Tag: editing

Understanding Post-Production with Lawrence Jordan

In Los Angeles last weekend, the 1st ACE TechFest took place, which is a festival for post-production and those interested in editing in the LA area. Featuring talks by industry professionals and editing software companies, it’s a great opportunity for people in the area to be able to see the up and coming technologies being developed in the editing field. One veteran editor, Lawrence Jordan has worked on over 45 feature films and television, as well as running his own course in editing and post-production called Master The Workflow. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to him over Skype about the festival, his course, how one gets into the field of editing in the first place and what it takes to succeed!

 

IVAN: Thanks for reaching out and agreeing to me interviewing you. It’s fantastic to be able to talk to someone who has worked in the industry for such a long time with such an obvious passion for the craft of editing and post-production. I would like to start by asking you about the difference between these terms; for me editing is a term which is distinct in terms of a visual specialisation, while post-production is a catch-all term for editing, sound, vfx etc. Would you say that’s accurate?

LARRY: Yes, I think it is very accurate. The world of post-production is a very broad spectrum and it’s growing all the time with the development of new tools and technologies… Editing is the specific task of managing the content and creating stories. In my particular case, thematic or comedic stories that will play in the feature film or television format. So post-production involves everything from ingesting the film, preparing it for an editor, editing. As well as the other departments that you work with, such as sound, visual effects, music, colour correction, finishing, mastering and preparing for delivery.

IVAN: I wanted to ask you about skills and qualities that you might want to look for in someone who wanted to get into editing. Do you think that it can all be taught or is there a particular aspect of editing which is an inbuilt talent?

LARRY: I think that it’s both. You can have an instinctual talent towards the creative arts, and… might have a more natural inclination towards editing than someone who might gravitate towards a more left-brain field. I do think that the skill of editing can be taught and anyone who has the attachment to film can get good at editing over time. The actual editing, the creative part is a whole other side of the editing field that quite often we don’t even discuss. I like to believe that we discuss it particularly in our course. We teach about the interpersonal relationships between the directors, the producers, the rest of the crew as that’s a very big part of being an editor. You have to know how to work with the rest of your team in a diplomatic way because you work with a lot of creative individuals and as an editor, you’re not running the show. You’re providing a service to the director, producers and of course the studio. So there’s an art to that and I think that’s something that people don’t get a lot of information about when they’re looking at becoming a professional editor.

IVAN: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about Master The Workflow and if you think that the course that you created is a kind of alternative to a more traditional film school experience?

LARRY:  I would never discount a film school education. It’s a wonderful thing to have the ability to spend three or four years or so studying film, studying filmmakers and learning storytelling, as it’s invaluable. However, film editing is a craft and a trade. There are very specific steps that transpire in the film editing process and there’s also a well-established path to becoming a film editor. Again, this isn’t true in all cases, there are people who become film editors, maybe teaching themselves how to edit, then somehow meeting a director who sees their work and boom they’re on their way. Unfortunately in Hollywood, the studios are reticent to hire people without some kind of track-record of credits, so you obtain these credits by working your way up the ladder. You become a post-production PA, show your drive, passion and dedication and you’ll become an assistant editor. Then depending on the kind of relationships that you can develop with your editor… sometimes that editor sees your abilities and says… ‘here, I’ve got too much on my plate, you take this thing and give it a shot’. They go over the material with you, and give you notes and it’s really a sort of dry run of what you’ll actually be doing when you become an editor with a director. I would say that’s the kind of path that happens the majority of the time but… there are all kinds of exceptions to the rule.

IVAN: I would like to move on to how someone gets into a career in editing. Is it still a case of ‘It’s who you know, not what you know’, are there alternative ways of getting know or getting interesting projects?

LARRY: It’s changed a lot since I got into the business and it used to be, not just in editing but all the crafts, it really was – ‘do you a relative or contact which can get your foot in the door’? It was kind of a closed network. Of course, with digital technology it’s put the power of editing and cinematography, for that matter, in so many more people’s hands. So the industry has had to adapt and open the doors to a much larger group of people, and also by necessity because so much more content is being created… So the whole thing is really is going where the work is, going where the filmmakers are, so of course that’s Los Angeles, New York, London, Sydney, ‘where are the films being made’? If you want to work on long form dramatic projects, features and television. We like to believe that… our course is a real specific set of instructions that will teach you the workflow as it is practiced in on feature films and television. I’ve made over 45 films and television shows, Richard Sanchez who I co-developed the course with, has worked with over 20 shows. It’s an interesting contrast between Richard and I because he came in through a program which allowed people who have not traditionally been able to get their foot in the door and he’s done exceptionally well. He was most recently the visual effects editor on Catch-22, the mini-series produced by George Clooney, and he didn’t know anyone in the business but through networking and his desire to become a film editor he was able to do it. So it’s networking, it’s going to industry events, it’s being on the specific facebook groups and other internet forums, where you’re going to build your network. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen overnight it’s a slow process, but the older I get the more I realise that it’s not such a slow process, it’s just the path of someone’s career and I’ve been doing this for 40 years, I’m still making new contacts, I’m still learning new things and I still have a passion for film editing and filmmaking in general. I get a thrill when I get a project which I’ve just done coming of Netflix, and that’s the kind of thing you need to have, to not get demoralised because things aren’t happening as possible, you just have to stay creative and figure out what’s your next step.

