Posts in Category: The Human in the Machine

The Human in the Machine Interview #4: Director Jeanne Kopeck

The Human in the Machine is a continuing series of interviews with industry professionals focused on the relational aspects of the editorial process. Blog pages and bookshelves everywhere are flooded with technical information on the craft of editing, but there seems to be little out there on the human side of it all. Even though much of our work is technical based, what is at the heart of it all is spending 10-15 hours a day locked in a room, usually with other people, creating stuff. What makes those other people come back to your edit suite instead of walking down the hall to the next one? Why do so many editors and directors reference a “psychic relationship” where they instinctively know how the other would proceed with an edit? Some of my questions don’t even pertain to editing alone, but all work that involves relationships and collaboration. I think, especially in school, so much of the curriculum is geared toward the tech side instead of the human side. As much as it doesn’t seem fair, a big part of this industry is not based on raw talent and knowledge but on politics, connections, and people skills. You can either fight this truth or decide to train those muscles with the same intensity that you train your technical skill set. Hopefully each of these interviews give you a better idea of how to approach this human side of the business and how to create the work relationships that keep clients coming back for more.

Here is how Jeanne describes her climb,
I never started out to do this. I was a painter who got into computer graphics and effects work before a lot of other people…it was dumb luck, and a very fortunate meeting with Wyndham Hannaway. I consider him a God. Beyond that I have had the good fortune of working with wonderful people through the years who have given me a chance to try things, and who have been willing to share their expertise.
I worked my way up from the overnight “news” artist at KUSA, to Art Director in the late 80’s. Then spent 15 years at Citizen Pictures (went in as Art Director, left as President/ Partner). My time at Citizen was invaluable and afforded me the opportunity to direct. Five years ago, I left Citizen to form Mrs K, and though I still have a deep passion for broadcast design, over the past 18 years I have pretty much exclusively directed (hopefully with an artist’s eye). Our work is primarily national and international. In Sept. 2010 Peter and I took over complete ownership of Mrs K. and moved the company to Boulder. 2011 has been our most successful year to date. Life is good.

 

GM3- Based on your time spend locked in a room with an editor, what qualities created the best relationships. What were the worst?

JK- My favorite way to work with an editor is to take them through the footage, explain what I was thinking and leave them alone. I like to give editors space to think and take ownership of a project rather than dictate shot for shot. As a result, my favorite quality in an editor is passion. I look for people who are willing to spend time with the images/stories and can show me combinations I couldn’t have thought of on my own.

When an editor makes those unexpected connections, I’m in awe and feel I’ve witnessed magic.

GM3- What should an editor know about the director and her personality that would help the work relationship?

JK- Tell me what you think/feel….but don’t forget to listen. Before I shoot anything, I spend a LOT of time visualizing a project…so when I’m describing shots, I’m trying my hardest to give an editor a sense of “why” things look as they do. Take good notes.

I strongly believe that as “commercial artists” our job is not to showcase our personal opinions, but to find ways to honor and give voice to our clients stories/products etc. I think a mistake a lot of people make is to confuse this. The best description of this I have ever heard is “that’s why it’s called show business and not show art”. So, respect for that original “vision” and the client is imperative. I know this is a little confusing and sounds like a contradiction to my “bring yourself to the project” statement…but there is a distinction between finding creative solutions (expertise) vs. making it about what “you” think.

Also, don’t try to impress me with technical expertise…I don’t really care how it works.

GM3- How do you create a resonance with the editor and your client?

JK- By placing trust in the editor. Let’s face it…this is a business of relationships before anything else. When choosing Mrs K to execute project, a client is expecting us to make good decisions on their behalf. We take this trust very seriously. As a result, we spend a lot of time selecting our “team”. So, by the time I am in an edit bay, I have “sold” the editor and their capabilities to the client. In other words, they walk into the room already a fan…it’s the editor’s responsibility to keep it that way. Treat them with respect.

GM3- When working with an editor for the first time, what are you looking for in them to see whether there is a long term working relationship worth developing?

JK- Selfless passion and a wicked sense of humor.

GM3- What types of pet peeves do you have in terms of working with editors?

Don’t talk about all the other cool things you have worked on.
Listen first.

GM3- Could you share a little about your process is working with the ad agency? Where did the line cross from your vision and control, to their’s?

JK- It is ALWAYS their vision. My job is to help them execute that vision in the most creative and beautiful ways I can.

GM3- What qualities do you find in the clients you work with regularly? What makes you both click?

JK- Back to this being a business of relationships first. I think it’s really important to work with people you genuinely respect as humans. I am also old enough to not waste time on people who don’t care…passionately…about what they do. If you’re “calling it in” or just looking to make money…don’t call me.

GM3- What are your expectation of the editor and how they handle the project outside of just technical proficiency?

JK- I expect them to be open-minded, truthful…and more than a little talented.

