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Cutting it as an Editor in Hollywood | Film Jobs with Lawrence Jordan ACE

August 5, 2019


(metal clanking) (anthemic music) – [Narrator] This episode of
Film Jobs is made possible in part by the generous support
of our patrons on Patreon. – Hi, John Hess from FilmmakerIQ.com. Welcome to this, our first
episode, of Film Jobs, a brand-new series coming to Filmmaker IQ where I interview professionals
from a variety of positions in the motion picture
entertainment industry. I hope through these
conversations you get a taste of all the different jobs
and positions there are in the entertainment
field and how they go into producing the content, the
films and television shows, that we love to watch every day. My first guest is veteran Hollywood editor Lawrence Jordan, ACE, who has cut over 45 different
movies and television shows. We’ll talk about the details
of working in features and television, look at some of the roles and responsibilities of those who work with him in the editing suite, talk about what skills you
need to have to be successful as an editor, how to
break into the industry, and a little about his
site, Master the Workflow, and how you can get training
in the editorial process. You’ve worked in both feature film and you’ve worked in television. Can you describe for me what
is the schedule and timeline when it comes to actually
editing a feature film? – Well, features and
television, I mean, look, editing is the same. When you’re in there and
you’re cutting a scene, there’s really not a lot of difference. What’s different about
features and television is in a feature, you get somewhere
between six, eight months, sometimes a year to work on a film. And they shoot a feature over two, three, sometimes four months
on the biggest films. I mean, we know the story
about Apocalypse, Now and it took three years to shoot. So that was a lot of footage. In television, they shoot
an episode in seven days basically like clockwork,
seven, eight days. So you’re not dealing
with as much footage. A feature you get to spend a lot more time with the director. The Director’s Guild of America
gives directors 10 weeks to do their cut before they have to show it to the producers and the studio. So you’re dealing with
a lot more material. You have to make a lot more
decisions about performance. On television, again, it’s just, it’s sort of like factory work, in a way. Although, very creative and
fulfilling in a lot of ways, but, again, you’re just not
dealing with as much material. So you don’t have as many choices to make. – And when you’re working on
a feature, I mean, I realize every movie’s probably
different, but is it something where, are you starting to edit the film as the production’s still going? Or do you wait till all
the production’s done and then you’re given the
whole bunch of footage and then you have to sort it all? – Sure, in the Hollywood system, in the feature film production system, and when I say Hollywood I
could mean New York, London, Sydney, wherever a major
production center is. The way it works is the
editor, 99% of the time, will start cutting the day after they get their first day of dailies. The day after the first day of production. It’s the most economically efficient. That way when the director
finishes shooting, when production wraps, the
editor will be able to deliver the first cut to the
director within a week or a couple weeks’ time.
– That’s fast. – Yeah, well, it’s pretty fast. Sometimes you have to do it faster. A lot of times on independent films, sort of low-budget
films, they won’t really kind of scope out the timeline. They don’t want to hire an editor. Sometimes they imagine that the director’s gonna be cutting the film. It kind of sometimes
it works out that way, a lot of times it doesn’t. And then you’ll have 10,
15, 30 days of material to cut all at once. Kind of makes it a little
bit more of a daunting task, but the fact of the
matter is you can still only cut one scene at a time. – Now, in that situation, would you, if you were handed a bunch of footage after production’s complete,
how would you approach? What would be the first
thing you would want to edit? Would you just go in chronological order? Or is there a strategy for
picking a scene to start with? – I guess because I’ve come
up in the studio system I would probably just
approach it one day at a time, starting on day one to day 30. Now, that’s a good question. I mean, maybe I would look at
scenes that were more complex and want to attack those first
because (laughs) I’d be fresh and not burnt out after
30 days of cutting. Because you get fatigued just looking at material 10, 12 hours a day. So maybe I would want to kind
of take on the big monsters first, and then sort of deal
with the easier scenes later. I do that when I’m cutting anyway. Sometimes my assistant will
deliver a day of dailies and there will be a
couple of little scenes that I’ll just able to
knock out real quick and I’ll be able to check off on my board. And it’ll make me feel like (laughs) I accomplished something quickly. But you still have to
get through every one. – So when you get a script
and you’re sitting down to some footage, I mean, obviously again, every director behaves differently in how they shoot coverage and all that, but do you look at the script and say, “Well, I can imagine,
here’s where I’m gonna cut from a master to a close-up?” Or do you just kind of feel it in the, I mean do you even look at the script as far as judging where the cuts are? – Absolutely, yeah, I
understand the question. And it’s a good one
because you read the script and you find out whether or
not you want to be involved in something like that. The crew goes out, 150, 200 people go out, and they start shooting the movie. And you start getting the stuff back. And it’s nothing like you
imagined it (laughing). Not always, I mean sometimes
it’s a little bit more, but a lot of times the
film is very different than what was on the page. And that’s for a number of reasons, the limitations of the
production, the daylight, the rain, whatever, the actor. So what I do is once I get the dailies in, I let the film talk to me. And I just sort of try to