IVAN: I can imagine. There must be distinct challenges when it comes to just organising what each person does and making sure it all runs on time.

LARRY: Well, the film industry has evolved into a fairly specific workflow… The way it’s traditionally organised and the way I work is I have a first assistant who’s like my right hand person who will filter out all the tasks which need to be done to all the rest of the assistants and quite often to the other departments. I’m usually in the bunker with the director trying to cut the film and that can be quite time consuming in itself. So, for example, my first assistant will start out doing the dailies, doing production, getting the material to cut scene by scene. It’s just like a tree, it grows out from there. Once visual effects start coming in, there’s a visual effects editor… they’ll be assigning tasks to the assistant to help them be sure that the workflow continues to move forward. Then there are other tasks when there’s such a huge workload. For example, the film that I’m working on for Netflix has over 200 hours of source material for a 90-minute film. There’s just not enough hours in the day for one assistant to manage that amount of material. Plus, having to make outputs for the studio, for producers, the director and managing all that takes a lot of people power.

IVAN: Moving on, I wanted to congratulate you on upcoming talk at the ACE TechFest. One of the fantastic things about the film industry, as you were saying before, is that we’re almost fuelled by these new developments and new changes in the industry as it is an essential part of the way films and TV are made. Are there any new applications or developments that stick out at you at the festival and what can young people interested in editing expect to find there?

LARRY: The ACE TechFest was created as a way for people working in the Los Angeles area to get an inside track on what happened at the NAB show at Las Vegas, because a lot of us don’t have a week or so to take off and go find out about all the new fantastic technologies and toys. So the folks over at ACE decided to hold this conference at Universal Studios this weekend to let people know whats happening… Avid will be showing a completely revamped version of their media composer, which is the primary tool of the majority of editors in Hollywood. Adobe will be there showing all their new tools, they’re making a lot of inroads in features and television… they haven’t been the industry standard for a long time but adobe has some great product and really want to meet the needs of editors. Blackmagic will be there. These are the major sponsors and then there will be some other new technologies about how editors can be working remotely. There’s a new company called Evercast, which was developed by an editor and I think that’s something that we’ll see more of on the horizon, as that’s just the way things are going. People work in all different parts of the world, and editors are in one place, and directors are in another place and production is in another place, so I think remote editing is an interesting thing. Editing in the cloud will be an interesting thing to see a little more about.

IVAN: Great, I just have one last question. Are there any particular projects or moments in your career that stick out to you as highlights?

LARRY: Well, there are so many. And there are as many as an assistant editor as there are as an editor. I’ve worked with so many talented directors and producers. As an assistant I worked on Back to The Future, my boss won the academy award for supervising sound editor. Going to Amblin studios, screening the film and having Steven Spielberg come in after the first cut is a thrill that I’ll never forget. Another experience as an assistant was working on War of The Roses for Lynzee Klingman, (academy award winning editor) and Danny Devito was the director and he was such a fun guy to work with and just made the experience, and it was such a hard experience! We worked a lot of hours and it was a complex film and Danny would install a lunch table in backyard where we were working and he would put in a Cinzano umbrella on top and order food Italian food from New York delis. And as an editor, cutting a film for Kiefer Sutherland and being in the preview and still back the film days and hoping that the splices wouldn’t fall apart and there are so many experiences that I can’t remember them all.

IVAN: Well thank you for your time, good luck with the release of your new Netflix film as well as your talk at ACE TechFest!

 

*This interview has been edited for brevity and time constraints

Filed under: Filmmaking, Filmmaking Career, Interviews, Post-Production, Technical CraftTagged with: , , , ,

What Does a Publisher Actually Do?

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The internet has brought a great deal of democracy to publishing.

While self-publishing has always been an option, never has it been so cheap and ubiquitous as today. Self-publication is now so widespread that traditional publishing has been thrown into doubt; why part with profit and run the gauntlet of rejection to seal a now-antiquated deal? While certain elements of traditional publishing have become the province of the individual, their services can, nonetheless, prove invaluable if properly mustered. A publishing house can, more than simply distributing your book, aid in both its immediate and long-term success, as well as fundamentally improving the text itself. But what exactly does a publisher do?

