Interview with Editor Tod Modisett (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Bachelor)

crazy ex girlfriend.jpgIt was a privilege to chat with the talented editor Tod Modisett on the art of editing.

Matthew Toffolo: You have edited many television shows. Do you have a favorite experience?

Tod Modisett: The best experience is when you understand the show you’re working on. You get the director or the producer, and he or she gets you. Then interesting things can happen pretty quickly. Some editors can talk articulately when they’re working. I usually can’t.

Sometimes I mumble. It’s great when a director can hear me mumble something and he or she knows what I’m saying. It reminds me of how some dentists can understand you even when you have all kinds of crap in your mouth. Jeff Schaffer, the creator of “The League,” was like that. Once I mumbled something as I hit command-Z to put the edit back to what it was before I started messing with it and he said, “It’s okay. I know what you were going for.”

I have to ask about the “Bachelor” experience as there are tons of fans out there who want to know. What was the process like editing an episode together? Was the episode already written and you simply needed to piece together the story with the hours of footage you had? How much footage did you (or your assistant) have to go through?

I had to look this up on my calendar program. I stopped working on “The Bachelor” in December of 2008 and my last “Bachelorette” was July of 2009. So it’s been a while! Back when I was there, the story side of the show was run by Martin Hilton, who is certainly one of the smartest people I’ve met in Los Angeles. Martin always had a strong point of view about how the storylines should unfold, and he wouldn’t let the actual footage stand in the way. I learned a lot from him about how to shape the footage to achieve the desired result.

More importantly, he helped me realize that an editor needed to have a perspective when cutting a scene. There’s no point in being passive.

Martin started as an editor at Next Entertainment, so he empowered editors there to work the stories out themselves and pitch him their ideas. The story producers were there to help the editors find the interview bites the editors wanted. Not every reality company worked that way.

There was, of course, a lot of footage on those shows. But usually I didn’t watch everything. If something amazing happened in the house during a down period, a field producer would note it for us. You can’t watch every frame on that kind of schedule.

Did the TV show “Redneck Island” actually happen?

Yes! But I wasn’t on it for very long. I think I only cut one or two episodes. I don’t know why they put me down as having worked on all of them in IMDB. I left that show to cut
“Burning Love” for Ken Marino.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned working as an assistant editor early in your career that helped you grow as an editor?

Every show ends. No matter how bad it gets, it’ll be over sooner than you realize.

What makes a great editor? What skills does he/she need?

First, you need all the stuff people talk about in seminars, like sensitivity to performance, a sense of pace, etc. A lot of editors I know are former musicians, so they feel rhythm and dynamics better than other people. But that’s only half the battle. You also should understand how you come across in a room and how you’re best able to work with other people. You need to know how you can personally convince others of your ideas without being overly combative. It’s different for everyone, because what works for one guy might not work for another. In the beginning, I was too much of a push-over. I’d say, well, it’s your show, do what you want to it. I’m just the editor. But what happens is, after a couple of years directors and producers have a way of forgetting what it was they insisted on in the cutting room, and they blame the editor if the show is bad. So now I try harder to push back if I think someone is making a real mistake. I don’t always prevail.

What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

Just to be on the same wave-length. With comedies, we have to think the same general stuff is funny, otherwise it just won’t work.

Is there a type of film or TV series that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

So many! I like a lot of stuff.

What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Through no design or intention, I’ve probably watched “The Godfather,” “Alien” and “Blackhawk Down” the most. The first two are kind of obvious. I don’t know why I find “Blackhawk Down” so watchable, but I’ve seen it five or six times.

What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

I don’t know those people. Most kids want to write and direct. Or act. Usually if they’re in high school and they’re talking about wanting to edit, it just means that they lack the confidence to say they want to direct, because very few teen-agers know what editing is all about. So my suggestion is, don’t say you want to be editor. Just go make short films of your own. Write them, shoot them and edit them. And see how you feel after doing all of that. Maybe during that process you’ll find you have a comparative advantage in one area.

Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

I grew up in San Pedro, which is the harbor of Los Angeles. I lived with my Dad. Every Friday night, he would take me to pizza and then afterwards we’d go to the Wherehouse and he’d let me pick out a VHS movie to rent. I was maybe 12 or 13 then. He never looked at what I picked, so I got all kinds of inappropriate stuff. After watching Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver,” I thought, wow, that seems like a cool job; I’d like to do that.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Editor Sarah Lucky (Grace and Frankie)

graceandfrankieIt was a pleasure having editor Sarah Lucky answer some questions on the editing process and the art of being a great editor.

 Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about the GRACE AND FRANKIE experience? How is editing the show?
 
Sarah Lucky: I can’t say enough good things about my experience on Grace and Frankie.  The crew is one of the best I’ve worked with, especially the 3 female producers at “Okay Goodnight” Marta, Robbie and Hannah.  The cast is a dream come true for me.  Obviously their careers speak for themselves.  
  

You’ve been an Assistant Editor on many high profile films. What is the typical day for an Assistant Editor on a big budget film? 
 
A typical day for an assistant, during shooting, is getting the footage ready for the editor to cut.  We ingest all of the footage and arrange it into scene bins.  tTen we usually script each scene so the editor can look at a digital copy of the script, where each line is linked to a take in the footage.  This way an editor can easily find all of the readings of each line.  This is especially helpful while working with directors and producers.  Assistant Editors also work on sound effects and temp VFS.  I have spent many days agonizing over after effects.  We also turn over the movie to sound and music so they may work their magic. 

