Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).
Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where he's on day 15 in a row (or day 16, time zones are confusing) of editing the Olympics. This is the fifth installment -- check out part one
to get started on his journey.
What role does music play in the editing you're doing? Are you selecting it, is it provided, are you assigned edits that use more prolific music or is it something that's used a lot? OR are you not using a lot of music at all for the stuff you're sending to affiliates?
The Olympics has a very distinct orchestral score that's instantly recognizable, but that's not really what we go for when we're cutting our pieces. There's definitely a time and place to use the huge epic tracks with the pounding drums and 60-piece orchestra, but if you use that all the time it starts to get boring. The big soaring John Williams stuff is mainly to set the atmosphere for the live broadcast and then maybe some end-of-Games recaps or epic montages, but for promos and features the score can be all over the map genre-wise. This time in particular, we're making a concerted effort to freshen it up and experiment with more upbeat modern stuff as opposed to the typical "Olympics" music and I think the results have been pretty cool. We have access to a ton of music libraries to pull from. We'll do a few pop songs each Games but it's mainly library stuff.
At this point you've been away from home for several weeks, and you're in double digit number of days working 12 hour shifts in a row. How do you maintain a level of creative inspiration to keep going? Do you ever hit a wall when working with this, or is that just not possible?
Sometimes it can be tough to stay fresh creatively but it helps that there are new sports each day, so you're usually looking at new angles of new people in new places, doing new (crazy) things. It can be a challenge for events like figure skating and skiing that happen every day, but you reference the previous day's work and try to do something a little different, or improve upon what you've been doing. It helps you stay sane instead of just plugging in the same formula day-in day-out.
Beyond that, I'm always inspired by the people I work with and am constantly absorbing new tricks and techniques. It's fun to watch each other's stuff and see how we're all turning the same footage into drastically different pieces. We often do the whole "where'd you get THAT shot!?" or "have you seen THIS one?" routine like the nerds we are.
You can get super close to the track.
I think you can easily hit a wall physically more so than creatively. Like any edit job, you're making hundreds if not thousands of decisions every day and there's always more to do. It can be really taxing mentally. Somewhere around Day 10 or 11 the schedule starts to catch up to you. By that point the Games are in full swing, you're cranking on pieces every day, maybe you've crashed a few last minute pieces or some you were really proud of were killed because the featured athlete got hurt. But everyone's in it together, supporting one another and keeping the energy flowing. Once you get past Day 10 it starts to move pretty quickly. I'm writing this on Day 15 and can't believe we're almost done. It feels like I've been here forever but at the same time the Games themselves flew by.
Are there any special pieces that are generally prepared for the end of the Olympics? Or does that change?
There are a number of annual ending pieces and they're the most anticipated cuts aside from the grand Olympic open (which is cut by longtime NBC veteran Phil Parrish). Everyone's got some kind of end-of-Games recap or lookback to do, plus there is the credit rollout to cut. We have so many credits that our rollout is about ten and a half minutes long. The big headlining end piece is called Remember The Titans and it airs right before the credit rollout plays. It's a piece we do every Olympics of the very best of the best, most epic shots and intimate moments, heartbreak, emotional victories, and the Olympic spirit. Everybody pulls selects throughout the whole month and it's really special when you finally see it all compiled together with the Titans score. We'll all gather together on Sunday to watch the finished cut. It's a great culmination of everyone's work (and some fantastic editing by the brilliant Josh Glaser).
OBS HD cameras along the track in the sliding center
Can you talk about going to see some of the events, like alpine skiing and skeleton? How was it different than what you saw in Rio?
I'm a little biased because I love the winter sports more than the summer sports, but the atmosphere at the events I saw was unbelievable. Alpine skiing is terrifying because of the sheer speed at which they hurl themselves down the mountain. It's completely insane. Skeleton was particularly cool because as fast as they look on television, you can't imagine how fast they whiz by you in person. I remember thinking to myself, "oh, these guys are out of their damn minds too." You can literally blink and miss them. That said, it does look like a lot of fun to careen down an ice flume like a superhero. We walked down the length of the track and stopped at the last big turn before the finish line to watch South Korea's Yun Sungbin (the guy with the Iron Man helmet) win gold amongst a sea of Koreans, which was incredible. Seeing the home team win gold and everybody going crazy is a really special experience.
You said you're coloring in the edit, out of curiosity are you doing any QC for picture and sound levels or is that a separate department that legalizes stuff?
We QC everything ourselves and take it really seriously. Everything
that gets delivered first gets sent to our EVS supervisor, where he and usually the editor plus one or two other people will all watch the piece down before pushing it to the servers. Whoever receives the cut on the other side will also give it a QC pass before it's finally cleared for air. From the outset, we have really specific standards as far as audio levels, video levels, and the entire export process so it's pretty clear what we need to be delivering.
Logo wall inside the IBC
Have you personally developed any Olympic traditions aside from pin trading now that you've got the majority of two of them down?
(Does eating like an animal count as a tradition?) You can learn a lot about a culture by diving into their cuisine, which is why I like to house as much of it as I possibly can. I loved the food in Rio and lovvvvve the food here in Korea. You could put an old sneaker in front of me and I'd eat it if it had gochujang (Korean red chili paste) on it.
Aside from pins, a lot of people get a postcard stamped on the day of Opening Ceremony. It's a pretty unique little souvenir to have something with these specific Olympic postmarks on them. The last thing I need in my house is more stuff, but since they don't take up any space I might make this a new tradition of mine.
Opening ceremony post mark
So, uh, I moved to LA, you guys.
Let’s back up a couple decades. When I was a kid, I read a lot of books that dealt with shy homebodies that took adventures out of their comfort zones for heroic or accidental reasons, or sometimes both. It’s a pretty standard trope a lot of people enjoy. The first such story I read was called “Jenny Goes to Sea”, an old hardback book for new readers my library was throwing away when I was six. I rescued it, enjoyed its old-book-smell, and read it cover to cover many times over the years. It’s about a little cat named Jenny that winds up taking a trip on a boat around the world, stopping at different ports and meeting cats that live in foreign lands who teach her about their foods and customs. I loved the feeling I got from imagining taking a trip like this with Jenny — as a fellow cat, because again, I was like six. In my preteen years, it was another cat-goes-on-adventure book called “The Wild Road.” It was a legit novel similar to "Watership Down" but with felines that involved a hesitant hero of a cat saving creatures from an evil Alchemist. After that, I graduated to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (not cats!) — another story of an unlikely hero who has never left home that saves the world.
I loved (and continue to love) these stories, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my favorite stories over the years have always carried this theme. It was the opposite of how I lived. As I’ve written before, I grew up pretty shy. I didn’t leave the midwest at all until I was 23. Venturing out into the world wasn’t something I did much of, but it was something I deeply desired to do. I naturally gravitate toward the IDEA of having an adventure nowadays, but making real decisions about uprooting? Starting over? That’s an entirely new thing. I don’t know about that.
But I knew I needed to do it, and I knew it needed to be LA. I’d wanted to live and work there for a really long time. It makes sense for anyone who hates winter and loves film editing, to make a long story short. So after much meandering, I left Atlanta last Saturday and headed west alone with a few belongings. I took I-20 to I-10, going through states I’d never even visited briefly. I crossed the Mississippi river, and the Rio Grande. I visited a nice man in a record store in Dallas. I got held up in Border Patrol traffic near El Paso and my phone jumped to a tower in Mexico. I slept through a tornado. I visited good friends I’d never met. I saw some of the most amazing countryside (or whatever you call it in the desert) I’d ever seen. After five days, I arrived in California. It was the best week I ever spent with myself. I am fabulous company, if I do say so myself.
