Three or four times a year I have the following phone conversation with a client:
CLIENT: “Are you ready for me to come over to the studio and have a look at that spot you started editing yesterday morning?”
CLIENT: “Why Not?”
ME: “Because I don’t have anything in the timeline yet.”
CLIENT: “Ummmmmm, I dropped that footage off more than a day ago. What have you been doing all this time?”
ME: “Organizing. Labeling. Subclipping. Marking. Finding moments.”
CLIENT: “Why are you so far behind schedule? I need a rough cut by the end of the day!”
ME: “I’m not behind at all. The edit is 75% done.”
CLIENT: “Then why is there nothing to look at?”
In post production we often make a distinction between what I call pre-editing (i.e. project organization, footage acquisition, syncing up audio and cameras, binning media, labeling scene and take numbers, subclipping, marking, and rating clips) and editing. We think of pre-editing as a hurdle we need to jump over quickly so we can get right into the editing magic. However, I would argue that great editing involves an understanding that pre-editing is editing. In many cases, the work done before footage goes into a timeline is the most important part of the editing process. This is where the magic really happens.
When I was a freshman in college, my workload could be overwhelming. I couldn’t seem to succeed simply cramming the night before a big exam. Then I had an epiphany. What if I went to the library after each class and studied my notes until I learned them? Then the day before taking a test, I could simply review the material that I had already learned. Not only did my new process alleviate a lot of stress, but it improved my academic performance. As it turned out, the most important work was completed in the weeks leading up to the exam. Great editing works much the same way.
I often edit 75% of a documentary, TV spot, industrial video or short film outside of any timelines or sequences. I study the footage, and I use a combination of binning, labeling, subclipping, and marking to ensure that I know exactly where, as one of my clients puts it, the “gold dust” is. Once this pre-editing is done, I have a good understanding of the story the footage wants to tell. Sure, there will be plenty of rearranging, tightening and exploring options throughout the edit, but even these decisions are made easier when I know exactly what footage is available and can access it efficiently. For example, if a director wants to hear a slightly different inflection of a particular line of dialogue, I don’t need to search through hours of raw footage. I already know exactly where to access each instance of this dialogue line so the director can listen to each one until he finds the inflection he wants. If I had begun my project simply throwing footage into a sequence, it would be difficult to assure my client that I was using the best performances from the shoot.
And at the end of the day, what we sell at Outpost Pictures is assurance – the assurance that when you leave our studio, you will have the best version of your story possible. And there is only one way that we can provide that assurance to our clients. We have to pre-edit, and we have to do it well.
– Jared Shull, Multiple Emmy® Award Winning Editor