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ACE’s Edit Fest LA


Photos by Peter Zachary, Tilt Photo.
Photos by Peter Zachary, Tilt Photo.

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) held its annual Edit Fest LA confab on the art of editing on Aug. 1. The event featured award-winning and highly experienced editors who shared their insights on the craft through samples of their own work and the works that inspired them.

The daylong conference, convened at the main theater on the Disney lot, acted in support of ACE’s express purpose of mentorship and education. Divided into four sessions, all aspects of the craft were explored. Lunch and a cocktail-and-hors d’oeuvres after party were included in the day’s itinerary, providing the opportunity to network and converse one-on-one with panelists and other attendees.

The opening session, “From Cutting Room to Red Carpet,” was moderated by Alan Heim, ACE. The panel featured Oscar and ACE Eddie nominees discussing their work and the challenges they faced. Panelists included Elisa Bonora, ACE (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me), Tom Cross, ACE (Whiplash), Catherine Haight, ACE (Transparent), and Wyatt Smith, ACE (Into the Woods).

All of the editors praised the dedication and hard work of their assistants. They remarked that although the apprentice system that was present in the cutting rooming during pre-digital days no longer exists in the same form, they still believe in giving assistants creative work such as cutting scenes, VFX and sound.

The discussion turned to the topic of diplomacy and the delicate balance between an editor’s relationship with the director, and the various producers and executives on each project. Heim noted, “To become an editor you have to be half psychologist and half politician. You have to walk a very narrow line between a lot of very enormous egos.”

LR-EF2Wyatt navigates the politics by always keeping the audience in mind, “It is easier to take all those different comments and field them if you know it’s working for the people who are going to watch it.”

It was a generally accepted notion that the director is an ally to the editor. Spending all those hours in a room together instills in the editor a strong understanding of the director’s vision and builds a sense of trust between director and editor. Cross shared, “We kinda became one, in a way. We shared the same goals for the story.” Cross deals with various personalities in post by being likeable, open and friendly. ”When people like you, they are less likely to blame you.”

Working on oft-time political and somewhat controversial documentary subjects, Bonora uses her influence to remind the director “not to water down too much,” but rather “to stay true to what you are trying to say.” In the long process that it takes to make a documentary, Bonora is also there to support the director during “phases of despair.”

As to their favorite thing about editing, Haight responded, “It is all about emotion, making people feel.” Saying the same thing in a different way, Wyatt reiterated his belief that films and television are ultimately for the audience, “It is all about the group experience.”

Heim concluded, “We do manipulate the audience. It’s fun!”

“The Hero’s Journey, From Comic Book to Screen,” the second panel of the day, focused on the effects heavy super hero stories so popular in film and television. Moderated by Avid principal applications specialist Michael Krulik, the panel featured Jonathan Chibnall (Daredevil), Lisa Lassek (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Dan Lebental, ACE (Ant-Man), Colby Parker, Jr., ACE (Ant-Man), and Fred Raskin, ACE (Guardians of the Galaxy).

LR-EF3Much of the discussion hinged on the deeply technical side of editing process of a visual effects-heavy film, from storyboards thru pre-vis thru the shoot and the hundreds of iterations involved in getting each shot just right.

The editors shared the challenges they faced in constructing the story while waiting on shots that might include fully CG characters and how well placed dialog and music brings a scene to life. Because of the cost of producing VFX, it was noted that pre-vis provided filmmakers with the freedom to map out and experiment with shots and the edit before shooting actually commenced.  Also discussed were the editorial decisions made in anticipation of the conversion by the stereoscopic team from 2D to 3D during post.

Because of the enormous investment in both time and money that it takes to produce popular tent pole movies, a lot of pressure is put upon the filmmakers. Lebenthal commented, “Nobody wants to be the first Marvel movie not to succeed.”

Acclaimed editor Arthur Schmidt was interviewed by writer and editor, Bobbie O’Steen during the session entitled: “A Look Back to the Future”. Schmidt is best known for his collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis. Their work together includes Back to the Future, Castaway and the Oscar-winning films Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump. Schmidt has also been the recipient of three ACE Eddie awards in recognition of his work. His impressive filmography includes, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Last of the Mohicans and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Talking about his early experiences with editing, Schmidt revealed, “I worked on so many bad films, I thought an editor’s job was to fix things.”

Editor and USC professor, Norm Hollyn, moderated “The Lean Forward Moment.” Panelists Doug Blush, ACE (20 Feet from Stardom), Dody Dorn, ACE (Fury), Vashi Nedomansky (Sharknado 2), and John Venzon, ACE (South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut) talked about their process and shared clips from the films that inspired and influenced their editing.

Dorn chose the emotionally powerful ending scene from Thelma and Louise. When she played the sequence with out sound, she literally found herself leaning forward, drawn by the riveting tension of the moment.

Nedomansky’s clip was a touching scene taken from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, chosen because of its emotional impact and the tiny moments that added to the fabric of the scene.

Blush choose the “stealing Huggies” scene from Raising Arizona because he liked the editorial voice of the film and how the sequence is “effortlessly seamless” as it moves at breakneck speed between several different character arcs.

Venzon showed a clip from the disaster film parody Airplane. In talking about editing comedy he emphasized, “You have to be the first audience. Guard that experience. Don’t forget your first impression.”

My impression of Edit Fest was that it was as entertaining as it was enlightening.

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