Me and Mexico-ish.
For personal reasons, I didn’t openly share a lot of this online. But the people who did know about all reacted very similarly: “I’ve always thought about doing that.” For most people, it’s more like a romantic sort of “always thought about it”, in the same way they’ve always thought about taking a safari trip in Africa or learning French and moving to Paris. But for a good chunk of people, it was different. They seemed caught up like I had been for so long. Financial barriers. Self doubt. A little too comfortable. Self-imposed or life-imposed hurdles and challenges. A lot of seemingly unavoidable reasons to say “no, I can’t do that right now."
Meeting people along the way -- animator/tweeter Lisa Poje in AZ.
I’ve known a lot of people who did what I just did, leaving with a few personal things, some loose ends and a bit of savings. It’s kind of The Dream of going to a big city to start anew, basically a story-teling trope of its own kind because it’s so common. But I know a far greater number of people that should do the Thing but won’t because of Reasons. I don’t just mean following a career path to Los Angeles. I mean, whatever The Thing is that’s sitting in their head. The Thing they know they need to do to take their life in the direction it should go. “I can’t possibly do that. I’m not the kind of person that does a thing like that.”
The *legendary* Tim Wilson himself! :screamingemoji:
I said that to myself a thousand times. But it turns out I am the kind of person that does a thing like that, so I did. And so far, I strongly recommend it. It’s difficult and scary, especially for someone like me, but why spend your finite lifespan wishing you did The Thing when you can spend it living the way you want?
So anyway, I moved to LA this week. It’s fabulous. I love it. Do The Thing you need to do. Don't just read about it in children' books. Or blogs.
And now, a crummy commercial.
I had a pretty cool gig sorta lined up for Monday that fell through today, so taking this opportunity to grovel. I’m a rather good offline editor
. I’m nearly on the roster, paperwork pending, and most of those editor credits are reality/documentary. The last few months I’ve been primarily working in dailies on scripted shows for networks like MTV, Sundance, BET, and CW — mostly dedicated to The Originals. If you let me choose, I’d continue to forge my way through scripted television by whatever means necessary. But I also like working in general, so I’ll take what you have for me. Extracurriculars: I write a lot (obviously), I have red hair, I bake, I collect vinyl. I'm neat.
(Okay, maybe the headline is a LITTLE strong, but I HELPED.)
In the world of corporate video, the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world didn’t come around often for me. I know that’s not true for many people in the “corporate video” world, which is a general term I could use to mean anything from industrial how-toe or non-profit event highlight reels. But in my little piece of that land, my videos were generally not going to make a change that would last for future generations. At least, not a positive one.
When I started working on the PBS series This American Land, I finally got the opportunity to see what it was like to work on content with consequences in the real world, specifically the natural
world and everything in it. The two seasons I’ve spent on it have been focused on the angle of people working toward a greater good to solve an issue — an endangered species, shrinking wild land, or polluted river.
In 2013, I edited a segment about the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California. The San Gabriel Mountains Forever
campaign was trying to get the area designated as a national monument so it would be protected from development in the same way other natural lands are in the United States, and with its proximity to Los Angeles, the conservation of the area for providing drinking water and green space is important. It was kind of a tough edit because, to put it delicately, the field producing wasn’t tops. The executive producer (who did not produce the segment) was worried we wouldn’t have what we needed because it was pretty rough, but he gave it to over to me with the hopes I could find the story. We emailed back and forth a couple of times about the mission of the piece and what they hoped to accomplish, and I dug in without a script or guide or notes and came back with a six minute piece called Backyard Wilderness. The EP was so glad I did what I did with it, he gave me the producer credit for the story.
Late last year (in 2014), I got a news alert on my phone that President Obama was going to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. I was like hey, whoa dude, I edited a thing about that and now it happened. Not to say my editorial work had any impact (or maybe it did, for the right people — it’s on the campaign’s main page and was broadcast nationally and all) but I’ve never felt that kind of connection between cutting a video and then seeing the direct outcome of that. I felt a smidgen of ownership in that because I had dived so deep in the material to draw out pieces of the story that would make the best case for the campaign.
People have been working on this for over a decade, and I’m sure it’s been hugely rewarding to finally see it come to fruition. My part of it coming in the final year before the designation was given is pretty cool too. I hope everyone in post-production gets the opportunity to edit something that has meaning beyond the half hour its broadcast to the world. It certainly gives you a new perspective when you’re still working on it.
Another edit I really enjoyed was about an area of West Virginia that contains the beginning of six watersheds that feed into bigger rivers downstream. Birthplace of Rivers
is a campaign to designate this area a national monument, so the quality of drinking water can’t be affected by oil and gas development or other industries. This edit was another where I was given a bunch of stuff and a loose guide — not out of necessity but rather to see what I’d make with it — so it was another I’ve grown attached to. I hope Birthplace of Rivers will see the same kind of success as the San Gabriel Mountains.
If a thing happens and nobody blogs about it, did it really happen? Of course the answer is no, which is why I'm writing a post about a project I finished editing in September. But there is some freshness to it: it's actually airing nationally(ish) this week. You could have seen it online this whole time, but there's something about a thing airing nationally(ish) that brings a new layer of legitimacy to it.
Editing a show filled with shots like this was okay.
One of my most complicated projects to date at Biscardi Creative Media (or anywhere, really) was started in July, right after the conclusion of the fourth season of the This American Land
for PBS…so ya know, "okay good job, *shoves you out window*" basically. It was a web series called Arson Dogs, featuring beloved dog trainer Victoria Stilwell
as she visited and learned from State Farm's arson dog training school in rural Maine. Arson dogs are super-duper energetic dogs that are trained to go into a fire scene (after the fire is gone) and try to find accelerants like gasoline so samples can be taken and arsonists can be convicted at a higher rate. It's really hard to find this stuff in a fire scene since petroleum is found in everyday products, but the dogs seem to have no problem. In fact, a large part of the schooling is really training the eight handlers in the class to handle and read the dogs. The training is based upon positive reinforcement, which aligns perfectly with Victoria's personal training mission too. But to make it difficult for her, the arson dogs' energy isn't curbed and they're never trained not
to pull on their leads, so working with such dogs is much different for someone who typically deals with obedience.
This show had 6 black labs and 2 yellow labs and I still know this is Fresca.
BCM cut a trailer for the show before I started my edit, so I was vaguely familiar with where some things were. But once I actually began to look at everything for real, I had some concerns. For one thing, there was a massive amount of footage. Like not just a lot of clips, but a lot of multiclips where conversations would last for over 45 minutes and cover two dozen topics between 10 people. And for another thing, almost ALL of the dogs were black labs. I'm not exactly sure why that was a concern, but I had a brief moment of panic about not being able to tell the dogs apart, like it really matters. (And by the way, at the end of this edit I could easily tell all the seemingly identical dogs apart.)
Victoria was the audience POV as she became a student again to learn new training techniques.
Victoria's team did some logging and organizing of the footage THANKFULLY which really allowed me to find my way around much more quickly than if I would have had to do all that myself. They handed off the Adobe Premiere Pro project with all the logged clips, and I duplicated it and started working within it after reconnecting all the media from a NAS. Everything was split up by day, and then put into bins based on major events or locations. Interviews were separated out and labeled, which helped me figure out who was who in a cast that included 8 handlers, 3 trainers, 1 spokesperson, and a lot of dogs. I spent the better part of a week watching almost everything and adding markers to the timeline with descriptions.
The Marker window was especially helpful in long multiclips.
