EditFest LA 2019


4th Qtr, 2019

This year’s sold-out EditFest LA – described by one attendee as “Burning Man for indoor people” – featured a one-on-one conversation with two-time Oscar® nominee Joe Walker, ACE, as well as panels titled “Reality vs. Scripted Editing,” “From the Cutting Room to the Red Carpet” and “The Lean Forward Moment,” which was held in memory of the late Norman Hollyn, ACE. Held Aug. 24 at The Walt Disney Studios, EditFest attracted a sold-out crowd of editors, assistants, students and post professionals.

The event began with a short look at DaVinci Resolve 16.1, hosted by Platinum Sponsor Blackmagic Design, before moderator Margot Nack of Adobe introduced the “From the Cutting Room to the Red Carpet” panel that featured Cindy Mollo, ACE (Ozark), Robert Fisher, Jr., ACE (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Nena Erb, ACE (Insecure), Heather Capps (Portlandia) and Eric Kissack (The Good Place). Kissack addressed what he sees as a change in comedy and how his inspiration for getting into the business came from movies like Airplane! and TV shows like Saturday Night Live. “I got into comedy thinking that it was easier than drama,” said Kissack, who started in comedy features, having cut films like Daddy’s Home, Bruno and The Dictator before becoming disillusioned and moving into TV. “There’s something broken about comedy movies right now. No one can put their finger on why.” Kissack said that working on television now affords him more opportunities to direct.

“Nowadays striking the right balance between comedy and drama can be challenging, but ultimately more fulfilling,” he said. This led him to his current role on The Good Place as an editor, director and producer. “There are scenes in some comedies where you’re trying to figure out how to salvage a joke. “On [The Good Place], the cast is so talented that every take works and it’s hard to choose one.”

One of the most innovative films to grace our screens of late is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Editor Robert Fisher, Jr. described the creative process along with the challenges involved in shaping an animated film. Fisher explained that in the scene during which Miles gets his powers and emerges as Spider-Man, the montage originally played out as individual scenes running concurrently, which didn’t have the same impact.

“The trick we discovered was to get inside his head while showing what was going on,” he said, adding that once they decided to move the story forward in both timeframes simultaneously, the story came together and enough tension was added to give the sequence the impact it needed. Capps talked about the cartoonish universe that her show, Portlandia, exists in. “Portlandia consists of individual sketches with a through line.

On this show, the rhythm is all over the place. Sometimes we’ll even throw the joke under the bus in the edit.” The modular format of the show sometimes allowed Capps and the other editors to switch out meatier sketches between shows to help with pace and timing.

Later, the issue of pigeonholing took center stage. Capps described an interview during which she was told that she couldn’t edit drama. “You can change their mind but their preconcep- tions are usually set in stone. You probably don’t want to work with them anyway.” Sometimes pigeonholing can work for you. Erb related that she was brought onto the BET drama Being Mary Jane because the writers and producers were retooling the show to make it lighter and saw her comedy background as an asset. Mollo noted that even though most of her work has been in the drama space, her early career featured some single-camera comedy pilots. She advised up-and-coming editors, “Take any opportunity you can to start in comedy editing as the transition to drama is easier.”

The topic of pigeonholing also entered the next panel, which was intent on demystifying the differences between reality and scripted editing. Panelists Tom Costantino, ACE (The Orville), Molly Shock, ACE (Naked and Afraid), Jamie Nelsen, ACE (Black-ish), and Maura Corey, ACE (Good Girls), discussed their experiences in both genres and frustration at the industry’s reluctance to hire unscripted editors. “There’s a misperception that if you cut scripted, you can’t cut reality and vice versa,” said Corey. “All of us have worked in both worlds and we know it isn’t true.” “We’re all storytellers and we like to work,” agreed Shock. “We as editors have valuable skills that can transfer.” Nelsen related that her time as an editor on reality drama Intervention informed her work in scripted comedy. “It was all about psychology and following the emotions, motivations and intentions of each character.” Costantino added that he’s now seeing a little less prejudice toward unscripted editors as some producers are starting to notice that other experience can pay off. “Everything in your toolbox has value. Every single job you do, you’ll take a piece of that with you and that will make you a better editor.” The panelists agreed that when all is said and done, it comes down to luck. “You can’t manufacture luck, however, you can probably manufacture access to luck,” said Costantino.

