UCLA Film Editing – Hyping

It took far too long for me to find the right editor for Red Skies at Night, and it took far too long for me as a director to feel like I had any kind of grasp on what film editing is all about, and really, how to work with an editor.

I did eventually find the perfect editor for Red Skies, Lee Madsen. Lee is a dedicated filmmaker and good friend, and an accomplished director in his own right. He also teaches film school. So, working with Lee on Red Skies at Night is like having my own personal film professor at the wheel. It’s awesome.

But, even after finding the editor, I still felt like something was missing.

I realized that to succeed as a Director, I need to be able to either: (i) communicate with editors in a more efficient and knowledgable manner that I’d done so far; or (ii) learn how to edit.  I realized that the idea that a director can throw footage over the wall to an editor, so to speak, and have it come back as he or she envisions is not reality. It’s a fantasy, will not happen.

So, I decided to learn how to edit a movie. I thought that even if I couldn’t get proficient enough to edit at a pro level, I would at least become better at communicating with editors about what I wanted to see on the big screen.

So, I did a ton of research into the editing software, talked to a number of editors and other filmmakers about software and process, and eventually decided on Final Cut Pro X.2. I bought the software and a giant super-charged iMac, bought a film editing book, and launched the program.

Voila.  Here we go!!!!

Errrr …

I sat there, stunned. WTF.

Within ten seconds, I concluded that editing is not a skill to learn from a book. Then I changed the plan, and turned to where I always turn when I hit a wall in motion pictures. UCLA.

When I had no clue about a script, I went through the UCLA professional screenwriting program, and got a screenwriting certificate, new friends, new clients, and a life-chasing educational experience.

When I didn’t understand film finance, I trudged back up the hill to UCLA, and took a great film finance class with film finance guru Richard Kiratsoulis.  I got an A in the class, then literally kept going back for a year to ‘audit’ the class over and over, deciding that I would never stop attending that f*cking class until I knew the subject matter being taught inside and out, regardless of grade. It was that important. I can literally teach the class now. Which sounds like a joke, but I actually do teach the subject in law school now.

So, back to the story — there I was again this summer – wall # 700 in my journey into film.

It was time to learn film editing, or be at the mercy of finding an editor and hope for the best, forever. As always, I started looking at the available resources at UCLA. I found an online UCLA Extension course in Final Cut Pro, taught by Robert Scheid. I’d never taken an online class before, I was skeptical, but the class literally started in less than a week than I had discovered it, and the entertainment programs offered through UCLA had never let me down. So, I signed up for Robert’s class, and off we went.

We’re headed into week 4 of the class, and it’s been amazing. Many people can “do” something great, but it is a small subset of those who can actually teach what they do. Robert Scheid’s videos and approach to teaching is brilliant, and if there class ended today, it would be money well spent. He is a great teacher, period at the end of the sentence.

But the coolest and most exciting part was the discovery that I have some natural talent at film editing. Editing comes easy to me, the more I do, the more I enjoy it. And I realized that lurking in the background, the one thing that gives me a competitive edge in film editing, of you want to call it that, is my 30+ years of rudimental drumming background.  I won’t want to go as far as to say that a music background is essential to being an editor, but I’m hard pressed to think of any other skill set that would better prepare you for the timing and sense of “flow” you need in film editing. Anyone can figure out software – but a music background can not be figured out on the fly by anybody. And it only took me twenty-five years to find a use off the football field for rudimental snare drumming skills.  hehe

Now, for the record – I have a ton of work to do and a ton of things to learn, before I can tell anyone that I’m an editor with a straight face. I’m not an editor right now, I am a director and producer who is working hard to learn the skill set.

But – unlike the subtle and mysterious and borderline supernatural art form of lighting a set … or mastering the complexities of an Ari Alexa camera like our brilliant DP on Red Skies, Tomoaki Iwakura — editing is something I know I will be great at. And to find another facet of filmmaking that I can perform at a high level and enjoy is truly a gift.

On a related note, I’m producing an international documentary about football, with a former NFL star and some colleagues from Texas. We’re about to get an editor … and I will actually know how to talk to him or her.  🙂

Thanks for reading, cats.



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