The Human in the Machine Interview #3: Editor Eric Brodeur

The Human in the Machine is a continuing series of interviews with industry professionals focused on the relational aspects of the editorial process. Blog pages and bookshelves everywhere are flooded with technical information on the craft of editing, but there seems to be little out there on the human side of it all. Even though much of our work is technical based, what is at the heart of it all is spending 10-15 hours a day locked in a room, usually with other people, creating stuff. What makes those other people come back to your edit suite instead of walking down the hall to the next one? Why do so many editors and directors reference a “psychic relationship” where they instinctively know how the other would proceed with an edit? Some of my questions don’t even pertain to editing alone, but all work that involves relationships and collaboration. I think, especially in school, so much of the curriculum is geared toward the tech side instead of the human side. As much as it doesn’t seem fair, a big part of this industry is not based on raw talent and knowledge but on politics, connections, and people skills. You can either fight this truth or decide to train those muscles with the same intensity that you train your technical skill set. Hopefully each of these interviews give you a better idea of how to approach this human side of the business and how to create the work relationships that keep clients coming back for more.

 

Here is how Eric describes his road to the edit chair.

My love for film started as a young boy, sitting in an empty theater watching a final showing of the Star Wars’ re-release in southeastern Pennsylvania. Like many, it captured my imagination but I was too young to realize I could make a career of it. Decades later I left my job as a computer professional and relocated to Los Angeles. After many ups-and-downs in the film industry I discovered that picture editing was my passion; it was the perfect fit of everything I had ever done and imagined I could do. They say “timing is everything” and three years ago I got my chance to edit an independent film called Bedrooms which went on to win two Best Feature awards and recently aired on Showtime. My next project, LJE The Journey, was a Nigerian-American film which became one of Nigeria’s top grossing films of all time as well as winning awards for Best Editing and Best Feature. My current film is an urban music drama called Filly Brown and will be completed later this year.

 

Check out his work and blog at http://www.ericbrodeur.com/


GM3- what qualities do you find in the clients you work with regularly? what makes you both click?

EB- Having similar sensibilities but with a unique voice. Generally speaking we see eye-to-eye on things both in, and out of, the edit suite. That’s not to say we don’t argue about a scene. Overall there is a large amount of trust.

GM3- when working with a new client how do you go about fostering a good working relationship with them?

EB- I ask a lot of questions to get inside their head and understand their project, who they are as creatives and what goal they are aiming for. I will ask the same questions different ways to assess their consistency. I keep going until the answers don’t change.

A new client looks for confidence in their post-production team. They want me to “just handle it,” plan ahead, avoid surprises.

From a creative perspective I choose my battles but if I don’t agree with something, I explain my position. Often I will try their suggestion and contrast it with my own.

GM3- how do you “sell” a cut? what are your methods for communicating your intent or purpose of an editorial decision?

It comes down to creative or technical. Technical is usually a no-brainer: soft focus, poor framing, too shaky. On the creative side it’s about the emotion we are trying to evoke in the audience. Does the cut achieve it?

There is that in-between category…the craft of editing. You know, those “best practices” like not crossing the line, cutting on action, pre-lapping dialogue, etc.

When it comes to “selling your cut” I think the circumstances dictate the action taken. A director who understands the editorial process shouldn’t be asking for “another two frames off the tail.” There is a time and place for that but they should be focused on the characters and the story. Are we hitting the right beats? Is that the right performance? How do we feel about our character?

I defend cuts as needed and with an explanation. It doesn’t hurt to have alternate versions and show them in a way which promotes your desired cut. Although this is a collaborative process, it’s the director’s film and they have final say.

GM3- what should an editor know about the director/client and his personality that would help the working relationship?

EB- The more time you can spend outside of the edit suite, the better. Have lunch and talk about movies, documentaries, your favorite restaurants, kids, the latest Apple product, whatever. If you’re wondering about things like micro-managing, tantrums, etc., you can ask around and find other editors more than happy to share stories.

I feel it’s my job to be accommodating because you can’t get along perfectly with everyone. Accommodating doesn’t mean push-over. It’s important to be assertive but respect that, ultimately, this is the director/producer’s project. Once it’s over the choice is mine to work with them again.

GM3- how do you combat the “button-pusher” syndrome where a client is micromanaging every aspect of the edit and not incorporating you as a collaborator?

In dealing with the “button pusher” syndrome the best solution is having a conversation about it. Some directors are perfectionists and can’t help themselves. Others just don’t know how to communicate their thoughts. Those who are abusive…just walk away.

The project may also determine how to handle this. If you’re editing an indie film for ultra-low pay, it’s probably not worth it. But cutting a high-profile film which may further your career…it may be worth putting up with.

It’s important to have a goal and not let little things like this get in the way.

GM3- In managing a trouble client where the relationship has gone wrong, what types of things can you do to right the ship and bring a positive nature back to the relationship instead of just weather the storm?

EB- It’s not just the client but everyone on your team. It’s important to be proactive and avoid disasters. If I have a question or concern I put it out there for discussion. If I’m unsure how a colleague feels, I’ll ask. Not everyone will be honest in their response but reaching out is what matters most.

Some people suggest “just walk away” but it depends on the situation. I ask myself “have I honestly done everything in my power to resolve this?” Fortunately I haven’t had to do this.

