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my longform workflow

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grinner hester
my longform workflow
on Dec 28, 2007 at 4:35:21 am

I am often asked how I approach longform reality shows as an editor. With no other content is there MORE content. We often shoot several hours and wind up with a good 6 minute piece and there is no way around watching every frame that was shot.
...unless ya shot it.
Aint a thang wrong with going from memory and skipping stuff you know ya don't need. Now, you'll end up needing something and spend more time going back to the tape than if ya just threw it all in the computer but drive space does'nt always allow the freedom to grab all that was shot. Grab what you think you may need and begin the shot-scrapping process upon capturing.
Now, I start with Putting every single usable shot on a timeline. I don't care that I may make a 50 minute timeline for what will be a 10 minute segment. If it's at all in the running as a keep of a shot... it stays, this pass.
Now, I am seeing the least according to what I have. It's now that I'll decide if more story needs telling and I'll mentally make way for voice over, graphics or whatever I may need to do that.
I rearrange shots as needed to follow this story line. I discard many shots that were good but not quite flowing with this developing storyline.
Now, that 50 minute timeline is probably closer to 20 and is developing it's personality. Every piece has it's personality. You can create it but it's magical when it creates itself and you get to follow it, not lead it. It'll tell you what pacing it wants, the flavor of music it needs, and the color treatments that will bring it all together. Listen close. Each piece will talk to you.
Time for some polishing. Music is now added and where there wil be montages, music is laid in to time. All dialog is now cut to time so our final piece is that 10 minutes we were after.
Sweet. My favorite pass now. Again, from the top, we go with layers of love. Effects, transitions, graphics, animations, composites, double-checking legal levels (and content), heavy sound design... I do it all on these final passes.
This is a very non-linear approach to reality-based editing. I have found it to be a more stramlined approach because this ensures a product could be sent out, should the deadline magicly be cut in half. Spend all your time on graphics and layering as ya go and you just may spend that time on a scene the ends up on the cutting room floor and that is waisted time. The final shots get the final luvin'. This way it only goes to the keepers.

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Charlie King
Re: my longform workflow
on Dec 31, 2007 at 7:38:03 pm

Doesn't everyone do this?
You are absolutely correct that you don't do anything to the scenes til the last pass. That's when you see how each scene plays to the scene next to it, and only then can you feel what it needs, to make it flow. The story tends to build itself and dictate what it needs to make it happen, when you give it all it has, then cut it back to what it should be.


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grinner hester
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 1, 2008 at 6:14:25 pm

you'd be surprised how many editors still work linearly, even in a non-linear world.
I have had clients tell me that I am twice as fast as other editors in town. Then in hangin with those editors and talking shop, I find that they build what they think is a finished show from the top. Some admit to milking the clock when doing this and others just do it because thats how they did it back in the record each event to a tape daze.
Either case is dangerous. We have talked about the lack of experience in some of today's producers but all producers, no matter how much experience they have, know a painful drawn-out session when they are victim to one.

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Monica F.P.Williams
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 8, 2008 at 7:11:49 pm

I take the same non linear approach that's the beauty of technology!!!
In my old days of Linear editing we didn't have much choice but to be organized and to know BEFORE start cutting where we were going with the story, also the professional level of Producers and Directors I worked with was much higher (sorry I don't want to be mean but this is the era when a lot of people wake up in the morning and say "guess what! I am a Filmmaker")
I absolutely agree with Grinner that the non linear approach is the only way to work when the lack of experience of some Producers/Director that shoot anything that moves will have to come to terms in the editing room.
A fine example is a documentary that I worked on last year. 150 hours of shooting, no storyline, tons of interviews, NO Transcriptions, the director told me "Do something with it". The only way was to put everything on a series of timelines and start cutting down the interviews and try to find the story that was hidden: there was enough to tell seven different stories, so I start building sections by subject and after that sewing all the threads together with music, quotes,montages. It was a long, painful, fun, challenging, interesting process.
lt took 4 months to get to the final cut . Because of the lack of organization in the production part was also more expensive and time consuming that should have been.
Last, who should be credited as Director in this case?
My2 cents

Monica F.P.williams
crocodile editing

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Charlie King
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:06:34 pm

[Monica F.P.Williams] "the professional level of Producers and Directors I worked with was much higher (sorry I don't want to be mean but this is the era when a lot of people wake up in the morning and say "guess what! I am a Filmmaker")"

Monica, I think I'm in love.
You just brought back so many memories. Not only are you so on track with that line, but I have said for years, going back to Live black and White Television Days, for the most part, camera operators were better then, cause you had to be, you only had one chance to get it right. the first award I ever got was for editing a film for a live documentary. We didn't have the capability of editing tape, so the field footage was edited and rolled in live with the live announcers doing the narration. I didn't know how to use a sound reader, couse I had no training before this production. I would listen to it on a projector, then take it off and look at the optical track and see the wave form to find where my edits were. Video Tape made a big differece, but it was still as tho it was live, no editing capabilities.
Then there came along Editec, WOW waht a concept, no longer did the Operator have to cut tape with a blade and a magnifying glass. Anyone remember the liquid with metal fibres you brushed on to see the frame pulses?
I'm not saying I am better because I had to do with less equipment, I am just saying it is a lot easier for someone to get into the business and produce, direct, shoot, and edit today. Personally I miss the times we had finding ways to make the equipment do things it wasn't actually designed to do. Now we do it with software, not really bad, jsut not as much fun.
Sorry I don't get many chances to remember how it was. So back to the regularly scheduled program.


