In my previous blog post, I mentioned that you should start cutting with music first:
Getting started with editing... | FilmSchool.org - The Best Film School Reviews & Forums
Well of course there's always an exception to the rule.Learn to make the edit work WITHOUT music and effects... because if it works dry... then it'll certainly work when scored.
Without a doubt the scene should be able to work and tell a story dry. If it doesn't... then you have a problem. BUT there are times when a piece of music will inspire you and you can use that inspiration to cut a scene.
Sometimes I'm pouring through the mountains and mountains of tracks that we have to work with and I come along a track with a certain rhythm, tempo, or musical hits that just inspires me. Since I have poured through hopefully most of everything that was shot at this point one starts mentally placing the images up against the music as it plays... and before you know it... sometimes you have a vision for how to cut a scene or a montage.
Then, by all means, please do use a bed of music to cut to as your inspiration.
As a side note, the show I"m cutting now is using songs and lyrics at the start and end (or even middle) of the scenes and it's quite refreshing as the lyrics speak to what the character or characters are thinking. It's a very interesting way to do it... and it becomes almost a music video at times.
Anyways... editing is a blast. It's amazing what two images juxtaposed can say. Keep cutting people.
Fire away with questions in the comments.
My last post was all about the develop, prep and shooting of my short film. For Heads/Tails process, the next phase has been our crowdfunding campaign. For most creatives, this is without a doubt, raising money can be the most nerve wracking aspect of the project. In my case, I know exactly how much money I need to re-coup after putting the project rentals and purchases on a credit card and budgeting a fair deal for my crew and post-production staff.
Which is why I'm writing this post right now. We did a soft launch of our campaign over the weekend and as my fellow filmschool.org members, I consider you all to be part of my internet family and want to include you in the process before we go wide on all of social media.
I'll cut to the chase. Here's a link to the campaign and to a secret reward for any early contributors.
Heads-Tails Short Film
The pitch material covers a lot of the hows and the why we are crowdfunding, so I won't get into that. If you have read my other blog posts about the process of getting my short film Heads/Tails made, you'll likely already be familiar with my decision to crowdfund. If not, you might want to check out my previous post.
We have 30 days to raise our $8,000 goal with the option to extend to 45 days if we want to. IndieGoGo now also offers a 'OnDemand' system where contributions can be made after the initial funding is ended. I chose IndieGoGo for these more flexible options as well as the option to choose 'Flexible Funding' where we keep our money if we do not reach or goal for whatever reason. They take roughly 8% of the money raised in fees. I have had previous positive experiences with IndieGoGo and like the organization of their platform as well as their fees so that's why we chose this particular crowdfunding site, but there are so many more available now than ever before. It's really important to do your diligence and choose the site that makes the most sense for your project.
At the time of my writing, 4/19 which is 4 days after soft launch, we are about 10% funded. So far most contributions have been people I know in real life. There have been two contributions through over crew members or cast members. And quite a few verbal acknowledgments and plans to contribute. Why are we doing a soft launch? The soft launch is intended to get money into our campaign through the personal and close relationships, such as parents, who are essentially guaranteed to make a contribution before promoting the campaign on social media platforms. I'm using this strategy to reassure any potential supporter that we 1) are serious about the project and actively seeking funding and 2) there's enough support in our immediate circles of contact that the project has support and will be successfully made and finished. The concept of a soft launch is written about across the board when you look for advice in running a successful crowdfunding campaign and I have high hopes that it will work out for us.
Other important strategies we have decided to implement include launching YouTube, Facebook, and Instragram accounts for the film and my newly formed production company. (If anyone is interested in that process, let me know and it can be a future post). Facebook has been the most successful in terms of it's ability to reach a wide number of people, so far. We currently have almost 300 followers and I plan to include them in this soft launch today as well as a sign of appreciation for their early support. The YouTube is hosting the pitch video and will also be the host for our exclusive video content for our campaign supporters. I have an associate producer who is managing our Instagram and while it doesn't have a lot of followers yet, we are hoping that it will continue to grow.
We designed our pitch video and rewards based on watching successful crowdfunding campaigns and then tailoring ideas we liked from them to the needs of our production. I'm really proud of the video that was shot and edited for it. And I really enjoyed putting together all the rewards too.
At some point, I'll follow up with more information and any big updates on our crowdfunding campaign. I think it's an interesting and an incredibly intimidating process, but it doesn't need to be. I hope some of my advice can be useful for screenwriters who are unfamiliar with the production process but want to shoot their projects.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, I love hearing from everyone!