GM3- How do separate your edit suite and sessions from all the other ones out here? How do you keep the clients coming back to you and your edit experience?

EB- When it comes to differentiation it’s easy to think about a particular style of cutting. That’s only a piece of it. You differentiate by being easy to work with. Check your ego. Understand people’s needs and address them. Keep cool under pressure. Solve problems. Plan ahead. Get the job done without complaint or gossip. Be nice. Have fun.

You may get hired for your trendy cutting style but you’ll get re-hired because you are agreeable and play well with others.

GM3- How do you manage a session where you have multiple clients in the suite and the decision by committee syndrome is kicking in?

EB- I consider these to be brainstorming sessions. Something isn’t working so let’s get other viewpoints. What stands out are good ideas or something we haven’t tried yet…not “nudge this 4 frames that way” or some other mechanical suggestion.

It’s important to defer to your next-in-charge…the director. Let her slug it out with other people in the room. My job is to maintain sanity and control but not necessarily lead the group. It’s important to remember whose project this is and who is ultimately responsible for it.

The Human in the Machine Interview #2: Editor Agustin Rexach

The Human in the Machine is a continuing series of interviews with industry professionals focused on the relational aspects of the editorial process. Blog pages and bookshelves everywhere are flooded with technical information on the craft of editing, but there seems to be little out there on the human side of it all. Even though much of our work is technical based, what is at the heart of it all is spending 10-15 hours a day locked in a room, usually with other people, creating stuff. What makes those other people come back to your edit suite instead of walking down the hall to the next one? What keeps those other people from killing you, or what keeps you from killing them? Why do so many editors and directors reference a “psychic relationship” where they instinctively know how the other would proceed with an edit? Some of my questions don’t even pertain to editing alone, but all work that involves relationships and collaboration. I think, especially in school, so much of the curriculum is geared toward the tech side instead of the human side. Unfortunately, I know too many great guys who are wicked machine operators but fall short in the client-relations category. They can soak up tutorials and spit out phenomenal work but you put a client over their shoulder who they have to entertain for the day and they’ll keel over. Even though it doesn’t seem fair, a big part of this industry is not based on raw talent and knowledge but on politics, connections, and people skills. You can either fight this truth or decide to train those muscles with the same intensity that you train your technical skill set. Hopefully each of these interviews give you a better idea of how to approach this human side of the business and how to create the work relationships that keep clients coming back for more.

If you haven’t read it yet, check out the first interview with Director David Smith. In this latest one I got to chat with Editor and friend, Agustin Rexach. I met him through the wonderful world of twitter as @ECedit and his generosity in sharing time and knowledge over the last year or so has been staggering, especially in the support he gave when I made the big move out to Colorado. He is the epitome of the act of paying it forward, and inspires me in that regard. His responses to my questions below are yet another example of how he goes above and beyond; there is so much gold in his perspective on the craft. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Agustin Rexach is a film and video editor straddling the line between the worlds of broadcast commercials and narrative features. Also, he is a bilingual creative editor, shaping both English and Spanish language projects. Here is his description, taken from his website, that does a hell of a better job than any wording I can develop.

I was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico way back in 1971. Since I was a young child, my mother instilled in me a deep love for film. She was always shooting footage with her Super 8 film camera. She had a great eye for composition. I was first exposed to the power of film editing after my older brother divorced his first wife. My mother was very uncomfortable with the whole situation.

One night she threaded all the Super 8 film rolls she had shot and systematically cut out all the footage of my brother’s ex-wife. I remember that night vividly because I was tasked with holding the mini splicer while my mother excised the unwanted pieces of film. I was blown away by the fact that one minute my brother’s ex wife was smiling happily on the screen and the next second she had vanished. I asked my Mom what we were doing. Without skipping a beat she gave me a one word answer: “Rewriting.”

My professional editing career began in 1995 when, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcasting and Film from Boston University, I joined the team at Lux Digital Group in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I spent two great years there. I got the opportunity to cut television commercials for some of the country’s leading ad agencies.

In 1997 I moved to Miami, Florida where I continued my editing career at BVI (now New Art Miami). I spent three years at BVI before deciding to become a freelance editor. It was during this time that I made inroads into the Florida independent film community. In 2000, I cut my first independent feature and ever since then, I have combined long format projects with television commercial work.

After eight years in Miami, I was offered a job at 1080 in San Antonio, Texas. I accepted the position of creative editor and worked with the company from 2004 to February, 2010.

Currently, Agustin is working as an in house editor at Davis Elen Advertising in Los Angeles, California while continuing to pursue feature length projects on a freelance basis.

After soaking up his interview, head over to his site Editorially Correct to check out the plethora of spots and feature examples posted there. With all that said, please enjoy my back and forth with Agustin Rexach.

 

GM3 – What qualities do you find in the clients you work with regularly? What makes you both click?