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned doing this job to help you grow as an editor? 
 
I have to say one of the major things I’ve learned is trusting my instinct.  When I started season 1, I constantly second guessed myself.  Now I trust myself a bit more.  It’s a constant learning process.  I have always tried to learn from the editor’s I have assisted to gain their knowledge and advice, and I still do. 

What makes a great editor? What skills does he/she need?
 
I feel that most great editors are in touch with the emotions of each character and each scene.  They have an attention to detail and a good sense of rhythm. they know how to work well with others and collaborate with directors and producers. I also feel that a great editor loves what they do, no matter what the project is. I have always gotten attached to all of the projects I have worked on, even as an assistant. 

What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?
 
I love working with a director that is willing to listen to the editor.  It is great when they are willing to work as a team to get the best possible cut.  Directors that are mindful of exits and entrances and transitions are also a big plus.  Getting enough coverage that’s interesting and has good continuity.  Continuity! Options! 

Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?
 
I would love to edit a feature.  I’m a movie fan and have always liked being part of the movie making process.  I would cut any genre because each one is a different experience. 

What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
 
Casino and When Harry Met Sally.  I am not sure how many times I have seen Casino, but it’s up there.  I am a huge Scorsese fan.  Thelma Schoonmaker (Scorsese’s long time editor) is one of the reasons I wanted to be an editor.  I have watched many of his movies over and over.   As for When Harry Met Sally, well that’s just a great film. 

What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?
 
My advice is to PA in editorial on a feature.  Getting experience in a cutting room is priceless.  I have learned so much from watching and learning editors like Michael Tronick, Roger Barton, Mark Livolsi and Tom Costain.  Each one has shaped me as the editor I am today.  Ask questions and pay attention on each show you work on.  There is nothing like hands on experience. 

Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?
 
I grew up in Los Angeles. My dad was in the film business, so I have been around it my whole life.  Honestly I started out wanting to be a veterinarian, but my allergies made that career a bit of an issue.  I fell in love with editing in high school/college.  I really love the creative part of editing.  It’s like putting together a puzzle.  It is amazing how you can give the exact same footage to two different people and you will get completely different results.  One may not be better than the other.  Just different POVs.  That is very cool to me. 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Supervising Sound Editor Wylie Stateman (The Hateful Eight, Home Alone, JFK)

wylie_stateman.jpgWylie Statement is a gem. It’s a simple as that. This is truly one of my favorite interviews. In my subjective opinion, it’s a must read for anyone working in the industry today, and for those attempting to get into the industry. His answers were entertaining, educational, and there is a theme that ties it all together. See if you can figure it out. Hope you enjoy.

See Wylie’s full list of credits – 7 Oscar nominations for Sound Editing: (Born on the 4th of July (1989), Cliffhanger (1993), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Wanted (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012), Lone Survivor (2013).

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a Supervising Sound Editor does in one sentence?

Wylie Stateman: A supervising sound editor serves the director, editor and production as the project’s audio architect; providing creative oversight over planning, sound design, sound editorial, and delivery of the finished sound track.

MT: How is the Quentin Tarantino experience? (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Grindhouse, Kill Bill)?

WS: Quentin Tarantino is truly a force of cinematic nature. Quentin sees film the way a philosopher sees life: it’s fundamentally interesting; it’s personal; it has intervals of both width and depth; and, of course, at key moments in time, it all ties together. For sure in QT’s case, it all ties to a unique writing and cinematic sense and style. Quentin celebrates character intensity.

Driven by his sensibilities in using musical score along with songs and overlapping sound design, Quentin knows how to harness key sonic moments and make them serve his characters and his story. Working along side of Quentin is inspirational. He challenges you to look for ideas in service to your (and his) intentions; in service to creative ways to tell story; and in collaboration with big picture ideas.

Quentin also taught me the value in studying historical film references. He often provided specific examples of films that he felt advanced filmmaking or some aspect of sound specifically. For “Kill Bill”, we reviewed Quentin’s fascination with early Hong Kong films. On “Grindhouse”, he once referenced a trailer that he had seen some thirty years prior as having left a lasting impression on him (sound-wise). Sure enough, the next day a small roll of 35mm film arrived and we had the chance to review an original William Friedkin “Exorcist” trailer, circa 1973. It served as an informative reference for the movement of sound through the surround speaker field.

Every Quentin film has an origin story that is personal to his life long pursuit of cinema. Quentin personally hand picks his filmmaking family on every project. His producers and department heads are always part of his most trusted assets. The production team and, after production, the cutting room is always populated with smart, devoted, traditional, and not-so-traditional, highly talented people. Quentin is the driving force out in front of the team, thoroughly inspiring everyone.

PHOTO: Ennio Morricone & Quentin Tarantino finish the score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT:

ennio_morricone_and_quentin_tarantino.jpg

MT: You’ve also worked on more than a few Oliver Stone films? What is this experience like? How is it different than working on other studio films?

WS: Oliver Stone’s body of work is at the heart and soul of my resume. I met Oliver at the right time during his second filmmaking endeavor, “Salvador”. I began serving as his sound designer and supervising sound editor immediately after the first “Wall Street”. I’ve worked with Oliver consistently for over three decades and on more than twenty of his original creative projects.

