Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour with Adam Epstein. If you’re not familiar, Epstein is an editor for Saturday Night Live’s Film Unit. He’s been slicing together tasty shorts for the last five seasons including one of my personal favorites, The Beygency. The day-long workshop gave attendees a peek behind the curtain to see comedic sausage being made.
The workshop touched on many areas I could relate to as a videographer and editor at Untold. Adam doesn’t just consider himself as an editor, but as someone who produces great content and plays an important role as one of the last hands in the post-production chain to tell a hilariously compelling story. He really hit the nail on the head when he said that editors for hire today will not only do their job to a high standard, but will also dabble in sound design, 3D work, motion graphics, basic brain surgery, and be a competent unicorn wrangler, which in my own personal experience have found to be true. This statement set the tone for the rest of the workshop.
Adam went on to share tips on a variety of subjects including his choice of gear and software, how he does asset management and project organization, how to select appropriate audio elements to help sell an edit, working with green screen footage, as well as some insight into editing theory. Perhaps his most important tip related to how relying on other dedicated members of your team can increase the quality of your final deliverable. While some time was spent on teaching tricks, keyboard shortcuts, and increasing overall workflow efficiencies. He spent an equal amount of time expressing the intangible qualities of what it takes to be a good editor.
In Adam’s deconstruction of his work, he revealed alternate takes of Edward Norton delivering the comedic lines that didn’t make the cut of one of SNL’s digital shorts, and his rational as to why or why not certain cuts or pacing of cuts made a scene work. It was also fascinating to learn that in a few instances, his input helped the production team solve technical challenges during a shoot. The knowledge of the craft and the limitations of technology you work with can be one of your most valuable weapons, and in Adam’s case, making him more valuable as an editor. Even small things such as doing a quick color grade for internal reviews help to inspire confidence with his team, the things that over time make you into an even stronger member of a team.
To me, the most impactful piece of advice Adam shared during the workshop was his insight into the kind of editor you do not want to become. He recommends editors try new ways of approaching problems in the edit room when others give you suggestions, especially when your initial reaction is to disagree with input. Take every opportunity to teach eager peers what you are doing and why. It will help you create connections with your team, making it easier to articulate your problems and achievements in other conversations. And advice on a matter I’ve recently had to deal with, don’t hate on the footage. It’s easy to blame footage you didn’t shoot (specifically assets provided by the client) or that doesn’t live up to your standards as the reason why your sequence isn’t working. Just because it’s not your favorite doesn’t mean that someone else doesn’t adore it!
I’m happy to say that I walked away from the The Cutting Edge workshop more confident than ever in my abilities as an editor. While I can’t say that I learned anything that will revolutionize my editing process, it was great to put a face and a personality to the man who’s kept me laughing for so many years.