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iPontificateEditor Pet Peeves for Indy Filmmakers

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- April 22nd, 2005

After working in the independent film scene for several years now, it has started to become apparent that oftentimes there are reoccurring complaints from editors about common mistakes or particular pet peeves that are universally held. I enlisted the help of two editor friends of mine in order to find out what were their biggest annoyances or issue that they will invariably encounter at some point in the post-process.

One is Andy Fisher with whom I have worked on numerous projects over the past few years, and who currently works as an editor for a network late night program in Los Angeles. The other is Craig Knapp, local Austin editor and filmmaker currently cutting two independent features, with the conclusion of another within grasp.

One of the biggest problems when editing a scripted project is the issue of continuity. For many projects, continuity becomes a big problem in post-production because indy films don't often have the necessary funds available to hire a script supervisor, whose job, in part, is to maintain continuity and prevent the most common mistakes.

These common mistakes include things like the movement of props or the shifting of anything that has been established on screen. They also monitor things like the position of the sun as it moves across the sky overhead, as this can create a discongruous source of light. The same thing holds true if there have been pick-up shots on different days with a visible inconsistency in light quality.

Andy Fisher: I don't know if it's continuity so much, but what about head size? Like when you are trying to cut between two close ups and one is framed way closer than the other. This is pretty painful. Sometimes I think it comes from DPs [Directors of Photography] going for a prettier shot - but not thinking about maintaining a spacial continuity. The best advice for continuity on set when you don't have the benefit of a script supe, is to keep it simple. If you can't keep it simple, then schedule your shoot accordingly.

I remember when we were shooting Oh My God - an extremely short film with lots of blood - we shot multiple takes of the first section of the scene cleaning up after each. When we felt comfortable with what we had for that first section we moved on to more blood. We inched our way through the scene like this - adding blood as we went. Continuity would have been a nightmare if we had shot solid takes of all the action because we would have had blood all over the place. It's better just to keep it simple. Be deliberate with your direction. Character's souls have a simple purpose to their actions anyway.

As far as set and prop continuity - take digital pics, especially if you are leaving a location that you plan on returning to. Even if you're just breaking for lunch, take a quick pic.

Craig offers his biggest complaint as being the phrase; "We'll just fix it in post". This phrase is often heard on set when there is a problem that can't be immediately fixed, or there's no one on set who knows how to fix the particular problem. This sentence is said out loud in an attempt to keep the forward momentum of the day's shooting, but it will often come back in post to bite a filmmaker in the wallet.

Craig Knapp: This is a phrase that should be banned from all indie sets. On a film I recently edited, there's a shot of a character looking through a window - behind the character is a giant 12 x 12 silk that shouldn't be there. On the take you can actually hear the DP saying "Don't worry the editor can just take that out later".

This leads us to the topic of the unrealistic goals of directors for what they think can be done in the post process. A large percentage of directors aren't editors, and lack the basic knowledge of editing techniques and what can be accomplished on meager budgets. Because CGI is so prevalent these days in film and on television, many directors erroneously assume that creating CGI images is easy and cheap. It ain't.

Andy Fisher: Unrealistic ideas - The most important thing is to be on the same page. A lot IS possible in post. However there are always things you can do on set to make things work in post more easily. Take the time to shoot tests of all your major effects shots. Coming up with ideas after everything is in the can isn't necessarily a kiss of death, but it can result in a less than stellar product. Know what you want before you shoot and then shoot accordingly. Give ample time for effects heavy stuff. You do not want to rush graphics.

Craig continues his position on the attitude towards editors in a plea for respect for the cutter. Sometimes the editor is seen as the guy who will fix every problem created on set, and a huge burden is placed upon an editor when that attitude exists.

Craig Knapp: This goes back to "fix it in post," but it seems the editor gets no real respect. This one film the director told me that they didn't slate because they wanted to save time. I told the director that this would add more time in post, to which the director replied "We thought it would be better to lose time in post than on the set." Yeah, because showing a second of a slates is really going to derail the production.

He continues with probably the biggest issue when editing a project for someone else. Independent filmmaking at it's core is a collaborative effort, requiring a level of teamwork that allows for most ideas some to have degree of weight. Everyone has a voice. This can kill an editor because invariably it can get to the point where there's literally too many cooks in the kitchen, or editing suite for that matter.

Craig Knapp: EVERYBODY THINKS THEY'RE AN EDITOR - After wrapping a project I directed last summer, the writer brought in a couple of the actors to see some of the footage as I was cutting - what should have been a 10 minute meeting turned into a 8 hour [complaint] fest where the actors we ripping the edit and demanding changes. Afterwards, I kept getting "notes" from the actors complaining that their scenes needed to be changed, or that they didn't like the way the film was cut. Major lesson - don't let Actors see anything before the screening.

Lastly, Andy suggests the simple, but sometimes never-addressed topic of backups. On a feature I shot several years ago here in Texas, at the end of the day we would immediately make dubs of the tapes we had just shot. While this is a very painful thing to have to do at the end of a full day of shooting, it will save your production if anything happens to your original tapes. Especially when you get to the post-process and are having to import the footage into the NLE (non-linear editor). If a tape becomes damaged or destroyed at this point in the game, the entire project could be in jeopardy.

Andy Fisher: Back-UP - EVERYTHING! Either back it up to tape or a separate drive that YOU DO NOT TOUCH. This has saved my butt numerous times. Back-up your sequence at the end of every day and back-up everything when you complete a project. You will never be sorry you backed something up.

Word of wisdom boys, words of wisdom. If there are other TMO readers out there that have particular stories or pet peeves they would like to share, feel free to write me, or to post it below in the comments. I am sure every editor out there has some story that other editors can relate to. We are here to listen and nod our heads in sympathy saying "Amen brother."


With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.

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