AR – A passion for communicating their ideas. I love passionate people because I am one myself. I gravitate to clients who are well rounded people. We spend a lot of time in the cutting room and it’s good to have things to talk about besides the nuts and bolts of a project. My clients and I talk about the news, politics, movies, books, art and (lately) kids. Being a parent has made me a better human being and editor, no question about it. In a way, it’s made me get over myself. I laugh a lot more. I know it sounds like a cliche, but the time I spend with my son allows me to be a kid again. I feel I’m more open to the wonders of small things.

GM3 – When working with a client for the first time how do you go about fostering a good working relationship with them, how do you approach that fresh interaction and make them feel safe with you?

AR – I love editing and my clients pick up on that. To me, editing is where it’s at. It is not a steppingstone to directing or other industry careers. I want to be an editor, period. It’s important to me that they feel that I’m not going to be phoning their project in. Also, especially if I’m working with a director, it’s important that they know that I’m not there to direct their project from the editor’s chair. Having spent some time on the production side I know all about the pressures they have and I know how difficult it is for them to acquire the footage that I will be cutting. I respect that immensely and I let them know in so many words. I think the most important thing to do on my first session with a client is listen. I listen to what they want to accomplish and if they have any doubts or problems with the material. I try to not come on too strong with my opinions at the beginning. I think it’s a good idea to get started with their initial input and let the material dictate if and when I need to make a suggestion. That approach makes the client feel at ease. As soon as they understand that you are there to HELP and not to IMPOSE your will, their confidence level increases and they feel like they can let their guard down. I also invite my clients to sit next to me. I somehow want to break through that “you sit on the couch, and I sit up front and if you want anything, speak up” barrier. A lot of new clients are intimidated by technology and let’s face it, high-end cutting rooms are, more often than not, designed to look like space ship cockpits. So in a lot of instances, the very room we work in can send that off putting message that a client should not get too close. I want them to get close because right away, it makes the client feel like an active participant in the process.

GM3 – How do you “sell” a cut? What are your methods for communicating your intent or purpose of an editorial decision?

AR – I offer multiple versions of a cut. I believe in involving the clients in the process. What I do is sit them down and take them through the multiple versions (usually 3 to 5 different cuts). I’ll have my favorite or my recommended cut, of course, and I’ll tell them that somewhere in there, they’ll see my recommended cut, but I won’t tell them which one. This is a great way to break the ice and open the conversation. I also start with the weakest cuts first and progress to the more refined ones. I believe this serves two purposes: the clients see that I put work into refining the cut, but also those first cuts can have some very interesting choices. My first cuts are very instinctual, I try not to over think things too much and that can produce some interesting results that can be brought back into the latter, more refined cuts. It can also produce absolute shit, but that’s the process.

GM3 – What should an editor know about the director/client and his personality that would help the working relationship?

AR – I think at the end of the day, everyone wants to be listened to and be taken into account. I think the thing to remember is that every client is usually beholden to another, bigger client. They are carrying all that pressure and responsibility into my cutting room and it’s up to me to create an environment where the client feels they have an ally. I love the service aspect of what I do. Whether it’s getting someone a cup of coffee or cutting their feature film, it’s all driven by my desire to please and make people happy. I think it takes a very distinct personality to be an editor. We are the bass players of the filmmaking process. Our position is not flashy or glamorous, but if we don’t do our job right, the piece will have no funk, swagger or attitude. If we do our job right, nobody notices, but if we screw it up, everyone will notice.

GM3 – How do you combat the “button-pusher” syndrome where a client is micromanaging every aspect of the edit and not incorporating you as a collaborator?

AR – This is a service industry. If a client wants to treat me as a button pusher, there’s very little I can do about it. I will do more damage to the relationship if I try to impose my will on them. At the end of the day, it’s their way of working and I am successfully serving them by assuming that role. Anything that keeps the session moving along is a positive. Usually what happens is that these type of clients will hit a wall sooner or later and get stuck. When that happens, I’m there to get them unstuck. That usually puts an end to the micromanaging aspect of things. But, again, this is a business of relationships and relationships develop over time. We are too much of a microwave society. We want everything now, but relationships need the benefit of time and repetition so that they can develop. Trust has to be earned.

GM3 – In managing a trouble client where the relationship has gone wrong, what types of things can you do to right the ship and bring a positive nature back to the relationship instead of just weathering the storm?

AR – Let the Wookie win. Always. If things get really bad I just try to keep my cool and get through the session. Deliver their product and listen to what they want and give it to them. I’ve also learned to prevent situations like this by not taking things personal, even if afterwards I need a week to vent and decompress. I’ve learned that this business has a lot of hidden agendas that sometimes I am not privy to. Sometimes clients are resistant to work with me for reasons of their own. That’s okay, you are not going to please everyone. I would rather walk away from a job that does not feel right. The sad part is when they use you as a scapegoat for their own agendas. One ad agency creative would go around the agency saying that I was not creative enough and did not contribute anything during a session. Turns out he had a big campaign coming up and wanted his sister to edit it. How can you compete with that? I only wish he had had the maturity and character to stand up to his producers and tell the truth. Why play with my reputation? But at the end of the day, you accumulate enough goodwill in the industry that comments like that are not as harmful, but it sure pissed me off at the time. If a client’s mind is made up from the beginning, let them have their way.