interpret what the director was shooting for by looking
at the film, the performances, the angles, the types of
shots that he or she got. And that’s the exciting part
because that’s when you’re sort of kind of not making
something out of nothing, you’ve got a palette to work with, but you can really be
creative and you can really kind of problem-solve
and go back to the script and see if you’re getting across what the original intention was combined with what ended up on film. – I mean, it’s kind of a
side-step of a question, but you ever get to a scene where it works so well in a
master and you think, “I don’t want to do anything with this. “I just want to, (laughs)
I’ll just let this play out.” – All the time (laughs)! All the time, I don’t want to cut that. It’s beautiful. A lot of times you’ll get a medium shot or even you’ll get a
close-up, you’ll get one take and you’re just like,
I just, this is great. But that’s not my job. My job is to cut the film. So, as much as I want to play
things out in a long take, I will usually do a version
with it cut together utilizing the other material in the scene. And then I’ll do an alternate version, sort of like the pie in
the sky idea version. And I’ll show the material
cut to the director, but then as the process goes
on and you’re in that 10 week of his or her cut, I’ll
say, “Hey, by the way, “I tried this as an alternate.” And that’s when those kinds
of things get the most mileage because sometimes they’ve
racked their brains with it for a while and they’re looking
for a fresh perspective. – Obviously it’s gonna change
from director to director, so a person might love a busy cut and some person might
just love the single take. And maybe they shot the
coverage just to have it, just to give you the option. – Yeah, and a lot of
times you will hear that. “I only got the coverage to cover my ass “and to make the studio happy. “And I want to play this in the one shot.” And that’s fine also. I mean, sometimes it’s
suicide (laughs), but. – Let’s transition, who is
the team in a feature film? What kind of team do you
have in the editing suite? – When I start a film I have my assistant, and more often than not these days you have a second assistant. Now, the union rules used to
be you would have an assistant, and an apprentice, but the
apprentice position has kind of gone the way of the dinosaur. The apprentice position has been replaced by a post-production PA. And, again, that’s a way for
productions to save money because an apprentice is a
union job and there’s pension and benefits and things like that. So, usually it’s an assistant, and if you get into crunch time
and there’s a lot of dailies and you need help, you
get a second assistant. – So what does an
assistant editor do then? – Well, the assistant editor’s role has really, really
changed over my experience in the film industry. I started on 35 millimeter film. Basically we sunk dailies,
we coded everything in a code book, and we logged. It’s essentially sort of like
a glorified film librarian. You kept track of all the material. You had to keep track
of every frame of film. And you still have to do that, but with digital technology
and the explosion of complex visual effects, obviously there’s all sort of sub-genres of assistant film editing, like on an animation film,
on a big effects film, things like that, you have to
have sort of special skills. But the assistant editor is really kind of like the hub of the whole cutting room. They have to be able to
locate anything at any moment that I need or the director needs. And the way they do that is
they keep a digital version of the old hand-written code book. With my assistant, Richard Sanchez, he created a digital code
book in File Maker Pro. I’ve seen these before, other
assistant have had them, but Richard’s is kind of
like (laughs) on steroids. And he can keep track of everything, literally down to from the most complex visual effects shot to petty cash. – Switching over from motion
pictures to television, okay so now, we talked a little bit about how that was different. Obviously you don’t have
the 10 weeks of lead time, so are you editing right
when they’re shooting, right along as they’re shooting the daily? – Yeah, yes, yes. Same thing, they start shooting and you get the dailies the
next day and you start cutting. And it’s a very fast process. And the editor, from my experience, isn’t as involved in the follow-through. You only get to work with
the director for three days. And I’ve been on series where the director’s only come in for a day. And then you work with the
producers and the writers. Television is a producer
and writer medium, so they’re calling the shots
and they’re locking the show and they have to do it in a
relatively quick period of time. So, again, it’s kind of like banging stuff out, you know what I mean? There’s not a lot, and also,
in television a lot of times, there’s just not as
much variety of coverage and material to work from, so it makes it less
complicated in that respect, but you have to do it fast and
you have to do it good, fast. But for me, if the material is good, that’s all that matters. – Exactly. – When I cut the first season,
the pilot in the first season of NYPD Blue, it was just
like, the writing was so good and Greg Hoblit, the director,
was using that sort of shaky camera which had
really not been used before. So that was really a thrill. – Did you cut that on Avid? – We did, that was one of
the first Avid shows, yeah. – [John] Nice. – Yeah, that was a great
bunch of people up at Botchco. – So, what do you think
are the essential talents or strengths that you need to have to be working in the editorial field? – From my perspective, I really think it’s important to know the tools. I think that you kind of have to have a little bit of a passion for the tools because you’re gonna spend
so much time with them and problem-solving with
them that if you don’t, your life’s gonna be kind of miserable. If you don’t enjoy doing that (laughs), why spend all day doing it? So that’s sort of one thing. I think the other thing
is, and more important is, you gotta love movies. To be a film editor you have
to love stories and movies and you have to be a