Oliver asks great questions, sets a high bar intellectually, and makes films with complex layered story lines. With Oliver, we blazed new rules in terms of layered story and layered dialogue; we are always attempting to weave story exposition into what feels like dramatic action. I recommend that you take a look and listen to Oliver’s film “Any Given Sunday”. In one scene Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx are seated having a lunchtime conversation. The dialogue unfolds with intensity and the drama builds to a climax with visually intercut scenes with the chariot race from the original “Ben Hur”. Oliver’s films are propelled through experimental ideas and a damn-the-torpedoes cutting style. Oliver loves to construct stories with an unfolding of ideas through visuals, abstract sonic elements, real life events, and words. With great courage, Oliver created a style of filmmaking that has influenced every generation that has followed.

It has been one of my life’s great professional pleasures to have helped him shape his truly recognizable voice. Oliver writes, produces and directs his projects. I have learned to trust Oliver, and am grateful, Oliver has trusted in me.

PHOTO: Wylie on “The Hateful Eight” set:

wylie_on_hateful_eight_set.jpg

MT: Were there some films you worked on that you thought would not do well financially and were big hits? Or, films you assumed were going to be a big success, but ended up not doing well?

WS: My mentor, the very accomplished editor, Paul Hirsch, described it well enough: “There are only three potential outcomes for film: good box office/good reviews, good box office/bad reviews, bad box office/bad reviews; the first two considered acceptable in most cases”.

Making a movie requires an ability (hell, necessity), to go all in; to totally love the thing; to commit yourself completely to it; and to demonstrate an unwavering devotion to the filmmaking cause. Success, surprise or not, does always feel like a wave of great euphoria. Yet, on the other hand, it is a soul-sucking, often personal feeling of failure or even defeat, when you swing with all your heart and miss.

I have learned that the success of a film is highly dependent on the ever changing cultural mood of the day. In the throes of constructing a film, it is hard to have any objectivity around box office potential. A film’s sound track is merely a piece of that puzzle and my part is to press my creative team to develop and deliver the most interesting, informative sound possible. That is my goal on every project.

After all is said, felt and done, great successes have many fathers; failures in Hollywood are often treated as orphans.

MT: Every year I watch the “Home Alone” films. Are you surprised that both films still stand the test of time and perhaps my kid’s kids will be watching the film each year? How was this working experience? There is such a great musical score/sound design that sets that film’s tone and feel in the beginning. It gets me every single time.

WS: It is a great film. Directed by Chris Columbus with music composed by John William, the first “Home Alone” film was such a wonderful surprise. Chris Columbus and Raja Gosnell, the film’s editors, nailed the piece. From start to finish, it promises, delivers, and above all, entertains.

I’m glad that it has a place in the hearts of future generations. I think that “Home Alone” possessed the right mix of relatable family circumstance; an unstoppable boy as your relatable young hero; timeless pratfall comedy; great bad guy casting; and fun-to-visualize story lines. All of these pulled tightly together with emotional thematic music. Like lightning in a bottle, the “Home Alone” film franchise was written and produced by John Hughes, a man I adored. I learned comedy sound design with John’s unrelenting support. He understood middle American life and used that understanding to create coming-of-age comedies that tickled insecurities, made people laugh and even, on occasion, enjoy an unexpected good cry.

John once described his desired place in the industry as the ‘Woody Allen for all those peoples west of New Jersey’. I loved that about John. He was an important story originator, filmmaker, director, and writer of meaningful contemporary comedy. He was a true gem.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar 7 times but have always come home empty. What is that experience like? Is it just an honor to be nominated, or do you really want that statue?

WS: It is always a thrill and an honor to be nominated. Each project is such a different journey and you never really know how these things will turn out. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science is a great institution that was created to seek, showcase and celebrate excellence. The Oscars are seen by some in the press as a path to creative or professional immortality (one for the obituaries) and so, to be nominated, well, that might be likened to being a runner-up to, or at the least very close to immortality.

Going to the Oscar show and not winning a statue is a uniquely Hollywood roller coaster ride: five people with their hearts in their hands, all on camera, where four will feel crestfallen while one is anointed. My mentor, friend and Oscar winner for the original “Star Wars”, Paul Hirsch, once referred the experience as something akin to an old fashioned bull fight: “seems fun for everybody, but the bull”.

Thinking as an artist and filmmaker, it a tremendous accomplishment just to be invited to join the Academy and to be a member in good standing of such a prestigious organization. It’s easy to get lost in the award season noise, but I still truly find it inspiring at the end of each year to sit down, watch (and hear) the great works that my industry peers have created. Being singled out as one of the five artists of merit in that year’s field of artists is each time, nothing short of mind-blowing.

MT: How has sound design changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started to today?

WS: My career as a sound designer now spans four decades. Working first with analogue technology was literally hands-on; you actually touched the film stock. There were tools based around the Moviola, mechanical synchronizers, and tape splicers. It was the golden audio age where iconic analogue films such as “Star Wars” and “Apocalypse Now” were made. I was a sound designer on the original film ”Tron”, the bio-pic musical “Coal Miners Daughter”, and “The Long Riders”. As an example of where we came from, “The Long Riders” was mixed and finished in a MONO track format because, at that time, Warner Brothers (the pioneers of cinema sound in 1927) was still not yet entirely committed to releasing films in STEREO for theatrical distribution.

