Video production stories

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What makes a good editor?

I got into a conversation with a client the other day where we discussed the qualities that make a good video editor.  The editor is an amalgam of creative genius and technical wizard in equal measure.  You need to know the kit and the software and understand frame rates and compression and be able to differentiate your subcarrier from your sync pulse but knowing these things on their own is not enough.  You also need that creative spark that can see a bin of poorly shot footage and turn it into a sequence worthy of a Bafta .   To me it’s always been a question of scope.  On any production the grand overview is in the purview of the producer and getting people in the right place at the right time with the right resources is a mighty task to undertake.  The director has the next biggest scope; their job is to interpret the narrative and to instruct cast and crew within their creative vision.

Once the production moves into post the editor gets to have an input.  Working closely with the director, he/she will find the best way to tell the story, of letting the narrative flow in the most natural and least cumbersome way.  But, although they always have the totality of the programme in mind, the editor’s scope is more focussed than the director.  Each scene must fit the structure, each scene element must fit the scene, each individual cut or transition has to work within that element, whether that element be a line of script, an action or a special effect.  And it’s that ability to focus on every single transition, giving it the same importance as the whole production, that makes a good editor.  If one cut or transition doesn’t work the whole scene suffers so you have to have the patience to make it right.  Sometimes you can review an edit over and over, making small adjustments – cut a frame earlier, delay the audio, cut on the movement, before it, split the audio – until you are happy with it.  Over time your experience develops and you know instinctively what is going to work but you can never relax that focus.  As I discussed these points with my client I noticed that I had carefully lined up a couple of pens perpendicular to the mouse mat and it struck me that good editors have a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder about them.  Everything has to be just so.  Lining up the corners of the Avid bins, naming clips in a particular way, having a precise default project set-up, storing files in a set folder structure, etc.  Now, I’m not belittling OCD sufferers in any way, in its most serious forms it can be quite debilitating but the slightest touch of this affliction with boundless patience are attributes that I’m willing to bet are shared by all the best editors.  You don’t have to be mad to edit but a little bit of insanity can go a long way.