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…

The Edit Reel - Swan Lake Dubstep Remix