We all want to make movies. We wouldn't be here if that wasn't the case. But making any movie, even a short can feel daunting no matter how much experience you have. Here's how I made my hopefully triumphant return to directing.
I'll start from the very beginning...
The Script - How did I write my script for a short film?
A saying I picked up at the UCLA Professional Producing Program is "make is the shoe fit the foot". I think it's something that applies to all aspects of production starting with writing. If your goal is to make a short film, it better be a story that can fit in that format. I frequently see students and I'm certainly guilty myself of having a big idea and trying to cram it down into 15 minutes. Sometimes it can work if it's a simple enough idea, but often it doesn't.
Thankfully, I had a story I'd been sitting on that I knew from my previous experience working on shorts would fit the bill. It's a romantic comedy about two friends who get drunk together and find the resident pet goldfish dead in the bowl the following morning. Simple. Succinct. Unique. And 100% a true story. This time around the right story was something I'd had in my back pocket for a few years now. I wrote the script fairly quickly because I had already written a version of it as the opening teaser for a pilot. I expanded it slightly to develop the characters more and enhance the dialogue for a short, but it didn't need much else. The production script was just over 11 pages and only 2 locations.
Pre-Production - AKA my own personal hell.
I started pitching the short to friends of mine who I wanted to crew back in September. At the time, I wanted to leverage a famous local photographer who wanted to DP a short into raising a hefty crowdfunding budget. Life, work, among other things got in the way of those plans. But the seed was planted among my gaffer, key grip, script supervisor, and some other key positions. They would occasionally ask for updates about if it was still happening. In the beginning of February when I found out I would not be accepted to UT-Austin, something clicked and I charged into pre-production without the bigger resources. Because fuck it; I wanted to make a movie.
My background as I've mentioned in previous blog posts is in physical production as an Assistant Director. I've also worked as a Production Coordinator which came in very handy on this project. I started by breaking down my script myself. 11 pages, 2 locations; a bar and a house, 5 sets total; bar and bathroom, bedroom, living-room and backyard. The script consists also of only 2 actors. If I could get the right team in place and call in a number of favors, I knew I could theoretically I could shoot the entire project for only the cost of supplies like craft services and meals. I made the decision to finance things at this point on my credit card.
Although the Detroit film community has dramatically shrunk in the last few years I have a lot of my closest friends still in town and they were eager to work with me as long as no paid work was going to interfere. This terrified me to no end. What if I was ready to shoot the following day and half my crew was called to work on a commercial? My initial plans of a bigger budgeted project included paying crew for a number of reasons. 1) I respect the hard work my friends do on set. 2) As a professional, I would not take unpaid work unless it was for a dear friend so I certainly wouldn't ask someone else to work for me for free. It wouldn't be right. A few life changes are really what made me go forward with the smaller crew that wound up working on the project. It wasn't an active decision and once those situations are resolved I plan on my next short including some of the strategies.
My first key 'hire' was my DP, Chris. He had already been signed on to be the Gaffer. Full disclosure, in the time between my first offer for him to Gaff and the time I started pre-pro, our long time friendship had turned romantic. I had some reservations about hiring my boyfriend as my DP, but after 5 years of working together we knew we were a great team. I consulted him frequently about what he thought about my schedule and how to best get the rest of the crew locked down. Those conversations are what led to my decision to crowdfund the short and pay my crew significantly reduced rates. The strategy being even a small promise of financial compensation would keep them on the project even if another paid job came along. This proved to be true with one exception which I'lll touch on later. I had my DP locked in.
At this point I felt completely overwhelmed. I tried to find a producer to get involved and help with the crowdfunding but no one was available whom I trusted. More money started to go onto my credit card. **Disclaimer, I'm not saying this is a the smartest way to finance a short film or any film. I had very managed credit card debt before the short and no other debt. It was not a big risk for me to pay for things this way.** I decided quickly that running a crowdfunding campaign on my own was too much while prepping as a director. Everything during prep was put on my credit card.
We started to gather our resources. The camera was donated by my boss - Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Chris and I both really like the look this camera gives but we were also flexible to work with the gear we were able to secure cheaply or for free. I sunk a good bit of money into building out a camera kit for us. We only had the body and a few lenses donated so I spent a lot of time researching and investing money into what sort of rig we would use. Because I was paying for it, Chris gave advice about it but let me choose the exact pieces because they would be my assets after the shoot. Other gear came from friends who worked on the shoot as electrics, grips, and from our script supervisor who had access to the gear from a local university. I also used a few camera rig items from my roommate.
