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EditFest LA 2015: An Overview

Norman Hollyn (far left) leads “The Lean Forward Moment” at Edit Fest 2015. Also pictures Doug Blush, ACE, Dody Dorn, ACE, Vashi Nedomansky and John Venzon, ACE

Audience manipulator. Political player. Master Story teller. These were a few terms editors used to describe themselves throughout EditFest Los Angeles, 2015. Held on the Walt Disney Studio grounds,  Oscar-winning editors from Tom Cross (Whiplash) to Arthur Schmidt (Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) gathered to discuss the complications editors face on all forms of content, including documentaries, television shows and major motion pictures.

The day kicked off with “From Cutting Room to Red Carpet”a panel that brought recent Emmy and Oscar nominees and winners together to discuss trends and practices that both effect and inform their practices. Moderator Alan Heim, ACE, an Oscar-winning (All That Jazz) and multi-Emmy nominated editor, welcomed panelist Elisa Bonora, ACE (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me), Tom Cross, ACE (Whiplash), Catherine Haight, ACE (Transparent) and Wyatt Smith, ACE (Into the Woods). Referring to questions asked during the Edit Fest London panel held in June, Heim kicked off the panel by asking what can be done to include assistant editors and novices into the editing mainstream, particularly since the elimination of the apprentice position.

Haight recommended to the upstarts in the audience that they have to be ambitious and “take initiative.”

“Take advantage of time and be motivated,” said Haight. “I had editors who were great mentors who gave me opportunities because I really pushed hard.”

Cross and Smith both agreed that it’s important to get assistant editors out of the technical aspects as soon as possible. This is tricky, however because the work they do is so crucial. Smith told a story of an assistant who would supply “practice edits” with clips – an endeavor he continues to encourage. Many of the “practice clips” made their way into the final version of the project. Bonora explained the quantity of material being supplied on a documentary lends itself to assistants doing more practical work early in the process.

Haim also asked the panel how they approached the demands of producers. They all agreed that the work they are doing on any project is geared primarily for the audience. Smith described the position of an editor as “10% editing, 90% politics.”

“There is a lot of dancing and choreography you are serving many people,” said Smith. “The bottom line is you are working for the audience, and you have to defend your opinions for them.”

Cross stressed the importance of establishing good relationships with the producers right away.

“If people like you, they are less likely to blame you when things go wrong.”

Cross and the rest of the panel stressed the value of the opinion of producers – and further down the line – test markets. Working with material for months on end naturally lends itself to an innate understanding of the characters and situations. The viewpoint of a producer less familiar with the material can help clarify the outcome of a story. While they did admit some requests are a bit outlandish – asking for cuts to material that doesn’t exist, for example, they all agreed a dedicated show runner or director usually serves as a buffer between unrealistic expectations and the edit room.

Each editor also provided revealing remarks about the projects that proved their most recent red carpet opportunities. Bonora spoke about the challenge of sifting through over 2,000 hours of footage and finding the story that balanced the challenges of Alzheimer’s while preserving the legacy and humanity of Glen Campbell. Cross spoke about sifting through the notes and story boards the director had established during the years leading up to the film, while patterns were established with the rhythms and music production, he discovered he needed to define the human connection between the two lead characters. Smith also had a challenge of finding a simple balance between intersecting stories and complicated musical elements that work well on stage but are hard to master in film. Haight discussed the meetings with a director that occurred when the footage provided in “Transparent” clearly missed the emotional weight needed to sell the scene.

Michael Krulik, Principle applications Specialist for Avid LA led a panel focusing on editing comic book adaptations, specifically highlighting the challenge editors have creating stories when entire characters are added by VFX. Joining him were Jonathan Chibnall (DareDevil), Lisa Lassek (Avengers), Dan Lebental (Antman), Colby Parker Jr, ACE (Antman) and Fred Raskin, ACE (Guardians of the Galaxy). Chibnall brought a different perspective to the panel, due to “DareDevil’s” limited VFX. Netflix focused on creating a more internal character driven story. Complications arise from the title character’s lack of sight. Sound design becomes a crucial tool, used to emphasize the character’s super powers as well as reliance on other senses to inform his world and decisions.

The other members of the panel spoke about making challenging timing choices and working closely with pre-vis and post-vis to effectively perform edits when entire characters and environments were missing. Despite issues where the presence of  entirely CG characters made selecting reaction shots based on emotions and timing proved more challenging than any other effects laden scene, each editor did admit working with complete CG characters gave them the benefit of fully manipulating scenes – something that can’t be done with recorded material. They had the ability to suggest better pieces of action, reaction and dialogue that improved the scenes.

Keeping to the EditFest schedule, the third session kicked off after a brief networking lunch. Editor and film historian Bobbie O’Steen led a discussion with past ACE Lifetime Award Recipient and multi-Oscar winner Arthur Schmidt. Schmidt recalled being unimpressed with the process when he was a young boy visiting his editor father at work.  Noting his father was a chain smoker who lit up cigarettes amongst the film canisters and “flammable” warning signs, Schmidt recalled “I sat as far back in the room as possible as close to the door, in case anything went up in flames.”

Although his father hoped young Arthur would choose any other profession than entertainment, Schmidt fell in love with production after visiting the sets of films including “The Ten Commandments” and “Sunset Boulevard.” While he didn’t set out to edit, he assisted Dede Allen on a film after his father passed away, and was soon sought after for his “surgical skill.”

O’Steen guided the audience through Schmidt’s career, highlighting “Jericho Mile” (his first editing credit), “Back to the Future,” “Coalminer’s Daughter”, “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”, “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away.” After discussing his growth obtained through each project, Schmidt left the audience with one lasting piece of advice:

“When the actor is great and providing a wonderful performance, learn to trust the actor,” said Schmidt.

Norman Hollyn, an EditFest regular, moderated the final session, “The Lean Forward Moment.” His invited panelists – Doug Blush, ACE, Dody Dorn, ACE, Vashi Nedomansky and John Venzon, ACE were asked to bring clips from movies that inspired them. Venzon, who regularly edits with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, provided the landing scene from “Airplane” noting the moments were all placed in a very serious way, providing an incredibly humorous effect. Blush provided the panel’s overall favorite, the diaper stealing scene from “Raising Arizona.” Blush was taken by the deliberate timing, sometimes as small as one and a half clip, that deftly delivered eight simultaneous story lines.

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