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Week One at the Edit Center

Over the next six weeks director and Filmmaker contributor Alix Lambert is taking The Edit Center’s course in feature film editing. This is the first of her weekly blogs on her experience. — Editor

As a director, I have sat in the editing room for the better part of two decades. My long-time friend and brilliant editor, Hannah Neufeld has talked my off the ledge, dissuaded me from many bad ideas, and brought her own keen eye and internal rhythm to projects that we have worked on together over the years. Other editors (notably David Ritsher) have done the same for me. So, when my friend and recent co-director David McMahon (Bayou Blue) suggested that we take an intensive editing class at The Edit Center, I immediately agreed. I continue to want to collaborate with editors on my feature-length projects, but I have a number of short form projects on the horizon that don’t have the budget for an editor, and I would like to be able to edit these short pieces myself. I am also just interested in all aspects of filmmaking. I think the more I have an understanding of the editing process, the better I will be at directing. The course runs six weeks. Week one goes from 10AM – 5PM everyday. The five weeks after that are five to seven-hour days.

Week One

Our class, we are informed, is unusually small with eight people — and this is a good thing. We are given books; a plastic laminated keyboard that shows all the short cuts for Final Cut Pro (FCP 7, not the new FCP X), and a script. We are introduced to our teachers: Chris and Betsy (Alan Oxman, who founded The Edit Center, will start teaching us at the beginning of week two). We go around and introduce ourselves to each other. We listen to our first tech lecture: How to set in and out points, import media, open bins, etc. Then we are paired off. I am paired with David. This relieves me as we have worked together for a year now. I don’t have to panic yet.

We are all given some footage from an old Western TV series: Paradise (later renamed Guns of Paradise). The assignment is that we should edit a scene from this footage. We have been given basic instruction in how to do so during the lecture. So far, so good. David and I have fun working together. We decide to cut what we come to refer to as a meta-French Western, utilizing one extremely long silent take of Ethan, our main character, and inserting the sounds of horses and gun shots outside the cabin window. Other students also got creative with the footage. One pairing cut together a rapid back and forth of looks only (no dialogue) between the two characters. Another pairing used sound effects to kill off the lead character after he left the cabin and closed the door behind him.

The next day we switched partners. My new partner, Brian Lewis Jackson, and I got along immediately. Funny and smart, he was also MUCH quicker than me at learning all the keys and short cuts, the only drawback being that I found myself slipping back into director mode while working with him. We were given a new scene to cut. This time it was a scene from a low-budget feature called Tully. Brian and I set it to the music of Twin Peaks, and enjoyed giving Tully (the lead character) a sighing problem.

On Thursday we get paired with our third partner. Again my partner is much faster on the keys than I am. For this exercise we are to cut the Tully scene a second time, but this time we are to follow cut for cut what the actual editor on the actual film did. For the first time, I am bored. I LOVE creating a scene from raw footage, but the plodding, painstaking, frame for frame matching of someone else’s decision-making process had me spacing out and daydreaming about the weekend. I do see the value in this assignment, though: to see the specific choices someone else has made from the infinite choices that are out there for any given scene in a movie. That having been said, I’m very glad that part of the course is behind me.

One week down. Five to go.

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