Here's the thing that made it complicated for me though. I had a sort of
outline. Maybe like twelve sentences? It was more of a suggestion based upon the experience the team had in the field. Like "maybe you can split the episodes up like this?" Or maybe not. It was up to me. If 20 three minute episodes was best, I would do that. Much fewer longer episodes? Do that. Okay. While I was watching everything, I was trying to take notes about what story lines might emerge and what characters were best to focus on for each episode. With the school being fairly linear, and with the footage covering the first three days and the last two days of the five week schooling process, I had a basic structure to work from. But besides "second day of school", what was it really about?
And how much sponsor information do you sprinkle in? When?
Victoria's team logged and organized the 4000 clips in the project.
These weren't on a tight turnaround necessarily, but I knew once I started delivering, they would be due on a weekly basis. And I was doing all the color correction, sound and graphics myself. I wanted to get to the edit as quickly as I could, so I decided to just start making harsh decisions as quickly as possible. As I watched and placed markers, I made notes in a text file about sequences that would work in each episode. It became an ever-changing living document where I constantly moved segments around, shuffled them within an episode, or pushed them back to another episode. I'm really weird about outlines. I find it difficult to write things without an outline of some kind. When I edit unscripted stuff, I'll write down a quick roadmap of where I think I want to go. It's impossible for me to start doing anything until I have a scribbly little list that I'll never look at again.
My favorite dog (yes favorite), Sadie, after investigating a fire scene with Victoria.
I was thankful to have a basic understanding of a higher level of finishing audio within Premiere, too. So many microphone sources, many of them with wind or underneath a scarf. I'm not an amazing sound mixer by any means, but a little compression and EQ was going a long way for me. Color correction was done with Red Giant's Colorista II, which is about a million lightyears better than the 3-way color corrector inside Premiere. I had minimal issues with Premiere Pro (2013), except for autosave becoming really slow toward the end…and the occasional export not exporting correctly for no particularly good reason.
I built the minimal motiony graphics inside Premiere (2013) so I could react to feedback more quickly.
Here's the other thing that complicated it for me: there really wasn't any established structure to the show. So while I was putting together the actual content for each episode, I was simultaneously considering how to package it together, and pulling clips for a title sequence. I ultimately decided on a fairly tried-and-true web series formula: a cold open with some kind of hook, a short catchy title sequence, the episode content, then a tease for the next week. There's nothing inherently difficult about any of this, I know. It's just thinking about it all at the same time was a little challenging at times.
I used a lot of Rampant Design light leaks for some quick transitions with minimal effort.
I held back the first two episodes (which were more of a two-parter for the first day of training, setting up the training and introducing the guys to their new dogs) until they were both entirely finished before I showed the clients. To my utter relief, they were totally thrilled with the style and structure.
So that's always a whew.
After that, I put my head down and tried to keep editing as quickly as I could to turn in episodes on a weekly basis for posting the following Tuesday. I had selects timelines with all the moments I wanted to use for each episode, so if I was skimming for something for episode 4 and I saw something I thought I'd probably want for episode 6, I'd take it and toss it in the other timeline. I was relying heavily on clip descriptions and markers for orientation within longer multiclips (rather than subclips) and I liked that method a lot.
Dogs are awesome.
From a story perspective, this is fascinating content any day. But a challenge I had was keeping the energy levels up for the viewer. The guys in the class were there for the long haul. And they were law enforcement officials, so it's not like they're going to be overly dramatic or bouncing off the walls with fear and excitement. So it took a little editing magic to keep things fast and exciting. Nothing tricky or fake, just condensing time and combining it with the best, most heartfelt moments, like you do. But man, there was a lot of sifting to find those.
Dogs are really awesome.
In the back of my mind through the editing process, I knew the ending was going to be a challenge. There was no footage of the actual certification process (and I'm not sure it would have been allowed), so I had to deal with a time jump from anticipating certification to a post-graduation celebration. There wouldn't be any moments where anyone found out on camera that they were official an arson dog handler, which is a bummer. I didn't really have anything to use other than a celebratory dinner in a dimly lit room. But I did have one thing, possibly unintentionally: after certification, all the guys had official portraits taken in their dress uniforms and someone had left a camera to run on the scene. So I let music and heavy visuals drive the point home that they had passed and were celebrating. Did it work? I think so, especially considering what was given.
The handlers are all fire marshals and fire fighters throughout the country.
I edited eight episodes of the show (6 in the linear narrative and 2 training-related supplements, a little over an hour of show content) and I've seen endless positive comments on it which is gratifying considering trying to put together the whole package of the first two shows probably took about five years off my life expectancy. Not that it was the client that did that, no, they were great. It was self-inflicted. I love dogs and I wanted to do their show right, man.
The only bit of the show made in After Effects - provided logo plus fire elements and smoke from Rampant Design.
Serving as my own producer on this made it kind of a new experience for me. I mean, I've cut plenty of unscripted stuff before and I've been a producer on that stuff. But the experience of working on so many episodes at once was…kind of new. I really enjoy the problem-solving side of editing, and a lot of this edit was just that, trying to make things work together that were almost
working together. Sinking into the actual craft of the thing was a little harder since I was never really entirely dedicated to one show, always trying to keep eyes open for bites that would be THE defining bite for a later episode. But I really enjoyed it. I learned things about myself. Like every time I do a project like this, I have faith in my first judgment decision making skills. If you can't go into a project with a whole huge mess of stuff to work with and make quick editorial and structural decisions, you can't hit deadlines. And you can't satisfy a client unless those gut instincts are usually right. And my time management and estimation skills are pretty spot on. Eyeballing a project and estimating the time it takes? I'm not terrible at that. Any time I can add a little bit of faith in these kinds of abstract skills, I'm appreciative of the project.
As a cat person with a reputation, this dog's face makes me want a dog.
And you wanna know a confession? I miss all the dogs. ALL OF THEM. I can tell them apart by their little faces, and I miss hanging out with them. I would be their friend. I'm hoping for another season (which looks very promising!) so I can meet more dogs and be their friend too. I loved editing a project about something that really matters to people and animals. These dogs are generally considered to be undesirable because they're too energetic, and many of them were in line to be euthanized. Instead, they're working with law enforcement, in an atmosphere where their crazy energy is put to good use dramatically increasing the number of arson convictions. Dogs on the brink become heroes. I'm not crying you're crying.
Look at his vest, I can't even.
Which brings me back to my opening paragraph. You can meet these dogs (and humans) online. Or you can watch them at some point on DirecTV's DogTV channel
, which is apparently 24/7 programming for dogs -- except for this week, which is human-related dog programming. Like Arson Dogs. (Newbie tip: If someone asks you to cut something exclusively for the web, keep your graphics title safe anyway. Because you never know when they'll say "actually, DogTV wants to air it.") They're doing a free preview of the channel for Thanksgiving week, maybe so your dog will get hooked and you can order the channel for them for Christmas!
Stills in this post are from Arson Dogs, copyright Victoria Stilwell Enterprises, except for my interface screenshots which copyright nobody.
Today, one of my favorite directors, Steven Soderbergh, posted a really great blog about “staging” in film, which is meant to mean how all the elements of a scene work together to tell a visual story. To illustrate his point, he took ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and remixed it a little: converted to black and white, all music, sound and dialogue removed with a different soundtrack alongside it to help you focus on the staging — the direction, the length of each shot, how the cuts work. It’s pretty much as awesome as you might think, so you should definitely go watch all hour and fifty-five minutes
of it. I’ll wait.
When I saw this hit my various feeds today, I felt a particularly affinity for this kind of visual investigation and experimentation. I occasionally watch The Social Network on mute to get this same effect, to absorb the staging and rhythm of the thing, because a great movie works without any sound and that one is especially good for me.
