Picture Lock: A Love Story

At the beginning of feature editorial there is so much unknown that the only thing you can be sure of is having self doubt. But you dig in, keep your head down, placing one frame in front of another as you embark on a journey that entails an overwhelming amount of decisions. It may take weeks, or it might take months, but inevitably you encounter that certain scene or sequence that draws you in, that clicks, and bam, you know that you have hit your stride. That previous timeline of hair-pulling and uncertainty begins to take shape and breathe with life. Guided by the director’s voice, now clearly in your head, and armed with the previously earned knowledge of each actors’ specific rhythms and the camera’s inclinations you can swiftly merge all of these elements to their maximum potential (or at least pretty darn close, we’re still talking first cut here). You have gone from the unknown to the known and there is nothing more rewarding than that moment of discovery in your editorial life…

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My Directors: Zak Forsman (Down and Dangerous), Gary King (Unnerved), and Brian James Crewe (Uné Liberation).

My Year of Cutting Dangerously

No Fourth of July barbecue for this girl, I was too busy cutting a funeral scene that day. While you were setting your clocks back this fall, I was spending some quality time in German occupied France. As you were dodging buttered popcorn flavored jelly beans and spending time with loved ones, I was hanging out in the woods, where there might have been some supernatural forces at play. Christmas, all right, you got me. I took Christmas day off, but you get what I’m going for: weekends, holidays, you name it, since June 4, 2013 I have most likely been cutting… dangerously, very dangerously.

A look back on the numbers: 365 days, two features, one short, three directors, two NLEs, two chairs, a standing desk, and 375 large cups of coffee later, I’m still cutting. So what does it all mean? I’ve pretty much dropped off the map for a year, leaving very little time for much else. Sorry friends and family. It has also left me feeling exhausted and a little burnt out; a problem I welcome greatly. Finding ways to keep a little fuel in the creative tank has been a challenge this past year. But I did.

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Slowpoke Jones on Cruise Control

It took me a leisurely 7 months, to cut my last feature, Down and Dangerous. There was no hard deadline, leading me to put in 6 hour days and 5 day weeks. Hey, why rush the thinking process? So when I was asked to have a finished director’s cut, 4 weeks from the start date of receiving the dailies of my current project, I laughed. As I sensed the seriousness and earnestness of the question, the smile quickly faded from my face. I absolutely knew I could move faster than I previously had, but 4 weeks for picture lock on a feature would serve quite a difficult task for most. A red flag in hindsight, but I was up for the challenge. It was time to kick Slowpoke Jones to the curb, well, at least within reason.

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Believe It

After a lot of conversation and before the editorial process begins, I like to get a keyword from the director — a keyword that represents the director’s vision in a nutshell that also serves as the guide to filter my decisions through. On Down and Dangerous, that keyword was Big: larger than life characters, a muscular soundtrack, and moments of raw violence. And for someone who’s previous editorial effort was a naturalistic, improvised drama, whose keyword was Authenticity, big left me shaking in my boots.

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A Challenging Scene

At one point or another we have all faced a challenging scene. The scene that no matter what you throw at it, no matter how you approach it for one reason or another, never turns out quite right. It slowly consumes all of your focus, and becomes the editor’s Moby-Dick, if you will. While scene 48 never bit off my leg or sunk my boat, it definitely became an unhealthy obsession to get right.

When I first read the scene, a late addition to the script, I was very excited by the prospect of getting to cut it; a four page, face to face showdown between our hero, Paul Boxer, and his nemesis, Henry Langlois. It had tension, reveals, and even a few monologues. I couldn’t wait to get started.

My first feelings of unease about the scene began to arise as I looked down at my audio recorder on set. Each take was running close to 7 minutes, almost twice as long as expected. It was the smallest glimpse of the scene taking on new life, off the page, and slowly evolving into a beast.

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Frame of Reference: Special Edition with Editor Twain Richardson

A few months back I had the pleasure of participating in the Frame of Reference interview series created by Twain Richardson. The series has proven to be a tremendous learning tool, as well as a great way to get to know everyone better through their different approaches to editing. Finally the time has come to put Mr. Richardson in the hot seat. Below we get his insights on editing and his inspiration for the series.

My name is Twain Richardson and I am a Certified editor with over 6 years experience. I’ve worked on short films, documentaries, television series, corporate videos and promos for a wide variety of clients ranging from broadcast and cable networks, to corporate giants. I do what I do because I love it. When not in the cutting room I like to play video games and football.

Where did you get the idea for the Frame of Reference series?

