The first time I met Shane was at Bandito Brothers last year, when he and the Director Po Chan asked me to edit “The Last 3 Minutes.” I had worked for the Banditos as a freelance editor for three years and had cut dozens of projects there, but never crossed paths with Shane. When I did get a chance to meet him, I realized that this man is a force of nature and has more enthusiasm for filmmaking and sharing his knowledge than anyone I’ve ever met. He asked me to guest blog about editing, so allow me to pull the curtain back on the workflow, mindset and process of Editing Shane…
I’m principally a feature film editor but to keep fresh and to hone my craft I take as many commercials, shorts, viral videos, and short form projects as I can handle. Each gig is a new experience and takes a different approach and that’s important to your sanity when you are locked in a edit bay (the cave) for hours at a time. I’ve cut around a dozen projects for Shane and each one has its own special challenge. The one constant on editing Shane is that you will get the most unusual and awesome footage you’ve ever seen. You will also get ten cameras worth of angles for each shot. You will never have to ask, “Did you guys get a shot of…?” Yup, it’s there and then some. I know that all the stuff I need to do my job will be there in spades.
QUICK TIP #1: Always shoot as much as possible. There is no such thing as overshooting. There’s just the dreaded, “We gotta go back and grab a shot.”
What to edit on? I’ve cut on Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut and Adobe Premiere on professional gigs. They are all just tools to help accomplish the job in the most efficient way possible. My advice…learn all three if you want to be a working editor. Between keyboard shortcuts, free online tutorials and the trial versions of each NLE, you can bounce back and forth between all of them. At Bandito Brothers and Hurlbut Visuals I’ve cut on all three systems depending on what was needed for each project in terms of which format captured, what codec converted to, VFX needs and sometimes which edit bay is available. As of right now my favorite and most used NLE is definitely Adobe Premiere CS5…and if you shoot on DSLRs or deal with h.264 footage, it should be yours too.
The simple fact of cutting without transcoding h.264 footage in Premiere by itself is miraculous. Editing off a USB portable hard drive or even off a CF card minutes after shooting is soooo liberating. With many jobs having smaller budgets, tighter schedules and yet more footage (!), every moment is precious. Any minute I gain so I can familiarize myself with the footage and wrap my brain around a plan of attack makes life easier. When that time is spent transcoding to another format you can’t look at it, your computer is being tied up and huge monster-sized files are steadily filling your hard drives. The freedom to start cutting right away on Premiere is a huge treat. Even on my old Macbook Pro laptop and 2006 Mac Pro towers without the latest video cards, the Mercury Engine plays back smoothly and in real time. I will invest in better video cards at some point but for now, I’m happy and productive with the set up.
QUICK TIP #2: An editor should be as familiar with his footage as humanly possible. Keep looking through it until it is burned into your brain and you are batting away the monkeys attacking you in your dreams. Yah, that’s happened. Good times.
In another interview with Shane and Jacob Rosenberg, I learned that Adobe created Premiere CS5 with DLSRs in mind to keep the purest image, most latitude and highest quality from an 8-bit source. I don’t know what voodoo sorcery it is, but I have seen the results and the eyes don’t lie. It just looks better then transcoded footage. What’s great is that it doesn’t affect my editing at all and I know that when I hand off my cut to the VFX and colorist, they are going to make it shine and pop.
To be fair, I cut on Avid, FCP and Premiere every week and they all rock. What Shane and others are doing with the DSLR revolution, is showing that everyone has the opportunity to create stunning images to tell their stories. Right now, Premiere makes it easiest to handle DSLR footage and create your final product. That could change with the next release of FCP or Avid but until then, I’ll stick with Premiere.
I would like to share some of my editing set-ups that help me work quicker and more efficiently. If possible, try to edit on 2 monitors. They could be 17”, 21” or the enormous 30” bad boys. It really helps to have real estate for you to be creative and effective. I like to have just the source and program views above the timeline on one screen and my bins, effects and audio monitor on a separate screen. In my bins of footage I always use the biggest thumbnails possible and arrange them by shot in rows with the later takes to the right. This way I can find shot 4A/take 3 in a flash and not keep the director waiting while I…”uhmmmm…one sec (click), it should be (click), right here…(click), that’s not it…hold on (click), maybe…”. Yah, that’s happened. Good times. We are visual creatures, make it easy on yourself and use thumbnails instead of MVI_A005689.
I also like to drag the video layer 1 up so it’s taller and you can see the thumbnail on the timeline. Same for audio layer 1. Anything to make your timeline easier on the eyes and faster for your brain to comprehend will save time.
