Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video The process of editing, part of Filmmaking Forum: Conversations.
- Hi everyone. In this episode of the Filmmaking Forum Conversations Course, we're going to break editing down into the process it is. From rough-cut, to fine-cut, and beyond. Different editors take different approaches. Some work in distinct passes, while others polish as they go, and we'll discuss both of these approaches. We'll also talk about breaking through those creative hurdles and maximizing stamina and focus. I hope you enjoy. - So the rough-cut is a mess.
Usually. Obviously, I try to make it as watchable as possible, but it's usually also kind of a rushed process. The director is anxious to see what you have and everything. - You'll spend a lot of time refining your rough cut as you're assembling because everybody wants to see it quickly, but you also want them to get the right impressions from the piece. - Then I will go through and I will start thinking about what kinds of coverage I want to use to build the scene up, and so I'll have an idea that I may want to start on a close up or start on a wide shot, but the moment that you have the first shot, and a lot of editors will tell you, the very first shot in the scene is the most difficult thing, but once you have the first shot then it naturally will tell you where it needs to cut to inform the next bit of story.
- My only goal, sort of, with the first rough cut, is to just get it done. Get all of the media out there. Get everything strung out. I sort of just try to figure out where we are with the film. Especially if I'm cutting while their shooting, because in that case if I catch anything, they can still sort of schedule re-shoots while they're still on set, which is pretty cool. - But that's one of the most important jobs when you're working on Hollywood movies is reassuring the production they have everything they need. As soon as they finish filming on a set, they want to strike it, so you have to advise them if they need to shoot anything else or if they can strike the set, which is an enormous responsibility, obviously.
- When I do my first pass, it definitely trying to get to know the footage. So I try to do my strongest first cut possible, working my way through the footage, and then I'll put it away for a day, work on another scene, and then I'll come back to it. - I'm not a perfectionist in any way until much later in the process. I think I get the rough cut out as close to the script as I can, just so that the director can see everything that we have, and as I'm doing that I'll definitely have ideas about these three scenes are definitely going to get cut, we need to reorder this because something doesn't make sense, or that performance is a problem, we're going to have to cut around it.
But I don't generally bring up those things or make those decisions until the director has seen for themselves exactly what we have. So I think after the rough cut, I focus more on the big picture stuff, like what needs to be cut, what needs to be moved, how can we get this structure in a place that we're happy working within. - So when I come back to it, I'm watching it fresh, and I can kind of evaluate what's working, what's not working, maybe what I thought was the best line reading for the big emotional line isn't anymore, it doesn't really hit me the way I need it to, so I'll kind of then go in, and I'm really making more creative choices, and performance choices at that point.
I'll go through it another time really with that in mind. - So once we get sort of a structure set, then generally we dive into the performances and that's when it's more like sitting everyday with the director and they're looking at all the footage, and saying, "Well, I like that moment, I like that moment." and then fine tuning all that stuff and really figuring out who are these characters and what would they do and say in these moments, and I think it's important to have the structure before you get into that stuff so that you know sort of the overall goal of what you're working towards.
- From there, it's really- yeah- it's kind of picking at it every so often. I sort of say that I cut a scene three times before it kind of lives in an episode. It's gets more and more refined each pass I go. The first time is getting to know it, the second time is refining it, the third time is essentially just doing rhythm pass, I guess. It's like, are all the beats moving and flowing together now that I have scenes on either side of it? Are they flowing in and out of each other the right way? Sometimes you realize that the opening shot you had no longer works because it's a similar shot to the ending shot of the last scene, so you really have to build as you go, or at least I do.
Then there's also the fourth part, what sound and music becomes a part of the cut, picture kind of- is a little- gets a little changed in the process too. If I need the music to hit at a certain point and I can't edit the music to get into that I'll slide picture around to kind of accommodate. So everything's kind of working in tandem and telling the story at the same time. - Once we get to the point where we're sort of happy enough with the film to show other people that's sort of when like, you know, I'm gonna go back and adjust the all mics that should be turned off in certain places and I'll turn them off.
I'll make sure there's room tone everywhere. We'll start dropping in temp music and we'll adjust all the levels so that everything is decent and we'll put in temp ADR that we record on our iPhones or something like that. Before we show people so that it gets better. And then once you're there, it becomes sort of super fine tuning. "How can we speed up the first act?" is always a huge thing that happens at that point. - For me, I don't have a huge delineation between the rough-cut assembly process and the fine editing process.
I know that a lot of editors will just throw a bunch of stuff in a timeline and widdle it down. That's not the way that my brain works. I just go through and kind of polish as I go along, but the fine editing is pretty much my first pass, at least as far as the picture and dialogue are concerned. And then, once I've done that first pass, I'll just let it sit, I'll hand it off to my assistant who'll go through and do a full background pass, get all the sounds in, all the hard sound effects, but then I'll take it back, which is usually five or six days later, when I've completely forgotten that I cut it, and then I'll watch it and then I'll go through again.
- I try to keep my timeline as polished as possible, so at anytime, we can export the film and put it in a screening room and watch it. I like to have the sound mixed with the actual standard. I like to have the film color corrected. I like to have as many temp vision effects in as possible so that the film looks like a complete movie as early as possible in the process. - I do a lot of experimentation with trying to improve attention and focus and creative energy and mental stamina.
One thing that I do now is I actually edit three scenes simultaneously, which is kind of crazy. Never heard of anybody that does that, but I will actually have three scenes, I'll edit thirty seconds at a time, go to a different scene, edit thirty seconds at a time, edit another one, edit thirty seconds at a time, and I've actually found I'm much faster doing it that way, because my mind will get tired of the same scene after about thirty minutes, but when I switch back and forth between scenes I'm more engaged, so I can actually edit scenes faster. I'm really able to maintain my attention span much longer, so it's just one of those weird things that I experiment with in my work flow.
- Even though you come up against creative hurdles and challenges constantly when you're editing, and sometimes challenges will seem almost insurmountable but you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying stuff out and keep refining and keep refining, over weeks and weeks and months, and you'll just take one step forward, one step forward, and slowly, slowly, slowly, you'll try something out and you won't go down that path and you'll try this path, and then eventually you'll find that you can create something that really works for the audience.
- Advice for novice filmmakers entering the industry
- Finding, enhancing, and tweaking your story
- Experimenting in filmmaking
- Solving problems and troubleshooting your film
- Changing your approach or finding new angles
- Communicating and collaborating on set and in the edit room—and with clients
- Working on different genres of film
- Teaching and mentoring new filmmakers