By Bruce ShutanSince use of the digital intermediate is still very much a work in progress, film editor Paul Hirsch, A.C.E., cautioned attendees of the first annual Below the Line EXPO at Raleigh Studios that it has the potential to balloon labor costs in the absence of certain industry standards. It took him six months to debug the DI on Ray, which, he said dispels the cost-cutting argument production heads have used to justify the use of this new technology.For example, Hirsch had no objective way of accurately checking the DI for sync without a grid of key numbers, which meant having to use the naked eye to match up from the Avid. At the end of the day, he found two dozen mistakes and two dropped frames that were never fixed in the final release.“This is a crazy way to work,” he lamented. “What’s wrong with developing and exposing film the old-fashioned way, which inspired us all to be in this business in the first place?” Hirsch also expressed concern about digital footage being lost from an archiving standpoint because of formatting changes in the future.Agreeing with Hirsch’s assessment, film editor Maysie Hoy, A.C.E., described the DI as both “overrated” and a matter of “gimmickry.”Considering that Hollywood is still experimenting with the first generation of DI work, assistant film editor Vince Filippone warned that producers who ink sweetheart deals with boutique production houses run the risk of quality control problems if the vendor isn’t entirely fluent in the language of the film editor. He likened the emergence of DI to that of the Avid. Another key to quality assurance may lie in time management. Hoy suggested how important it is these days for directors to take full advantage of the time allotted for their Directors Guild of America cut rather than race to shave a few weeks off the timeframe. “Why push it if you don’t have to?” she asked.Hirsch said the moral of the story is that it’s imperative to ensure that production schedules on tightly budgeted projects build in enough flexibility so that workflow demands do not become unreasonable.He recalled when his sole assistant editor took ill on Ray and how there were only so many hours in a day to complete the work. The situation was particularly harrowing considering that Hirsch joined the project nearly halfway through a 13-week shoot.His suggestion is that an Avid apprentice be made available to help an assistant editor to avoid manpower problems, and that there also be a clear chain of command in the editing room to help manage creative input. Despite all his DI challenges on Ray, Hirsch cherished the collaboration with Taylor Hackford and praised the director for allowing him the freedom to follow his instincts.Given an editor’s strategic importance as a member of the crew and time constraints that accompany independent and big-budget projects alike, Hoy noted how important it has become for editors to make sure their assistants have enough technical knowledge to be conversant in the digital age. But she also griped how difficult it is holding onto a competent and compatible assistant. “They want to move up to editor, and then you’re out of luck,” she quipped.These foot soldiers can have a significant effect on the creative process. “I think it’s deadly to work in a room with just one assistant,” said Hirsch, who’s a firm believer in getting feedback from others that are watching you work. He’s also devoted to organic filmmaking, observing that a film editor’s role and responsibility is essentially the same as it ever was: cut raw footage from dailies to serve the director’s creative vision and conceal mistakes.Still, the panel agreed that rising expectations about technical skills and knowledge are inescapable and will shape the craft in the years ahead.Even though she’s not a technical-oriented person, film editor Tracey Wadmore-Smith realizes the importance of technology as a filmmaking tool and believes it’s a matter of career survival. She recalled a casual conversation with her production-assistant neighbor to show how the ease with which Final Cut Pro is now installed on a Mac has turned scores of average Joes into budding editors who one day may challenge the job security of trained professionals if the nature of film editing becomes a commodity.
Written by Bruce Shutan