One of the biggest time-savers is to customize your keyboard to whatever you are most familiar with. I like to use the FCP keyboard preset inside Premiere, then make a couple more tweaks so I’m comfortable. I’ve cut on FCP since 2001 so I’m most confident with that layout and think it’s great that Premiere includes it and an Avid layout. NLEs are just tools so make them work for you in the best way possible.
QUICK TIP #3: I use this tip all day long. Inside the keyboard customization option under the EDIT tab at the top of Premiere…I like to assign the “maximize frame” button on the program screen to the “~” key.
Then, if you hover over any screen on the layout it will go FULL SCREEN when you hit the “~” key. Hit it again to return to the normal layout. Quick shout out to editor Chris Fenwick who posted this tip as well…super helpful!
Once all your settings, footage and game-plan are ready…it’s time to edit! Although the technical and aesthetic approach must be learned, there is one thing that is probably more important…Communication with the director/ad agency/creative/producer in charge of the project. It is your job as the editor to serve their vision and give them what they want. You are telling a story and physically creating something but at the end of the day (I promise not to use that term again) you have to deliver what they want. It’s often frustrating when what you think is a great idea or direction is the polar opposite of what they envision. Never take it personally and do everything you can in the first meetings to really get your brain around what they are after. Ask questions, feel the vibe, make suggestions and get to the core of what the project is as soon as possible. That investment up front will save you time and headaches down the road. At the same time, be your creative self. Stretch and reach for the freshest and most concise way to tell the story, be it a 30 second ad or a feature film. Editing is about rhythm and flow and no two projects are the same. Be malleable and adapt to each situation but always stay true to yourself. I cut a national car spot where I did 4 versions for the ad agency before any notes were given. We finished with 33 different cuts and the car company ended up picking one of my first 4 cuts! Go figure.
When Canon and Hurlbut Visuals released “The Last 3 Minutes,” I talked about using a couple “zero cuts” in the film. I received some questions about it and I never got around to explaining properly what that term is. Sorry it took me so long… A Zero Cut is when you take two separate takes of the same scene and cut them together with no dissolve. Hopefully the framing and action in the shots are very similar so it hides the cut (or makes it seamless) and you can then use the best parts of both takes.
The first one is when sultry Eli Jane snakes her way under the sheets. As soon as the sheet covers the frame, I cut to Eli already under the sheets. In the raw footage, the sheet went up and it took three or four seconds for Eli to get under there and it messed with the flow. So I cut on the sheet wipe and cut into another take of her.
The other zero cut was when the young couple “throw” their child into the air. They were handholding the 5D and tossing it up and catching it. As you can imagine, it took a boatload of takes to get the right framing and reactions. So I took the first part of one take and later part of another take. In the first frame, you see beautiful yet blurry Rachel Kolar’s hand is not visible. Then in the next frame, it is on his shoulder. Because the action is moving quickly, I didn’t think anyone would catch it…I hope I was right!
EDITING RULES YOU CAN BREAK AFTER YOU LEARN THEM:
1. When cutting from shot to shot, have at least a 30% change in shot size. Wide to Medium is good. CU to wide works. Medium to another Medium of same angle looks weird.
2. Try to cut on a motion to hide the edit. A raised hand, a head turn, a slammed door.
3. If you think a cut is too long…you’re right. It’s too long.
4. If a scene plays great in one shot…leave it alone. You don’t have to cut to CU, reverse, wide, medium. Let the story tell itself.
5. Overlap any action by 4 or 5 frames. Someone turns their head in a medium shot, on the next shot start the head turn 4 or 5 frames earlier (then the previous shot) and for some ridiculous reason it looks and feels right.
6. Don’t go bonkers over every cut. Often performance trumps continuity. Now if the lead actor’s shirt is a different color in two consecutive shots…you’re on your own!
7. With DSLRs I find you can scale a shot up to 40% and still have adequate sharpness if you need to reframe or make a medium shot a close up. Sneaky but I do it all the time.
8. As much as an editor feels he is saving the film, he’s probably not. There were a couple other people involved before he started editing.
9. Anyone who says “We’ll fix it in post!” needs to be made aware that they need to get it right during shooting.
I’d like to thank Shane and Lydia Hurlbut and everyone at Hurlbut Visuals for letting me ramble about editing and for creating the contagiously exciting environment around us that keeps getting better and better. Let’s keep this pioneering ability moving forward!
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