Fear and Loathing in the Edit Bay: How to Work with an Editor

by Donald Barrett

Shoot For The Edit

If there’s anything most inexperienced producers face with a certain level of dread, it’s the challenge of editing and finishing a show.

Those who have a year or two of experience with Final Cut Pro (why would you edit on anything else?) won’t find it so daunting, assuming they’re current with the latest release. These people are decidedly in the minority. Learning how to work with an editor can pay big dividends.

So what’s a non-editing producer to do?

  • Establish a relationship with an editor. Treat them as a human being and don’t raise your voice every time you see a flash frame, H-Shift or any other editing anomaly. Just say quietly, “I believe I saw a flash frame during the dissolve. Let’s take another look.”
  • Before you edit the first frame, put together an editing strategy. The first mark of inexperience: is “What do we do next” You should have figured that out in prep, and saved yourself thousands of dollars.
  • Learn everything you can about editing . Know the difference, between a butt cut, a dissolve or a split edit and don’t be afraid to use them. Trust me: Any experienced documentarian (I’ve been at it for 40 Years) can tell whether you’ve done good work, or the kind of cookie cutter docs that you see in places like Discovery Networks, same voice over, same rhythm to the show, nothing unexpected.
  • Try to include a million dollar shot. That is NOT a shot that costs a million to make, you’re not parting the Red Sea. For example, my current project Bowling Wars, features a sequence where Dick Weber (the best bowler of the late 50’s and 60’s) begins his approach and morphs into his son Pete, who delivers a strike for both of them. That’s the kind of shot that get remembered. Not hard to do if you have morphing software.
  • Above all exercise a lot of patience. Tough edits take some time, fancy DVE’s (digital video effects) take time and are typically overused. Think more about using theatrical transitions. The networks won’t know what to make of it.

Be aware that the networks are the largest businesses in the USA with an unlisted number so you need to be a detective as well. One network show will change your entire life. After I started working for Dick Clark, everybody wanted to do business with me. Same thing at the Johnny Carson company.

Lastly, here is a post production list that’s a good place to start. I’m assuming you’ve completed scripting, and principal photography.

A. Log your clips by time code – easiest way to deal with this is to acquire Final Cut Pro and use its time code to log your footage.
B. Do a couple of test edits so your editor knows what you like and don’t like.
C. Rough Cut – no transitions, no special effects, be sure to include cutaways for interviews.
D. Do CGI as needed – forget it if you don’t need it = $$$
E. Integrate CGI into final cut
F. Lay down audio, mix music with synch sound, and narration then lay it back.

Before you send it anywhere, master the tape. Then go through it with at least two other people (six eyes are better than two) and be certain the show is perfect.

If your show is to be broadcast, check with the network and ask to be emailed their delivery specifications. Remember if your video doesn’t make it through Standard and Practices at the network, they just return it to you without paying or playing.

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