GM3 – How do separate your edit suite and sessions from all the other ones out here? How do you keep the clients coming back to you and your edit experience?

AR – It’s important to be technically proficient. You have to deliver an end result that’s not only creatively satisfying, but technically sound. The world’s most brilliant edit is useless if it cannot be successfully delivered to its final (and these days many) format(s). Having said that, I try to concentrate on the human experience of editing. The latest gadgets and software packages are useless if people can’t stand being around you. People come for the technology and technical savvy, but they stay for the human experience.

GM3 – How do you manage a session where you have multiple clients in the suite and the decision by committee syndrome is kicking in?

AR – I try not to add to the confusion. When you have situations like this it’s usually a battle of egos. I try not to add my own to the mix. In my experience, when things get heated like this, clients forget to even ask the editor what they think. If I see that we’ve reached an impasse, I will very gently suggest a compromise and show them. As quickly as you can, move the situation away from just talking about it to seeing the alternatives on the screen. This will get the clients into a proactive stance rather than a defensive one. Once again, the power of different versions comes in very handy. I try to send them away with more than one alternative and have them find a common ground. The cutting room should be a neutral ground for these types of situations. The only time I really put my foot down (and I tell them so) is when I see them making decisions that will damage their product from a technical standpoint. Case in point, with the transition to HD, a lot of clients don’t understand title safe, especially 4:3 Center Cut safe. I understand their frustration as it limits their design choices, but there’s nothing to be done about it. If my broadcast specs call for graphics to be center cut safe, that’s that. I remind them that their graphics will be cut off and that’s why I’m putting my foot down. In most cases they appreciate that you are looking out for them, even if you are making their lives more difficult. At the end of the day, if those graphics get cut off on broadcast, you will be getting that angry call, not the art director, so that’s a battle you cannot lose.

GM3 – When in a session where decisions are being split between director, producers, and agency creatives or studio execs, who are you looking to as the lead, how do you please each individually while pleasing the whole?

AR – In advertising I’ve found out through experience that creative is king. I usually take my cues from the creatives but with a healthy dose of the producer mixed in. By that I mean keep your agency producer informed of everything that’s going on. If there is something to be resolved, let them resolve it. I don’t think it’s an editor’s job to get in the way of how an Agency does business (and, yes, this applies even if you work as an in house editor). It is your job to execute and deliver for your clients, that’s it. Beyond that it’s like telling a stranger how to raise their kids. It’s just not a good idea. Again, advertising is fascinating that way: agencies bring these incredible filmmakers to shoot their content, but at the end of the day, every piece has an objective. More often than not, the director’s wishes do not gel with the needs of the ad agency or their client. Director’s cuts are usually more concerned with the filmmaking prowess of the piece (as it should be, since it was that filmmaking prowess that got them the job in the first place) rather than the advertising needs of the client. Again, I think that a healthy mix of both visions is in order. The director brings invaluable insight into how something should be cut, but at the same time when you combine it with the needs of your client it produces a more balanced piece. A lot of times it’s not as interesting from a filmmaking standpoint but it is successful as what it was intended to be: advertising.

Once again, versioning is key. I please the agency, but I always try to make time for directors. Even if it means staying late, I’ll try to give directors their due and find time for their cuts. I had been working on this campaign for a few days with the Agency when the Producer tells me that the director wants to drop by and work on his cuts. The thing was that the director could only make it at 7PM that night. I had the choice to say no and go home, but I opted to stay as I often do. The director came and we worked until 1AM. We had a great time, as he is a terrific person, but he also appreciated the time and effort I put in for his sake. Last year when my family and I relocated to Los Angeles, this person was, and still is, a huge part of helping me with that transition. He has always put in a good word for me and has been very supportive. Now we are gearing up for his first feature. None of this would have happened if I had opted to go home that night. Once again, this is a business of relationships.

My experience with indie features has been more unified as I usually work with directors who are also producers. The big advantage of features is you have the benefit of time. Since the post schedule is not as compressed as those on advertising, clients have more time to assimilate and get used to ideas. It’s not the same to digest a cut over a period of months than it is to digest it in a few days or even hours. So on features and docs, this process seems to be less violent.

GM3 – One of the things I really admire about you is the fact that you juggle short form advertising projects with long form narrative work. When you move between these different styles, are there any aspects of the way you work that you have to change in terms of the collaborate nature? From your perspective as a creative editor what are the biggest differences between the ad work and the narrative work?

AR – There really isn’t much difference. I try to work with people who understand collaboration so it’s not very different. A lot of times in long form work, the filmmaker feels a lot more pressure to lock the big picture. So, from the get go, they are very open to what I bring to the table. It’s worth noting that most of my long form work up to this point have been projects that have developed from relationships in my advertising work. So, a lot of the directors and producers I work with in long form already know me and what I’m about.

