It’s a new year and usually this means me getting my pooh in a pile and doing some catch up on the things I haven’t had time to do in the big end of year rush, like updating my website, writing new blog posts, cleaning up the office, cleaning out the Trash Bin on the iMac, backing up and clearing out stuff. More importantly it’s that time to update the dreaded ShowReel.
Here’s the problem with mine and other Editor ShowReels in general: It says nothing about what my job actually is. It’s usually 2 – 3 minutes of pictures cut cleverly to music. Whoop! That’s not what I do. Well it is, but not all the time. I mean montages and music videos etc aside, my job is about Story, Pace, Rhythm, Flow, Tempo, Emotion and Character. You can’t really get all of that from a 2-3 minute montage. I’ve tried, I’ve created so many ShowReels over the last 30 years of editing and I’m still nowhere closer to getting it right.
How do you get it right when our job is so difficult to box.
I’ll give you an example. This happened to me over the last 5 days of 2017 and culminated at 12.30 am on January 1st 2018. Happy Fucking New Year.
I started editing a new TV show late November 2017. I’m sharing edit responsibilities with another editor in South Africa. I’m cutting the odd numbered episodes and she’s cutting the even numbered ones. The opening episode was a challenge, from DoP lighting issues, performance issues and time of day issues but mostly some script issues. It got cut without too much trauma but that’s when the problems started. Ep 2 I’m told was a mess, mostly because of script issues, but honestly, not my problem. When I mentioned that ep 1 was a challenge and I was briefly being considered to fix ep 2 I was told that Ep 3 would blow my mind. This from the Producer. And so I began on Ep 3. If you know me, my process is fairly simple. I assemble scenes individually. I don’t try and fine cut, I don’t fuck about, I assemble it, best bits. I must point out that the TV Show is not in my native language, as it’s set in Cape Town and is mostly in Xhosa with a smattering of English and Zulu to round out the ep. I don’t have a problem with this I lived in South Africa for 40+ years and have a level of understanding of the languages. And besides, my assembles get sent off for subtitles. Once I have all the scenes assembled and subtitled, I then begin my fine cut process. And this only happens when I have everything, this way I’m able to judge overall duration and can ‘aim’ the episode to its minimum and maximum range.
The episodes in this show are to be anywhere between 44 and 46 minutes. (It’s an hour slot and the South Africans don’t have the temperament for as many ad breaks as there are on American Network TV, so they allow us those few extra minutes. Also it’s Pay TV and why should they be paying for 20 minutes of ads in something they pay for every month anyway?)
Episode 3 assembled was running to 68 minutes, so I knew some judicious trimming was required, and as my Producer is always saying, better longer and trim than shorter and stretch. So now that I have the ep with subs and I can start making episode level decisions I sit back and watch. And that’s when I realised how much trouble we were in. Individual scenes all worked fine when viewed stand alone. Nothing wrong here, moving on. But seen as a collective, I started to see the problems. Discrepancies in the script that hadn’t been interrogated at script stage (and ignored when I pointed them out). It turns out that several writers worked on the script but they did not read what the other one was writing. So in one scene the father of the children is dead but in the next he is being called to pay for the kids school clothes. Or another scene where the lead is in the pub with his mates discussing an upcoming heist and a friend of his sister slips out to tell her that her brother is up to no good and she promptly goes inside the house to tell him off where he’s giving the kids lunch and the friend goes back to the pub to eavesdrop on the discussion he is still having with his mates. Or the scene where the 2 girlfriends go to the pub and 1 of them abandons her friend to go and have sex with a gangster and the other storms off in a huff but when they meet later that same day she asks where she has been all day, totally negating the fact they went to the pub together and that she’s pissed off with her friend. Not to mention the fact that scenes that should happen midday happen at sunset and scenes that should happen in the evening happen in full midday sunlight.
So to say that this episode was a mess is an understatement. It was the hardest episode of television I have ever had to edit and it was a fucking nightmare.
I spent 5 days moving scenes around, deleting bullshit and conflicting dialogue, moving more scenes around and deleting more bullshit and conflicting dialogue right up until the final viewing I had in the very early hours of the morning of New Years Day. Massive challenge but ultimately massively satisfying as I cracked it and apart from scenes that require some rather careful grading the story is intact and all the right buttons are pushed. Hooray.
Now how do I put all that in a ShowReel?
How do I take something that is a disaster but now no longer is?
And that’s the problem I have with Editor ShowReels. I have a couple of them on my website and they are glorified montages. It shows I know how to take pictures and edit them to a beat. But doesn’t show how I am able to fix a 68 minute car crash and make a 44 minute cohesive, engaging episode of television. Even taking an entire episode doesn’t really show what I went through to make the episode work. And yes the editing may be good in general but what you want in an Editor is more than that. You need someone who has an understanding of all aspects of building a story, creating emotion, character building and keeping it alive. And you can’t get that from a 2-3 minute montage.
I guess I have to be happy that the final result is all you need to see. You don’t need to see all the behind the scenes crap that goes on, that’s boring, you want results. Well I can do that. Even in 2-3 minutes.
When I mentioned in my email of the ep 3 delivery what a challenge it was, I got told by my Producer, wait till you see Episode 5. I start that on Monday.
Peace Love and Vomit
The company I am working with do not the much stock in the Editor’s opinion at script level. It’s constantly been a problem for me with them and this series is no different. They do not interrogate scripts so why should I is there MO? Also the director is inexperienced, being a former DoP first time director and when questions were raised on set just told everyone to shoot what is scripted. But lets save that for another time.