How to become a Master Editor.
Who is this guy, Humbleless Jones? Amirite?
Look, when you’ve jogged through as many bits as I have you can call yourself whatever the hell you want. You’re the one here reading this, so I’m assuming you want to know how to become a master editor. So I’m going to tell you. It all begins with lying.
I started out as a photographer, and even went to Brooks institute (no it’s not for the mentally insane…) before I realized I was crazy to think (call back) that I could make a living being a photographer. It was then I discovered Film, which really rang my bell, because I’m the kinda person that loves to try a bit of everything, and film, to me, seemed like it had every other type of creative art contained within it; fashion, writing, acting, photography, construction … you name it, its in there, how could you ever get bored.
My biggest fear in life is being bored. That and quicksand.
So I studied film (I promise to get to the editing soon) at UC Santa Barbara … but lucky for me they only taught “Film Theory” so I spent 3 years reading Bazin, Eisenstein, and Plato and never touched a camera. I graduated, and was completely unhireable. Cool.
So. The first thing you learn as a budding filmmaker is that no one, and I mean no one, will want to edit your film. So, to counteract that I taught myself, against my will, how to edit. I downloaded a cracked (stolen) copy of Pinnacle Systems editing software, and got to it.
About 5 years later, I was a pretty decent editor, despite really hating editing. It’s long, boring, tedious, unthankful work that doesn’t make you popular at bars. I was however killing it on the timed contest scene. Timed contests were my salvation out of college. I entered them with a frenzied passion, and found that I had a skill for producing good content quickly. (I attribute this to studying Pornography as my genre study at UCSB with professor Constance Penley … if you want to know how to efficiently run a set, study porn. Trust.)
At this point I was really fed up working in hotels and needed to get into the industry somehow. I moved to NYC and applied for any job I could related to filmmaking. One response I got was from editor Dave Herman. I went in for an interview.
“I’m shooting a movie,” he said, “and you seem to have a lot of experience making shorts. If you help me with my film, I’ll hire you as an assistant. Do you know how to run an Avid?”
“Of course.” I said. What the fuck was an Avid I said in my head to myself.
“Cool. Start Monday.”
We shook hands, and I went to the bathroom, then found a storeroom and hid in it until everyone was gone. That night I started up “the Avid” and figured out what the hell it was. I’m not going to pretend I pulled a Neo from The Matrix and figured it out right away, but somehow I squeaked through at V2.
Dave eventually left to go to Jump, which I called home for a few years, before leaving to go work at The Lab with two amazing creatives Johnson + Wolverton. There we worked on award-winning work like Lincoln, Jaguar and Comedy Central, and I met the most influential person in my professional career, Neil Gust.
Neil was a very cool guy, sweet, tall, looked a little like Moby and was insanely talented. He was a musician, and it showed in his edit. In fact, I wouldn’t even call him an editor (although he’s won every award known to man) he was really a musician with image. Before Neil I never saw editing as exciting, passionate, sexy or emotive. It was construction work, but now, it was balletic. What is really impressive to me is that Neil didn’t pull a “you’re the man now, dog” moment or anything like that. He didn’t even know he was teaching me. Being his assistant, learning how he edited and me having to fit into that model taught me everything I really needed to know. Once I was shown what it was to really edit something, how editing was its own art, perhaps the most powerful tool in filmmaking, I was hooked.
Me under the influence of Gust way back when…
It’s amazing to me to look back and think that I never even knew this gift was out there, and even be editing and not realize it’s potential. Besides learning an important skill that I would base my career as a director on, I learned something even more valuable; the people you work with have the power to change your life. I never walk on set (or into the butcher or library or airport) and disregard the power of introduction. You never know who you are going to meet, what you have to learn from them, or how they are going to change your life. This is very important.
On the team of J+W … won a few awards for this one.
So, how do you become a master editor? You edit. You edit, then you do what you have work with people. You keep working with people until someone resonates with you. You steal their genius and make it your own. Then you edit some more. That’s how you do it.
I know I’m a master editor because there is no job I ever work on that I feel bored, or overwhelmed on. I can cut something six ways from Sunday without pause. I can have clients give scalding comments, nod intuitively, and start from scratch without even a moment of resentment. When you feel like your work is a game, a puzzle to perfect, that you can solve in an infinite amount of ways but only one is right, then it’s not a job, then it’s a skill, and more importantly, a pleasure.
A little more recently…
So why am I a director you’re asking? Because that was always the goal. I’m also too extroverted, empathetic and fun to keep at a desk all day. It might be different for you; I’ve always envied colorist that are at home in the soft light of their shrine-like studios gently nudging pixels different values throughout the day. Not me. I like the mix of all the art combining to make a new art, film, one art to rule them all. I will say this though; I am so thankful it was Editing that got me to this place in my life. Editing to me is the code in which story is told. It is the rhythm and recipe that makes the dish of film taste so good. I am a better director because I have editor eyes, editor ears and an editor’s mind. I’m constantly shuffling through possibilities, angles and jump cuts as I produce. If you edit, I think you rewire your brain a bit differently from other people, and for better or worse, see the code that filmmaking is made of all around you.
Yeah, it’s kinda like Neo. Don’t hate me, I just rewatched The Matrix a couple of days ago. Still holds up. Have you seen The Mosquito Coast though? Where has that film been…
(One of my favorite edits to date … also directed and shot this … also won way more festivals than I could have wished for. Thank you editing, I love you.)