Things began to change quickly late in the 1980’s, when the industry began departing from analogue film tape-based sound and turning towards digital data and reliable multichannel theatrical playback systems. New digital field recorders changed the ways in which we could capture and archive our sound design elements. Computer-based sound libraries and advancements in editing workstations changed how we cut, layered, and mixed. Eventually, all things downloadable would come along and change the tools again. The market for talent and the possibilities offered to and from the sound design community opened; creative innovations again flowed to meet the challenges offered as a result of digital media.

Sound design, as a creative art form, continues to be technically-driven. It is considered by many still to be on the verge of yet another new technical revolution; likely, the immersive frontier. Finally, films someday might sonically bark as efficiently as they might visually bite.

MT: Where do you see the future of Sound Designing in film?

WS: Stories will be told in ways filmmakers of the past could never have facilitated. Thanks to the ‘internet of everything’ and by that I mean downloadable niche content, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR); the potential contribution that future sound designers can make has only just begun. Packets of sound (or ‘sound objects’) are the new building blocks of innovative sound design. Ultra high fidelity “samples” that are utilized in digital playback instruments available literally at the artists’ fingertips, all serve the future where experimentation becomes faster and further unhinged from technical limitations. Today and forever forward, immersive playback systems with greater sonic powers, and even greater numbers of sound placement options, will convincingly deliver “surround” sound anywhere or everywhere in any venue.

Sound design is an unlimited experimental art form because it is unique in the fact that it’s invisible; can’t be held; can’t be stopped. When you stop sound or “pause it”, it goes away.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 35+ years on over 100+ productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

WS: Working on your first film is surely a thrill.

Establishing long term credibility as a sound designer usually requires broadening one’s knowledge of music, film, and art in various other forms. I have found that each project served as a building block towards a wide catalog of filmmaking lessons. Fiction, non-fiction, comedy, musical, thriller, horror, action, adventure, romance – all have their challenges and all feed into a lifetime of content creation in its various genre forms.

Knocking filmmaker expectations out of the park or maybe just advancing sound design as an appreciable art form, be it on a single project or an entire genre of filmmaking – this is what makes me proud as a sound designer.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

WS: Filmmakers are often comfortable with the voice that they have come to know. There are a few filmmakers with whom I would love to someday have an opportunity to work: Chris Nolan, Wes Anderson, Jeff Nichols, Spike Jones, and Denis Villeneuve come to mind. It would be a great honor and challenge to walk in stride with them, building on their previous sonic footprints. Whatever the film, there is an opportunity to help exercise, in a meaningful way, the filmmaker’s voice – be it clarifying it, extending it, or even creating something entirely off the scripted page. Helping to find, interpret and explore sound in its various forms on any given project is what excites me most.

MT: What makes a great sound designer? What skills does he/she need?

WS: A successful sound designer mines the gap between hearing and listening. It might seem a bit esoteric to visual thinkers, but there is a difference between listening and hearing. People who listen absorb and process the sound coming at them, while people who hear know the sound artistically they want to hear. When you are mixing sounds, it is even more important to be able to hear. Good sound designers exercise their ability to hear and then, only after that, focus on those bits worth listening to.

Having technology on your side is helpful. Partnering with diverse and interesting talent is essential to growth, as a designer, team member and/or team leader. Success comes by resolving difficult filmmaking challenges and by putting first client needs and their artistic desires.

To be a great sound designer, what’s also really helpful (and necessary!) is compelling content on which to practice. Practice expands hearing as well as refines one’s ability to listen.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

WS: Repeat audience viewing is the ultimate form of flattery for filmmakers. There are film advancements that beg the question: how do they do that? In every genre, there are examples of these black swans; outliers that beg to be seen again and again. Seeing for the first time “Alien” or “Across the Universe”, as well as “Avatar” or “Gravity” in 3D, these and others reinforce why, as filmmakers, we need to watch, listen to, and support one another; support our colleagues.

Not for nothing, it feels unimportant to play favorites because films are “time of life” dependent. I would have to admit though, seeing certain films over and over can be comforting, even joyful.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

WS: Sound has been my life-long passion. I have been making and archiving recordings since I was five. I began my career as a sound editor and, in 1982, joined Lon Bender in founding Soundelux. Soundelux, The Hollywood Edge, Modern Music and the many offshoots became some of the most prolific independent sound companies ever to grace post production in Hollywood.

I spent my early years of life in NY on Long Island in a small working class community on the edge of Levittown. I lived amongst friends till the day after high school graduation when I left by bus for an adventure in California. The bus service was called the Grey Rabbit. It left from Greenwich Village, stopping in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco and finishing up at the Greyhound station in L.A. at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine Street. The bus was a 1940s scorpion trail highway cruiser with the words “Church of World Community Consensus” painted on its side. That was the how, in how I came to Hollywood. The why took many more years to discover.

