How To Effectively Use an Editor (Admittedly, Written by an Editor)

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By: Brian Sanford, Lead Editor / Director Of Post Production at Versus

While shooting, directors and videographers always know when they’ve captured the perfect shot, right? (How many of you just rolled your eyes…) Although it doesn’t have as bright of a spotlight, enlisting a great editor for your project can be the defining choice that elevates the creative output. In my slightly biased opinion, editing has the biggest impact on the final film. 

After a project wraps—whether it be a three-day commercial shoot or a three-month Hollywood feature—the real magic happens in the edit bay. This is where the creator and editor craft something memorable together. After decades of experiencing these collaborations first-hand, I’ve devised a few ways to enhance creativity and productivity. 

Setting your editor up for success and following these rules of the room’ will make for a better final project—plus, you’ll have more fun cutting. 

Note: Sanford is a commercial editor by trade, so these tips are primarily focused on the editor/agency relationship. 

WELCOME THE CHALLENGE

The edit bay can be a little overwhelming at first. There is a ton of film to screen… Script edits are still happening… And maybe a performance didn’t seem to land on set…

With all of the looming possibilities, the most important thing an editor can do is create an atmosphere of collaboration—a setting where everyone can be themselves and try any idea. If I accomplish that with my edit sessions, then I know the end product will be an honest reflection of our creative ambitions. Every time I get to that point with a client, the final result is better than what we previously imagined.  

ALWAYS BE SCREENING 

Nothing makes me happier than seeing ‘WORKING SESSION DAY 1 - DAILIES SCREENING’ on my calendar because screening dailies is incredibly important to the creative objective of a project. Although there is so much going on during a frantic commercial production, it is never a waste of time to screen the dailies—even if you saw everything in video village. 

Early in my career, I was working on a project with a legendary commercial director at Radical Media. He came in to watch my first present and I’ll never forget what he said: 'Good cuts, but how am I supposed to give you notes without having screened the dailies?’ 

It was a jab at a young and over-enthusiastic editor, but a moment that sticks with me to this day. Together, we spent over a dozen hours watching every frame of the shoot, marking performances, and formulating the key ideas that would ultimately make the final cut. 

“DO WE HAVE EVERYTHING?”

You don't hire someone to paint a portrait of you and tell them, “Just do all the orange stuff for now; I'll get you the red later.” Editors thrive on dissecting every frame and going down rabbit holes, but we can only do that if we’re given the whole picture. We love surprising clients with the possibilities that live within the footage captured on a shoot. I have been in the final stretches of an edit when we suddenly get another two hours of footage. Having that material at the onset would’ve allowed editors to more properly conceptualize how that film could be used, as opposed to throwing in the shot at the 11th hour.

CUTTING TO THE BEAT

There are times during a brief when a creative director says, “The music is absolutely the most important part of this edit.” If that’s the case, then we need to know what that music is going to be as soon as possible in the creative process. Editors truly love working with music and there are so many ways we can emphasize beats, drive energy, and pull the rug out from under the viewer with a needle drop. However, the longer you wait to lock in that track, the less time the editor will have to conceptualize the film around it. I always tell my clients that if you give me a locked script and set music, I will blow your mind. So… do that.

“CAN YOU SEE MY SCREEN?”

I know we all love working in our PJ’s, but when it comes to video editing, filmmakers shouldn’t work remotely unless they absolutely have to. You should take every opportunity to live in the edit room and enjoy that part of the process. Be actively involved and work through cuts with the editor—you may think that you’re stepping on the editor’s toes, but the vast majority of us welcome the collaboration because it provides the ultimate guidance towards the emotion the project wishes to evoke.   

And please don't check emails while they are wrestling with the footage. The time between ideas is ripe for a ‘Hey, can you play that last bit back?’, which is where great moments are discovered. On my recent Comcast Xfinity ‘Your Internet Has Issues’ campaign, we found ourselves marking multiple segments ‘for social’ as we worked our way through the :30s spots. When it came time to cut the social campaign, we had tons of ideas and performance beats on hand to put together a complete social execution, without feeling like we were starting from square one.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

You’ve all heard the saying… But how many of you truly follow the sentiment? Editors need time before the first present to truly dig into the footage. Film needs to be meticulously organized and optimized for playback during live sessions—which takes time. During this period, we play with all of the possible options in order to confidently tell you what was working and what wasn’t. 

If you want your director and editor to make any meaningful progress on an edit before you see a cut, they will need time upfront. Your patience will be rewarded and the final product will reflect that. 

CUT IT DOWN, DON’T OPEN IT UP 

Being able to deliver memorable cuts to time is a critical part of mastering the craft of editing. However, one of the first things I always tell young editors is that your first cut should be overlength—like way too long. 

Put it all in there… every improvised line or shot the director covered that wasn’t in the storyboard. Give every idea its chance to work. That first long cut allows me to flesh out all the beats and provides editors with a pallet to pull from during edit sessions throughout the project. It shows the director that I understand their intentions and style; it shows the agency how much great film they captured. Plus, many times, it ends up being shared with the client, or released as supplemental content. Once we have everything, we start cutting down and we don't turn back. We work within that framework and perfect it because we want to be proud of stamping our names on the credits. Telling the editor to ‘open it back up’ does not do your time justice; time that could otherwise be used to think critically and creatively about how to perfect that 30-second edit.

ENDLESS BRAINSTORMS

‘Collaborative’ may be a buzzword for job interviews these days, but those who embody that nature are going to be great editors—those who welcome participants into the processes in every way possible, while being able to concisely explain decision-making so it can be debated and built upon. 

As a collaborator in the room, you should feel free to express any and all ideas. You and your team should never stop ideating on the cut. Any editor worth their salt will be excited when you throw what you may have perceived as a wrench in the gearsthat wrench might get the engine revving, and a new idea off the ground.

Check out Versus on ProductionHUB here.

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About the Author

Brian Sanford
Brian Sanford is the Lead Editor and Post Production Director for Versus, a creative production studio based in New York. You can see his work across all platforms and his portfolio includes the latest ‘Your Internet Has Issues’ campaign for Xfinity starring Judy Greer, as well as an Emmy award-winning campaign for The Brooklyn Nets.

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