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Old January 20th, 2002, 11:18 AM   #1
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What Is A Master Editor?

This question is for Ozzie Alfonso, but I would welcome comments from any of the pros out there whos video is the product of a team effort.

Ozzie, you have commented numerous times on the difficulty in finding editors that are not only familiar with specific NLE hardware and software, but ones who are also proficient in their field. Can you enlighten us non-professionals, hobbyists and others new to NLE just what you look for in a good editor; one you would call a Master Editor? In an operation such as yours, how much responsibility is given the editor with regard to the final product?

Thanks,
Ed Frazier
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Old January 21st, 2002, 12:57 AM   #2
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Ed,

Let me take a stab at an answer. The editing process, much like many other aspects of filmmaking or videography, is more of an art than a skill. Good editors, the ones I often describe as "master editors", are the ones who can take mediocre footage and shape it into, if not a work of art, at least into a good story. Many good editors have saved many directors' rear ends by infusing the story with the pacing and structure a lesser editor might not have been able to achieve.

When ALL editing meant film editing, it was easy to see the art of editing since all the technology an editor had was mechanical - a Moviola, a Steebeck or a KEM and a hot splicer. Bins were real bins with film hanging into a canvas bag and trims were frames kept in envelopes. My uncle was a "master tailor" - he cut suits for well known personalities. I recall him with rolls of cloth spread out on a table that filled most of the room and, equipped with big scissors and marking pencil in hand, he would perform his magic – drawing and cutting patterns that didn’t look like much until I saw his well-known clientele wearing my uncle's fine custom tailored suits. When I first began looking over film editors’ shoulders I couldn’t help thinking of my uncle. The processes were remarkably similar. The editor sitting in front of a flat bed Moviola that was not too unlike a sewing machine, cutting lengths of films and quickly splicing them together, syncing the audio reels and playing bits of the cuts one at a time. At first the process looked very haphazard and chaotic but if I stood watching over the editor’s shoulders long enough I could see the shape of something beginning to form. Weeks later, when all the disparate pieces of film were finally spliced together and the soundtrack laid in, I was always in awe of how much meaning the editor had wrought from those little pieces of film with his or her bare hands.

Today when we think of editing we tend to think of the technology – NLE, Avid, Canopus, FCP, compression ratios, algorithms, sampling rates, and what not. We know there’s an editor involved but often we tend to place the emphasis on the technology when in reality no technology is worth anything unless there’s a person – and editor, an artist, who can transcend the technology and go right to what is important – the creation of a story well told.

So we come to the crux of your question - how much responsibility is given the editor with regard to the final product. Although the degree of responsibility varies depending on the complexity and nature of the production, in general the answer is – a great deal of responsibility. If I’m doing a documentary or a biography, I just get together with the editor once, go over the footage and explain what I have in mind. I go away and come back when the first rough is ready. If the editor is one of the good one, the rest is a matter of refining. The same is true of dramatic productions although here the editor needs to be familiar with the script and the style of the director. But the process is much the same. Often, a really good editor will spot weaknesses in the script and devise ways of making the script come to life with a dynamism neither the writer nor the director had envisioned. I had an editor once who altered the order of scenes on me and showed me how that made the story more interesting. More than one editor has taught me to throw away the master shot. As a result I now save a lot of production time.

In summary, if I had a choice between an editor who hasn’t mastered whatever NLE is in vogue and an “editor” who really knows the interfaces and all the shortcuts of any particular NLE, I’d opt for a really good editor – a “master” at his or her craft that will make me, the writer or director or producer, look good. Editing is still 1% technical skill and 99% pure talent.

I hope I have shed some light on what I mean by a master editor. I certainly used enough words. I think I need an editor for this message.
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Last edited by Ozzie Alfonso; January 21st, 2002 at 11:51 PM.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:53 AM   #3
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Ozzie,

Your response to all this is greatly greatly appreciated!
Some things are a bit difficult to understand for us non
professionals. One thing that I want to ask you that
comes neatly after what I just said is proper film education.
Do you think this is a neccesity? Why I am asking this?
Because I am at the point in my life (at least I think I am :)
to make such a discussion. Let me explain a bit more.

