This week we’ll be sharing 8 pieces of advice from a professional editor covering various topics from your career to your craft to your work-life balance.
Our contributing author, Zsofia Szemeredy, recently had the opportunity to attend an exclusive event arranged by Soundstage in London, UK featuring guest speaker Eddie Hamilton.
Eddie is a world-famous editor who’s worked on over 50 films including blockbusters such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. He shared a series of tips for the audience based on his years of experience and insight into the world of Hollywood film making.
Tip 1: The Most Important Elements to Success
According to Eddie, there are two major elements he’s found crucial to the process for a successful project.
- Be brutally honest with the director and always give constructive feedback
- Avoid the “bad marriage triangle”. Sometimes you will find that a producer and director have different types of films in mind. The editor can get caught in the middle and it’s best to spot this early in order to avoid hard feelings or difficult future working relationships.
Tip 2: Workflow
As an editor on a Hollywood movie, one of the most important early tasks is to watch the dailies. Directors are busy shooting all day (and often all night) and often don’t have the time to review and find if there’s a shot missing or an actor needs to repeat a line. It’s frequently the job of the editor to watch the dailies and spot those things he believes he will need in post-production to effectively tell the story.
Eddie manages this by having his assistants assemble a timeline for him with every single camera shot, angle and line from that day. He skims through it in order to create a mental picture of what the scene(s) will ultimately end up looking like and can report back to the director if he feels something crucial is missing.
Important note, Eddie’s number one tip for editing a scene: Only use close-ups when you really want to make an impact. Don’t waste them!
Tip 3: Workload
Many of you know how many hours an editor can work during filming and post-production so Eddie typically has a team working alongside him. During Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation he employed four. The 1st assistant editor managed the workflow and delegated tasks to the 2nd assistant editor, who then delegated further to the trainees. Eddie won’t even hire a trainee until they have had at least three years of experience working on high-end TV or film projects.
As for how to handle the workload? Eddie’s answer was simple: “We are not in a coal mine! It’s the best job ever, you are on a multi-million dollar film set. Why would you not be happy?”
Tip 4: Be Patient
Eddie’s career had a tough start with many years of unemployment. He understands firsthand how hard it is to “make it” in the industry and advises everyone to stay dedicated if that’s the career they want to pursue. For example, Eddie remembers every single theater where he watched the Mission Impossible films (that’s going all the way back to 1996!)
Tip 5: Plan and Test
Planning – Months before a film shoot, Eddie will work closely with the director on previz. Previsualization is used to visualize complex scenes before filming. It allows the filmmakers to experiment with different staging and art direction options such as lighting, camera placement, movement and editing before production. On high budget films, even a second of staged footage can cost in the hundreds of thousands. There’s no time to waste and sometimes you don’t get multiple takes. Eddie says it’s crucial for him to figure out what he will want for the final edit and communicate that very clearly to the team.
Testing – Eddie retold a story about one time when an opening scene cut just wouldn’t work. It was shown to two different test audiences without positive feedback. He realized he had cut the entire thing too fast. It turned out that adding just 8 seconds made the difference. It allowed the scene to breathe a bit and the next test audience loved it. He stresses editors should keep in mind that “cutting too fast is a mistake we all make”.
Tip 6: Music
According to Eddie, often the way he uses music is dependent on the director. Some don’t want to use any until the very end and others can’t make decisions without it. Eddie stresses that you must be flexible, but he does have some preferences. For action scenes, he likes to edit silently in the beginning. With dialogue, he will or won’t add music depending on how the emotion flows. He says one of the best tricks he’s learned over the years has been to imagine the score while working and collaborate with your music editor to build it.
Tip 7: Working with Others
An editor can have a big impact on the entire feel of the film, so Eddie stresses that it’s vital you read the script and provide as much constructive feedback as you can. Many times, he is on board during the development phase to ensure everyone is on the same page.
He also likes to work very closely as a team with his editors. When staring at the same footage all day and night he has found himself losing perspective sometimes. In those instances, he will divide the work in half or allocate certain sequences to his assistants. Then a one-on-one or group review is done before the final polish.
Tip 8: Your Personal Life
During a film shoot in which you could be working up to 18 hours per day, 6 days a week, Eddie maintains that it’s important for him to take time for his health, no matter how stressful the situation. He always tries to take a minute for himself, squeeze in a workout and buy a healthy lunch to maintain stamina.
Editing Hollywood movies is a hectic career and lifestyle that can have some negative effects on your personal relationships. Eddie’s advice is to never forget the important dates such as Birthdays, Anniversaries, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Pay ahead for that flower subscription!
If you enjoyed this article and found some of the tips helpful or interesting, we’d love to hear it! Do you have any words of wisdom for maintaining a good work/life balance? Any suggestions on how to work with others in high-pressure situations?
Please leave a comment below, we read them all.
Zsofi Szemeredy studies Marketing & Distribution at the National Film and Television School in London, UK. She also produces the Indie Film Distribution Summit. She’s been an ardent Star Wars, Harry Potter, and sci-fi lover since the age of 5.