As luck would have it, my lifelong friends Steve and Evan Green moved to Beverly Hills with their father Barry Green a year earlier. Barry was extraordinarily generous and took me in. He was manufacturing the Guillotine Tape Splicer and Moviola editing products. I was given a chance to work in the rental department of J&R Film Company. We rented the last generation of film editing equipment, most of which had not been seriously upgraded technically for more than fifty years. This was my entry and my coup. I was introduced to filmmaking, filmmakers, the major studios and traditional post production work on a broad scale across “Hollywood”.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Editor Valerio Bonelli (The Martian, Philomena)

If you’re interested in storytelling, this is the interview for you. Editor Valerio Bonelli has edited over 30 films in the last 20 years, working with some of the top directors, including many collaborations with Ridley Scott (The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, and the Oscar winner Gladiator), and Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Program). In this interview, he gives a lot of amazing insight on the art of editing a feature film and what it takes to succeed in Hollywood.

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked as an Assistant Editor on many big Hollywood productions. What is the role of Assistant/Associate Editor? What is the biggest thing you’ve learned doing this task to help you grow as an editor?

Valerio Bonelli: It’s now quite a while ago but what I remember of my experience working on those big movies is that I felt that I was like a kid in a candy store. I was working and learning from people I respected a lot in the industry like Ridley Scott and Pietro Scalia and at the same time I was given challenging tasks mostly to do with the organization of the cutting room. That sometimes can be seen as boring and not so creative but I believe that learning to run those big cutting rooms gave me the confidence to become a film editor and to handle very stressful situations.

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

VB: It’s difficult to say because every film I worked on somehow added something to my knowledge as an editor and as a person. Each film is different even if you work with the same director, but I can say that there are few films that have stayed with me for one reason or another. Recently I’ve cut a documentary feature called “Palio”, this film was particularly challenging for me because unlike most conventional documentaries the story is narrated in the present time and not retrospectively with a narration voice but with the voices of all the characters of the film. The film is about the famous ancient horse race in Siena, Italy, it did not have a script, and was ‘written’ during the editing process by me and Cosima Spender.

PHOTO: Still Shot from the documentary “Palio”:

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The Palio is possibly the only race in the world where in order to win you have to spend a lot of money in bribes. The story is about a young jockey that challenges his old master, who has monopolized the game for the last 16 years and won it 13 times.
In terms of feature film one of my favourite experience was cutting Philomela by Stephen Frears. For me this was a unique experience for several reasons because not only I was given a chance to work with such a great master of cinema like Frears (who by the way was one of my Teachers at the Nation Film and Television School) but I was cutting a story that was very important for me because of my upbringing in a Catholic country. Also I was cutting Judi Dench’s masterful performance. I learned a lot from looking at her performances in the rushes.

MT: What is the art to being a great DOCUMENTARY editor? How is working on this type of film different than a conventional live-action film?

VB: The most important thing you have to remember when you cut a documentary is that almost everything is possible in terms of narrative. There is no script and the way the material is cut decides the narrative of the film. As an editor I feel you have even more responsibilities.

I try to bring narrative documentary techniques of editing in the feature genre and vice versa.

One example is when I cut “The Program” for Stephen Frears. The film is about Lance Armstrong and I was given a lot of documentary footage and news reports as well as all the live coverage from all the Tour de France Lance won by Lance between 1999 and 2005. I was able to use this footage cut together with our footage of Ben Foster playing Lance mostly because the impressive physical change that Ben did in the months before shooting in order to look like Lance. Also the news footage helped us to build narrative threads of stories particularly around the media buzz that Lance’s victories generated, most of this sequences were not scripted in the original script.

PHOTO: Judi Dench in the feature film “Philomena”:

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MT: Generally, when does the editor join the production on a feature film? Do you begin editor when the film is still in production?

VB: I always start at the start of the shooting but often I get to talk to the directors I work with in the weeks and months before the film is shot and I give my feedback and opinion on the script.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

VB: In a director I look for a relationship where I feel that I learn something new, at the same time I like to be challenge by a director, it is also important for me to know that I can contribute to his vision of the film. Probably a director feels that the editor is a collaborator but also the first audience that sees the film and so he looks for his objectivity as well as his understanding of what he’s trying to achieve.

MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

VB: I’m very eclectic in my taste and so I’ve switched already quite a lot of genres so far but I must say that I sometimes would like to cut a Western movie, maybe because as a kid I’ve seen so many.

But mostly I react to stories, so for me when I worked on The Martian as a co-editor with Pietro Scalia it was a dream come true to do a Sci-Fi; but for me that was not the main exiting thing, the story was what exited me, the humanity that came out of the film was relevant for me.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

VB: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Sergio Leone.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

VB: Try to cut as much as you can (Short films, Docuentaries, music videos…anything) and if you can go to a good film school like the NFTS in the UK because is a good place where you can meet talented and motivated people.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

VB: I never imagined that I was going to end up in the film industry when I was a kid, I actually dreamed of becoming an orchestra conductor!

I was born in Naples but my parents moved to Florence very early on in my life. I feel I grew up in a beauty box, surrounded by stunning hills and monuments and this beauty is for sure an element that has influenced me a lot in my choices in life and still is part of me. Sadly I had to leave my county in order to flourish but I can’t explain why otherwise I would turn this blog into a political and sociological critique of Italian life!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Editor Allyson C. Johnson (The Get Down, The Wire, Monsoon Wedding)

allysoncjohnsonIt was an honor chatting with Emmy Nominated editor Allyson C. Johnson. She is currently editing the critically acclaimed series “The Get Down”.