But that’s only tangentially related. The affinity I’m talking about is using a similar technique to investigate staging and rhythm and cuts for my capstone project when I graduated from Indiana University. A capstone is a culmination of everything you learned (in theory) and my professor and I came up with this bananas thesis about how I could take a scene in a film, rip it apart and study the math, and discover some things about editorial that I never knew before. A sort of Gus van Sant/‘Psycho’ approach to appreciating a scene on a deeper level, but maybe more successfully.
One of the scenes I chose was from Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film ‘Traffic’. I chose a druggy overdose scene, of course. I ripped the scene, brought it into Final Cut Pro, and razor bladed on every cut within the movie. And I measured exactly how many frames there were for each shot. I played around with changing the speed or reorganizing the shots for my own experimentation. I saw why the way it was shot and assembled worked, and how I could make it not work.
Then I rounded up some of my friends and reshot the scene myself
. The point being I would get some kind of understanding from actually going out and doing it myself, and cutting it myself. It was a little like shooting a music video because my friends/actors had to lip-sync the lines. Extra weirdly, I only had the shot I needed pulled with the audio attached so I could be sure it was the proper shot length, so some of the lip syncing was to random syllables. Extra
extra weirdly, I looped it in Quicktime for multiple takes. It was a really weird shooting experience.
Don’t laugh at me, this was a great learning experience. ‘Traffic’ starts a minute into the piece.
Besides learning the limits of the focal length of the camera I was given at school (and the importance of understanding how to use lenses), this ended up being a transformative experience as an editor, appreciating the staging of each shot and just how short
some shots ended up being. Because on the flip side of this, I also did a scene from Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Festen’ (‘The Celebration’) and that one let shots play out a whole lot longer than I’d ever considered in my MTV generation upbringing. Another thing I learned about the composition of a shot and the staging of a scene: those big bright colors in the background of a shot? Yeah, they’re not just there for fun. I completely missed that lighting in my shoot and crudely added it in post to get the visual effect. Yikes.
In his post, Soderbergh writes that “this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker [Spielberg] forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math sh-t).” Tell me about it, dude.
I think for the visually inclined among us — the editors and cinematographers and the like — these kinds of exercises are something that can refresh your creativity in just the right way. I highly recommend turning a viewing experience on its side to investigate what makes it work so well for you. What you uncover probably applies to any
of the work you do.
So in summary, you should go watch at least parts of Raiders in gorgeous black and white and enjoy how every shot is beautiful and comes at just the right time, and also I’m a massive weirdo.
Last weekend I was bingeing on House of Cards
(as you do) and after one particularly riveting episode where blank and blank blank-out and they all blank (spoilers/adult situations) I finally noticed a familiar logo: Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey's production company. Not that it's terribly widely known I guess, but the logo is burned into my brain (a folder within a folder within a folder from years ago, but it was there.)
In 2002, Kevin Spacey started a website called Trigger Street Productions (now called Trigger Street Labs
) for unrepresented writers and filmmakers. It was pretty phenomenal at the time. Years before YouTube, they were storing and streaming a massive amount of video for free – to give filmmakers a chance to get real professional (and not at all professional) feedback. The way the site worked was that you had to give reviews to get reviews. You had to be active on the site in order to get your stuff seen. As a result, the feedback you got was generally fairly thoughtful. If it wasn't, you could be reported and your credits would be taken away.
It so happens that I discovered the Art of Effing Cinema As I Know It in 2002, when I was like 15ish. I read about Trigger Street Productions in Moviemaker Magazine (I think, anyway) and bookmarked it. Later that summer, a friend and I spent a sunny day out shooting a short film. We got together at ten in the morning, wrote a quick ridiculous script, shot it, and then I was up all night editing it in the primal way editors do.
For my first REAL short (first one cut in a real NLE, as real as Premiere was in 2003 anyway), it was pretty awesome. It was about a girl who turns to online dating and finds herself falling in love with a goldfish cracker. I think our idea was that she's so desperate for love, she falls in love with a piece of garbage someone leaves on a door step. Or is the fish real? In any case, she has a torrid love affair and then her lover is killed by a jogger running by who steps on it.
Sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper but this thing had levels, man. And it worked on camera. I have no idea why.
I added this short film to my new Trigger Street account (on July 22, 2003) and for the first time, I got real people giving me real feedback on a creative thing I did. Up to this point, all I got were reactions from my mom and my friends. It wasn't all that easy to share video back then. I found server space here and there and put links to videos in my AIM Away Message (WTF) for friends to watch. But these replies, THESE were other filmmakers.
"There was some stuff that was a almost creepy though, certain innuendo that probably wasn't necessary."
"Seriously, though, WOW! That this piece was shot and edited in a day by high school students makes it very impressive indeed. If I were back in high school I'd definitely want to hang out with this bunch and make movies."
"Obviously, you guys are inate storytellers, and quite bright. I doubt that you've gotten much training, which means you watch movies and see what works. That gives you a head start."
"I liked the edit, I liked the camera work, and it was lit well, at least, I could see everything clearly and it fit the moments. Nice work from some talented young ladies."
"Cutting the voiceover would have really made it a film instead of a project done in one day. You should open up Premiere and click on the voiceover track and hit delete. Then watch the film, it will be much better. "
By the way, I didn't agree with that last one then and I still don't agree with it now.
I hadn't logged into Trigger Street since high school, so to my surprise there have been a number of reviews posted in my absence despite me not reciprocating in some time now. I was even surprised my account existed any longer. But there it is, along with all the old reviews and my Realmedia encoded microscopic videos with a bit rate of twelve.
Between the refreshingly interesting storytelling of House of Cards
and the very first reviews I ever got, I started to think about what editing was like when I was just getting started. Not that the evolution of a career isn't something amazing to experience, but when you're fifteen years old, there are no notes from clients. No difficult producers. There are no tricks or carefully written emails. There's just you and your imagination. There hasn't been time to over-think or stress about an editorial decision. It's all one big experiment.
It's amazing how much you can grow as an editor while simultaneously losing the ability to think from all these angles. I think most editors would say they're unwaveringly inventive and creative people, but the truth is that you start to become the sum of your experiences. You can do amazing things in your work, but nothing will ever be like when you were making things for yourself and yourself only.
Although, to be perfectly clear, I'm really
glad I'm closer to this part of the journey than the very beginning. I want to go back in time and tell that excitable kid with the Hi8 camera and too much time on her hands that it's a long, confusing road ahead - but stick with it, because it gets cool more often than not.
And it's worthwhile to read some of the stupid things strangers wrote about your first film project:
"Although this film has transitional difficulty in editing and lackluster camera work, it's kind of fun and very interesting."
Thanks, Internet stranger. You made my teenage day. And thanks Kevin Spacey. Hit me up if you need an editor.
Seeing a stack of tapes labeled and ready to gather dust on a shelf is a feeling of accomplishment I've never had before last week.
A full season of This American Land, in glorious HDCAM
Not because I've never really had physical copies of any of my work (although outside of a DVD or two, that's definitely true), but because this was my first time cutting for broadcast and I'm pleased to announce I didn't screw any of it up.
Before this show, I only occasionally had to worry about title safe lower thirds or broadcast safe colors -- when I worked those DVD projects. But finishing a 1080i show for TV and a simple DVD for an internal training video are basically night and day when you look at the delivery specifications for PBS. Most of my work before this had been a mishmash of stuff in a sequence that eventually got spit out into a 720p H264 file for YouTube, the kind of thing where you can easily hide mistakes and inadequacies. There's not a whole lot of hiding when you're delivering 1080i. You're pretty much just naked to the world there.