 

1. Acquisition

The first port of call when it comes to any publishing house will be their acquisitions editor (also known as a commissions editor or sponsoring editor). These are the people who will browse submitted manuscripts and research the field; it is them who must first be impressed so that you project might be presented and approved for further development. The benefits of such gatekeeping make sense from the perspective of a publishing house: books that will make more money, books of higher quality, and books that support a certain house style or reputation can be filtered out from the rest. This same rationale works to the advantage of a (selected) author, too. Having your book acquired by a prestigious publisher acts as a royal nod, and suggests an inherent value in the work; democratic as self-publishing is, by the very dint of its democracy your text stands equally among thousands. A publisher acts as a spotlight – if they do nothing else, this is worthy.

But in order to best leverage this fact, publishers must be sought with some nous. A publisher of ill-repute will garner ill-repute for your text. More pressing than separating bad from good publishers is submitting to publishers that might have a specific interest in your book. A scholarly publisher will have little interest in your general reader’s guide to filmmaking, while a trade publisher (responsible for the majority of English-language books, and nearly all bestsellers) might well. Also keep in mind current competition in the field, and other books a specific publisher already carries. Any good acquisitions editor will do the same research, so it’s always good to be a step ahead and target your manuscript where it has the best chance of publication.

 

2. Development

Very rare is the publisher who will acquire a text and publish it as-is. Part of both the purpose and the quality of a publishing house is their refinement of a manuscript. Depending on the size and nature of a publishing house, and the sales potential of the work in question, the development of a text will vary. Copy editing, which ranges from style and grammar to significant structural rearrangements and rewriting, was traditionally in-house, but is increasingly under the purview of freelance editors. Texts of particular size, importance, or complexity might be offered a developmental editor – someone tasked with reorganising a book, or involved with legal permissions where applicable.

Other important products will be granted line editing, which is expensive but precise. Line editors will not only keep an eye on spelling and word use, but the rhythm and euphony of a text. Prestigious publishers will generally have a higher standard for published work – while this can make presenting your manuscript a hard sell, it also works to your benefit, as a publisher will endeavour to release the best possible edition of your work. Do keep in mind that regardless of how many editors have looked over your work, the final quality remains the author’s responsibility.

 

3. Marketing and Sales

After having narrowed down acquisitions to your particular work, and developed it to an appropriate standard, publishing houses will then work to market and sell your book. Marketing is almost all-encompassing in book production – the exact design, the number of pages, the prominence of an author’s name, and pricing are all chosen with a mind to better sell the text. Marketing is then further broken into advertising and publicity. Advertising specifically covers ads in newspapers and magazines, posters, and the newer trend of ‘trailers’ for books that are deemed worthy of an extra push. While the most popular texts benefit from advertising, its efficacy is sometimes questioned for more specialist works. Why? Because publicity does the heavy lifting. Publicity covers author tours, lectures, TV and radio appearances; even the elusive launch party.

The exact extent of advertising and publicity (and the probability you will get a party) vary depending on the perceived sales potential of your text, the likelihood of the text being reviewed in mainstream newspapers, and the name-value of its author. The risk inherent in publishing is that a publisher will have to decide on a marketing budget and spend the majority of it before receiving any sales money at all. This results in a reasonable reticence on their part to overspend, or take a punt on an uncertain text. Researching your particular area prior to writing – and so ensuring your text is either essential, or hitting on some kind of zeitgeist – can ensure higher spending on your book. This is one of the great assets of a publisher, particularly those with deeper pockets.

In addition to marketing the book, publishers also have a hand in selling it. They will distribute promotional catalogues to booksellers and libraries (and if appropriate schools and universities), getting your book directly onto shelves. While a self-published author is not unable to do this, the contacts and backdoor routes available to publishers streamline the process substantially. This extends to subsidiary rights – publishers will deal with reprints, translations, and photocopying rights on behalf of their author. Another important term that should be remembered is the ‘backlist’. The backlist means your book has been taken off the frontlist – books that are part of the current annual budget. But this is not necessarily a bad thing; publishers rely on a strong backlist – books that will continue to sell in modest numbers over a substantial period of time. Many a classic also shares that designation. The current state of the industry does prioritise high immediate sales, but know that a move to the backlist is not necessarily a sign of failure, but potentially longer term success.

 

For a pithy single-line takeaway, William Germano’s Getting it Published makes reference to ‘added value’, which is to an extent the exactitude of what a publisher is meant to do. But, like Germano adds, do not forget the value inherent in any good manuscript. A publisher can embellish a text, but it is you who has written it.

