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 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”:

palio_documentary.jpg

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”:

philomena_judi_dench

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 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.