Next up, film historian Bobbie O’Steen took to the stage for a oneon-one chat with Joe Walker, ACE, who earned Oscar nominations for 12 Years a Slave and Arrival. London-born Walker’s love for film began when he started playing 8mm Keystone Cops films (bought with his paper route money) over his father’s old Wagner records.

He trained as a classical composer and learned the craft of editing in the BBC’s Film Department at Ealing Studios in West London, where he cut everything from classical music documentaries to police dramas to children’s television which he later described as “varying his diet.” Walker recalled an experience early in career by where he was able to cut a scene together; coverage consisted of one wide, one cutaway and singles.

After spending an afternoon putting the scene together using all of the available coverage, his mentor watched the scene and said, “Not bad. Show me the wide shot.” The wide had all of the movement and body language that the scene needed, so they went with it instead. The important lesson that Walker learned that day was that just because they shot it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. O’Steen also brought up the topic of landscaping the cut.

“It’s manipulating pace to your advantage. [Editing] is kind of like a striptease act,” Walker said. “Arrival is showing an ankle. You see a puff of smoke, and bit by bit you discover more about these creatures. But you’re constantly trying to work out where the audience is and you better not disappoint them.” O’Steen joked that “time is [Walker’s] superpower.” “I should probably have a T-shirt made [of that],” mused Walker.

The event ended on a bittersweet note with EditFest’s annual “Lean Forward Moment” panel. The term was coined by the late Norman Hollyn, ACE, who was the inaugural recipient of the Michael Kahn Endowed Chair in Editing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Hollyn was a treasured friend and mentor to those of us in the editing community, and he moderated the “Lean
Forward Moment” panel at EditFest for many years, during which he and the speakers would discuss those pivotal moments in a cut. This year’s panel was made up of former USC students and teaching colleagues who shared memories of Hollyn before continuing his tradition of screening ‘lean forward moments’ from their favorite films.

Moderated by Alan Heim, ACE, the speakers were former teaching assistant Ashley Alizor, advanced editing student Saira Haider and USC editing faculty members ReineClaire and Thomas G. Miller, ACE. Heim recalled his 40-plus year friendship with Hollyn, saying, “I think of him; I miss him. He’s done so much for the editing community, bringing new people into it, mentoring people, teaching people and this (panel) is a sampling of a lot of the different things he’s done.” “His loss was a tough one,” Heider said. “but I still use the things that he taught in our class to this day.”

Added Miller, “He loved to talk. He loved to share his knowledge. He was always interested in what we were doing.” “I learned more about people from Norm than I did about editing,” Alizor said. Miller and Reine-Claire commented on working with Hollyn and his teaching philosophy. “Norman always liked for us to teach some things that were theoretical and some that were practical, but always something emotional,” Miller said.

“Whatever got the best story and had the most emotion was what he wanted us to teach.” It was announced during the session that in Hollyn’s honor, his former office at USC will be transformed into a communal meeting space for students and faculty members. “He was always in the moment,” Reine-Claire said. “You could walk into his office, he would drop everything and start a conversation with you.

You would remember that conversation forever.

EditFest Los Angeles

A conversation with Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE – who earned an Oscar® nomination earlier this year for I, Tonya – capped this year’s sold-out EditFest LA, which also included three panels, lunch and a closing cocktail reception.

During the event, held Aug. 25 at The Walt Disney Studios, Riegel – who actually earned her college degree in political science – discussed topics including dailies and the editor/director relationship during a session of Bobbie O’Steen’s “Inside the Cutting Room.”

On the onslaught of dailies that editors receive, Riegel warned that while it can be time consuming, it’s necessary to review everything so that one can select the right takes. “A lot of time people take shortcuts, and I think you miss a lot of gems doing it that way. I watch everything, sometimes several times. I have to be the audience and get a first reaction and try to hang on to that.”

She also emphasized the importance of the editor/director relationship. I, Tonya was her fifth collaboration with director Craig Gillespie, and she said, “I think neither of us would be as good separately as we are together.”

Her presentation included several clips from I, Tonya, the Tonya Harding dramedy for which she earned an Oscar nomination in January. She noted that I, Tonya already had such an unbelievable built-in story, so she would frequently choose the “non-quirky takes.” In the edit, she took risks from incorporating unreliable narrators to breaking the fourth wall – all of which paid off. “I was surprised the whole movie worked,” she admitted with a laugh.

And with a budget of just $10 million, she added that, “Because we had nothing, we went for everything.”

