Director/Editor Ernie Gilbert has a pretty outstanding track record when it comes to his stint in the industry — including assistant editing on Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody award-winning shows like Baskets (FX), Atlanta (FX), and Barry (HBO). He has also worked with some of the largest ad agencies in the world and brands like Jordan, DirectTV, Banana Republic, Reebok, American Eagle and Fox Sports. In addition to his film work, he has edited music videos for the likes of John Legend, Trippie Red, 2 Chainz, Schoolboy Q, Linkin Park, Portugal the Man and Shawn Mendes. In 2018, Ernie was nominated for a VMA for best editing on Childish Gambino's "This is America," which has over 500 million YouTube views.
Ernie exclusively discussed "This is America" and his creative process with ProductionHUB.
ProductionHUB: First, let's talk about how you became involved with "This is America." How were you approached about the project?
Ernie Gilbert: I had just wrapped up season two of Atlanta (FX) as an assistant editor. Hiro Murai and I had worked together the year before on a music video for A Tribe Called Quest. He needed an editor for the new Childish Gambino video, and I was available.
PH: There is A LOT of visual storytelling in this video. How did you sit down and determine what the video would look like?
Ernie Gilbert: That was all Hiro and Donald and their fantastic production team. They brought me on with a thoroughly fleshed out idea already in place. As the editor, it was my job to take those great ingredients and make sure they made it into the final product. Hiro and Donald’s execution of the concept made my job easy.
PH: What was it like collaborating with Hiro Murai and Donald Glover?
Ernie Gilbert: Hiro and Donald create with a lot of focus and intention. Their shots are well planned out and rehearsed thoroughly. When I receive footage in the edit, I often am choosing between different versions of excellent takes. For this video, we only had one problem to solve in the edit, and it became a VFX fix. Donald preferred the first half of one take and the second half of another. Our VFX artist, Eric Binmoeller, had to stitch the two takes together seamlessly. Donald and Hiro are strongly supportive collaborators. This creative empowerment inspires me to do my best, and in the end, leads to better-finished work.
PH: How much footage did you have to review? What's your process for determining what to keep and what to get rid of?
Ernie Gilbert: Donald and Hiro planned out this video ahead of time to the second. Each section of the video correlated to a specific part of the song. Other directors and artists I’ve worked with often shoot master performance take as a safety. That means getting the artist performing to the track for the entire duration of the song. Shooting these safety options often allows things to be restructured entirely in the edit and sometimes undercuts the original vision of the video.
For “This Is America”, Hiro and Donald knew what they wanted and planned for it, so we were working from a specific outline and structure in the edit. I had six to nine takes to choose from per section of the video. I lined them all up on different video tracks in Adobe Premiere and watched them down until I had a sense for what I felt was the strongest. Generally, one will stand out as you’re watching, but I take notes and drop markers on the clips to keep track of moments that felt special. In the end, follow your gut and back it up with alternate options. That'll keep you sane and your directors happy.
PH: What was your editing philosophy for the video?
When I read the treatment for the video, I knew it was going to be special. My philosophy going into the edit was to carefully review each section of footage and keep track of my top choices. This way, I could be a resource for Hiro and Donald as we selected their favorite takes. Editing is usually about knowing the footage and having time to explore options. For this video, we didn’t have a lot of time, so it was my job to help provide support to Donald and Hiro so their vision could be realized.
PH: Congrats on the big win at Cannes! Over 500 million YouTube views is incredible. In your opinion what gives video viral appeal? Why do you think the video has gotten so many views?
Ernie Gilbert: The video was the perfect storm of events colliding. In one week, Atlanta’s Robbin' Season finale aired, the Star Wars: Solo movie premiered, Donald hosted SNL and the video for “This Is America” dropped. With all those eyes on Donald and the relatively quiet news cycle that Sunday it added up to a viral hit.
For me, the fact that video had a message that resonated with so many people pushed it over the top. It was inspiring to see a music video reach and impact in that way. It reminded me of how powerful the medium can be when it moves past just ads for headphones or luxury liquors.
PH: You worked with Adobe Premiere Pro — why? What were some of the benefits?
Ernie Gilbert: Adobe Premiere Pro is my preferred NLE as it allows me to move quickly. The way it handles Multicam and markers lets me be fluid in the edit with my director and have all the footage ready to review rapidly.
Larkin shot the video on 35mm film, so I received scans and used those to make offline proxies with Adobe's GPU acceleration. I then cut from the low res to keep my timeline moving fast and exports for review quick. Relinking to the DPX master files for VFX and color turnovers at the end was quick and painless. From start to finish I was able to turn around a rough cut in a day, director's cut two days after that, VFX and color roundtrip took three days, and we were shipping about a week after the shoot.