From a creative standpoint, I find that in long form work I feel less pressure to make a cut. The nature of spots demand you tell a story in a specific amount of time so you have make cuts in the service of time compression. In features and docs, you can let things happen because time is not so much a factor. I guess an interesting way to look at it is that features are about when not to cut, which has become my overall philosophy lately. Whether I’m cutting a feature or a commercial, I’m trying to get out of the way and let the great things just happen. God forbid I cut prematurely.

The Human in the Machine Interview #1: Director David Smith

I’m starting a new series of interviews with industry professionals to really focus on the relational aspects of the editorial process. Blog posts and bookshelves everywhere are flooded with technical information on the craft of editing, but there seems to be little out there on the human side of it all. Even though we hit all these keyboard shortcuts and plan out intricate workflows, what is at the heart of it all is spending 10-15 hours a day locked in a room, usually with other people, creating stuff. What makes those other people come back to your edit suite instead of walking down the hall to the next one? What keeps those other people from killing you, or what keeps you from killing them? Why do so many editors and directions reference a “psychic relationship” where they instinctively know how the other would proceed with an edit? Some of my questions don’t even pertain to editing alone, but all work that involves relationships and collaboration. I think, especially in school, so much of the curriculum is geared toward the tech side instead of the human side. Unfortunately, I know too many great guys who are wicked machine operators but fall short in the client-relations category. They can soak up intense tutorials and spit out phenomenal work but you put a client over their shoulder who they have to entertain for the day and they’ll keel over. As much as it doesn’t seem fair, a big part of this industry is not based on raw talent and knowledge but on politics, connections, and people skills. You can either fight this truth or decide to train those muscles with the same intensity that you train your technical skill set. Hopefully each of these interviews give you a better idea of how to approach this human side of the business and how to create work relationships that keep clients coming back for more. Some of the interviews will be with editors but I really wanted to reach out to the folks who deal with the editor, the Directors, Producers, Creatives, etc. I think these people can offer a deeper insight into why they work with certain editors and how our relationship with them can be strengthened.

 

To be the inaugural guinea pig for this series, I went to a man who has been a guinea pig on a lot of the content I have created. I feel for him because he had to sit through a lion’s share of the horrendous student films I made while attending Xavier University. He was the head of the electronic media production program and taught the Directing, Lighting, and Cinematography courses. Through all of it, he was always a supporter of us student, no matter what trouble we were getting into. He would correct us on our techniques and aesthetics, but would never keep us from taking risks or thinking big. When we got enthusiastic he would get enthusiastic, and he was always willing to share from his wealth of knowledge. So here goes, an interview with my teacher, David Smith.

 

 

DAVID L. SMITH is Professor Emeritus of Communication Arts at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since joining the faculty in 1981 he served as director of the Television Center, which was both a teaching and production facility. As a scholar Mr. Smith integrates a background in art, applied technology, and social anthropology in an ongoing quest to balance the traditional media with a more positive and socially responsible orientation. He has written the textbook Video Communication: Structuring Content for Maximum Program Effectiveness.

 

 

 

Prior to his appointment at Xavier he was employed by:

 

Eastman Kodak Company: (Color Technician)

K&S Films Inc., Cincinnati, OH: (Cinematographer)

Scripps-Howard Broadcasting (WCPO-TV), Cincinnati, OH: (Director-Cinematographer-Editor)

J&R Films Inc,. Cincinnati, OH: (Writer-Producer-Director-Cinematographer-Editor)

Taft Broadcasting (WKRC-TV) Cincinnati, OH: (Writer-Producer-Director-Cinematographer-Editor)

David Smith Productions, Cincinnati, OH: (Producer-Director-Cinematographer-Editor)

WNEO/WEAO (PBS) in Kent, Ohio: (Production Manager)

 

 

Mr. Smith has exhibited and published still photography, primarily black & white images, as part of a lifelong aesthetic-contemplative quest. He has self-published a series of coffee-table photography books including: Reverence For Light, Wisdom Of The Spheres, Auto Reflections: The Intersection of Form, Light and Color, Milestones, and Patterns.

His black & white photographs can be viewed at: http://www.davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com/

His color photographs can be viewed at: http://www.davidlsmithcolorphotography.com/

Mr. Smith just finished his latest book, Television That Matters: A guide for writers and producers, with the intent to inspire tomorrow’s program creators and producers to move in the direction of Television That Matters, as opposed to television designed just to maximize eyeballs for advertisers.

 

 

GM3- Based on your time spend locked in a room with an editor what qualities created the best relationships. How about the worst?

 

DS- The best relationships, and therefore experiences, were those where there was an established mutual respect going in. As an editor I enjoyed working with directors who invited creative suggestions, but at the same time respected the director’s final call. As director, I enjoyed working with editors who, as my request, would offer creative options and display them when he/she could, individuals who left their egos at the door. The best working relationships were those where both editor and director had the same goals- to produce the best possible piece or program. Always, it was the outcome that mattered most. How we got to it was always- and enjoyably- a creative collaboration. Going in, we assumed that the other person was highly creative and competent. Also, I will always remember and appreciate working in post houses where the staff was friendly, where the environment was relaxed and elegant, and where snacks & soft beverages, often food, was offered and complimentary. Comfortable, non-stressful environments were high on my list of criteria in choosing post houses.