Locations were relatively easy. I was able to use the bar my friends and I go to every Wednesday. And my post-production producer and former classmate from U of M offered to let me shoot at his house after my original house was feeling hesitant. Rick's house turned out to be a much better situation because the rooms are larger and I didn't need to do much set-dec either.
The hardest part of prep was casting. With only two characters in the entire film, their chemistry and acting ability would make or break the entire project. I reached out to friends who act and I posted in several local actors/filming pages on Facebook. To be honest, this wasn't my favorite way of casting. I hated it actually. It varies by community and personal preferences but I didn't find FB to be a reliable source. Interest was limited by many factors, including my own reluctance to promote myself online. In the end I had two locals come for chemistry tests. In a pinch, I could have used those actors. The male lead was lovely and the female lead could have pulled it off with some work, but I had a gut feeling they weren't the right choices. I wound up being right. A writer I met at the Columbia University TV Writing Workshop last summer was excited and interested in the part. Daniel was familiar with the story and the pilot. He said he had a great actress for his co-star as well, so I asked them to send me a tape and bingo. They had it. And more money went on the credit card to book their flights to Detroit from NYC.
At this point we were about a week away from the shoot dates I had set. Chris and I came about them in a de-facto sort of way. We knew it should be shot in March to maximize crew availability. We knew I was already going to be taking a week off from work because of a weekend student project I needed to supervise. Really the dates picked me, because I only had two weeks to do it in. By coincidence my actors had the spring break the same week. I chose to shoot during the week because often commercials and other projects in Detroit shoot towards the end of the week - especially if they're from out of town because a company would generally fly in on a Monday or Tuesday and prep for a few days and then shoot Thursday/Friday. And most other small home-grown projects have a habit of shooting weekends. We settled on Tuesday 3/14 and Wednesday 3/15.
Scheduling for two shoot days was based on three factors - I knew I could shoot roughly 5 pages a day. This is fairly standard timing in the indie film world I come from. With a company move from the bar to the house, plus the need for shooing day and night scenes, only shooting 1 day would be unacceptable. I figured I could afford two shoot days vs more shoot days. And Thursday could serve as an emergency pick-up day if needed (contingencies are always important) before I flew my actors back to NY on Friday morning.
In the few days before the shoot, I ran around and picked up costumes and some set dec I wanted. Then I worked the entire weekend and crashed, panicked, and cried the Monday before production....
But more on that in the next post! I hadn't realized how long of a post this would be but it's gotten quite lengthy so I'll continue talking about the shoot itself and how we are handling the post-production process and crowdfunding in post production in the next installment!
As always if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask! And thank you everyone for your support and curiosity about my project. I can't wait to share more with you.
An AP (Associate Producer) where I'm editing now asked me for advice on how to start editing and what he should work on... should he download footage from YouTube and do music videos? Should he do this or that?
Well I told him, it's pretty simple... editing is basically storytelling. There's a reason Avid's slogan used to be "Tools for Storytellers" (They should have kept it as that - it was a good one)
The most important thing while editing is to tell a cohesive story. Flash wizbang effects are nothing. Anyone can do that. Not everyone can tell a good story. That is what you need to work on and get better at.
A scene should work WITHOUT ANY effects or music. If it doesn't.... the story isn't there and the scene doesn't work.
So how should one get started?
Well in this case in all seriousness... start cutting scenes after hours. We are sitting on mountains and mountains and mountains of footage here... So start cutting some together into scenes to start seeing how to make them work.
How to best use the Avid will come in time. It's actually a little harder to learn the Avid and it's not as straightforward for beginners... but everything makes total sense as an editor. Avid was designed by editors. FCP and Premiere was designed by computer people. But regardless... a tool is a tool. I've edited VHS to VHS and by cutting film. Being able to tell a story is what counts and what is the most important.
I've worked with editors who are great finishing editors and can whizbang with the best of them and polish up edits very well... but if they were given a mountain of raw footage they wouldn't know where to start. Being able to take completely raw footage and make a cohesive story is a skill that is highly sought out so that is what you need to concentrate on working on.
If you work somewhere where there is a lot of material to work with, check with the higher ups if it is okay for you to stay after work to practice editing with the mountains of material that is in the systems. Show initiative and work hard and learn.
Most editors are also able to offer advice and tips (but please don't overstay your welcome if we're busy).
Assistant editors today don't even work side by side with editors anymore - they're off in another room syncing and doing whatever assistants do these days. When I was an assistant I used to do changes and work more closely with an editor.... it's a shame that isn't done as much anymore... at least in reality TV. I actually wouldn't mind assistants taking a stab at some scenes for me. I don't mind teaching at all as long as it doesn't get in the way of the work that I have to do.