I live The Netherlands (sometimes better known as Holland).
Now here in Europe film and TV production is a much
smaller "company" then over in the states. I am currently
working in the Internet industry as a professional
programmer building Internet sites and corporate Intranets.
I know I don't want to do this job for the rest of my life
and always have had warm feelings for film / tv. I recently
bought the XL1S, started reading many books and am
planning to start my first short movie in a couple of months.

I have also been looking into schooling. Private schooling
on a school like the SAE (www.sae.edu) but also "public"
schooling in the Dutch Film and Telivision Academy (hihgly
difficult to get into). The last one is a 4 year fulltime school
in which you can go down paths like directing, editting,
camera & light operating etc. Not that I want to put my
decision on your shoulders, but how much do you value
schooling? Is it important to attend such a school?

Any ideas etc. on this would be highly appreciated!

Thank you,
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Old January 21st, 2002, 08:32 AM   #4
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Thanks Ozzie,

I appreciate the time you take to share your experience and knowledge with the members of this forum. Personally, I have no desire to produce movies with my video equipment, but I do find the topic very interesting. Thanks again.

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Old January 21st, 2002, 12:40 PM   #5
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Thank You, Ozzie

"...I was always in awe of how much meaning the editor had wrought from those little pieces of film with his or her bare hands."

As a newcomer to this field "in awe" also expresses my observation of just how much influence editing has on the final product.

When viewing a film or short show it's sometimes hard to determine just how much expertise and effort went into the edit. After all, we only see the end product not the "bins" of tiny clips that the editor had to string together to sculpt the product. Most often we notice how scenes are lit and framed. Of course we may recognize if something drags or hops but that's about it.

Although I've recently retired from a different field I was educated as an architect. Surely, I thought, so many years of visual education would give me some advantage in learning the ropes of shooting and editing. A bit, but not much. Trying my hand with editing over the past year has taught me that this is a real mind-game art. I've found it, for example, fascinating to take 20 or so related clips and try to string them together several different ways to give a completely different impression each time. Certainly our electronic tools make such an effort a bit easier to accomplish. And mastering the tool is essential. But in the end, the final product is one of imagination, talent and ingenuity. The particular tool seems incidental. Indeed, many of the features that NLEs tout (ex: 150 whiz-bang transitions in real time) are of very little value, if any, to the editing process.

I feel very fortunate to now have the time, resources and youth to devote to this field that has fascinated me for many years. One day I'd like to have the chance to sit over the shoulder of an experienced editor and just watch him/her sculpt a good story from (preferably) marginal clips of clay. This is alot more interesting than fly fishing or golf to me.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 12:48 PM   #6
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I don't know, Ken.

Ever see what a good fly fisherman can do with a marginally well-tied fly? Of a good golfer with a beat up old 7 iron?

[Speaking out in support of the fly fishing and golf lobbies]
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:03 PM   #7
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Ken,

As an architect you must be very familar with form follows function. Much of the wizbang effects and cutting styles prominent today not only in commercials but in many features as well are excellent examples of "function follows form." Another way of putting it - style with no particular function other than pure "flash." Everytime I see a commercial with a new effect, I know there's a new black box or add-on that has just been introduced. Many editors just can't resist using new toys even when they add nothing of value to the message. I'm guilty of that as well - I remember when ADO was introduced (Ampex Digital Optics) and I saw it could do a page turn, spin the frame 360, or flip it 180 - hey I used all of those effects until I realized they were adding nothing beyond me saying "look what I can do." Stuff like that can be useful but it grows tiresome very quickly. If I see the camera array effect (Matrix, GAP commercials, etc.) one more time I'll scream. Nice, but what's the point?