bit obsessive-compulsive about people’s performances
and how they might be delivered one way versus another. I think you kind of have to sort of have an intuition about human nature. You have to know when, you kind
of have to have some sort of instinct about when
somebody’s bullshitting you or lying to you or just not
being genuine and authentic. So, it’s sort of part
storyteller, part tech geek, part filmmaker because most editors are sort of closet directors in a way. We’re always saying, “Oh, they should have
put the camera here.” (laughing) – Well, that famous
saying, I think it was Lou, one of the Russians, the film was really created in the edit. – Yeah, I mean, Kubrick said
that, if I was to be frivolous, really all production is is a way to get me in the editing room. (laughing) Paraphrasing. But there have been some brilliant editors who have become directors, Robert Wise, Hal Ashby, and others. David Lean said that, “The editor is “the final author of the film.” When I read that, when I was
young, and I was working for Dede Allen, I said, Dede,
have you ever seen this quote? And she said, “Get that out of here. “We don’t want anybody
to see that (laughs). “That’s gonna cause problems. “Put that away.” So, but (laughs) getting
back to what we were saying, I mean, a lot of times it’s
pretty rare for an editor to get bumped up to director, whereas it’s not as rare
for a cinematographer to get bumped up to director. – Mm-hmm, yeah. – And I think that’s primarily
because working on set is an art form unto itself. I mean, you need to know how
to handle hundreds of people. – [John] And the pressure. – And those kinds of pressures. And obviously editors have
a tremendous contribution to make, but they’re working in a very sort of insulated world, thank God, and they’re a little more protected. – Let’s get to the film school angle because how does someone come up and get to become an editor? I have a lot of people that said they love the editing aspect. How do they make it actually a career? – Yeah, well, good question. You’ve got to really want it. You’ve got to really want
it, and you’ve got to really focus in on it
as quickly as you can. I mean, a lot of people
come out of film school, and, I didn’t go to film school. I told you I kind of grew
up in an editing room, so I kind of knew I wanted
to be in the movie business. My grandfather was a projectionist in the nickelodeons in Times Square. So it’s a family disease with me. (laughing) But my father was in commercials, and I wanted to be in features. I did not want to be in
the advertising business. So, but I didn’t quite know how to get into the feature world. I didn’t know what was required. And they don’t teach that at film school. They give you more of the global view of how to be a filmmaker. And of course you can focus on writing or producing programs,
directing, obviously, editing. But you don’t step out of film school and get a job as an editor. It just doesn’t happen that way. It’s not the way, that’s just not the way the industry works. – Say this guy graduates from film school, and he shows up in LA,
how do I get a job now? What am I looking for? Do I just pick up a newspaper
or Craigslist and jobs wanted? – Well, that’s a good question. I mean, does that person have experience? Did they go to film school? Have they ever worked
in a local TV station where they came from? Did they ever fool around
with Final Cut Pro or Premiere or even the Avid and teach
themselves some stuff about it? And what that person
has to do, essentially, is go out there and start networking. LA of course is sort of the
ultimate place to go do that because there are so many people trying to make their own films and you can try to get a
job as a PA or a runner and usually you won’t get
paid on those kinds of things, but that’s what almost all
of us had to do at the start. So I suggest coming
out, having a direction. If you want to be a writer, find your way into
writing networking groups. If you want to be a costume designer, figure out how to get in with that crowd. If you want to be a film editor, find out where film editors network. Now, there are more and
more things coming along, like AC has an internship program now and you can apply to that. The Guild has several internship programs and mentoring programs. So there are more
opportunities these days than, for example, when I
started coming out cold. But you have to put yourself out there. And you have to kind of
get your foot in the door. Now, once you’ve gotten
your foot in the door of any particular job, you’ve got to learn how that job is done and
what that job consists of. And in film editing, that’s
not a simple process. The job of the assistant
editor, for example, is complex and it holds
a lot of responsibility, and you’ve got to get good at it before people are gonna give you a shot. – Is assistant editor a stepping stone to becoming an editor? Is that the process? Or is that something that
you’re assistant editor, that’s really what you should focus on? Is that the reality? – Yeah, I mean, that’s how it works. That’s how it has worked historically from the beginning of the craft. Again, I think I
mentioned, there are people who just get a shot, figure out a way to put together a great reel,
and then get a shot at cutting somehow with the director or whatever. That’s the rarity though. Most people come up
through the assistant ranks and they develop a
relationship with an editor or several editors, and, eventually, they get a shot to cut a scene. And what’s great about digital
technology for assistants is you can cut a scene on your own at night. I mean, it’s usually a good
idea to ask your editor and not sort of take too much (laughs). But you say, “Hey, look,
I’m gonna stay here late. “Would you mind if I played with a scene?” And, look, every editor is different. Some are not gonna be open to that. Others are gonna be like,
“What the hell, go ahead.” I mean, “Maybe I’ll get
something good out of it.” The other thing is the
way I was brought up was I did work for editors who gave me a shot, and this was on film,
so it was even dicier. Yeah, but they gave me a shot at cutting, and they threw some scenes my way. And that’s how it’s traditionally