There have been a couple of blog posts and press things
floating around, but I couldn't let this milestone pass by without my own personal blog post to mark the occasion that I finished a television series and didn't screw up anything major.
The season storyboarded, daunting at first with every checkbox now filled. YAY.
THE TRIP FROM INDIANAPOLIS TO ATLANTA, AND FROM CORPORATE TO BROADCAST
I ended work at my last job on a Thursday. The following Thursday, I drove from Indianapolis to Atlanta to start work with Creative COW's Walter Biscardi at Biscardi Creative Media. By Monday afternoon, I was editing This American Land
By Tuesday night, I had a fever of 104 and was sitting in an urgent care center explaining the finer points of my bodily functions to a nurse practitioner. Somehow, I had gotten strep throat without any oral symptoms. I spent day three of my new job in bed unable to move, the grim reaper sitting in the corner of the room checking his watch periodically.
I got a shot of some kind of magic medicine that allowed me to eat and walk again, and I was cutting again on Thursday, because I am dumb.
You know how you feel after you've been circling the drain, right? As a result, I did a really crap job on my first cut and was rightfully informed as such. It was dumb to start working again so quickly. It's not like I was tied to my desk and forced to work. And it's not a simple task I could put myself on auto-pilot to finish.
And that was my first week in Atlanta, Georgia. Like an Olympic runner who slips and falls on their face at the starting block.
I don't like making excuses -- even if they're mostly legitimate, they're a waste of time. I took the feedback, learned from it, and fixed my edit. And as much as it sucked, I'm a tiny bit glad my first cut went like this. Lessons learned the hard way are often the stickiest. And what I learned here - about storytelling and my limits - is stuck permanently right in the front of my brain.
MAKING MISTAKES JUST HOW I LIKE 'EM
Happily enough, the challenges that followed did not stem from my storytelling skills being stunted by my brain swelling in my head and leaking out my ears (or whatever, that's what it felt like.) Mistakes were made fully conscious, just how I like 'em.
I really dig Premiere's sexy waveform views. There I said it.
Before this project, most of my paid editing work was very utilitarian -- mostly just getting things in the right order. One of the things I enjoyed the most on this show was the blend of the creative and technical challenges. Getting the opportunity to put all the knowledge I've been stockpiling from places like Creative COW to work -- to see if I really did know as much as I felt like I did, and learn even more -- was gratifying.
I was thrilled to be cutting stuff of quality, but there's also always something to consider or fix: a sound bite to repair, a camera nudge to cut around, a GoPro shot at the wrong frame size or frame rate. I like troubleshooting things and choosing a course of action. It's like a really weird puzzle. And it's job security.
The door to my edit room is pink.
Compared to FCP7 and Media Composer, I'd hardly used Adobe Premiere Pro before I jumped fully into it for This American Land
. Learning Premiere's way of doing things - or rather, unlearning all the stuff I HAD to do to keep FCP7 happy - was a challenge. It wasn't difficult to do in practice, but it was hard to wrap my mind around it in theory.
Between acclimating to a stand-up desk, or using a Wacom tablet and pen, or being in a dark room all day, though, switching NLEs was the least of my challenges in this new gig.
For the last four years, I was editing in a cubicle in a loud office next to a window. I spent most of the time huddled closely to my laptop screen, trying my hardest to concentrate. I always wondered if I would adapt too much to the loud bright editing experience, and I really did.
I found it difficult in my new gig to not
be able to sit dangerously close to the screen. There was almost TOO much space available for my use. Of course, I got over that in about a week.
And a week was all it really took when I attempted editing at a stand-up desk, and Wacom-ing instead of mousing. But being in a dark room with adjustable lights and an 18% gray wall, a room that's had thought put into it...I'm used to it, but trying not to take it for granted. Now I find it difficult to edit with a mouse and laptop at home these days. Of course I can do without, but the benefits to my editing from these peripherals is definitely measurable, maybe only because I'm happier.
Another job benefit: sharing a break table with a dog.
AN ODD DELIGHT
I never really thought I'd be using Premiere professionally until the last year or so. While I was pretty easily annoyed by CS6, Premiere Creative Cloud has been an odd delight to work with on a daily basis, mostly because it WORKS for shows like this.
I got all kinds of stuff thrown at me, sometimes having half-hour timelines with 7 or 8 different formats sitting in it. I had no performance issues. On an iMac. A good iMac, but still - an iMac
It takes a long while to load all the clips for a project with a lot of media references and there's no equivalent to transcode/consolidate for taking all those formats and making them into one nice little format for later.
Coming from FCP7, this was straight-up crazytown. I had gotten used to transcoding practically everything unless I had discovered a specific workflow in which the native media actually worked. But for the most part, everything was ProRes. And while hard drive space is cheap and plentiful, it was still an extra step and an extra bit of media to manage. I've had a number of conversations with editors that are trying to make the jump from something like FCP7 with its delicate sensibilities, and it's been going something like this:
"There's no log and transfer."
Yes, you just drag in media.
"But...no. I can't do that."
Yes, you can.
"NO I CAN'T, YOU ARE UNCLEAN."
Really, you can forget the FCP quirks. It's okay. The funny little Log and Transfer glitches. The still photo size limits. Even the H264 stuff (sorta, it's still not the greatest for editing.) Premiere has its own quirks, but they are fewer and far between. Why does it make me so happy to not have to resize images before I put them in my project? It's the little things.
(Most of the minor issues I ran into specifically on this show were legitimate bugs that Adobe noted, and even fixed during our production cycle.)
A BRAND NEW CONCEPT: TAPE
Speaking of my mind being wrapped around things, let's talk about tape.
I had to deliver shows on tape. A brand new concept for someone who finished a thing and uploaded it to YouTube in the past. Before, it was "Oh, it's wrong? Delete, upload again."
Not that tape is difficult. I mean, look at it. It's all old and junky. You hit the right buttons in the right order and it's just supposed to work. And it mostly did.
But when it didn't, I had the hardest time troubleshooting because I have no experience to rely upon. Is it me? Is it the machine? Both? NEITHER? I DUNNO. Well, it was USUALLY me, somehow. But a couple times it wasn't.
On one episode, after I thought I had truly gotten the hang of the easy 89 step process of laying a show to tape, I spent much longer than I thought I would trying to troubleshoot -- infuriating, because I HAD the episode all done, I just needed to do an insert to fix an error (of mine, of course) and it would NOT work. For no REASON.
After retracing my steps and determining that I hadn't forgotten something stupid (like plugging in the machine control cable which I GUESS is important, whatever), we determined that it was the deck acting bananas. Then oopsies, the deck messed up the tape. I think I watched that episode about 19 times that day before I got it out the door.
Tape. A weird concept to be learning for the first time in 2013, but now I appreciate FTP just a little bit more.
Laying a show to tape, hoping I didn't forget something important like color bars.
DEADLINES AND DETAILS
Another challenge? Deadlines, funnily enough. Broadcast also can have some quick turnarounds, which always worries me because there are so many DETAILS to check. You mess up one thing at the beginning and you can cause a terrible domino effect that makes future-you curse your name.
I've never missed a deadline, but the consequences of doing so at past jobs had been being told, "You suck." Missing a TV deadline is more like, "You really suck because you've caused a cascade of failure and now it won't air on time and it'll cost a lot of money AND YOU SUCK."
The only real stumbles here for me were receiving projects from editors I've never met who don't necessarily organize things in the most effective way. Trying to turn around something relatively quickly while wading through someone else's piles of junk? Well, it's not the most fun I've ever had.