I have a friend who's a very good architect - if you've ever been to San Antonio's River Walk you have seen his work all around - we were once talking about the similarites between film and architecture. I always recall his comparison: "Film passes by you while in architecture you pass by it." He really saw the two forms as more related than we care to admit. Walking through a building, or the River Walk, the "story" unfolds as you walk through it at your own pace.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:12 PM   #8
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I agree heartily with ya'll. Except for a couple of occasions, I've never felt the urge to use any transitions other than the standards. And as for effects I tend to be conservative there as well.

Seems to me that when I sit back and think really hard about the movies, shows, and commercials that stick out in my mind as the most impressive and memorable, hardly any of them involve slick gimmicks. Instead, they focus on atmosphere, character, and story.

I just wish that some of today's editors would jump off the current "machine gun cut/jump cut"-style bandwagon and take another look at Kubrick's films, Redford's films, etc...those known for a tad slower pace. Seems it's becoming a lost art.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:32 PM   #9
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While an undergrad, I was an Architecture major at a very good school for drawing straight lines, Kansas State University. I did not get a degree there, switching instead to a major in Film at a very good school for making pictures, The University of Texas at Austin. While a very far cry from having any real expertise in either architecture or film, the similiarities between the two studies has always been to me both highly notable and readily apparant. Thanks for discussing that comparison here. By the way, for my wife and I, the San Antonio River Walk has always been one of our favorite places to experience. We're very fortunate to be less than an hour away from downtown San Antonio.

Anyone who has a desire to see the River Walk but can't get to Texas should rent one of my favorite Sam Peckinpah films, "The Getaway" with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Not only will you get a close-up view of the River Walk in detail, but you'll also see a good portion of my town, San Marcos, all through a 1972 window. The all-important pink "Beacon City Bank" building is directly across the street from Media Design, the little studio Dave Newman and I started in January of 1995, and there's a good clear shot of that intersection, Guadalupe & Hopkins streets (the parade scene), where I first met my wife a few months later in July of '95. My life on someone else's film.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:38 PM   #10
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Memories

I remember exactly where that is, Chris.

I used to hangout after class at the Green Parrot. San Marcos really is a jewel of a town.

And the Riverwalk? Closest thing to Europe in North America south of Quebec City.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:39 PM   #11
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<<<-- Originally posted by Rob Lohman : One thing that I want to ask you that comes neatly after what I just said is proper film education. Do you think this is a neccesity? -->>>

Rob,

Since I read you message I called two so called "master editors" I know and asked them where they learned their craft - both had the same answer - by watching good editors and good editing and by doing it for many years. Neither of them has any formal film education. Both of them had the good fortune to be assistants to good editors.

Although I'm prone to theorizing, I don't place much value on it. "Film theory" as a college course is of limited value. I would opt for a more hands-on approach to learning. Still there's a lot to be learned by watching the films of the masters - for example, Abel Gance's "Napoleon"; anything by Einsenstein- both from the silent movie era when editing was everything. Francois Truffeau is one of my modern favorite's (watch how he compensates for poor continuity by "cutting on the action"). Hitchcock is always great to watch for he gave the editors very little to work with. To see his movies is to see his editing as well. More close to home there's Robert Altman - he's of particular interest if you're doing MiniDV stuff. His constant use of overlapping dialog and multiple character scenes, familiar and nightmarish sitiations to any MiniDV videographer, are pulled off with great elegance and seamless editing.

I would never discourage anyone from getting a "formal" education but most of what you'll end up learning will be acquired "on the job" by simply watching and doing. When you see commercials or films, try to see how they're assembled. This might ruin the film for you but it's worth the price of admission.

You've posed a tough and delicate question. One that calls for a good deal of thought if I'm to give a useful answer. I don't know if I'm even coming close to helping.
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Old January 21st, 2002, 03:55 PM   #12
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<<<-- Originally posted by Chris Hurd : I did not get a degree there, switching instead to a major in Film at a very good school for making pictures, The University of Texas at Austin. While a very far cry from having any real expertise in either architecture or film, the similiarities between the two studies has always been to me both highly notable and readily apparant. -->>>

Chris,

I don't know if it has any relevance, but my architect friend was a professor at UT Austin. That's where I met him in 1973 and we became instant friends. Cy Wagner. He now lives in NYC and spends most of his days painting with oils.

