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The Buddy System

Any editor will tell you that the actual act of editing is a solitary experience. You get in to your suite, lock the door, black out any windows and don’t come out until your masterpiece is complete. The problem is reaching the endgame with a sense of objectivity. By being so secluded and glued to every edit, you don’t have the ability to properly judge what you have done. Think I’m kidding? Go back and take a look at some of your earlier works. Go on, find that box of unlabeled DVD’s, old VHS tapes with nothing on it but your name or whatever medium that they live on and watch it. I’ll wait.


Done yet?


Good. Now, what did you see? The answer in all cases should be “something I didn’t see back then”. Some of that, you can attribute to “if I knew then what I know now”, but that’s not always the case. Whenever we purposefully do something in the edit suite, we do it because it seems like a good idea at the time. We have some kind of brainstorm/post production moment of illumination and set the thought process in motion, assured that it is the absolute best thing you could possibly do for your project. The problem is, most of the time, you’re the only one judging the piece, and unless you have the ability to come back and look at it days later before submitting, you’ll still think that it’s the best piece you’ve ever done.


The problem is the isolation factor. Editors get into a zone, and when they’re in that zone, nothing can get them out of it. Think about every step you take in putting a piece together. You load the material, most times watching it while it’s loading and making mental edits while you’re doing it, going through the clips meticulously and placing them in order, fretting over every shot and audio edit, then fine tuning and sometimes colour correcting for hours or even days. After so much edit time on one project, you have a perfect picture in your head of what you want it to look like, how it should look and sound and the end result isn’t necessarily what you envision. But because you have such a clear picture, you can’t see the true edit from your mental projection.


Now, the last thing anybody wants is someone in that small broom closet of an edit suite with you for every single minute of the edit session questioning your every splice and split edit. Most times, it not only results in lost time, but countless screaming matches and multiple levels of frustration. This is where I like to rely on the Buddy System as a form of instant criticism. Now, before you go and get your best friend and volun-tell him/her that they have to watch everything you edit, make sure you pick your Buddy well. Here are some criteria to look for…


1)      Find someone with an idea of what it is you are trying to do. You want to recruit someone who watches a lot of TV, and may even be in the industry themselves. One thing you want to avoid, though, is another editor. While they’ll be able to see things that you may have missed in your tunnel-vision state, like frame flashes, they’ll also be watching it as an editor, and making their own editorial decisions. You’ll most likely get responses like “oh, I wouldn’t do that”, or “are you sure that’s what you want to do”, not necessarily based on what they feel the piece needs, but based on how they would have edited it. No two editors will cut a piece the same way, so be wary of someone who wants to inject their own editorial thought process into it. Camera operators are good opinions, as are audio operators. That way, you’ll get both the video and audio perspective.

2)      Find someone who isn’t afraid to say your stuff stinks. How many times have you shown someone a piece of work that you have done, only to have them say “Oh, that’s nice”, as the answer to any question you ask them about it? They could be saying it’s nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, because they don’t know what else to say…or maybe because it’s genuinely nice. Either way, it’s not CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Finding someone who isn’t afraid to make you see something or isn’t shy in saying that something really doesn’t feel right is rare. If you find that person, have them on speed dial. That opinion is valuable. Just don’t piss them off by returning the favour by saying that something they’ve done is “nice”.

3)      Find someone outside the project. If someone has spent the same amount of time shot listing the material and knows it as well as you do, then they too are too close to the project. Remember…the people watching your stuff in the end have never seen a second of the raw footage shot, so they go in with a clean slate and will take everything in that state of mind. So for your proof watch, get someone who has an equally clean slate as your first-time viewers. You’ll get a true sense of the affect and impact your work will have on its intended audience.


Now this may seem like a lot to ask of someone, so get a few people. That way, if you have to make changes after the first run through, you’ll still have a fresh set of eyes after you’ve made changes. If you can get a review group together, then you’re laughing. Just be good to them. Otherwise, everything you do will be “nice”. And always remember that constructive criticism is meant to be constructive. Don’t be deconstructed by it. In the end, it’s what’s better for the project, and your work will undoubtedly be better in the end for it.

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