 

Filed under: Promotion, Marketing and Distribution, ScreenwritingTagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three Essential Lessons from Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time.

His cinema is poetic, seeking the profound in the minimal, affecting with the unaffected. While his influence is undoubted, with Paul Schrader particularly keen to reference Bresson’s work (including and especially in Taxi Driver), Bresson remains idiosyncratic. His style is unique and inimitable, a singular voice in cinema. Despite this, his writings on the form offer great insights for filmmakers of any walk.

 

1. ‘The truth of cinematography cannot be the truth of theatre, not the truth of the novel, nor the truth of painting.’

Foremost in Bresson’s filmic philosophy was the idea of film’s distinction from the other artforms. The seventh art, as it is often known in France. He distinguished ‘cinematography’, which for him was film that took advantage of its form, and ‘cinema’, which did not. For Bresson, ‘cinema films are historical documents whose place is in the archives.’ His main gripe with ‘cinema’ (which most films would be defined as) is how it cribs the fundamentals of theatre.

In defining these terms, he wrote: ‘two types of film: those that employ the resources of theatre and use the camera in order to reproduce; [and] those that employ the resources of cinematography and use the camera to create.’ For Bresson, film had no place for precepts of the stage. Loud performances, imitative narratives, and melodramatic grandeur were artefacts from another form. They work in theatre due to ‘flesh-and-blood’ presence. Bresson believed that translating this to film was like photographing a painting: a realistic copy, but undeniably lesser.

‘What no human eye is capable of catching, no pencil, brush, pen of pinning down, your camera catches without knowing what it is, and pins it down with a machine’s scrupulous indifference.’ This was Bresson’s approach, the way in which he envisioned ‘cinematography’ as distinct from all other forms. And while many might point to the boisterous films of Mike Leigh as theatrical, or the lush compositions of Kubrick as painterly, or the wordy ruminations of Rohmer as literary, Bresson’s point is sound. That which film can do – and that which other mediums cannot do – is necessarily the core of the artform. Do not find yourself lost in a medium that does not best communicate what you want to express. And always use the unique tools of filmmaking to your advantage.

 

2. ‘Nine-tenths of our movements obey habit and automatism. It is anti-nature to subordinate them to will and thought.’

Along with Bresson’s radical opinions on filmic form, his position on acting is also controversial. He saw the performances in so many films as theatrical – and as such artificial and improper for film. Bresson’s response is strangely contrary. Instead of courting realism in his actors, he encouraged them to reduce any and all thought in their performance instead. Indeed, he did not find it appropriate to even call them actors. Rather models, whose very presence, moulded by the director, should convey the feeling of the film.

While Bresson’s approach is controversial, its basis is worth considering. Acting, especially the kind often awarded with Hollywood finery, seems to prioritise more over less. A great performance is considered one that it is imitative and engaging, not necessarily one that reflects any ‘truth’ of human life. In reducing a performance, or by making it something other than a performance, a subtlety of emotion can be achieved. The closeness of the camera reduces the need for loud theatrics. As Bresson awkwardly put it, think of the ‘ejaculatory force of the eye.’

 

3. ‘Film where expression is obtained by relations of images and sounds, and not by mimicry done with gestures and intonations of voice.’

Lastly comes the fundamental distinction between film and photography – editing. Bresson, a student of associative montage, saw meaning between the images rather than in them. ‘If an image, looked at by itself, expresses something sharply, if it involves an interpretation, it will not be transformed on contact with other images… it is definitive and unusable in the cinematographer’s system.’ By this he means that an image that has meaning in itself is uncinematic. The point of film, as he sees it, is for meaning to be suggested by association and by contradiction. The essence of editing is way in which images, who themselves have limited meaning, interact and create something new.

To use his words again: ‘an image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation.’ The severity of his position might seem overly extreme –  Tarkovsky was, for example, never much a fan of rebuking the uncut image. But to consider editing in this way is useful. To edit something together is not to simply put things in the right order, nor just to get to the next meaningful shot. It is the direct interaction of the shots, and what that might convey.

 

However…

You don’t have to agree with Bresson. It seems strange to end such a praiseworthy article on that note, but it is important to say so. His cinema is specifically his own. His techniques – even his vocabulary – are rarely seen elsewhere. Many great filmmakers have contradicted his rules, and his own films are far from universally loved.

But even if his approach is unbecoming to you, the way in which he considers film is essential. To not fall into the pit of conventionality, to consider the fundamentals of cinema as though new. These are the core lessons of Bresson. To give him the final word: ‘my movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in waters.’

Filed under: Directing, Film History, Filmmaking, Technical CraftTagged with: , , , , , ,