While everything went very smoothly most of the time, there were times, particularly toward the end of the season, when I could appreciate a well-organized timeline, a good sound designer, and a responsive producer.
Beyond all the technical challenges, the learning of new things, and the completely new environment for living and working and generally just existing
, the real high point of cutting This American Life
was having authorship over a thing. A thing people watch willingly that is trying to change the world for the better, especially in a way that I support on my own time.
I especially enjoyed the segments I cut without active producer guidance or scripting. And the show opens -- making the best minute and a half you can manage that will keep people watching after the opening titles. But being trusted alone to assemble a half hour show? Yep, I could get used to that. More, please.
It's been a very full 6 months working at BCM and I've learned a lot about myself as a person and an editor. Working on a national PBS show is a huge leap from where I was a year ago. Since Thanksgiving just happened and we've got this holiday spirit going on, I suppose it's appropriate to say I'm thankful for people who still give the young and technically "inexperienced" a chance to prove their worth. More often than not, it seems to pretty much work out for everyone involved.
Bossman Walter and I after a long weekend OUTSIDE the edit room - shooting original content. We do see the sun occasionally.
(Here is one of the things I edited. This American Land is currently airing on a lot of PBS stations, and will start airing on others sometime soon or not soon. Check your local listings and such.)
Never mind, I broke everything.
This is an on-going post-production diary I’m keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators
, an indie comedy.
I just realized it's been two months since I last updated about The Impersonators
The reason is because there hasn't been much to say. Or so I thought. You see, everything has been going really smoothly. Avid has been mostly cooperating. The scenes have been coming together well. Everything is organized, in place, and running well.
I delivered the first rough cut of the whole film a few weeks ago. Some decisions have been made for pickup shoots that won't be happening until the spring. Needless to say, I have a lot of time to work with the editors cut and start figuring out the sound design, as it seems I'll be doing much of the sound editing as well. But not the final mix. I know my limits.
There's still a lot of work to be done. It IS a rough cut, and all of the scenes need to be individually assessed. Some need to be rebuilt. But technically speaking, I've had absolutely no issues with Avid beyond the initial hiccup of the media not wanting to ingest properly.
I didn't think I had much to say about this since everything went better than expected, but here's a list of the stuff I did that I liked and didn't like about my first feature rough cut.
- I'm glad I watched every take and took notes. I only occasionally went back into the notes to check on what I wanted, but it helped me to remember my thoughts anyway. However, I wish I had done a lined script instead of just listing notes. It would have helped me a lot with grabbing the proper takes.
- I wish I had an assistant to sync audio. I was my own assistant. I was a damn fine assistant, too!
- Note cards on a wall were a definite plus. This is a pretty linear film, but I still needed the reference point of a note card occasionally to figure out where I was within the narrative.
- Choosing Avid was the right way to go. After the setup, I had no real issues and I can be reasonably confident that the media is being managed properly. Stuff isn't going to disappear offline.
- Splitting the sequences in Avid by scene was a good call for me. It's not always one scene at a time, as some scenes are really short inserts, but I did split up everything by scenes and acts and it's been helpful for focusing on one thing at a time. After I make more changes, I'm going to start to combine things into longer sequences to be sure scenes are flowing properly into each other. Then eventually, everything will be assembled into one timeline.
- Screenlight has been really nice for previews. It's quick and secure and it plays on anything. That's been a relief.
So it seems I'll be working with this cut until the spring when we add and alter more scenes. I'm sure I'll have a lot to say when I start doing sound effects, because audio is a dark art that very few understand. I'm glad the director is willing to take the time necessary to plan and shoot what's needed to tell the story in the best way possible. I'm also glad I've been given such freedom to assemble the film without someone hanging over my shoulder. I appreciate collaborative filmmakers. Too many directors are unwilling to hand over their footage to a dedicated editor.
Anyway, we're still on track to complete the film in 2013. But films take forever, man!
Here's one for the baby book: I'll be cutting my first feature film this fall. The Impersonators
, directed by Joshua Hull, started shooting today in the central Indiana area. I attended the last full table read and production meeting last night, and this is definitely going to be an interesting film to edit. The Impersonators is about a team of superhero impersonators who normally find themselves rented out for birthday parties or other recreational activities. Their whole team is booked to spend time in a small town bringing up the morale with their presence. Soon enough, they find themselves in a real superhero situation, and hilarity ensues. It's got a pretty large cast and stars comedian Josh Arnold. The audience is definitely the comic book movie lover - there are a lot of jabs and self-referential pokes in the script. It's also quite crude. I love it.
This will be the largest project I've ever cut on Avid Media Composer, and well, the largest project I've ever cut at all. The tone and what I'm guessing the cutting style of the film will be really matches closely to the kinds of film aesthetics I personally enjoy, which is exciting. The production will be shot on two GH2's with a bit on the AF100, so I've spent some time checking out the workflow and pitfalls of the footage.
I'm also on the post team for Kate Chaplin's feature film Ingenue
. I'm not sure what my final role will end up being, but I'm providing editorial support, color grading, VFX, and an opening title sequence for the film. Ingenue has a bit of buzz around it, which is exciting. My friend Katie Toomey
is editing the film, which is pretty cool because it will be HER first feature. It'll be interesting to go through the whole experience of editing for long form as she does as well.
I know a lot of editors all over the place have a desire to cut a narrative feature and don't ever have the opportunity, so it's pretty crazy that I have the opportunity to be doing work on TWO in the Indianapolis area. I was originally slated to co-edit a horror feature this fall, but that project fell apart in a matter of days. I'm glad to have this film to work on - it's suits my style, it's not so crazy that I'll need help, and the filmmakers have a great background. Lots of great stuff to chew on as an editor, too.
I'll be chronicling my experience editing my first feature in this blog series, documenting the successes and inevitable failures that will ensue. I'll probably also be asking for help occasionally too, so hopefully one of my dozens of readers may oblige.
So, to bring the whole thing up to speed until now, over the last month, I've been slowly getting ready to take this film on. I spoke with the director to get some idea about how post would go and set up the expectations, and we had a great conversation about the tone of the film. I did some refreshing in Avid, and some research since the last time I spent hours at a time in MC was not very recent. I edit in FCP7 all day at work and I can't switch to Avid there, so I'm going to have a really split personality by the time this film is locked. I really don't want to cut this in FCP7 for a number of reasons. I'm also in the process of re-arranging my edit cave to make it more habitable since I'll be in there a lot. It kind of feels like nesting.
We'll have a teaser available really soon after wrapping the film, long before post is even close to done. I'm not sure how often I'll be on set for the next week, which I think is good, keeping separation. I work better when I don't have any idea of what's happened during the shoot. I'm expecting to be working on the color grading and titling for this one too, so there will be plenty to do and talk about in this blog. Both The Impersonators and Ingenue are following a similar post timeline, so I guess I'll be spending another fall season mostly indoors (the way I like it.)
I'll be picking up the first batch of footage on Monday and I believe I'll start transcoding to DNxHD36 for the offline (unless for some reason that's a dumb idea), then start the logging process. Happily, there is a script supervisor on set every day who happens to be a familiar face that I trust.
So, a little more edit cave nesting tomorrow, then it begins.
When a dire situation is at hand, an cuddly little animal called the hairy frog (or even more affectionately, the horror frog) intentionally breaks its bones to form claws. Another creature called a horned lizard creates pressure in its nasal cavity so great, the blood vessels in its eyes burst, spraying attackers with blood. A possum will, uh, play possum, which includes foaming at the mouth and emitting a green anal fluid. Potato beetle larvae cover themselves in their own poop. And the poop is poisonous. An malaysian ants? They just self-destruct.