The worst relationships were the opposite, usually occurring when one or both parties had egos to defend. My worst of all time agency experience was when I was a hired DP-editor for a series of 30 and 60 second spots where the agency flew in “a top-notch L.A. producer-director”. Turned out, the guy was a jerk: lots of attitude and little substance. Or creativity. My team and I worked with -for- him over the course of a week. Suffice to say, this man had serious ego problems. He told me up front he didn’t want any suggestions, ideas, or recommendations from me or the crew. He wanted what he wanted and instantly, without question. And what he wanted was crap- pretty pictures, but little to no communication value! At the time I wondered if he knew the difference between a fade and a dissolve. His belligerent, egotistic attitude made every day an agony. He took the client to two-hour lunches every day and paid the bill while my staff and I were required to brown-bag it and eat across from the editing bench. We shot on film.

 

 

GM3 -Looking back now, do you think there was any way you could have created a positive relationship out of the situation? Or was it a lost cause?

 

DS- We were paid to do a job and we did it. It would have been unprofessional for us to quit. And there was nothing we could have done to change the man’s personality or the climate he created. Considering work relationships- ethics, integrity, and attitude are as important to me as competency and creativity. All are essential. After that situation I never again went on a “blind date” with a PD. And I never again worked for or with someone I didn’t respect. Life is too short. And the outcome suffers.

 

GM3- Since much of your storytelling perspective comes from a visual background, being a photographer and DP, did you find it was harder to communicate with the editor than the camera department? I guess what I am getting at is whether the editor’s lack of camera background/terminology created a barrier for your communication in the edit bay.

 

DS- Absolutely! The more the editor knew about camera, lighting, sound, and music the better we could collaborate. We spoke the same language, didn’t have to stop and explain things. Ultimately, the challenge is TO COMMUNICATE to viewers. The more the DP and editor are in sync with the process, the better equipped they are to communicate and create. My personal opinion is that the best editors are those who are also accomplished DP’s. And likewise, the best DP’s are those who’ve spent a lot of time over a hot editing console, taking direction from others. Nothing builds competency like experience. And experience is best gained in situations where there is mutual respect and easy collaboration toward a commonly perceived goal: QUALITY and EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION! Amen.

 

GM3- I know you worked for a while within the advertising industry, could you give me a little bit of your background at that time and share a little about how the process was working with the ad agency? Where did the line cross from your vision and control, to theirs?

 

DS- It’s been a long time since I worked with ad agencies- 60’s & 70’s. Back then much agency work was spontaneous: I’d meet with the producer at 8am on location. We’d go over a rough script that the client approved, but even more important was what the spot had to communicate. With that in mind, she’d likely say, “Any ideas?” And we’d proceed from there. Working for a TV station and then independently, everything I produced was local. Nuts & bolts stuff. Jewelry, automobiles, department store sales, restaurants, insurance companies, beverages, fashion, beer, carpet cleaning. Whatever the product, we’d go to the location and improvise through a meeting of minds (producer and myself). There were no assistants. I did everything. For instance when, for a department store spot I got handed a stack of sheets, pillows and pillowcases, the producer said, “Make it look good, I can’t be with you today”. So I made a call to a woman who wanted to do some modeling and met her at a location where there happened to be daffodils. We shot sheets blowing in the wind, backlit with clouds, some in slow motion, close-ups of the woman sinking her head into the pillows with golden sunlight on her hair…and so on. We shot the spot in one day, completed the editing the next, and it aired two days later to promote the department store’s sale.

Fast forward five years and scripts were tight. All of a sudden there were three nervous and overly enthusiastic agency people on every location, all wanting to have their say- while I (as DP) waited to be told what to shoot. And how. Fast forward another three years and now, instead of meeting on location, we met at the post house where footage from three photographers had been gathered to produce a spot that featured- you guessed it- 80% graphics and special effects. I moved away from agency work when the trend to a heavy reliance of graphics and effects was becoming the mainstay of TV commercials. Over the years I produced 500+ local TV commercials. I worked with agency people who were creative and hard working. People I respected. I also worked with people who didn’t know the difference between a C-stand and a light stand, a gobo and a reflector. I worked for over a year with a closet alcoholic and that was no fun at all, trying to ignore his obvious symptoms. People are people.

Overall, my experience with agency people was that they where high on creative activity, soft on communicating. They knew how to attract the viewer’s attention, but not how to communicate. Too often there was little to no understanding of the dynamics of communication- how to effectively convey a message or feeling to a television audience. Bells & whistles, sensational images, keep it moving, fast cuts, blow stuff up, make it sexy or cute. Startle the audience. Transition effects. Not much has changed in that regard.

