Musings on Assaulting Overweight Women – My First Feature (The Impersonators)

This is an on-going post-production diary I’m keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.

To my delight, this year has been filled with many opportunities to get advice and tips on editing from some of the top editors in the world. Between NAB, Editfest, and the weekly Twitter chat #postchat, I’ve been up to my ears in wisdom on cutting film and television.

Of course, in central Indiana I’m pretty well saturated in corporate video work, so I was getting all these amazing pieces of advice thinking “Well, I guess I’ll write it down so maybe someday when I edit a film, it might be useful.”

Well crap, here I am.

And when I last left off, I was embracing the idea of failing and learning along the way, all the while wondering if Avid would even cooperate with me. I’m happy to report that once I figured out how to get my footage into Media Composer, it’s been pretty smooth since then. I was a little shaky at first, re-acclimating to Avid. I’ve used FCP7 all day (most days) for the better part of the last 4 years, and I’ve not had my hands on an Avid for more than some small things. I spent an hour reviewing Class on Demand’s Avid for FCP Users to re-adjust my thinking, and then I was doing fine.

My rough cut is at about 25 minutes run time right now and I’ve hit no major issues in the edit. Everything is organized. It’s a nice little sanctuary. I’ve had a few fairly complex scenes already, but my mellow has not been harshed yet thanks to some thoughtful words from the elder editors among us.

Sage Advice #1: “@kyl33t Cut talky scenes first with camera on each person talking so that everyone gets their say. Then go through and overlap etc #postchat” – John Lee (@godbolt), via #postchat September 5, 2012

One of the most complex scenes I’ve ever cut happened last weekend. It takes place in a conference room and consists of 10 different characters having a fast-paced discussion. There were a lot of takes, 6 or 7 different setups, and some other challenges that I won’t get into just yet. I needed to find and accentuate the best performances, find the best reactions, and figure out the rhythm of a scene with so many people who were just sitting around talking.

A few weeks ago, #postchat’s special guest was John Lee, who was involved with the editorial of amazing films such as The Matrix, The Prestige, and Inception. John was kind enough to answer our many questions for the hour, and he told me to give every character their say, then worry about overlapping and everything else. Simple, but I’ve not cut a lot of dialogue before. When I cut shorts in the past I kind of did this but tended to jump into the refinement, which wasn’t that big of a deal since it was short. A long scene? Many scenes? That could be difficult.

So I decided to make an effort to take a segmented approach: get it in the timeline, then find the pacing and overlapping and trims, add it reactions, etc. A little at a time.

Since I had already sorted everything and marked my favorite takes, I was just pulling from what I knew was the best. And then I had the scene cut far earlier than I expected. Does it still need work? Hell yes. Is it going to change drastically? Yep. But was I uncharacteristically happy with a rough cut? Yes I was.

This advice is so simple, yet so helpful. Especially to someone who cuts mostly unscripted and works in a much different way trying to assemble pieces. Narrative is a whole different thing. I love it.

Sage Advice #2: “Always be solving! Black holes in a time-line need to be solved. Leaving them unattended weakens your story. #cutting” – Steve Audette

At Post Production World at NAB, I spent some time in Steve Audette’s documentary sessions. Much of my day job consists of editing things that aren’t scripted, so it’s been pretty damn helpful already. But even though I’m cutting a narrative piece and not a documentary, I’ve been keeping this in the back of my mind when I want to just leave a part to figure out later: don’t leave black holes in your timeline.

I know as I continue the rough cut that I’m leaving areas where the cut is weak or needs more thought – that’s just the nature of a rough. However, as I’m going through, I’m not leaving anything completely undone. I feel like if I leave problems until the end, they’ll all gang up on me to frustrate me. But most of all, if something truly isn’t working in the edit, it’s a big early indication that something might not be working overall, and that seems like it will radiate down stream in the story.

By not leaving any big problems to solve later and at least offering a contingency for issues, I’m making sure that I have SOME solution to offer. Plus, I don’t want to spring 5 different unsolvable problems upon the director after I finish my first pass.

(And this advice happens to be a tweet because I can’t find a direct quote from the sessions, but it was basically the same idea.)

Sage Advice #3: “The first cut is like a fat woman falling down the stairs” – Jeffrey Ford ACE at Editfest NY, 2012

Ah yes, now the title of the blog post makes sense. Here’s the biggest thing with the rough cut to me: it’s going to suck. I mean, it might not be the worst thing ever (I hope it isn’t). I was even pretty happy with the first cut of that scene I mentioned. But there are other scenes that pretty much just suck. And when I watch the first cut again later after picture lock, I’m going to think “holy crap, that sucked!”

The hardest part with a rough cut is knowing that it’s a rough cut and not trying too hard to make it perfect on the first pass. It’s going to make a better movie if you work through it and have a little patience with yourself (but not too much patience, we do have deadlines, hurry up, jeez!) The rough is rough, but it’s assembled. When it’s all together, you can see the story emerging, and the issues arising. It’s such an important part of the process, but it’s also one that can be frustrating as hell. I just want to see it perfect!

I think if you make peace with your rough early on, it’ll be a happier cut because you won’t be reflecting your frustration onto it. It will benefit from my knowledge of the scenes on either side of it – because those are often the scenes that determine if it works. I’ve tried hard to keep that in the back of my mind.

(Jeffrey Ford is a super cool guy. One of the most chilled out editors I’ve ever met.)

BONUS: “HULK THANK NETWORK GUY FOR TODAYS WORDS OF WISDOM:COMEDY IS FUCKING HARD IN AN EDIT BAY. SAD BY GUY WHO SPENT 12 MINUTES IN EDIT BAY.” – @AvidEditor_Hulk

I’ve cut comedy shorts before, and horror shorts and other types of shorts. Comedy is the most difficult to cut, I think. You can ruin a joke with a bad cut. You can save an iffy joke with a good cut. The timing of the editing becomes another voice in the film. Developing my sense of comedic timing as it pertains to this film has been interesting, and trying to get a handle for maintaining a humorous tone with a good pace during a much longer duration has been a great challenge so far.

So far, so good. I’ve benefited greatly from the advice of those around me and I’m grateful for a community of people who share things so eloquently.

And just for fun, I’ll throw in the teaser again. Just because it’s suddenly hit another wave of popularity and will surely be hitting 11,000 views today!

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