Chris Layhe: Editor

When you look up the definition of a film or video editor/editing in a dictionary you find something along these lines: “Editing is the activity of selecting the scenes to be shown and putting them together to create a film”.

 If you really search you might find something more like this: “Film editing is often referred to as the invisible art because when it is well-practiced, the viewer can become so engaged that he or she is not even aware of the editor’s work. On its most fundamental level, film editing is the art, technique, and practice of assembling shots into a coherent sequence. The job of an editor isn’t simply to mechanically put pieces of a film together, cut off film slates, or edit dialogue scenes. A film editor must creatively work with the layers of images, story, dialogue, music, pacing, as well as the actors’ performances to effectively re-imagine and even rewrite the film to craft a cohesive whole. The best editors usually play a dynamic role in the making of a film“.

There’s a big difference between the two, and between the understanding that most people – including many in the film and video business – have of what a really good editor does for any production, be it destined for a theater, corporate boardroom or an internet video page.  I like to think that I add creative value as an editor in many ways, starting in pre-production and ending after delivery.  The greatest of these is my ability to look at the original vision for a project and then at the footage actually captured, and create a program that meets that vision – even though finding the best solution to do that will often mean changing the script and shot order, cutting sections out or suggesting a reshoot to complete parts of the story which don’t work, or finding new ways of creating the highs and lows or changing an emphasis point through the soundtrack or color grading. But, as the definition above says, editing is a dynamic role, and the editor has to be far more than an assembly mechanic in their quest to create as perfect and effective program as possible – and to do so as a representative of the audience as much as a team member for the director and producer.

Of course, there are still lots of creative nuts and bolts that have to be handled in the process, and so it’s important to be able to edit on any system or software.  I can and do work in Final Cut 7, Final Cut X, Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer Symphony and DaVinci Resolve Studio, and we have multiple seats of all of these, along with the audio software ProTools and Sound Forge, effects software After Effects, and multiple color correction software titles, although I mostly use DaVinci Resolve.  These all run on multiple Apple MacPro dual D700 computers with super fast RAID drives and lots of other toys, all capable of handling RED 6k RAW footage as easily as 1080P or UHD 4k across many layers of video timeline.  Some of these systems can be travelled to work on location where that is an appropriate solution, and, of course, I also work on my client’s systems in their studios when that is the choice – great when you are needed as an online editor in Los Angeles or some distant location instead of San Francisco or San Jose!

As far as the type of projects which I cut – I have the sense of timing of a musician, the sense of composition and color of a fine art photographer, the storytelling chops of a writer, the sense of balance of an architect and the wonder to assemble the most complex jigsaw and be excited by everything of a child.  And before my two decades in the industry I have been all of those things, and still practice each one – especially the kid in a grown up body! So while I love editing a complex narrative film or social documentary movie, I get just as much enjoyment from cutting a music video or theater or dance piece, and I find creating effective messaging in a good corporate video or a powerful commercial just as interesting… for me it’s all about the puzzle from both a storytelling and creative perspective, and I have a cupboard full of awards that includes all of these genres.

I love editing.  I love to be the guy who gets to take all of the jigsaw pieces, throw them in the air and then tell the story, while creating the emotional highs and lows, the fast sections and the slower ones, and all of those little touches that make a piece memorable and create action. But editing a film or video is a big responsibility – in fact I’d argue that the editor gives a production much of it’s character – but it is a responsibility that becomes easier with loads of experience, a strong understanding of all of the parts of the production and post-production process, and the crucial ability to see the wood, the trees and the forest.  And I have that sort of experience (although I hate to talk about it).

I’ve never made a true video or film editor demo reel, as at it’s heart editing is about creating some sort of story and cutting between disparate imagery or techniques doesn’t allow for much by way of visual storytelling.  So this is a standalone piece which, hopefully, happens to demonstrate a whole range of the skills in both image selection, manipulation and audio work that a good editor needs…

EDITOR

I love editing any type of project, because this is where concept and reality come together with a little black magic to create something amazing. The editor is the one who gets to take all of the jigsaw pieces, throw them in the air and then tell the story, while creating the emotional highs and lows, the fast sections and the slower ones, and all of those little touches that make a piece memorable and create action. Editing is a big responsibility – one that becomes easier with loads of experience and a strong understanding of all of the parts of the production and post-production process, and the crucial ability to see the wood, the trees and the forest. I’d argue that the editor is also the one who gives a program or film much of it’s character.

I try to edit everything that comes through CLAi, and if I can’t do the day to day work I direct and shape the form of the piece. Of course, as a freelance specialist I try to take on a lot of edit projects, from films and documentaries all the way to corporate pieces. Naturally, I get the run of the CLAi facilities, and so I have five Mac Pro edit systems to play on, with every major editing software and grading software on board, as well as two sound editing systems… which makes working on multiple versions and attacking long renders no problem at all. This is key as editors rarely have as much time as they would like to play with ideas and cuts, and so speed, efficiency and accuracy are vital in working fast and keeping a project on time and budget.

With the right edit systems and software options you can be extremely flexible, and with the right experience you can make the cuts and see the story development in your mind before a key is even touched. As a musician and artist I’ve been creating stories in audio and images since I was 10 years old, and editing film and then video since I was 20 – which gives a few decades of experience to fall back on… perhaps one of the reasons why so many top film editors are 70 year old ladies!

The Edit Reel - Swan Lake Dubstep Remix