Matthew Toffolo: You edited two episodes of “The Wire”. How was this working experience? Did you realize that you were a part of one of the great TV shows in history?

Allyson C. Johnson: The Wire was my first TV series so I didn’t know what to expect. I had been cutting features and docs and everyone kept telling me TV was soooo different but it was HBO so we didn’t have to deal with the commercials and other restrictions put on you by Network television. I think we all knew it was a really good series but when you’re in the trenches it’s hard to step back and actually see the bigger picture. So, no, I had no idea it was going to be as big as it is. It was a great experience because the Producers were smart, creative and trusting of the editors and it’s always a pleasure to work with a talented cast like the one on the Wire.

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

ACJ: I think Monsoon Wedding was my most valuable Feature experience so far. It was my first film and I learned so much from working with a great Director like Mira Nair. She has an amazing talent for making a performance as good as it can possibly and giving a film real heart.

PHOTO: Still from the film “Monsoon Wedding”:

monsoonwedding.jpg

MT: What is the art to being a great TV SHOW editor? How is working in TV different than working on a feature film?

ACJ: I really don’t think there is a difference between a “TV show editor” and a Feature or Doc editor. Now that there’s streaming and cable TV not all TV has the issue of having to stop the story every 8-12 minutes to add a commercial break. The big difference for me is that in TV it’s not a given that the editor will be at the mix. I still don’t quite understand why that is since the editor knows the show inside and out and can be a huge help during the mix. Network TV tends to want more close ups and to be on the actor’s face when they’re speaking plus having to find spots to put commercial breaks that will not be intrusive can be a challenge. Also, working on a series, although the director does the first cut, he/she doesn’t end up having the final say as they would in a Feature film because the Showrunner is the one who must make sure the series has one look and one feel.

MT: Have you ever been surprised after wrapping a production on the success or non-success of a film/TV show? I’m assuming you’ve experienced both pendulums – a film that you assumed was going to be a hit and the audience/critics didn’t respond. And a film that you assumed wasn’t going to do well and then ended up doing very well.

ACJ: I am ALWAYS surprised at the outcome. There are so many different opinions and tastes in this world. I think we just have to make sure we are working on a show or film we believe in and enjoy and not worry about what everyone else thinks. Unfortunately reviews can make or break a show and these days so can social media so I hope people will give a show a chance before they let someone else decide for them.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

ACJ: Big picture? We spend so much time in the editing room together it’s imperative that we can laugh together. More specifically? I always hope for shots to cutaway to so we are not forced into performances that might not be the best and/or continuity issues. I would imagine a director would want an editor who is open to trying new things without complaining.

MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

ACJ: I was a musician in college and have always been drawn to musicals. Although I’ve worked on many Rockumentaries in addition to the NBC series Smash and The Get Down for Netflix, I still haven’t cut a musical Feature Film and would love to do that.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

ACJ: Aside from the films you watch a thousand times when you’re a kid I think I have probably seen Cabaret, Broadcast News, Sleeper, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harold and Maude, Minority Report, A clockwork Orange and The Heat. Sorry, couldn’t just pick one. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other films that I loved but some films you just can’t watch over and over again even if you love them.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

ACJ: Get a job in a cutting room, any job doing anything. It’s important to be exposed to the process as much as possible and to meet people in the business. If you’re an assistant already cut scenes on your own in your spare time using the footage for the show you are working on so you can get some practice and show them to the editor and ask for pointers. Learn the AVID.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

ACJ: I grew up in Great Neck on Long Island. I always wanted to be a musician and ended up going to college for that. However, I was very involved in Theatre at my High School too and I had a great love for film when I was growing up. Unfortunately it never occurred to me that I could do that for a living. We didn’t have phones that we could use to shoot our own movies and I didn’t know anyone who worked in the business so it seemed a little too out of reach until I got to college. I went to SUNY Purchase and it had a great film program. While I was there I took a few film classes on the side. That was the beginning for me.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go towww.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Editor Greg D’Auria (Star Trek Beyond, Fast & Furious 6)

Greg D’Auria is very modest as you’ll see when you read this interview. He’s a wealth of knowledge and an amazing storyteller – as he seems to be the last to know this! He has worked in the editorial department on over 30 productions in the last 20 years. His list of credits include: Star Trek Beyond (2016), Eloise (2016), Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Django Unchained (2012), & Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). It was an honor to interview him:

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked as an Assistant Editor on many big Hollywood productions. What is the role of Assistant/Associate Editor? What is the biggest thing you’ve learned doing this task to help you grow as an editor?

Greg D’Auria: I think the main role of an Assistant is to be a traffic cop for the flow of information into and out of the cutting room. I won’t bore you with the details, but there is a massive amount of logistical and technical skill required to keep track of the hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of feet of film shot. Every single frame has to be accounted for. That’s the responsibility of the Assistant. But I’ve only just scratched the surface, because they also have to keep track of all the things that are happening in the editing room from the start of editing all the way through the final delivery of timelines to the D.I. house. Along the way to completion, a lot of departments and vendors constantly need things from editorial and it’s the Assistant’s responsibility to handle those requests. These things can and do vary depending on the size of the project. I’ve also been lucky that some editors would let me handle creative tasks like cutting temp music and sound effects for select scenes. Some were generous enough to let me take a whack at cutting a scene or two. Probably the biggest thing I took from being an Assistant is to embrace flexibility. Obviously no editor is the same and no show is the same. So you take those things into account with each project that you work on. That’s a valuable mindset to have when you dive into the unruly beast that is storytelling.