As editors, we become very intimate with footage and invested in a story from the very beginning. It's as if you build a personal relationship with the subject-matter, or even the subjects on the screen. There's a fine level of attachment and privacy to a film or video that's built up as you've worked on it. You've carefully crafted it. You've raised it from birth. You've slowly carved it out of stone. It's been molded in your very hands for the last week, month, or year. It's your little duckling that you've sheltered from the harsh reality of the world.
And now you're screening the final product for the first time, and people are going to look at it and tell you what they think about it and everything
You know that feeling where you want to melt into the floor to escape a situation? You should have been born a sea cucumber. They can turn from solid to liquid, and back again. Handy.
For me, the first screening of a finished (or semi-finished) product is fairly traumatic. And I think this is true for a lot of editors. But why? Shouldn't we be excited to show the world what we've done? Shouldn't we be eager to get it up on the big screen so we can start hearing feedback? Isn't the point of all this to tell a story that makes someone feel something? How they gonna feel anything if you hoard your work in your edit room on your little screen?
I am excited, and I want the feedback. I want people to experience what I've experienced. But the idea of blowing up the blood vessels in my eyes also becomes inexplicably appealing.
I have been wondering why this natural aversion to my work being shown happens. I've heard that some actors can't watch themselves on TV shows or in movies. Or artists can't view their own public exhibitions. Why is the transition from the creative environment into the cold, mean world so harsh? I mean, most of us as editors have developed a thick skin. We can defend our cuts. We're comfortable with our skills. It has nothing to do with confidence.
What makes watching your work on the screen without the ability to hit the spacebar and flee the area feel so different, psychologically?
I don't think I have to argue that a majority of editors are introverts. Sure, it's not always true, but generally if you enjoy the quiet solitude and reflection of 18 hours in a dark room on a sunny Spring day, you're probably seeing those same patterns throughout your lifestyle. Obviously being an introvert doesn't mean you're socially crippled or unable to be in public. In fact, most people aren't even entirely in one camp or another. Introverts aren't just shy. Shy people are freaked out in social settings, and introverts are not always as such. But what is true is that "introverts are people who find other people tiring." Could this be an explanation for my natural aversion to public screenings? A defense mechanism resulting in an involuntary reaction leaning toward solitude?
I find that public screenings are a lot like public speaking classes in high school. In these courses, you're often speaking about something that's supposed to be important to you (no doubt a strategy from teachers to make you care about the project.) You have a certain level of attachment to your subject, you've got a carefully crafted argument, and now you're facing 30 or 300 bored faces that are mostly just waiting for you to finish or fail, whichever comes first. Your palms get sweaty. Your blood pressure goes up. You're painfully aware of every tiny error you make in your speech. Minutes seem to turn into hours. But the truth is that hardly anyone ever notices this anxiety or stumbling. The audience doesn't know the intentions you held internally for the speech. Huge mistakes to you are tiny blips to them.
Back to the theater, and you're feeling the same way. You've got a carefully crafted argument in the form of a film, and you desire to change or affect a person with your argument. But just like in high school, the audience doesn't know your original intentions. They don't pick up on the things you wish you could fix.
But somehow, it doesn't make it any easier to realize that. So the big screen is somehow a threat to everything you hold dear in your edit, and you're trying to decide if you should hide in a closet or storm the stage "come at me bro" style. Maybe this feeling comes from a fight-or-flight response? Fight or flight, of course, is the surge of an animal's sympathetic nervous system that primes the animal for fighting or running. Basically, it's a response to stress that puts you on the offensive (running the hell away) or defensive (come at me!) In a very first world fashion, I seem to experience this feeling most when I go to see my work screened before an audience.
So, my frontal lobe knows what I'm going to put it through. Then my body reacts to these thoughts by turning all my systems up to 11. And the primal systems left over from millions of years of evolution release the same response as if I were being chased by a brontosaurus. (Yes, I know homo sapiens didn't exist when brontosauruses did, just let me have that fantasy, ok?)
It seems silly to be so bothered by 24 frames per second flashing by on a screen, but maybe I shouldn't feel that way. In a recent study about how films effect the human mind, researchers discovered that "movies activate every one of the seven intelligences: the logical (plot), the linguistic (dialogue), the visual-spatial (images), the musical (soundtrack), the interpersonal (storytelling), the intra-psychic (inner guidance), and even sometimes the kinesthetic (moving) as we tense up or move to the music." So the films themselves are turning all of my sectors up to max power as a
regular viewer. As someone deeply involved in all of these areas? Well, it's more like critical mass. I'm experiencing all of these, plus the additional things beyond the frame that the audience can never know.
Speaking of experiences beyond the frame, in the book "In the Blink of an Eye", editor Walter Murch says "Emotionally, it seems like some big hand has come and grabbed you up by the hair, picked you up, and put you down ninety degrees to one side. And you think, 'Oh god, look at that.' It's as if up to this moment you have been constructing a building but always standing in front of it to evaluate it. Now all of a sudden you are looking at the side of the building and seeing things you seem to have never seen before."
"Oh god, look at that." Sums up a public screening pretty well, I'd say.
Murch goes on to give some advice for dealing with screenings, stating that "Even with technically finished films, public previews are tricky things. You can learn a tremendous amount from them, but you have to be cautious about direction interpretations of what people have to say to you, particularly on those cards they fill out after the screening."
Of course, we all know that the interpretation of a film will vary wildly from one person to another. But it's hard not to get caught up in why one person may have a strongly negative reaction, while another will sing praises to you all night. As it turns out, it's all in their head.
In a research project a few years ago, some researchers tracked the brain activity of subjects while they watched several segments of films. As you'd expect, there was a certain level of similar behaviors. In fact, all the activity in the logical, sensory, or basic comprehension processing was pretty much the same. The really interesting part is that the interpretive parts of the brain always showed different patterns. There was never a match between subjects when it came to the emotional, intellectual, or perceiving parts. Logically, each person saw the film the same. Emotionally, entirely different.
This goes to show us that the basic form of a film may exist in the same way for each person, but the experience of it? Wildly unpredictable. I guess that's not really that surprising, but to see it exist as tangible data is pretty impressive.
So we're back around to our original premise: why do things change for us as editors when we have to show our work on a big screen to a bunch of people? An evolutionary defense mechanism? A psychological reaction? A biological response?
Like anything else in life, it's a big, complicated pot of a little of everything, I think. Natural caveman instincts. Emotional investment. Past experiences. As the great Ron Burgundy once said, we're in "a glass case of emotion." Everybody wants to be validated. Am I right? Am I?
But next time you're in the screening room, wishing you could burst forth some claws from your own hands or cover yourself in poisonous poop, remember: there are some people out there that are biologically programmed to hate your work! Great! May as well relax, grab a drink, sit down, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The screening room, while traumatic, is also an educational experience. Nobody can put it better than Murch: "The most helpful thing of all is simply learning how you feel when the film is being shown to 600 people who have never seen it before.
And be really glad that your human brain can understand and prevent these natural reactions from taking over, because nobody wants green anal ooze in a crowded theater.
I'm interested to hear what others have to say on this topic. How does the first public screening (or in progress screening) feel for you?
