A Peak Behind the Curtain – The Editing Process

For a filmmaker the editing process can be like a walk through hell that is so terrifying that Dante didn’t even mention it. You basically spend hundreds of hours staring at your footage noticing what you did wrong or should have done differently. But that is a healthy process because it means that you are looking at your work honestly (and probably hypercritically but its better to be hyper critical than not critical enough) and you are preparing yourself mentally to do better next time and filmmaking is a wonderfully, thrilling exhilarating rush of an addiction so you know there will be a next time. I spent the last few weeks detached from the world hunched over an editing computer in a cave to get this film finished in time for our festival run so here are some observations I made.

There is an old saying, you can only serve one master and I think that is very true for a film. With Agnation I serve not just an audience but also a particular element of that audience hardcore horror fans. This isn’t a movie for film snobs, general critics, peers, the PG & PG 13 crowd or as a vanity project, this is a movie made for hardcore horror fans. Editing was made much easier by keeping that on top of my mind the entire time and understanding the wants of the audience is fairly easy since I have been a card-carrying member of the audience for like 3 decades.

Editing is comprised of two parts – the creative part of picking cuts, making cuts, designing the look and sound which is the fun part and the technical grunt work part which is what allows those fun parts to be a playable movie. Everyone wants to do the fun part but because the not so fun grunt work requires technical knowledge you will find those tasks falling on a team of one unless you outsource them be prepared to lose a lot of hours to technical tasks.

Everyone is a critic, and that is a good thing. Being able to take criticism is essential to success and growth, though sure sometimes it really blows. A good way to absorb it is to first remember especially in a creative endeavor unless that person is wanting to write you a check for ownership of the work it is just an opinion and no more relevant than any other opinion. Another good technique is to categorize the criticism, I use the following: Valid I should address, Valid but not addressable (keep these things in mind for future projects), Insignificant (not worth the time or effort addressing) and I Disagree. Remember people have the right to criticism your work and you have the right to disagree with their opinion, unless they want to buy the work and take ownership of it, then it is their work to do as they see fit with.

One person gets final cut – people involved in your project are going to want to give you their opinions and thoughts, which is fine, and you should welcome that, but at the end of the day one person has to have final cut. There is no reasonable person who would put themselves through the expensive and time consuming process of writing, directing and producing a project from beginning to end and then surrender final cut to anyone who isn’t buying the finished product from them. So sometimes your only explanation you will be able to give to people involved about why you made the decisions you did is because it is your final cut and if they don’t respect that they don’t respect the time, money, resources and effort you have dedicated to the project, and in reality don’t respect you so no reason to waste your efforts trying to explain anything to them, just move on.

Like the rest of the movie making process editing and finalizing a film is an exercise in compromise. There are few other endeavors that require as much compromise as making a movie does. You will have to make compromises in editing as well, but do so remember who your movie really is for. If it’s a resume reel hoping to get a studio deal that is a different philosophy in your compromising than my process of serving a particular audience. But either way prepare to compromise.

Next up are the marketing and festival run and hopefully a sale and terrorizing a worldwide audience. Stay tuned for more behind the curtain details and make sure to follow me on twitter and say hello.

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