Last night I finished editing Death Grip, much thanks to help from producer/co-star Rebecca Ahn, co-stars Chelsea Steffensen, Nathan Hoskins, the cast and crew, friends, family, and industry pros. I loved the process of editing, but in the future I’d rather not do it again.
I’ll still edit action scenes. I can churn out a 5-minute fight scene in one day with sound effects. But for anything else, especially if there’s a lot of footage, a minute of edited film might take me a couple days. Editing a feature film is supposed to take an editor 8-12 weeks. It takes me between 18 (Bound By Blood) and 26 (Death Grip). From an industry perspective I’m not efficient. A better idea would have been to spend just half those 6 months raising funds to hire an editor. In the meantime I could have been spending more time prepping the next projects.
Still worse, there’s the unavoidable problem of the director treating his edited product like a finely crafted work of art before anyone has even seen it. As directors we’ve all heard it: you shouldn’t edit your film because you become attached to it. But being married to footage is only half of the problem, and it’s not impossible to overcome that. My process involved screening the film to friends, family, crew, and execs. Opinions varied widely. Cut this, add that, re-shoot these parts, sound critiques, story issues, etc. In the end I had to average it all out into one edit. Painful, but not impossible.
The real issue, however, is that as directors we’re married to “directing”. Directors tell people what to do, while editors help viewers understand what the hell the director was thinking. A director in the editor’s seat will glue shots together to tell the audience what to think, forcing his vision across even if there’s not enough information to really make the idea work. Editors glue shots to make use of the target viewers’ average mental faculties, producing the intended effect. If the footage just isn’t there, then as directors we haven’t done our job. We might go as far as blaming the audience for not “getting” it. Editors, on the other hand, might suggest a new direction for the footage that we have, or maybe a reshoot. In any case, editors are “helpers” for the audience. While audiences are willing to be directed in certain circumstances, such as major blockbusters where they’ll happily sit at the mercy of the studios and take anything thrown at them (god bless em), in our low-budget and indie situation we have to make a special appeal to the audience. A director isn’t always the best person for this job.
I say this on my high horse after editing my films for 11 years, and I wouldn’t expect anyone in the independent world to do it any differently. I probably won’t either unless I can afford a competent editor. But as directors, telling the audience what to think isn’t our job. A film is nothing without them. Fans trust us to tell them what to think, but a mindset of “take it or leave it” won’t suffice for everyone else. Once shooting is over and it comes time to start cutting footage, we take the director’s hat off and accept our new role as servant until the editing is done. It’s only temporary. Or we can avoid servitude altogether by hiring someone else.