Letter From the Editor 4th Qtr, 18

Nonlinear Casualties

As I was preparing an advanced editing course I was invited to teach in Beijing, I stumbled upon a documentary called The Editdroid, Rise and Fall, for which I was interviewed about 12 years ago. The Editdroid, dreamed up by George Lucas, was the first nonlinear editing device using a battery of eight laser-disc players; while one was playing a shot, the others were lining up the next shots. In the early ‘90s I edited about half of the episodes of the Young Indiana Jones TV series on it before Lucas sold it to Avid.

In those days, the word, ‘nonlinear,’ meaning that you could place any frame, anywhere, anytime – was smirked upon by editors because we were always able to do that since film was in its infancy. Even though the nonlinearity of the Editdroid did not impress me, what was revolutionary to me was the fact that I now was able to instantly manipulate the film clips like flopping, flipping, running backwards, speeding, slowing, freezing frames, blowing up, shrinking and even simple color timing and keying. These tools are ubiquitous now, but for me at that time, it was like the shackles fell off and I was freed out of a prison where I now had the complete freedom to shape a sequence the way I wanted to.

Being proficient on a nonlinear editing device became a valuable skill in the early ‘90s but unfortunately it also forced a lot of veteran editors into retirement and with that a lot of valuable creative editing knowledge was also lost. With the increasing power and decreasing price of computers and the proliferation of editing software like Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro, the value of an experienced editor then became more defined by creative and artistic abilities. As assistant editors are already familiar with and proficient in the tools of editing, the creative part is what they try to pick up from the editors for whom they work. Regrettably, because the computer takes over more and more of the organizational part of the editing process, jobs for assistant editors are becoming scarcer and scarcer. How do I pass on my creative skills to an absent assistant? Students flocking into film schools are already very familiar with editing software, filling YouTube with their sometimes-amazing videos. So they are not interested in Avid or Premiere Pro classes, they want to know how to edit a sequence, how to mold the abundance of dailies into an exciting film.

The experienced editors of ACE need to fill the educational void that has been
created by the vanishing of assistant editor jobs. The explosive growth of the ACE Internship Program and the popularity of the ACE Diversity Mentorship Program show how much interest there is in taking that next step in editing. Through Invisible Art/Visible Artists and EditFest, we have for years been very successful in educating a more general audience to the marvels of editing. MPEG also has a very active educational branch that organizes specialty classes and master classes in advanced editing. However, the accredited film schools in higher education need to make more use of the abundance of knowledge and creativity that exists in our midst. Maybe we can establish a pool of ACE editors who have the experience, educational skills and time to make themselves available to teach?

Former students of mine from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco invited me to teach advanced editing classes in Beijing. This invitation made me realize that there is an eagerness in other countries to learn from our experience and creativity. We will start to explore, through the ACE International Relations Committee and with our colleagues abroad, what we can and need to do to assure that the knowledge and skills we have amassed over the years do not disappear – we need to prepare the next generation of editors to carry the torch. Then the revolution in editing that began with the Editdroid and its unintended casualties of assistant jobs and other paths of learning creative editing skills, will be hopefully redeemed.