been in the industry. The craft has been handed
down from editor to assistant, assistant to apprentice or
second assistant, whatever. – You were talking about, is it an editorial
production assistant PA? – That is sort of one of the
better ways, smarter ways, to get into post, which is
called a post-production PA. And basically it’s a runner. You do a lot of administrative work. Hook up the copy machine, make sure the coffee
maker’s working, get lunch, and if you’re smart and
savvy and diplomatic, usually the assistant will
let you hang out with them. And if they’re a halfway decent person, usually the assistant’ll
let you hang out with them. – But you’re on the floor
and you’re learning the shop. – That’s the whole thing, man. You want to be in the room. You want to be, because people
are gonna walk in and out of those rooms, and depending on your age, you could know those
people your whole career. – Exactly, yeah. – I mean, and it gets back
to the networking thing. You’re not like an Amway salesman when you’re working in a cutting room, but you’re meeting people and you’re developing relationships
and you’re finding out where the next meet-up might
be for assistant editors, and that’s the way to do it. Put yourself out there. Don’t be shy, and don’t doubt yourself. Be honest with people,
“Hey, I just came out here. “I don’t know that much,
but I really want to learn. “Do you know any PA jobs?” – As Larry explained, networking is key to breaking into the industry, but if you want a career, you kind of have to
know what you’re doing. And that’s where training comes in. No stranger to the online
filmmaking community, Larry Jordan’s latest venture
is Master the Workflow. Their online course,
Assistant Editor Immersion 1.0 Feature Film, is designed to show you everything that an assistant
editor needs to know in order to be successful. But I’ll let Larry tell you more about it. – The cool thing, or
what I like to believe one of the cool things
about Master the Workflow is and our training is, is
that you can literally come from an entirely other field or be on another life
trajectory and take our course and really learn what the
feature film editing workflow is. Granted, we talked about,
you have to have sort of an interest in computers
and things like that, but almost, who doesn’t have an interest? You have to have an interest in computers. But if you want to be a
film, if you’re interested in filmmaking and you’ve always liked movies and maybe you just had another job that you somehow went into
and you’re really hating it. You can take our course
and you’ll be qualified, if you work hard and study,
you’ll certainly be qualified to work on a feature film. Maybe not as the first
assistant right away, but you would certainly have
all of the knowledge and skills that an assistant editor needs to go from the beginning
of a film to the end. We want to give people the opportunity to have their voices heard as filmmakers and also give opportunity to people who might never have had the opportunity. That’s why we’re supporting
diversity programs and women in film and internship programs and mentoring programs. We would love to see more talented people get a shot at making movies. One last thing that I
would mention, though, and this has come up a little bit since we started talking
about the course to people and being involved in social media. Obviously, Master the
Workflow has a Facebook group and a public Facebook group and
we also have a private group for people who actually
enroll in the course. I think something that’s sort
of not appreciated very much sometimes is just being a nice person. Sometimes there’s this whole idea that if you’re a nice person you’re gonna get chewed up and spit out. And that could be the case, also, but you want to work
on teams of filmmakers, especially in the crafts, don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick to your coworkers. Don’t be a putz online and
spout off your philosophies that are alienating everybody else. You’ve got to learn how
to work with people. You’ve got to learn
how to work with teams. A lot of people, especially editors, they think that they’re just
working in this little capsule. The fact of the matter is is
you gotta come out of the room sometimes and people gotta
wanna talk to you (laughs). If you’re a jerk, it’s
not in your best interest. And obviously we all have
egos and things like that. – That’s probably one of the
best pieces of advice (laughs). It’s like, all of the stuff,
don’t give up and all that, the starving, struggling artist
is not really a filmmaker. If you want to do that,
be a painter or something where you just focus, be a writer. But, in this world, you
have to collaborate, part of that’s being an
agreeable person, at least. – Yeah, I mean, it’s a
collaborative art form and I guess there’s some
people who can be dicks and dictators and things like that. But nobody likes to work for those people. And I think that they sort of like– – I think and ultimately the
art of the film suffers for it because you’re not getting
the best of the people. You might get lucky once or twice, but I think if you’re really that bad, it’s probably people are
not gonna watch your movies. – You’re not gonna get the
best people to work around you. Because the best people are
usually pretty smart people and they’re not gonna wanna
put themselves through that. – And they have options (laughs). – Yeah, they have options. The job’s hard enough (laughs). – Thanks to our guest
Lawrence Jordan, ACE, for a wonderful conversation. Make sure you check out
MasterTheWorkflow.com for more information. If you like this video,
hit the Like button. Hit the Subscribe button,
and click that little bell so you get notified every
time we post new content. If there’s a film job that
you’re interested in us exploring or if you yourself are a professional and you would like to share your experience with our
audience, leave a comment below and we’ll keep in touch. If you want to support
this channel further, consider becoming a patron on Patreon. We post a lot of behind-the-scenes video and every little bit there helps. Well, I’m John Hess, and I will see you next
time at FilmmakerIQ.com. (relaxed music)

