Daredevil and Jessica Jones the new television series for Marvel Television and Netflix), Lisa Lassek (Joss Whedon's frequent collaborator; Firfely, Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Dan Lebental, ACE (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Ant Man), Colby Parker Jr., ACE (Hancock, Ant-Man), and Fred Raskin, ACE (Django Unchained, Fast & Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy).
The panel discussed the use of Visual Effects which has much of its development in the Cutting Room. Lassek discussed the freedom of fully CG characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron which allowed them not only to rewrite, but to create entire new scenes. She also stressed the importance of Post-Vis, and using new technologies such as Virtual Camera for fully mapped 3D worlds. Parker Jr. described the early days in Pre-Production on Ant-Man was used for 'setting up the rules' of the film by using Previs to map out and explore the ideas. Lebental explained the use of certain angles and framing devices, and using other objects to create scale, were needed to make Ant-Man look small, which was a different paradigm to the usual SuperHero looking big and heroic. Further, they stressed the importance of using Previs to bid a film and that without it it can double the cost by shot counts blowing out.
Lebental also discussed the interesting way that Mocap was used in Ant-Man. By using a real person in a mocap suit they are able to add the much needed realism of gravity and weight that can be tough to nail in a shot using full CG animation for human characters. He explained that by using the detail created by Mocap, it was one way that people can feel that there is a real person inside. In contrast Guardians of the Galaxy did not use Mocap for any CG characters, going down the route of fully animated characters. Raskin described the tricky task of assessing shots without having the fully animated characters to use for timing and performance.
Chibnall discussed some of the more classic parts of editing such as using temp music to set up the tone of the show. The other panelists all stressed the importance of temping music as there is no longer a traditional rough cut these days. They also highlighted the importance of Music Editors where they are able to map out where you are going to go in a film or television show, before going down road with composers and licensed music.
Panel 3: A Look Back to the Future with Arthur Schmidt
After breaking for lunch, we returned refreshed for the third event of the day, which was A Look Back to the Future with Arthur Schmidt, this was special conversation with writer and film historian Bobbie O'Steen and the legendary editor Arthur Schmidt. Editor of such diverse films as Coal Miner's Daughter, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Rocketeer, The Last of the Mohicans, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, he is most famous for his work with Robert Zemeckis; Back to the Future I, II and III, Death Becomes Her, Contact, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away.
Artie - as Bobbie called him, described his start in the film industry which was not planned. Although his father was a film editor (Arthur P Schmidt, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, Some Like It Hot), and he had grown up he visiting his father at work and watching him review his cuts on the projector, he had no real plans on entering the film industry himself. Instead Schmidt studied as an english literature major. It was after his father passed away, that friends of his fathers who were assistant film editors offered him a job as an apprentice film editor, needing work he took it, this would be the start of very long and prosperous career.
One of his mentors was the infamous editor Dede Allen, who he described as fast and instinctive. Artie explained that she had a natural sense of story, and was not afraid to try anything. Working with her, he often tried to glean what her secret to cutting was. One of the things he remembered from her was 'the floor is a tool too'. For the young kids, he is referring to the cutting room floor, where the film trims would lie after being cut out. When he himself was an editor, he would ask himself: 'What would Dede do?' - 'be bold and trust your gut' was his own answer. Providing some words of wisdom himself Schmidt expressed his philosophy of editing of not being manipulative, and the importance of trusting the material and if something is working to let it play out.
Another mentor to Schmidt was Jim Clark. Working as Clark's assistant, he would be asked to have a go at improving some scenes. Eventually as he continued working with Jim, he got opportunities to cut more and more. Eventually working up to being the editor on The Jericho Mile with Michael Mann.
Schmidt went through several scenes of films he had worked on, one of them being Who Framed Roger Rabbit.This was a very challenging film as he had to cut the film without any of the animation or special effects in there. Instead he was required to imagine what should be there. He explained that they would never change a cut for the visual effects, instead timing it to what they think it should be. In fact back then there was no such thing as handles. It would finally take a year to do the 'cartoon'.
Panel 4: The Lean Forward Moment
The final panel of the day was moderated by Editor and USC Professor Norm Hollyn (Heathers). Panelists were Doug Blush, ACE (20 Feet from Stardom), Dody Dorn, ACE (Fury), Vashi Nedomansky (Sharknado 2), and John Venzon, ACE (South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut).
Instead of getting panelists to show clips and talk about their own work Hollyn decided to end the day with something different. He asked the four editors to show clips from other movies – scenes that inspired them, their personalities as editors and their values as storytellers. Please note if you have not seen these films yet there are obviously spoilers.
Dorn showed the memorable ending of Thelma and Louise (1991). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66CP-pq7Cx0).
Even watching this scene without sound Dorn found herself experiencing the “lean forward moment” and being drawn in. Dorn liked the way things were left unsaid between the two women but they both realised at different times what they were going to do. Dorn thought the time play within this scene was interesting. Time is stretched out as if Thelma and Louise are in their own emotional bubble. When Hal runs after them he is in slow motion further helping draw things out and add to the emotion.
Nedomansky showed the helicopter crash scene from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7rLf0-WtFE).
Nedomansky said this scene had stayed with him and he found it very emotional. When Steve and Ned are in the water together it is the closest to being a father and son they have ever been. There’s some flashes of color, bubbles, a flashback and the absence of sound which all makes this strangely surreal and touching. Again the strength is in not verbalizing what is going on. These tiny moments between father and son are touching.
Blush chose the wonderful Huggies stealing scene from Raising Arizona (1987). (http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/82432008/).
Blush loves the way the arcs are interwoven in this dynamic chase scene with multiple threads. He especially likes the cutting in the dog attack scene.
As a comedy editor Venzon chose to show a scene form Airplane! (1980) (Flying High! as it is known in Australia and the UK). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5QBuJla5do&list=PLZbXA4lyCtqouVZIMxO4XaiXMChH2EUnW&index=7)
Venzon screened the plane landing scene and referenced screenwriter David Zucker’s 15 rules of comedy. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-07-26/entertainment/9103230124_1_joke-falklands-war-naked-gun). Rule 1 is the “joke on a joke” rule – never have two jokes at the same time. When something funny happens in the background, it is normally when something serious is in the foreground. For example seeing someone get their washing out of the machine in the control room. Keeping the score serious also helped the comedy in Airplane! Venzon also loved a joke you may miss the first few times – when you see the outside of the plane a propeller sound effect is used instead of a proper jet plane sound.
Venzon admits that after a while in the edit suite it’s hard to tell if something is funny or not. You have to trust your first impressions and keep going back to that, “You have to be the first audience. Guard that experience. Don’t forget your first impression.”
After the four insightful panels guests and panelists mingled outside on the Disney lot. A nice chance to catch up with some of the other attendees.
We would like to heartedly thank ACE who very kindly allowed us to attend as part of the ASE, and for running an truly brilliant event and a fantastic masterclass.