Half-assed bibliography (psh, I'm done with school, man):
"In the Blink of an Eye" - Walter Murch
A topic that always seems to create a big debate: the demo reel. Specifically, an editor demo reel. On one hand, it needs to be short right? So people will watch it? So string together some cool sequences and set it to a wicked techno track. But wait, no. You need to showcase your editing skills. Ok, so it'll be long. Grab some 2 minute sequences and slap them together. But wait, it's like 8 minutes long. Who will watch any of that? I'm doomed, DOOMED
The funny thing about this topic is that there doesn't really seem to be a 100% right or 100% wrong answer, though everyone feels their answer is the definitive one. When I was in college, I was given some advice about building a demo reel that I would consider to be a lot closer to the 100% wrong than anything else: pull together a bunch of cool looking shots, and edit them creatively together to a beat. "Your reel itself is your showpiece, it shows that you can edit." Meaning, the reel itself is demonstrating your editing ability, not what's within it. I completely disagree. It shows that I can edit a sizzle reel for a great DP and nothing else. What's the point of that?
And of course there's another whole subsection of editors that don't even have a demo reel. "I haven't needed one in years. People ask for me by name, or know me by reputation!"
That's super, but realistically there's a whole lot more of us still clamoring for gigs that need a solid reel.
So where do we meet on this? I'm going to tell you the strategy I've adopted for the time being. I don't know if it'll work for you, or if it even works for me, but I think it's an interesting approach to marketing yourself, because it applies some basic web video marketing techniques. Instead of marketing a product, you're marketing YOU
. If nothing else, hopefully it'll make you think about how you brand yourself online.
I don't actually have what I would consider to be a reel. Ok, well I do, but it's like the long one I mentioned, and I save it for special occasions and Bar Mitzvahs. The "reel" I have on the front page of my website is not a reel. It's basically a one minute video that introduces who I am, creates a personal connection (whether the viewer wants it to or not), and quickly showcases in quick succession the types of videos I've worked on by showing very quick samples. The point is not to show "hey this is how I edit" but to say "hey I have experience in these things, look at these shiny objects, also I'm a good person, I have these great skills, and you love me already now go watch the other stuff!"
At the end of my non-reel, I have a call to action that points the viewer to a sidebar next to the video. Here, I have links to 4 of my better or more interesting projects. This leads into a rabbit hole of portfolio work, where viewers can watch longer samples of my work. If they saw something they liked in my non-reel, they can find it in my portfolio.
So my reel blends both of the two big sides of the debate: it provides a super quick introduction into my work, showing some flashy images and motion graphics. Then it provides a way to watch the long forms. It's quick and compelling (I think or hope) and draws the viewer in, and they make their own decisions on where they go next with a little shove from me. It's a reel in some sense, and it's not in another. It just serves as a point of intrigue, to hopefully make the viewer leap from mildly interested to full-on looking within your website. In web marketing terms, making a conversion.
If you take away the call to action and make it a stand-alone piece, it's the kind of reel I mentioned above that I feel is pointless. The engagement and utilization within a site is what makes it different.
I'm not saying my "reel" is perfect, or my website couldn't use some updating. I'm saying this has worked as a great solution to the debate for me. It lets me tell a story and provide an experience to the viewer. And isn't that what we're usually hired to do?
Of course, it makes me really nervous to draw attention to my reel, as I know there are a lot of improvements I could make. Some suggestions I've had are things like replacing the software text with graphics, adding graphics for clients I've done work for, making the text more kinetic, adding lower thirds to describe videos as they pop up, showing some before/after comparisons for comps...and of course, getting better video to feature. That last suggestion was mine, though. Ugh. My own worst critic. (Look at the front page of my website, www.kyleewall.com
, if you want to see this in practice.)
In the age of web marketing, it seems to me a proper step forward to stop thinking in terms of "reels" and start thinking in terms of web video marketing for one's own self - using all the tools at your disposal together to create a full package.
I'm always curious to hear what everyone else is doing. How are you using the internet to your advantage? Do reels truly even matter at all anymore when people can just go on your website and watch the whole thing? Or are they vital to your hiring? Do you get asked for one?
Today, I was checking on some video analytics for a client's YouTube account. I manage the postings for the account, and use the data to develop stronger videos as time goes on.
YouTube recently redesigned their analytics dashboard (again), and one of the changes was the addition of "Audience Retention." This feature kind of existed before as "Hot Spots." Hot Spots compared your video to other videos across YouTube of similar length, and showed you a relative graph of how much of your audience you were retaining relative to the other videos. The graph would show you peaks and valleys so you could check where people were likely skipping forward (valley), rewinding a section (peaks), or just leaving altogether (downward slope). It was a really good indicator of what people liked or didn't like about your video, and I used it a lot to see where I was losing people. It was a bit vague though -- it didn't really offer any true numbers, just "hot!" or "cold!"
The Audience Retention feature now calls this "Relative Audience Retention," one of two options available to view. The other option? Absolute Audience Retention. A real time, moment by moment graph of your viewers' attention to your video - and ONLY your video. I was checking some videos today on the Absolute Retention, including one of the most popular postings in the last year. This video has gotten a ton of views and is currently sitting at number 4 in the top 10 videos on the account.
The retention rate for the final two minutes of the video: 15%.
This video is the last part in a four part series following two guys as they go through a school. It's shown to new students in the classroom on the first or second day of classes, and I've been told that it's helped a lot to improve graduation rates since it puts people at ease. We've gotten a lot of really good feedback and students are engaged in the video the whole time (mostly, anyway). They remember the information provided, and their questions to instructors are better since they are more informed about everything.
The structure of the piece is pretty simple, basically three quick acts. The setup: it's the final day of class, the students have to pass a test, and there's a dramatic build up. Will they fail? Will they succeed? Then they pass and talk about how it felt and where they go next. Informative (if a little too talky at times but that's another post), sucks the students in, plays well on the big screen.
It gets a LOT of views on YouTube, but it simply doesn't hold the attention of the viewer the same way. They barely make it halfway through, and certainly don't make it to the end where we tell them what action they should be taking next. 7000 views in the last few months, but only 15% of those viewers are seeing the entire video.
This has made me think a lot about how to approach an edit for the web. In this case, the YouTube views fall off dramatically as soon as viewers know the outcome of the tests - basically, after the climax, they run for the door (typical.) The topic of the video is obviously a really popular search term since so many people hit it. But then they bail. Why? I'm assuming they just wanted to see what the test was like, and were engaged just enough to care if the guys passed. They aren't a captive audience, they're distracted by a million other things on the Internet, and while my video is answering their questions, they would prefer to be entertained instead. My conclusion is that I need to do more videos with this subject, and be more clever about how the action unfolds, and how I deliver the calls to action. The information you can gain from these graphs is not always so abstract. It can be as simple as checking to see if a setup falls flat, if a hook is grabby enough, or I suppose you could even compare versions of videos to see if different edits or graphics make a difference.
The interesting thing is that if you look at the Relative Retention on this video, it's not awful. Remember, this compares the audience retention to videos of similar length to yours.
What does that tell me? It tells me that YouTube users have no frickin' attention span, and it's all part of the challenge when editing for the Internet.And there's an awful lot of horrible crap on YouTube, weighing down the site.
And a lot of web video experts will tell you different things about this. The big thing right now seems to be "if your content is engaging, people will watch the whole thing no matter the length!" Yea, maybe for some audiences. But not all of them. This video I'm talking about is tightly edited, packed with good information, well-recieved among students, and answers a lot of questions. But YouTube viewers in my neck of the woods aren't interested. They might stick around if there was a nude woman, maybe. And that's a big maybe. I have to play a game with them and try new things to engage them and make them realize that this is the exact information they were seeking.
Go check out that Audience Retention tab on YouTube and see what juicy bits you can glean from it about your media. Are people rewinding a part to watch repeatedly, maybe a comedic cut? Are people fast-forwarding in a section that lags? Are you losing viewers in droves? Why? Of course, it's all one big psychological study. Who really knows what goes on in the brain of a typical YouTube user? And do any of us REALLY want to know?