I always wanted to do a blog but had no idea what to blog about. I wanted to do tutorials but when I took to the internet there were already a ton of other blogs doing that. I then thought of video interviews but after more consideration I realised that it wouldn’t make much sense because I would not be able to get video interviews from everyone. I then decided to do written interviews and I took to the amazing twitter community of editors and PostChat to formulate the questions. The name just came to me, it just popped out of nowhere really. I then asked a few editors to participate and the result is a bunch of amazing interviews.

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Instant Gratification

Closure. Its a simple enough idea, but it doesn’t always come when or how we expect. As an editor and as a filmmaker, it’s an idea I’ve been wrestling with for a while. You invest yourself in a certain story for years, but when is it time to close the book and move onto the next project?

When I first read the script for Heart of Now, an art house indie drama, I was struck by the story’s beauty. I just felt in my gut that it should play at Cannes. It just seemed like the right fit to debut and launch this particular story. I was of course a novice to the whole process at that time. I had huge expectations for the film and believed that everyone would feel as strongly about the project as I did. We submitted Heart of Now to Cannes and several other of the top tier festivals, and I was devastated and confused by the rejections. I didn’t get the instant gratification that I foolishly expected and believed I deserved.

Knowing of these rejections when we had our cast and crew screening I felt like I should write the closure blog for the film then, but I wasn’t ready yet. When the film had its premiere at the Dead Center Film Festival I also felt like that would be an ideal time for the closure post, but I just didn’t feel satisfied and couldn’t bring myself to do it. We played a few more festivals but the closure that I wanted eluded me.

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The First Pass

I am a firm believer that the footage will tell you what you can and cannot do with it and Down and Dangerous has proved no exception to the rule. The more time I spend with this footage the better my understanding of its needs has become. On the last feature, that was largely improv-based, I found that I could really only work with and shape one take because the organic rhythms would change too much and you could see my editorial hand in it too much. But the more time I spend with this scripted material I am discovering that not only can I pull from multiple takes, but that I should.

Opening the door to more choices has been freeing yet overwhelming all at the same time. When I’ve been watching the dailies down on this film, I’ll pull the lines that immediately affect me and put them in a separate string-out so they don’t get lost in a sea of takes. I also put them in order and back to back. It can be fun to watch certain lines from different takes go head to head and battle it out.

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Earning Violence

We all know that one creepy guy in the audience. The one who we all know is laughing for the wrong reasons. That guy makes my skin crawl. And that is the guy I had in mind when I signed up to edit LUCID, a psychological horror film about a newly wedded woman, who dreams each night that her husband is trying to kill her.

As a female, I am sensitive to how violence against women is portrayed. As a female editor, I am even more aware of my responsibilities in that portrayal. Making it my personal goal to tell a truthful film, without being exploitative. The story of Lucid was conceived of by its female star, Marion Kerr, and was going to be edited by a female, so it seemed like a simple enough task. But as I stood there being strangled by our camera assistant as we practiced what angles would be most effective to cheat the violence. The voice inside me questioned, just what kinda of movie am I helping to create here?

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Editor on Set

I have heard from many editors, how visiting the set really messes them up. Being on set shows them parts of the production that they would rather not have in their head, which I definitely understand. Other editors like to stop by towards the beginning of production to make sure a proper work flow is in order, and then they can retreat to the comfort of their edit bay and get to work. And in a perfectly funded world, I would love to only be on set in an editor capacity and get to start playing with the footage immediately after it has been shot.

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Back In The Saddle

It’s time to dust off the blog as much has happened since I last left off. Heart of Now has had a nice festival run, playing 8 festivals including its World Premiere at the amazing Dead Center Film Festival. And as soon as the ink dries, I can officially announce the film’s impending distribution deal, so stay tuned.

Also, in my time away, I got hitched. Which was truly an amazing day, and the best life decision I have made so far. The only minor down side was the wedding planning and having to turn down work to organize the big day. When you are freelance, it’s not the best to say no to work, as those connections soon find new connections to go to.

But all of my time off has truly been a blessing. While cutting behind the scenes for the studios has been great, my true passion has always been cutting narrative films and I have been using this extra time to really focus on that.

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Picture Lock!

It has been official for the past few days now, but I suppose it isn’t truly official until I have entered it in the editor’s journal. Coming in at a smooth 89 minutes I am proud to announce that Heart of Now has reached PICTURE LOCK! This is the entry I have been dying to write since I began this journal almost 2 years ago. It has been a long road but I know that all of this time has only benefited and made the film stronger.

