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PP-Editing Music Videos

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While most music videos leave but a fleeting impression, a number of them—and their editors—are breaking out of the box to experiment with new ways to tell their short musical stories, nurturing a recent resurgence in the art form. A handful of these editors were honored for their exceptional talent at the Music Video Production Association Awards (MVPA) last month at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Here, two of the four nominees, whose work represents the pinnacle of music video editing, relate their experiences.Since high school and then as a student at Cal Arts, Dustin Robertson has been editing his own films. His skills were quickly noticed and others began asking him to edit for them, spreading his reputation via word of mouth. Working through his own company, Avid Diva, over the last 10 years, Robertson has edited around 200 music videos and 100 commercials and has worked with almost every artist of note, including Pink, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and his favorite performer, Jennifer Lopez. He has also worked with top video directors, including Francis Lawrence, who won the MVPA Director of the Year Award at this year’s ceremony.Robertson collaborated with Lawrence on the Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For,” which garnered the Pop Video of the Year, Best Direction of a Female Artist and Best Art Direction MVPA awards. Robertson and the video were also up for Best Editing, but lost out to David Blackburn for Blink 182’s “Always.” Robertson was the only editor in this year’s clutch to be nominated twice for Best Editing; he also received a nomination for his contributions to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started.”Robertson considers music videos to be “commercials for rock stars.” He sees his job as editor to “guide the musical journey through pictures.” To every project he brings a sense of timing, an understanding of the power of visuals and strong storytelling abilities. His signature style includes a rhythmic musical sense and strobing techniques. These pulsations caused quite a stir when he first used them on the J-Lo video “Waiting for Tonight.” It seems that when the music videos were converted to 25fps—the frame rate of the PAL TV standard used in many countries—the luminance fluctuation caused seizures in over 400 kids. The technique was adjusted to avoid this potentially dangerous side effect.Editor Livio Sanchez got his break after he graduated from college in 1990 by cutting non-sync background Karaoke videos for a director who used her work on Karaoke videos to segue into more traditional music videos. That allowed him to build a reel and contacts and move into the new field. This year he was nominated for an MVPA Best Editing Award for Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” a complex narrative with four interwoven story lines that Sanchez counts as one of his favorite projects. Although Sanchez, who these days edits mostly commercials, failed to take the best editing prize, the video garnered a Best Directorial Debut for its director Chris Milk.Sanchez feels many music videos are repetitive and formulaic. He prefers to limit his music video projects to directors and artists like Milk and West who are willing to experiment and find alternative ways to tell short stories as opposed to merely showcasing a performer or band. Milk views music videos as an opportunity to make a short film, which is the perfect match for Sanchez who enjoys editing to tell a story. His current project is with award-winning director Marc Webb for the band My Chemical Romance on a video that is more filmic than the band’s previous video forays.For the past seven years Sanchez has been working at the White House, a full-service editing facility in Santa Monica. He explains the company philosophy, “We are passionate about editing. We want to do great.”Sanchez doesn’t feel that he has a style as much as he has a process in editing. He refrains from imposing his own perspective believing that the style of a video should be based upon what the story dictates. He does not subscribe to the common myth that faster cuts are better. To make a story out of raw footage, he looks for motivation and reason. Faced with overwhelming amounts of film, he first views all the dailies in order to understand what he has to work with. He may not even make a cut for several days. Eventually he organizes the footage into segments, based on the storyline of the piece. He places moments—landmarks—in their approximate place in the video, building a backbone to the story. A director like Milk has a strong vision of what happens where in each video. He writes a detailed treatment and has very specific storyboards, which creates a good map for Sanchez to follow.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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