My Leap into Cutting for Broadcast

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.

Not because I’ve never really had physical copies of any of my work (though outside of a DVD or two, that’s definitely true), but because this was my first time cutting a television series and I’m pleased to announce I didn’t screw any of it up.

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.

I ended work at my last job on a Thursday. The following Thursday, I drove from Indianapolis to Atlanta. 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.

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.

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.

And compared to FCP7 and Media Composer, I’d hardly used Premiere before I jumped fully into it for this show. 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 to wrap my mind around it in theory. Like standing or using a Wacom or being in a dark room all day, switching NLEs was the least of my challenges in this gig. 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, or a responsive producer.

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. Oh, it’s wrong? Delete, upload again. Tape isn’t 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 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. A weird concept to be learning for the first time in 2013, but now I appreciate FTP just a little bit more.

Beyond all the technical challenges and 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 show was having authorship over a thing. A thing people watch willingly that is trying to change the world for the better, specially in a way that I support on my own time. I 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 was yesterday, 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.

(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.)