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The Movie Has Emerged

I wrote a journal entry yesterday while waiting for the latest cut to burn to DVD. It didn’t have a lesson or an angle so much as it was just me venting in a round about way. I think I hesitated to post it because there was something not quite right about it, something was missing. That’s kind of how I have felt about the cut for the last 5 weeks. I had lost my momentum and my enthusiasm. As an editor, I was kind of just stuck.

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Focus Group Collaboration

This podcast was produced for an article at The Workbook Project and shows how we used test screenings and focus groups to reintroduce creative collaboration into the post-production and editing process of HEART OF NOW.


Deklun and Harmony

It was a fun and exciting past week at Sabi. A lot of old, friendly faces came through the studio, as well as one new one, Deklun. It was great to finally meet face to face after all of this time. What I really enjoyed was finding out that there are many parallels and similarities between his music process and my editing process. Thanks for coming and sharing your expertise with us Deklun!

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Cutting Major Scenes

When I first started the process of cutting this film, it was very hard to get Zak to consider leaving anything out of the cut. Eventually, if I made a good enough argument as to why the story would be stronger without something he would go with it. So you can believe the shock I felt today when he suggested cutting some major scenes from the film.

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Scared To Get His Notes

A scary thought as I date this entry, this journal is a year old.

I’m sorry I have been sucking in the journal update department. I’ve been sort of stuck lately. For a lack of a better analogy, I have gone miles upon miles with this story and I’m really close to the finish line, but it’s these last few feet that are really challenging me.

To keep pushing us towards that finish line, Zak and I brought in some fresh eyes with some fresh perspective. After much time, curiosity, and patience, Kevin has finally seen Heart Of Now.

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Editing Dramatic Improv

The hardest lesson I’ve learned while editing dramatic improv is to embrace the imperfections. Usually when editing a scripted scene you look through all of the coverage and pull the best takes with the best performances and cut them together into a tight and/or polished scene. If something isn’t working in the scripted two-shot, you can hide that by cutting to the same line in the close up and the problem is more or less solved. That is not the case when editing Heart of Now.

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Version One

A beautiful thing happened today, I finished V1. I realize that doesn’t mean picture lock, but its a huge milestone for me in this process. I have now been through every frame of the footage, and I am one step closer to taming the beast. Now all decisions will be made focusing on the story as a whole, and not on the individual scenes.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 12 minutes I proudly present to you all V1!


Halloween Anniversary

So I was cutting scene 120 yesterday. It’s the scene where Gabe and Amber stop for gas on their way to Death Valley and I was struggling with it. The scene had about five or so beats to it, and with all of the beats together, it wasn’t really working for me. So I went through all of the takes and pulled my selects of the beats that I thought were working. I still didn’t have the enthusiasm that I wanted to cut the scene. So I showed Zak the selects that I had pulled and it lead to a really good discussion.

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It’s Not Hard To Make Me Cry

I’m kicking it old school this time and hope that people still like to read. Not to worry though, there will be more video podcasts in the future.

I have exciting news! I just finished cutting the last scene in act 2, which means I have just 13 more scenes to explore in act 3 before we have a completed first pass of the film! I am ecstatic! We are so close to the end where we can finally sit back and watch the whole thing down to see where we are lagging, unclear, or most important, kicking ass.

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Editor Podcast Two

Editor JAMIE COBB nears the end of Act 2 for HEART OF NOW – a film by SABI. Features appearances by Marion Kerr, Kelly McCracken, Jason Lopez, Mary Elise Hayden, Dusty Sorg, Laura Laurent, and Alison Haislip.

music heard in this podcast is by DEKLUN.


Editor Podcast One

After a little persuasion, I convinced Jamie to sit down and discuss some recent structural changes she’s made to Heart of Now. In the following video podcast, she shares some insight into the re-arranging and elimination of certain scenes, guided by her ambition to preserve the integrity of the characters’ emotional continuity. In other words, she’s making the rest of us look good.


Leaving Great Moments on the Cutting Room Floor

Slowly but surely the cut is moving a long nicely. We now have about 58 minutes of a really solid film. I’m not saying 58 locked minutes, but the cut is in really good shape. Back in the beginning of July, I went back to scene one and started re exploring every scene I had cut so far, making sure to keep each scene real and human, and not to force anything. The results have been great (IMHO). And I am caught back up to Scene 70 where I left off to re explore the previous material.

During my re exploration there were 2 big scenes of note that I’d like to share:

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