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Prime Cuts-TV Academy Editing Panel

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By Mary Ann Skweres
Following the presentation of the 59th Annual Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented the first edition of Prime Cuts: Emmy Winning Editors on their Craft.
The panel was comprised of some of this year’s Emmy-winning nominated editors, who shared their insider’s views on the art of television editing in both fiction and nonfiction programming. Produced by the executive committee of the Television Motion Picture Editors Peer Group, the inaugural event Sept. 19 at the Leonard Goldenson Theater in North Hollywood honored editors whose skills are at zenith of their craft.
Hosted by Shawn Ryan, executive producer and creator of The Shield and executive producer of The Unit, participants included Michael Ornstein, ACE (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee); Eric Sears and Mitchell Danton (Path to 9/11), winners for editing for a miniseries or movie; David Rogers and Dean Holland (The Office) winners for single-camera editing for a comedy series; Jon Bachmann and Eric Goldfarb (The Amazing Race), winners for reality program editing; Stephen Semel (Lost), nominee for drama series editing; Sue Federman (How I Met Your Mother), nominee for multicamera editing for a series; Ed Greene (The Deadliest Catch) nominee for editing for nonfiction programming; and Chuck Workman (The 79th Annual Academy Awards), nominee for editing for a special.
The editors shared their personal histories, which were as diverse was their shows. Federman was a concert violinist before becoming an assistant editor on Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood. Greene worked with veteran editor Laura Hayes, who was in her 80s and needed “a pair of hands” to operate an Avid. Semel started in the sound department, transferring dailies to mag. Ornstein used the Yellow Pages to cold call film production companies, getting a runner job for his efforts. Danton’s father was a TV director, and he started as an apprentice editor on Cagney & Lacey.
Sample clips were shown, and the honorees talked about the joys of editing and the war stories that contributed to the creation of television’s most lauded productions.
With 13 editors on the project, Bachman says: “Cutting The Amazing Race is like watching it. It never stops.” Even with the frenetic, fast-paced cutting style, “the drama is all that matters,” he says. Goldfarb added that the network process included numerous pages of single-spaced notes, “It’s intensive storytelling; the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
According to Rogers, there is a big difference between using one and four cameras. The camera work on The Office “is a whole different animal. In a four-camera show, you’re set; you’re just looking for the best take. In this show, we have cameras moving all over the place.”
“The whole process is enjoyable because you start with an extremely long editor’s cut and somehow manage to make a 21-minute show out of it and still make it good, keep the story and keep the laughs,” says Holland
Federman loves the four-camera world, especially the job benefit that she gets to “laugh every day.” Talking about manipulating iconic moments in movie history to get an emotional effect for the montages used during the Academy Awards show, Workman quipped “I have the best dailies of anybody.”
Technology aided Semel – he used video conferencing between the cutting room in Los Angeles and the producers in Hawaii to review cuts. He also received an added perk editing Lost – “Cachet with my kids’ friends.”
Greene works from a rough script, which served as a guideline for shaping the 100-200 hours of footage he receives. Although his normal process would be to look at all the dailies before assembling a show, on a project like The Deadliest Catch, he has to rely on the production’s loggers to narrow down the best footage.
Ornstein shared his views that, “One of the things that makes a good editor is great empathy.” His said his editing for HBO required a huge amount of work, including trying linear versions of the story before coming back around full circle to the original flashback structure of the script. In the process, the network challenged him “to shape the characters and hone each scene to perfection.”
With 9/11 being such a recent historical event, Danton said: “We really tried to tell the story accurately and dramatically simultaneously.” Sears was proud to work on the film, but admitted to the emotional nature of the project. “It was real hard on all of us, but we felt that we were fighting. We were trying to understand … maybe there would be some learning or clarity out of this.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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