ProductionKing Video Services
Unmarked Door Productions
Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada

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Mark Raudonis
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 2, 2008 at 4:46:47 pm


I can see that you're focused on "getting the story" first before anything else, and on that I agree. However, there are many roads to a final cut, and I would suggest a much different approach.

You place a lot of importance on a first string out to organize your coverage and focus the story. I've never been a fan of this step. I certainly watch everything and make notes about possible uses for each clip, but to put it into a timeline, brings you no closer to an actual "cut" than clips in a bin. Why? Here's the crux of the matter.

You're suggesting a "reductive" process where you "chip away" all of the bad stuff to leave the remaining "good stuff". I take the exact opposite approach. I call it an "additive" process where I only put into the timeline that which I know I want to use. I ask the question, "What is the scene about?" and answer it by including ONLY elements that contribute to the answer.

This approach fundamentally changes your perspective from "what is there" to "what could be there". I am building the pyramid from the bottom up, rather than whittling it down from the top. With this method, music becomes an integral part of the scene from the start. You have the ability to integrate a piece of music into a scene with much more control and "intent" that if you're just "scoring it" after the fact. GRFX can be inserted as "place holders" or "Temp", so you're not wasting time on polishing early in the process.

In a nutshell, that's my approach. Not saying it's better... just different.


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Timothy J. Allen
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 3, 2008 at 2:17:22 am

I take both approaches - depending on my intent. If my intent is to "find" the authentic story, as in a documentary, I tend to go with Grinner's approach. Actually, even with that type of show, I won't always put it all on the timeline. If I watched the footage as I was capturing, sometimes I'll edit a first cut in the bin then throw it on the timeline.

On the other hand, ff I have a specific message and feelings that I need to push to the viewers (per client request), I use Mark's route to get there. Since music is a powerful motivator, that's the time I can start with a piece of music that evokes a certain feeling and build soundbites and visuals around it.

Does that make the first approach more ethical? ;-)

I spent my first few years in broadcast TV editing graphics-heavy 30-second spots. I remember working through the night on several projects, only to re-render the next morning - after the client decided to change a price or feature a different product altogether. It was only after I learned to "make the cake" before I put on the "icing" that I got comfortable projecting how long edit sessions should really take.

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Pixel Monkey
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 3, 2008 at 4:31:08 pm

Used to bang it out from right-to-left with the "chip away at the interview assembly" method. I can't do it anymore. It's all subclips and ScriptSync now. It doesn't get it done much faster, but my thoroughness has tripled (not exaggerating at all).

However I'm still the fastest fish in Buffalo!

`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey

A picture says 1000 words. Editors give them meaning.

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grinner hester
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 4, 2008 at 1:52:34 am

I begin additively in the beginning too. I am just very liberal with it that first pass. I get a lot of ideas by throwing all the contents of the recipe on the table and lookin around before mixing.
Bottom line is it's not a one size fits all world. What we do on what project may not apply next go 'round.

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Mike Cohen
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 5, 2008 at 5:23:22 am

I agree that different projects call for a different approach.

Here are a few recent examples:

1. Product promo - raw footage included scripted interview segments, narrated videos of the product in action, and some marketing script.
- First I laid everything I have out on a timeline
- Next I cut out obvious unusable material
- Next I cut picture to the marketing scriptage - in this case I made an attempt for final look and feel
- Next I cut the interviews and narrated videos for content
- Final pass polishes, adds effects

2. Marketing piece for Nursing Research as a career
I shot hours of interviews and classroom and lab scenarios
Having already gotten approval on a script based upon what I shot, again I laid everything on one timeline, then cut each segment separately, but only for cleaning up extraneous shots. Then, like Grinner said, I let the content tell its own story. This took days and days to get it to my liking.

Then I took my laptop and a rendered AVI down to the client's office and we further refined the rough edit. While at the client's office we re-shot one of the interviews, and pretty much used this material verbatim, because we had the luxury of figuring out exactly what we needed based upon the original material.

So each project is a little different. Going for final polish on an initial edit certainly takes more time, but sometimes it is called for.

I do not work with clients in the edit bay too often. Usually when I do, they are content with me saying "let's just put this in as a placeholder - you don't have to sit and watch me make this pretty."

But when you are working alone, sooner or later you have to sit and make it pretty.

This is just the type of thread I enjoy.

Mike Cohen

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Boyd McCollum
Re: my longform workflow
on Jan 5, 2008 at 5:29:30 am

It's funny, I use both approaches as well, but in reverse. And I'm not sure really that the choice is necessarily between being authentic or not. I usually use Grinner's approach when I'm under a deadline. All useful footage straight to the timeline and I start throwing out what doesn't fit.

When I have more time, I'll use Mark's approach. I like to think about the footage I'm working with, what it's saying to me, then I start with those shots that I feel best capture the heart or essence of the story. Then I start fleshing it out from there.

As for manipulation, hey it's all manipulation, that's what we do :-) Slightly OT, back in my younger days I was taking a theatre directing class. During in-class rehearsals I used a television as part of my scene, but it was an elaborate ruse for the scene I was actually putting on (it was from Waiting for Godot). Prior to my scene I needed to get the TV (that wasn't going to be used, at least in the way the audience expected) and my professor offered to walk with me to get it (she had the keys). I felt kind of bad, her taking the effort to help me when it was somewhat of a con. So I told her, "you know, sometimes I feel really manipulative" and she said, in her really cool British accent, "but darling, you're a director, that's what you're suppose to do." Somehow I didn't feel so bad having her help me out... As for the scene, well I've done some good work and some work that I wish never saw the light of day. This turned out to be one of my better pieces and one of the few times I really experienced an epiphany from something I've done.

"Go slow to go fast"

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