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

GD: I’ve taken something away from every show and every editor I’ve worked with. Sometimes it was outright theft.

MT: What is the art to being a great ACTION FILM editor? How is working on this type of film different than a conventional drama film?

GD: Oh, man, I’m not someone who can answer that question. There are so many great editors with a much longer resume who are more qualified to discuss the art of cutting action. But I will tell you a little about my approach because that’ll answer your second question. We’re telling stories. Every scene is a piece of that tapestry. Every shot is like a thread in that tapestry. How do those individual threads work best to tell the story of that scene? What are the objectives of that scene? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I hope to take an audience on a ride when I cut action. I think the best way to do that is by keeping track of the characters in the midst of whatever action is going on. What are they doing in the scene? How are they reacting? If you connect the audience to the characters, it becomes an immersive experience. I think every film, doesn’t matter what genre, succeeds when it gets to that level. So, outside of the faster tempo of an action beat, I don’t see much difference between action and drama.

PHOTO: Action in “Star Trek Beyond”:

star_trek_beyond_action.jpg

MT: How was the STAR TREK BEYOND experience? There are 3 other editors credited in the main editor credit. How did 4 people collaborate on the film?

GD: The collaboration starts with Justin. He has a clear vision, but he’s never satisfied, he’s always looking to push and explore and refine. There were lots of screenings of the film with the 5 of us. They’re thorough and the floor is always open for us to comment. Armed with new feedback we’d split up, work on our sections with Justin and then do it all over again. I read a review of BEYOND that complimented the seamless editing. The critic was a little surprised this was so given that there were 4 editors. He wouldn’t have been if he saw how expertly Justin works.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

GD: One of the first job interviews my agent sent me on took place at the director’s house. A cool place in the Silverlake area of LA, I remember guitars and photos and paintings were strewn about. It made for a relaxed vibe. The interview was more conversation than formal interview. His cat slinked around us for the first hour, then she made herself at home on my lap for the last half hour. When the interview wrapped up, the director noticed her and said she usually doesn’t take to strangers. The comfort and trust that cat had in me? Hopefully, every director I work with would feel the same. I just don’t want ’em on my lap. But seriously, I think that trust is key. Picture lock is the end of the road. Once the film is released the director has to feel that we’ve explored every avenue, chased every idea and that the finished product is the best it could be.

MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

GD: I love Slap Shot. It’s funny, ballsy and full of social insight. Can’t think of many comedies that are set against the backdrop of a blue collar world on the verge of financial collapse. I’d be damn proud to have my name attached to something like that.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

GD: The first two Godfathers, Chinatown, Joe Dirt. Alright, just kidding about that last one.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

GD: This is a do as I say not do as I did not response. Be open, be curious, if you can, travel. Read. Listen to music, immerse yourself in the arts. Embrace technology. Get your foot in the door by pursuing internships. If you’re a technological wiz, highly literate and an interesting person, you will find a place in editorial.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

GD: Palisades, New York, a suburb 20 minutes northwest of Manhattan. Growing up I aspired to play pro basketball, my body had other ideas. I’ve always loved movies, but who gets to do that for a living? The summer before I was going to start law school, three friends, Keith, Gregg and Peter, moved out to Hollywood. I didn’t join them. During that summer I gradually realized I had no f-cking aspirations to pursue law as a career. So, a year later I followed them out to LA. I’ve never regretted that choice.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

 

Interview with Editor Tia Nolan (How to be Single, Friends with Benefits)

Chatting with Tia Nolan about the craft of editing was a pure joy. Her recent credits include: How to be Single (2016), Angie Tribeca season 2 (2016), Annie (2014), Friends with Benefits (2011), The Woman (2008), and Bewitched (2005). She is a wealth of knowledge in the art of making a great comedy – as you’ll learn in his interview. Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What is the role of a TV episode editor? How is this different is comparison to working on a feature film?

Tia Nolan: The role of a TV episode editor is to assemble and fine tune the footage provided to its final broadcast ready product. I have only worked in scripted half hour comedy television. I have found that the craft is similar to feature film editing in performance and timing. The real difference lies in the schedule and who gets final cut. In television, there are usually two or three editors on the show. This means that every two or three weeks, you get a new episode to cut, even if you haven’t finished the previous episode. The schedule is very fast paced. You only spend 2 days with a director and there are usually different directors for each episode. Your real cutting room relationships are with the producers of the show. You can find yourself doing notes on multiple episodes in the same day with the producers.

In features, I am involved in every aspect of the process from dailies to final mix and color timing. In television, the AP runs the mix and color timing for each episode because the editors are needed to continue editing the episodes. In features, I get to spend more time with the director and producers finding the characters, the story and the comedy. There isn’t that luxury of time in television. That said, the shows are shorter so you don’t need as much time to massage the material. But you also have to cut each episode to a specific time, which can be maddening if you have to kill off great material to get to that time. I actually enjoy being able to go between both mediums. It keeps me on my toes.

