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