Slowpoke Jones on Cruise Control

sm_0009_ABC_contest_first_prize_1992_cadillac_eldorado

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.

After some renegotiating on the schedule I was promptly nose deep in my third feature. With the still tight turnaround I would have to be averaging 2-4 cut scenes a day. A week into the process, I knew I was in trouble. Previously, I have always been the editor who watches every frame of footage before I begin cutting; absorbing the material, seeking out the gems, while considering my approach into the scene. Meaning, I was spending more than half of my day just watching footage and preparing to cut. Old habits die hard, so it took a week of torturing myself before my new mantra, ABC, was born: Always Be Cutting.

The new system meant adapting to the style and schedule of cutting for TV shows and just diving in. I’d watch the last take of the first set up for reference (sometimes not), then immediately start looking for the best way into the scene by auditioning the same moment from each take back to back, quickly deciding and cutting it into the sequence. Then I’d look for and audition the best way into the next beat and so on. By the time I have completed the scene I have usually seen most, if not all of the material that was shot and I still have time to jump into other scenes.

Editing in this manner often results in a clunky scene as I am cutting from all of the takes with different rhythms and I’m only looking at it in tiny pieces instead of the overall big picture. But on the flip side of that, I really enjoy seeing the scene up on its feet so quickly and after having viewed the scene and performances in context, I have a better sense of what I should be looking for from the raw takes. I will most likely incorporate some version of this new approach into my future projects, as long as I have time to go back through all of the dailies with a fine-tooth comb.

Are there a few tiny moments and nuances that fall through the cracks by cutting so quickly? You bet. But I haven’t had any time to lose sleep over that yet. With the approaching deadline, I have to keep moving… just ABC and repeat.

Another unique hurdle to this project, for me, springs from its two camera nature. You would think that this would be an asset to my time crunch, and in a way it was/is, but I discovered that I was acting more like a switcher in the control room of a live show, then doing my job as a feature editor. I realized that I had the cruise control on and was letting the ease of switching between the two cameras take the lead instead of finding and crafting the rhythm of the story myself. As always, the most interesting cuts, performances, and beats, came when I freed myself of the grip of this very appealing cruise control and it’s something I have to be mindful of daily.

I recently came across this article on twitter, Anatomy of Editing a Two Camera Scene, and I’m looking forward to using the picture-in-picture technique on my B-CAM clips. Any other tips and tricks you have for moving quickly through an edit or working with two camera footage, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

I may not win the Cadillac, but I’ve definitely got my eye on that set of steak knives.


Third Feature