But the point is - if you want to cut... then start cutting! Find footage and learn how to work it together to create cohesive stories.
Three shots can make three different stories depending on how you cut them together. Learn to make the edit work WITHOUT music and effects... because if it works dry... then it'll certainly work when scored.
I hope this wasn't too much of an incoherent ramble.
I just locked my cut though - so I had some time to write. I should probably get back to work now on the new episode I'm cutting.
Yay! I locked my most recent episode on Friday.
For this show there's:
And that's it.
- Rough Cut 1
- Rough Cut 2 (not in this show's case)
- Fine Cut
- Locked Cut
But this network likes to do notes on the Locked Cut.
Wait why am I saying this network... almost all that I've worked with do notes on the locked cut. It's almost like they don't know what that word is... maybe there should be a fine cut 2?
But it's locked! (unless they come back with notes... knock on wood... but they already came back and said no notes) And the graphics guys are already doing their thing and they want to ship before this coming Friday so they better have no notes.
I'm just about finishing locking up an episode for a certain series that I'm working on. The network had an idea of what they wanted a certain scene to be. It wasn't how I originally planned the scene or really what actually happened but they wanted it anyways.
So what do you do? You watch everything. Again. This time with a new mindset.... a new thing that you're looking for. You see shots that can be cheated to tell the story that wasn't there before. Eyelines. Shrugs. Little moments between takes where they look offscreen or sigh or rub their shoulders.
I remember one cheat I did for a film was one of the actors looking confused... although in reality he was listening to the director's instructions off camera and made that look. (haha)
But how do you find these cheats? You watch every frame. Before takes... after takes... when the camera is just running. You listen and relisten to audio in new ways with a new frame of mind.
Things will jump out at you. It'll start to come together and you can make it work.
Since I had watched most of the footage the first time around... I remembered where a lot of things were and doing the changes didn't take as long. I rewatched my original selects for a scene to look for audio that I pulled before... then I watched through all of the picture for the scene... looking for things that'll work with the new direction.
Cutting images together to create an entirely different scene that what was originally intended. It's the Kuleshov effect in action.
It's a big puzzle. And I love it.
There are a million ways to edit something and a million ways to go about the process of editing... but it was something an "old school" editor taught me that really made things click and has greatly influenced how I edit today.
Now I'm not talking about the hardware, software, and mechanics of editing - that can change. I've edited tape to tape, by physically cutting film, and on non-linear editors such as Avid Media Composer. Those are the tools. I'm talking about the process of using the tools to tell the story that you want to tell. The tools will change but storytelling doesn't. (Avid's old motto was "Tools for Storytellers" - wish they kept it)
While in Film School and after while I worked at Avid I made it my goal to learn Avid Media Composer inside and out and I did. After moving to Los Angeles in 2001 I worked as an assistant editor (mainly in music videos) but I also taught Avid at Moviola since I was also a certified Avid Instructor.
One of my students once was an "old school" film editor who hadn't edited for a while (he detoured into the music business) and now wanted to get back into editing. He was used to cutting and splicing physical film. He knew how to edit and tell a story but just needed help learning the new tool.
For a while I worked for him as an assistant editor as well. One day while he was cutting a short film for somebody he let me take a stab at it and I edited for a while as he observed. Then he asked how I went about editing.
I said something to the affect of... "Oh I just start cutting the footage and throwing clips into the timeline until I like it."
He then explained that this was completely the wrong way to go about doing it. Before I even cut one clip into the timeline I should know exactly what I was trying to do.
The reasoning for this makes complete sense... after all when he was editing many years ago every edit was a destructive edit. You physically cut the film and taped it together. Putting back those physical frames you removed was hard and I know... in film school when I cut physical film I learned that very quickly. So because each edit that you made was destructive... you had to be pretty sure that that was the edit you really wanted to make before you made it.
So what do you do? You watch your footage. You watch your footage a lot. You watch your footage many times and take notes. You watch your footage and you edit the film in your head. You know what you are going to edit before you even cut a frame.
This process is still very important today even though all of the editing systems today are completely non-linear & non-destructive. (editing on film is non-linear but destructive - editing tape to tape is linear) If you just threw things down into your timeline wily nilly it gets very easy to create a mediocre edit. You can easily find yourself getting "stuck" with shots that you just cut in with no real reason at all.
The process of watching your footage (and re-watching and re-watching) allows the film or scene to slowly form in your mind. You find yourself discovering new ideas and new ways to cut a scene each time you watch and you are able to test everything out in your head before you even make an edit. The shots you choose should tell a story and have a purpose behind them. This is a process I still use today and his lesson has vastly improved my editing.