Regarding control: In my day control was shared between the agency producer and me, the DP. It was a back & forth process of deciding what to shoot and how to edit (often in spite of poorly constructed scripts or no script at all) based on a commonly held vision of what the spot had to say. Content was king. Different people then, as now, have vastly different opinions and styles. Naturally. But most of the agency producers I worked with favored the hard-sell approach: loud, fast-talking, driving music. Hype. I favored the soft approach, especially telling stories and using cleverness and twists, presentations that touched an emotional cord. Our humanity. Universal human experiences.

Producers, directors, shooters, and editors are all looking for opportunities to exercise and develop their creative capabilities. Those who are looking to demonstrate those abilities are the ones I found difficult to work with. They didn’t have their “eye on the ball” so to speak. When we’re so concerned about how we’ll look to the boss, the client, or colleague- or the “impact” of the spot- it’s easy to forget that the purpose of the collaboration is effective communication- the conveyance of thoughts or feelings. Often both.

If I were working with agencies today, I’d be very discerning about which individual(s) champion effective communication and try as much as possible to work with them. Also, given the ease of working with post technologies, if I were an editor I’d produce my own version of the spots I was working on, after hours when no one else is around, and decide later whether or not to show it to someone. Whether or not anyone sees it, I will have gained invaluable creative experience and possible made a contribution to my demo reel.

What makes the workplace enjoyable and enriching for me, is working with people who are on the same wavelength. Chemistry. In my experience, team or partnered resonance produces the best results for the client (or agency), and the most satisfying work experience whatever the role.

 

GM3- What should an editor know about the director and his personality that would help the work relationship?

 

DS- Besides professional competence, is there resonance between them? Again, chemistry. Does he or she think and behave- in and outside the office and editing suite- in ways that you respect. An effective colleague is not one who is as competent and creative as me- more or less so. It’s the person who brings to the table skills that I lack and vice versa, along with qualities of personality and character that I respect. Complimentarity, mutual respect and chemistry.

 

 

 

GM3- Do you have any additional advice for those starting their first professional job or beginning to move up to their 2nd or 3rd? This can be from the relationship standpoint or from any other aspect you think is important to focus on.

 

DS- Qualities of character: ethics, integrity, honesty, can-do attitude are essential for day-to-day interactions. Next: Follow the money! Gain a clear and precise understanding of where and how the organization derives its revenues. Then, slowly but surely position yourself so that you become a major contributor to the bottom line. As you are seeing, MONEY drives the business. The more you contribute to the bottom line the more valuable you become. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

After you’ve learned about the company’s revenue stream(s), latch onto it and take ownership, at first unofficially by producing/editing/playing with the client’s needs after hours and on the weekends. If you can. PLAY with their audio & video. Don’t use the client’s script. DO make the client’s most desirable outcome(s) your outcomes. Edit for that. I know a guy who asked his boss’ permission to come in and use the client’s materials to PRACTICE OR BUILD his editing skills on their most expensive graphics computer. I can’t report the outcome other than he told my class that he got permission, had fun and learned a lot about the computer. Managers respect that kind of initiative. And if they like what you’ve done, they may show it to the client. At least, they will know that you’re “a player,” someone who has a genuine desire (“passion” is an even better word) to do good work and help the company succeed. Also, don’t be shy about sharing your dream with managers and owners as long as it’s something they can help you realize. My experience has been that people in this business love to help people when they can.

One last thing: After you’ve gotten to know the business and you’re taking ownership, think about additional ways it can improve or generate new revenues. When you come up with a good idea, write a one page submission entitled: “What if…” Don’t tell anyone about it. Don’t talk about it or discuss it with anyone. Send it to the top dog (the person who makes final decisions) in a hand-written envelope with a cover letter that says: “I’ve been chewing on an idea for weeks now, and I thought I’d pass it by you to see if it makes sense….” Here too, you will have gained that person’s respect. And now he or she begins to see you in a new light.” Hmmm. Glen’s not just an editor, he’s an idea guy. He’s our kind of people. We need to involve him in some of our meetings.”

 

 

 

GM3- I know you have a story about possibly working with Orson Wells, do you mind sharing some of it?

 

DS- I was in the studio, supervising a group of students in “round-robin” exercise where each student put on the headset and sat at the control room console to direct a five-minute interview with three cameras. Someone called my name from the back room. “Dave! There’s a call for you. It sounds important.” I took the call. “David Smith?””Yes” “This is… I’m calling for Orson Welles. He reviewed your script and he wants to do it.”

I’d put together a team of thirty international scholars to collaborate on the development of a script for a PBS program on the life and thought of Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (whose writings I’d studied for about ten years). I was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to write the script. I didn’t get to talk to Orson Welles in person, but his agent reported in that telephone call that he was “so impressed” with the script and was “so honored to do the narration” that he would do it for no cost. (I’d allocated $5000. for him). The rest of the conversation amounted to details regarding the recording of the narration in his home studio. Due to his schedule, he wouldn’t be available for at least a month. He died while I was in the process of submitting the production proposal. Three other principals died while we waited to hear from the NEH. They denied our request for $300,000 but urged us to resubmit with some recommended modifications. The advisory board and I were not comfortable with their recommendations and their submission cycle was an entire year, so the project died.