Moderator Matt Feury of Avid presided over a wide-ranging panel featuring Zack Arnold, ACE; Lillian Benson, ACE; Carol Littleton, ACE; and Andrew Seklir, ACE.

“The Extended Cut: How to Survive and Thrive in Editorial” eschewed the showing of clips and the discussion of individual projects and career highlights to focus on the panelists’ expertise in having a “long, fruitful and hopefully happy career.”

Topics ranged from the need to rethink one’s relationship to Facebook to the now-lost benefits of rewinding film to the creative value of watching traffic roll by while standing in the sun, but the dominant theme was preserving your own health, both mental and physical.

Arnold recounted an early editing job on which he worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, for two months. “I loved what I did, but I realized I couldn’t live like this. If you’re working at a job where people are treating you with disrespect, you’re allowing them to take your passion and [that passion] is what is going to get you success in this industry.”

To Benson, the answer is “sometimes you have to quit. You learn … what you won’t do … what you will not put up with.” The problem though in seeking a healthy relationship with your work is “what you call self-preservation sometimes they [employers] call weakness.” This conundrum lies at the heart of the editor’s dilemma. Arnold noted, “One of the biggest fears that people have when it comes to the health, the mind, the body, is ‘I’m going to be replaced. If I don’t push myself beyond my limits and do whatever it takes to deliver this product, I’m going to get fired.’” How does one survive, much less thrive in that situation?

First, do your homework. If a job presents itself, “talk to other editors … so you can decide if you even want to take it,” Seklir advised. And trust your gut. Littleton learned early on “if my gut tells me this is something I shouldn’t do, I listen to it.” And if you haven’t listened to your gut, and you can’t quit? Seklir’s answer after years of cutting episodic television was to “be cognizant of the kind of culture that you want to create [in the editing room].

I’ve seen assistants come up through a dog eat-dog system where everyone’s trying to get a seat as editor and they carry it on to the next series because that’s the way they came up.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. “We can all decide what we want the culture to be.”

The first session of the day, “Small Screen, Big Picture,” featured clips and conversation with Peter Beyt, ACE (Will & Grace); Jacques Gravett, ACE (13 Reasons Why); Tim Porter, ACE (Game of Thrones); and Meaghan Wilbur (2 Dope Queens). Adobe’s Margot Nack moderated the panel, which in addition to their clips, included conversation about how to mentor assistants at a time when schedules are impossibly tight.

Beyt lamented of the impact of time crunches: “There are so many disciplines to this job. And there’s also understanding and being empathetic to characters. There used to be time to discuss that with assistants. Now they are so busy that you don’t have time to discuss the art.” Porter related that during the first few weeks of a series, “before the workload gets too heavy,” he works with assistants, allowing them to assemble scenes.

Gravett noted in addition to helping assistants, he participates in the ACE Diversity Mentorship Program. Wilbur addressed getting to the type of entertainment you want to work on – which can mean moving around. “You want to brand yourself with what you want to do,” she advised. “I started in commercials. Then I assisted on scripted. Then unscripted. … I want to do features, so I cut a small feature last summer. Now I’m on my first feature, currently as first assistant.”

Prior to the closing cocktail reception, the program concluded with the always popular “Lean Forward Moment” panel moderated by Norman Hollyn, ACE. “Our lifeline is to find the moment or moments you want the audience to lean forward and pay a little more attention … all in service of story,” he explained, asking each panelist to select a clip from a movie that inspired them  (and that they didn’t edit). Mark Hartzell, ACE, chose a clip from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan; Joi McMillon, ACE, selected a sequence from Three Colors Blue; Shoshanah Tanzer turned to Double Indemnity for inspiration; while Julia Wong, ACE, wrapped the day with a thrilling clip from Terminator 2.

The day also included a look at Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, presented by Dave McLaughlin of Digital Film Tree. “We love DaVinci Resolve,” McLaughlin said, adding that “it has changed the way we operate as a company. We focus on making things quickly, fast and precise. Resolve allows us to minimize steps – one big step is round tripping. We eliminated that.”

For their support, ACE would like to thank Blackmagic Design, platinum sponsor; Adobe, Avid, Disney Digital Studio Services, Ignite and Motion Picture Editors Guild, gold sponsors; AJA Video Systems, bronze sponsor; and Going Postal, Master the Workflow and Optimize Yourself, media sponsors.