What Does Collaboration Really Involve?

12 08 2007

One of the things that I did at the recent UFVA Conference (from which I’ve just returned, having sweated through four shirts in the 103 degree heat and high humidity) was run the opening night keynote interview with editor Steven Cohen, the guy who runs the great blog Splice Here.

I always enjoy talking to Steve because, though he is far more intelligent about how Non Linear Editing technology works than I am, our careers have actually paralleled in some wonderful ways. Not only has Steve edited for more years than I care to admit, but he’s also written a book (“Avid Media Composer Techniques and Tips”) which helped me make the transition from Lightworks to Avid editing. He was my editor at the Editors Guild Magazine when I was writing the series of interviews with film editors called “The View from the Cutting Room Ceiling” in which I went over a scene from a new film in detail with its editor.

He has also taught (many years at AFI; he was also head of the editing track there).

And he was an early adopter of digital editing, just like I was, though I was sitting in front of the Lightworks in version 0.9 and he was over on the Avid side.

So, whenever we get together we ended up talking fluidly for hours. Here, we got to do it in front of a few hundred people, though it seemed pretty much the same.

We ranged over a wide variety of topics, including how the thought process of an editor works, showing a sequence from the Bob Rafelson movie BLOOD AND WINE, which Steve edited. He talked about the way in which the director of photography shot Steadicam coverage, designed to help the editing process.

This led into a great discussion about collaboration. In the two parts of the scene that he showed (a bar fight that included the Steadicam shot mentioned above, and a car chase ending in an extended crash) there were two different ways in which everyone collaborated. In the chase, for instance, Steven faxed the storyboards to his editing computer, so he could then animate them in a timeline, complete with sound. This allowed Rafelson, Steve and the dp to help plan shots even better as the shoot unfolded.

The point that we evolved to was that there is a great dialectic that can happen when creative partners are involved together on a film. In the editing room this works by an editor looking at the footage shot and shaping it with his/her interpretation. Then, after the director/producer/whoever sees that cut, a new cut evolves that is a combination of that edit and other ideas. I’ve heard this described as “these/antithesis/synthesis” and, when done collaboratively (as opposed to angrily and fearfully) it makes for a much better film.

This is why I fight for all of my students to have someone else edit their thesis films. Not only does it help them to learn how to communicate their ideas better, but it makes for a better film. And this was Steve’s point as well.

There is an unfortunate tendency at all budget levels to assume that the editor can and should do it all. Now that we have packages like the Final Cut Pro Suite, we are looked at as people who can color correct, do dialogue editing, shape soundtracks, build DVDs, and much more. And while we can do some of that it doesn’t mean that we are good at it. My wife constantly asks me, as I’m walking out the door in the morning “Are you wearing that?” So you’d probably be foolish to ask me to color correct your film. Can I do a passable job of it? Sure. But you should actually get someone who is really really good at it, to do the final for your film.

Steve is seeing the same things and it’s a scary trend. It’s much more likely that we will bring the total artistry of our films down, at the same time we lower their budgets.

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One response

15 08 2007
In FRONT of a camera « Hello World!! (a blog from Norman Hollyn)

[…] I spent last week at the UFVA Conference talking mostly about collaboration, it was fairly easy to get up on my high horse and proclaim that collaboration is the best thing […]

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