Manhattan Edit Workshop: Sight, Sound and Story
by Stephanie Mergal
Saturday, June 13th, 9:00 AM. The Manhattan Edit Workshop auditorium in New York was filled with people of all ages who had come to learn more about film editing. Many were students, laptops in hand. The woman sitting next to me had a flyer about a documentary she was working on; the man sitting on the other side showed us the projects he was doing.
The panel started with the “real” in reality TV. Lead by moderator Gordon Burkell, editors Alanda Yudin, Joe Schuck, and Jolie “Bob” Lombardi talked about working in reality TV and the editing process. As someone with a guilty pleasure for reality TV, this was fascinating. Alana Yudin has worked on TV shows such as “Teen Mom” and “Ink Wars.” In preparation, I had watched a few clips of “Ink Wars” before attending the event and became addicted; one clip turned into twenty and by the end I had watched an entire season. All three editors explained the process of editing reality TV. Yudin showed how a scene had footage added to make it more entertaining for the audience. Both Schuck and Lombardi admitted to “embellishing” and even using “bleeps” to give characters larger-than-life personalities. The most important part in editing for reality TV, they said, was the story being told. Music and sound effects also play a very important part to affect the mood of the scene. Many editors use temporary music (scratch tracks); this helps them with the feeling they are trying to evoke while they work.
The second panel, about editing documentaries, was moderated by Garret Savage and included editors Andy Grieve, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Pax Wassermann. Savage started by asking, “How do you know where to start editing a film?” Each editor had an opinion on how they start editing. They all agreed that the biggest mistake was to start editing at the beginning. Grieve compared editing to tangled headphones: “you never want to tie knots you can’t untie.” The key is to not obsess over the beginning of the movie. Organize the footage into different subjects. From there it becomes a lot easier to start.
Unlike reality TV, documentary filmmakers are very concerned about telling the “truth” in their films. Therefore, there should be no “cheating” or “helping” out any character. Stuart-Pontier explained how, on the documentary “The Jinx,” he had 4 years of footage to review and edit. The biggest challenge was where to begin editing and how to be able to tell the story in a way that would be both truthful and entertaining to the audience. In “The Jinx,” real estate icon Robert Durst was the key suspect in a series of unsolved crimes. Pontier decided to start the documentary with the third murder. He immediately captivated the audience. Grieve, Pontier and Wassermann agreed that music is extremely important and gives energy to sections that would otherwise feel too “slow”.
Music seemed to be the reoccurring theme throughout all the panels. In the third panel, “TV is the new black; television’s cinematic revolution,” the discussion was led by Michael Berenbaum. Editor Fabienne Bouville showed the audience a clip from “Masters of Sex” without music or sound effects — and then showed the final edited scene with both included. Music gave the scene faster pace and made it more engaging. Jesse Averna, multi-Emmy winner on “Sesame Street,” showed how exaggerated sound effects and sing-a-longs are some of the elements that give “Sesame Street” its character. Another key point highlighted by the panel was making sure the production was entertaining and that the story was clear.
Sidney Wolinsky commented on how important it is for a film editor to have a thorough understanding of film history. Editor on “The Sopranos,” “House of Cards,” “Rome” and among many others, Wolinsky said that the most important thing in editing was the moment when the scene worked for him.
He also advised, “When you’re in the editing room and the director shows up and says he doesn’t like it — take note but don’t change it immediately — go with your feeling. If in the end he still doesn’t like it then change it. You have to stand behind what you did.”
The panel ended with the eagerly-awaited William Goldenberg. He has worked on 25 films and won an Academy Award for editing “Argo” (2012). Moderator Bobbie O’Sheen asked what was probably on everyone’s mind: “What makes [him] great at what [he] does?” His answer was: insecurity. Ironic, coming from the man who has worked with some of the best directors in the industry, from Michael Mann to Ben Affleck.
Goldenberg explained how the most important thing in editing is losing yourself in the footage and knowing the story you are going to tell even before you cut any footage. Like the other editors, Goldenberg also explained the importance of using temporary music. Goldenberg emphasized how talented actors had helped him out with editing. But lets face it, you don’t win an Oscar without a lot of talent yourself.
Photos by Stephanie Mergal.