Before Cy, the hotels and restaurants along the river in San Antonio had their backs to the river. Cy's simple and brilliant idea was to turn them around 180 degrees and have everything face the river - to make the river, not the open sewer it was becoming, but the central focus of the city. He developed the River Walk build on different levels with small bridges crossing over it. To Cy "El Paseo del Rio" was his big feature film. He wasn't the only architect involved, but, in my opinion, the most influencial.
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Old January 22nd, 2002, 10:18 AM   #13
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Ozzie,

Your response is much appreaciated, and it certainly
is usefull and helping too me! I know this is a very
delicate matter, if only I could look into the future
sometimes :) ... oh well.... The problem here in holland
is to get your foot into the door, so to speak. I think
it is much harder to get noticed without going through
this school. Most graduates are already on a job
when they leave there. There aren't a lot each year
anyway. The selection is harsh and competition strong.
For directing they only have 12 places, last year 260
applied, to give you an indication. I'm thinking about
applying to editting though if i'm going at all. I'll let
you know how it works out!

Is it perhaps possible to e-mail some more about this
all? If so, please send me an e-mail at the address in
my signature.

Thank you for your time!
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Old January 22nd, 2002, 10:30 AM   #14
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<<<-- Originally posted by Rob Lohman : .... The problem here in holland is to get your foot into the door, so to speak. I think
it is much harder to get noticed without going through
this school. Most graduates are already on a job
when they leave there. -->>>

Rob,

If that's the case, and it is in here also with some employers, then by all means get into that school. When I graduated from college I had a BA degree in Theatre. I wanted to get into filmmaking but somehow "theatre" didn't translate into "filmmaking" at any of the film schools I applied to. I settled for a master's program in television where I was able to put together all the elements of what I already knew. I guess my work in graduate school was a bit unorthodox because all my teachers were down on my work while all the students (my peers) were very pleased with it. (Those were the rebellious 60's - 1968-9 to be exact.) I must have made an impression since several years later I got a call from one of those students who had not forgotten by "artsy" stuff and she pulled me over to Sesame Street where she was already working. So one can never predict where anything will lead. I tell my son, now 14, to do whatever he enjoys doing, the way he knows best. That's about all the advice I can give anyone. Hey, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Yeah, right mom.
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Old January 22nd, 2002, 10:34 AM   #15
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Rob --

<< Is it perhaps possible to e-mail some more about this
all? If so, please send me an e-mail at the address in
my signature. >>

Please, for the benefit of everybody else, let's keep the discussions online where everyone can see them, participate, and learn.

Ozzie --

I took all the Film Theory classes at UT, because I couldn't afford the production classes but I could afford the writing classes. The filmmaking classes cost an extra $500 each, for 16mm stock and developing. As a dirt-poor undergrad, I couldn't swing that, but I could buy paper and I typed everything on an old World War Two surplus Remington Rand (with a Courier font).

I'm most grateful for my degree, and I like the way it hangs on my wall. It didn't teach me a damn thing about production, though. I learned production the hard way, by shooting and editing PSA's all by myself, for Channel 7 in Austin. These were buried at sign-off but it was a good feeling to be on the air learning from my own mistakes while my classmates were struggling with their little group projects that weren't guaranteed to show at the student film screening. My degree from UT taught me more than anything else, "how to learn," in a way that highly motivated me, by being a film major. I knew then that it didn't mean anything and I still know it now, but above all else, I learned how to learn, an invaluable lesson well worth the time and money of university education.

I was there at the same time as Robert Rodriguez. We didn't know each other, never met, but we had a lot of the same classes and instructors. His comic strip "Los Hooligans" was a huge hit with the entire campus. I'd love to go back to get my master's, because I really enjoy writing and being in school, but I can't afford the time. I have too many fishes to fry as it is. Still have the Remington Rand, though. I don't type on it anymore but it reminds me where I've been.
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