PHOTO: Rashida Jones stars in “Angie Tribeca” TV show:

ANGIE TRIBECA

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

TN: That’s a hard question to answer. As an overall answer, I’d say any film I worked on with Richard Marks, my mentor, because he really taught me how to look at a film and make it great. If I were to pick one film that was the most valuable, I’d say FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS.

I had only been cutting on my own for a short while when I got this job. The nature of comedy was changing and what I had learned from my years of working with Richard Marks, James L. Brooks and Nora Ephron was not what the world was craving anymore. When I started working with Will Gluck, he really pushed me to change the pace of my cutting. He wanted his actors to deliver lines fast and punchy like the old screwball comedies, but he wanted them to feel like real people as well.

Though he cowrites all of his films, he loves to go off book and throw ad libs to his actors. He rarely calls cut. FWB was the first digital film I had worked on. I found myself with 30 min. long takes.

But I watched every frame. And in doing so, I was able to listen to his direction to the actors and understand what he was going for. Will Gluck also insists on seeing a rough cut with sound design and music.

When I was coming up the ranks, the rule was to never show a rough cut with music because it changes how you view the cut. Suddenly, I was doing the opposite of what I had been taught. Now I need to perfect all of my sound and music before I can really tell if a scene is working. Working on FWB really launched me forward in my career.

Photo: Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis star in “Friends with Benefits”:

friends_with_benefits.jpg

MT: What is the art to being a great COMEDY editor? How is working on this type of film different than a conventional drama film?

TN: Comedy editing is all about the pacing. That sounds like a dumb thing to say because all editing is about the pacing, but there is a rhythm to comedy that is very delicate. Make the space between lines too long and you’ve created drama. Make the space too short and you’ve blown the joke. But make the space really long when a ridiculous thing has just been said or done can bring on a huge wave of laughter. But there is no true rule. You just have to feel the material. I believe I have the most success when I’m able to make the characters likable and accessible, not broad caricatures. Then the audience is more open to laughing at them and with them. And watching the film with an audience informs you better than anything of if the comedy is playing.

MT: You’ve edited two feature films in 2016 – HOW TO BE SINGLE & MIDNIGHT SUN. Two very different films. What pulled you into working on those two productions?

TN: I was very interested in working on HOW TO BE SINGLE. It was written by Dana Fox, who was the creator of BEN AND KATE, the first television show I worked on. I instantly responded to the script because it was comedy with heart and (spoiler alert) the girl doesn’t end up with the guy at the end. I had never worked with New Line before but knew that they were one of the main studios making really great comedies. Then, I met Christian Ditter, who is amazing and enthusiastic, and I was sold. Toward the end of HOW TO BE SINGLE, John Rickard, one of the film’s producers, approached me about MIDNIGHT SUN. John had been making this indie film while we were in post on HOW TO BE SINGLE. He had hit a place in the process where he wanted a new set of eyes on the film. There was something with the characters and performance that wasn’t hitting. I was happy to help John out and really happy to dive into a different genre of film.

MIDNIGHT SUN is a drama but it has comedic moments that help us get into the characters. What was important to me when I came onto the film was to make the characters real and likable early on so that when tragedy strikes, you feel so much more for them. My happiest moment on that film was making my teenage daughter cry like a baby at a screening.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

TN: I think the answer is probably different for each editor and each director, but I look for a collaborator who is a solid story teller. I like to be able to voice my opinions and discuss the film with the director.

These healthy debates are what ultimately makes the best finished product. I have been lucky to work with a group of directors who fit this category. Each one of them was looking for a collaborator and teammate. They enjoyed the debates and letting me bring ideas to the table. It made the process fun.

PHOTO: Will Ferrell & Nicole Kidman in “Bewitched”:

bewitched

MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

TN: I love all films so I’m just happy to be cutting. I am really excited about my next project. It is a horror comedy but really playing up the horror. I’ve never cut horror and will probably have to sleep with the lights on for months but I can’t wait!

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

TN: I have an arsenal of movies that I watch over and over again, so its impossible to say what movie I’ve seen most times in my life. One film that I’ve watched hundreds of times is a film called TWO FOR THE ROAD. It was directed by Stanley Donen and it stars Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney as a couple going through many stages of marriage. The film travels back and forth through time to explain their complex relationship, not through flashbacks but through very creative editing. My parents loved it and we used to watch it over and over again when I was a kid.

When I got to USC Film School, it was used in my Cinema 101 class as a tool to teach editing. I had seen the film countless times already, but suddenly I was seeing it in a new light.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

TN: There are so many opportunities these days for people to learn how to edit. Both my kids use Final Cut Pro at home to edit movies of their friends. But I don’t think that just knowing how to use the programs is enough. I highly encourage anyone who wants to get into editing to move their way through a cutting room, meaning start as a PA and move up. And soak up as much as you can. Editing is as much a relationship with directors and producers as it is with the material.

The more you watch editors manipulate a film or tv show, the more you will feel the rhythms.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

TN: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My father was a big movie buff so movie watching was our biggest hobby in my family. We also made movies as a family. My dad was in advertising so he’d take us on commercial shoots and then to a screening room to watch Rushes at the end of the day. He worked with John Hughes and Alan Daviau when they were in advertising, so I grew up around great talents. I took my first editing class in High School and loved it. I’ve known ever since that time that I wanted to be a Film Editor. And here I am.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.