Converting this method to non-linear editing, what I do today is create "Selects Sequences" from the raw footage for each scene. These are usually broad selects that I make while watching the footage. Then from these "Selects Sequences" I create what I call the "Selects of Selects Sequences" and further whittle down the footage and I organize the placement of the clips in this new sequence into different sections based on the moments of the scene that I've blocked out in my head.
For example I'd have a section of the sequence where all the best opening moments are... where all the best cutaways are... where all the best middle moments of the scene moments are... best ending moments... best cheats...etc etc ... it depends on the scene that you are cutting.
Once I've created these sequences I've watched the raw footage a bunch of times and I have a pretty good idea what the scene is going to look like. This process takes a good day to a day and a half depending on the complexity of the scene. Then once I've watched all of the footage the actual edit takes a couple of hours tops.
I find it amusing when a producer asks me how a scene is going a couple hours in to me "editing" a scene. It's going great.. but I have nothing to show anyone as it's all in my head.
I hope that you find this tip helpful... again there are many ways to edit but I've always found this to be sound advice from an "old school" editor that I've shared as often as I can. Please be sure to let me know what you think and any questions you may have in the comments.
Cover image credit:
Steenbeck 16mm flatbed ST 921 (6498601571) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic — CC BY-SA 2.0)], by DRs Kulturarvsprojekt from Copenhagen, Danmark, from Wikimedia Commons
Everyone's "How'd you Break In" story is different... here's a quick version of mine.
I went to BU's College of Communication and graduated in 1999. I made a bunch of student films while I was there but I quickly learned that my love for filmmaking was behind the camera... way behind the camera... in the editing bay. I'd always enjoyed editing. I even had a tape to tape Hi8 controller setup for editing Hi8 movies while I was in high school.
At BU we shot our films on 16mm. First I edited reel to reel using a splicer. Then we upgraded to a Steenbeck flatbed and we edited with sound. I still remember an all nighter trying to finish one of my student films the day before it was due in a rented out editing bay in Allston... and trying to tape back a couple of extra frames back onto an edit that I wanted to undo. Welcome to the world of destructive editing. I'm really glad I don't have to do that anymore... the frame f-er that I am.
But I think the nail in the coffin for me where I decided that I didn't want to be on set or "in the field" was one all night shoot I helped a friend out with. It was long... exhausting... and frankly boring as everything took forever. My all night bender cutting my film was certainly long and exhausting... but I was never bored - I was fully engaged.
My first forays into the glorious world of nonlinear editing was on an Avid Xpress and a Media 100. Avid Xpress was a dumbed down version of their infamous industry standard Media Composer.
Avid happened to be headquartered around 30 miles outside of Boston so I applied for an internship there during my senior year. That internship led to me being employed in tech support there for 2 years after graduation. I basically used that time to absorb everything and anything about the Avid. I became a certified instructor and technician. I got to know that program inside and out.
Then in 2001, I drove out to Los Angeles. Before I got here I sent resumes to every post house I could find in the LA411... (does that exist anymore?). For weeks I called places and didn't get much of a response until one day the post house I called seemed very excited that I called and asked me to come in. They also had Avid troubles that day so I was able to use my connections to get them help quick... and then I was hired as an assistant editor.
I later found out that the guy I replaced was fired for accidentally erasing an original tape. Yeah - don't do that.
This post house happened to be a music video house and I was quickly sucked into that world. I worked hard and assisted for a bunch of editors. Soon editors began to request me specifically... One of those editors brought me to another post house where I soon began to do changes for editors on music videos and also to cut the free and no budget videos that came through. Soon lower budget videos came through and then all of a sudden this happened and I had a pretty steady editing career and I stopped assisting.
Through other contacts I had I did some independent films and then somehow I stumbled into unscripted TV.
Unscripted TV is a blast to cut. You're usually given a pile of footage... and then you have to make a scene out of it. Often you're making things happen that didn't really happen or if they did happen of course the cameras weren't rolling. The editor in unscripted basically writes the "screenplay" for the show and it is a lot of fun.
I did find the short documentary I did in film school the most enjoyable thing I did so maybe that has something to do with it. Unscripted TV can be like a documentary... at least the shows I try and work on. Thankfully no Kardashians yet.
So that's a quick rough and tumble story of how I got into editing. I think if I remember correctly I arrived in LA in 2001 and was able to edit full time and stop assisting around 2004?. So it took 3 years for me. I know some editors in LA who never ever were assistant editors. So they're many paths to breaking in.
If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments.