PRODUCTION TIPS: 4 ways to make your editor's life easier and your film better
The importance of the editor in film and video can not be overstated. For many, what makes film a unique artform from all others IS the editing. Furthermore, many famous directors “made their bones” as editors and credit that experience as the reason why they can direct. And while many top directors switch DPs and crews for each production, they consistenly trust their work with one editor.
That’s why as a producer-director it’s important to hone and heighten that professional relationship with your editor to serve your film well. This is the case even if you’re editing a film you directed yourself since you have to change hats when you step off the set and into the editing room to look at your footage with fresh eyes. So, what are some things the producer and director can do to make the editor’s life easier, and by default, lead to a better finished film? To find that out, I spoke with professional film and video editor, Liette Pedraza, who had the following things to say:
CARE AS MUCH ABOUT THE SOUND AS YOU DO ABOUT THE IMAGE AND THE ACTING
“Because they are focused only on the camera, lighting and acting, many directors place getting a decent sound person on the back burner and simply ask relatives and friends to record the sound for them. Then in the editing room they are shocked when they listen to their sound and hear how bad it is. It can’t be said enough that sound people are critical to a good production because audiences will forgive a dark image but if they can’t hear an actor’s line they will reject your film. It is one of the many things that separate an amateur's film from a “professional” film.”
“In keeping with this idea of the importance of sound, here are some PRACTICAL TIPS regarding sound:
- Don’t let your sound levels over-modulate because once it peaks, your audio will clip and without a good sound mix your take will be no good.
- The sound person should take notes and write what channel the microphones are on. It makes it easier as an editor as well as for the sound mixer to narrow down any issues that arise. Mic placement is important so you don't pick up an actors' clothing brushing against the mic or the boom guy's hands on the pole.
- ALWAYS listen to your location before recording because there might be a piece of equipment in the room that might put a buzz in your audio.
- Make sure crew people turn off their phones, even when a phone is on silent it can put a buzz in your audio track when it is receiving an email or text. It's a weird anomaly that many people don't realize but an incoming text and email sometimes puts a digital glitch on your audio and you won't hear it until you're editing. Better safe than sorry - turn it off."
FACTOR A SOUND MIX INTO YOUR BUDGET
“Related to the sound issue, as well, is the importance of a sound mix. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a Hollywood sound mix but if you are aiming for a professional production, you need to invest some amount of money on it. You really don’t want to end up in situation where, for example, your actor places a plate on the table and it makes such a loud noise while they deliver their lines that the sound levels get mixed up and muddled. You want the levels to be appropriate to the action that is happening and a proper sound mix will fix any issues like this. “
“Plus if you’re shooting for TV, your levels have to be broadcast quality. If your levels are not right, your program can get rejected and you will still have to get a mix. Or worse, when your program airs, the levels will be much lower than the show that airs just before it and it will sound off. I remember, how for an HD project that I was editing the producers had hired a really terrible sound person. The production had rented five HDCams with seven microphones and because it was a dinner scene with non-actors we had only one shot at getting it. The sound guys brought in all the sound into a mixer and fed the audio to all to the same camera mixed down to 2 channels. In theory it sounds like a good idea because it seems like that would keep things simple but what they ended up getting was the noise of one guy stirring his drink with ice even though he was not critical to the scene. The stirring and clinking was louder than everyone else talking and it ruined the scene. And to top it all off, one of the guys went to the bathroom with his microphone still on and simply destroyed the audio. That section of the audio was lost forever and turned out to be a waste of money. We managed a sound mix but there was only so much that could be done because those problems couldn't be completely fixed.”
GIVE THE EDITOR CAMERA NOTES, SOUND NOTES AND CONTINUITY NOTES
“Nowadays it's rare for indie filmmakers to insist that camera and sound crews keep notes on the set and even rarer for them to hire continuity script supervisors. Ideally, camera, sound and script supervisors should take consistent camera notes, sound notes or continuity notes, respectively. Aside from the practical benefits they can give a producer or director on the set, these notes can be very helpful to the editor because it helps narrow down certain problems when it comes to post. Problems like a shaky dolly move or missed rack focus that the AC is supposed to note or a horn honk or thump that the sound person hears. Also, typically, continuity persons line the script so that I can see what lines were covered in what takes, if an actor missed a line and if they pick up an object with their left hand in the medium shot and in the long shot they pick it up with the opposite hand. They also make notes and take photos of what was worn by what actor and what props were in the scene. All those things are useful and can save money and time because it means the editor knows ahead of time what to work on and avoid or find instead of wasting time trying to fix something. This lesson was made clear to me once on a film that I was editing when the continuity person missed taking notes on what the actress was wearing in the previous scene. They ended up shooting the next scene with a brown dress instead of the blue dress and I ended up having to flip around scenes to make it work, extra work that could've gone to editing more important things. I would say that keeping notes is not just good for the editor in post but also good for everyone to stay organized, focused and solve problems on the set during the shoot.”
“This may seem like a no brainer but many times directors shoot their films and forget to get enough coverage to make an ok scene great. They should shoot closeups too, like a close up of the gun, a map or even fist during a fight scene.”
"Because I've edited alot of action movies and thrillers, here are some PRACTICAL TIPS for coverage in action scenes:
- Don't just shoot medium shots, shoot as many close-ups as you can. Simple medium shots for a fight scene can make for a lack luster fight when there are no dynamic cutaways and the choreography is flat. That’s why I recommend you get coverage with close-up shots of objects or body parts, at a minimum.”
- "Another thing that should be simple to remember but is usually forgotten is to take establishing shots of the location. If our characters are suppose to be in a office building or warehouse etc it helps the story if we have the cutaways of the building to help transition from scene to scene. Many directors forget the establishing shot because they are in a hurry or think they can take the shot another day and fix it in post.Sometimes you can't, so it's better to take care of it while you're there."