“What Do You Do Again?” is Stareable’s new weekly column profiling the different film production roles. What roles should we profile next? Let me know in the comments!
“Fix it in post” is a phrase so overused it’s mostly a joke, but there’s a reason it’s a cliche- film editors are magic.
What do editors do? Lightning round:
- Compile footage from a shooting day and assemble it
- Fix issues like color, lighting, framing, and sound after a scene has been shot
- Magically transform 20 hours of uncut sound and video files into a coherent, beautiful story
Editors are solely in charge of post production. Nicholas Franco, a professional editor from LA, laments that he’s “worked on a bunch of projects where individuals expect me to do all of their graphics, VFX, audio, color, etc.” While a working knowledge of all of these elements is important, in general, most editors are specialized. There are colorists, who focus entirely on color correcting footage, graphics specialists, special effects folks, as well as the actual person who cuts the picture together. In indie film, you’ll usually only have one or two of these people, in which case you have to be realistic about what your team and project can actually accomplish without fifteen specialists.
Editing fixes all problems. We joke about “fixing it in post” when something goes wrong on set, but it’s not that simple. “We cannot fix every single problem no matter how much we are asked to do so,” Franco admits. If they’re given fuzzy footage, bad sound, and awkward performances chock full of continuity errors, there’s only so much even the most skilled editor can do to salvage the project. Plus, this kind of thinking puts a ton of “added pressure on the editor” when the rest of the production team doesn’t realize this, Franco says.
Editors start work once filming wraps. Getting an editor involved earlier in your production process makes for a higher-quality finished product. Editors can offer suggestions in pre-production, plus recommend reshoots during the production period if something isn’t working during end-of-day edits.
Editors have no say in the project. Not only is this untrue, but some people consider editors to be the post-production writers- they are the final stage of a story. Sometimes, what works on a page doesn’t work on set, and sometimes what works on set doesn’t work in the edit. The writer, director, and editor are all important steps in the storytelling process, and no one should discount the others.
Timidity. Both Franco and Illisa Greenberg, another LA-based professional film editor, agreed that a lack of assertiveness is the biggest mistake for new editors. Franco stresses assertiveness on the grounds of limitations, saying “there’s nothing wrong with telling someone that a certain creative choice isn’t feasible.”
Greenberg takes assertiveness in a different direction, recommending that when talking to the director, “you need to find a balance in letting them have their vision and also helping to make a good film.” Remember- just because you might not have been on set doesn’t mean you’re any less vital to the project, and your voice deserves to be heard.
Walling yourself off. Editing is one of the most solitary film roles sometimes, aside from perhaps writing, but collaboration is vital to the success of the project. As Franco puts it, “there needs to be a collaborative relationship with the director/producers otherwise the project will suffer from a lack of opposing creative opinion.” It can be tempting to put the project together in your own way, but remember that you’re part of a team, and making major decisions before consulting your teammates will frustrate everyone.
How can I learn to be an editor?
As is so often the case, the best way to learn editing is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. “[Cut] as much as you can: short films, web series, etc,” says Franco. “While some of them might be no pay/low pay, those are contacts for the future; they might work on something that they will bring you on later. But also remember to know your worth. Don’t allow yourself to be overworked/mistreated.”
While adding to your own portfolio, Greenberg recommends that “to really learn about how professional editors work, it’s a good idea to try to become a Post PA so you can get paid and be in the editor’s environment at the same time.” She knows what she’s talking about, too- she was a Post PA on the new film Everything Everything.
Ok, so maybe film editors aren’t magic, and thinking they are puts undue pressure on a really important member of your team. Editing is a complicated and time-consuming process, and without a talented person at the helm, no one will ever see the hard work put in by the rest of the team.