16 Comments

  • Reply Magnusson Productions March 16, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    If we can suggest what you do next, I'd like to hear from a VFX supervisor. I'm working on VFX in student films, and I'm curious on the perspective for professional-scale movie VFX.

  • Reply Will DeRousse March 17, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    Great interview. Really insightful.

  • Reply Pierre Films March 27, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    This is a great series. Keep it up.

  • Reply Orai Baiki May 15, 2018 at 2:06 am

    Greetings from norway! Thank you for a wonderful video. Networking is ridiculously important, especially in my country since the professional community is relatively small. Also really hard get a hold on any sound crew. I think it is a really underrated job for most people involved in sound production. Would love if you could do an episode on any roles from the sound department. Thanks!

  • Reply Destiny Groove Davis September 3, 2018 at 3:22 am

    Thanks for the heads up on the editing scene.

  • Reply Jasmin T September 22, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Great interview!

  • Reply Dave K October 13, 2018 at 2:05 am

    I love editing and that was a fascinating interview, thanks.

  • Reply Rocco Casadei November 6, 2018 at 6:37 am

    You know
    – Lawrence Jordan

    My favorite quote

  • Reply Jesus Christ November 12, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Lawrence Jordan makes me feel safe

  • Reply Lamont Cranston January 16, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Whatever happened to this "Show"

  • Reply Nishant Swarna February 22, 2019 at 3:08 am

    This was dope, can't wait for the rest of the series!

  • Reply nomedjak March 13, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    "ya know. ya know. ya know."

  • Reply darcyjyan April 20, 2019 at 7:57 am

    Im an new assiatant editor in the guild… man! can’t wait to go in 🔥

  • Reply Alejandro Nieto April 26, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks for this. Greetings from Buenos Aires.

  • Reply Brainwaves May 5, 2019 at 1:15 am

    You know 🙂

  • Reply Piezku May 27, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    These episodes are made better than almost all TV shows 👍

  • Leave a Reply