Okay… let’s be honest:
The deadlines make the job.
Otherwise editing would be a fully artistic pursuit rather than the craft I know it to be.
If you’re wondering, in Dave’s Big Book Of Post-Production Terminology, “art” and “craft” shake out like this:
If your creative effort has to contend with the clock… what you’re doing is a craft; if, on the other hand, you’ve got all the time in the world…
Yup, you’re an Artist, baby.
It’s the clock, you see, that makes us. It’s the clock… lighting fires under our decisions.
Every decision, every decision… gets measured against the clock.
Even in this day of hyperspace editing, at some point, the clock says you’re done. So you best actually be, you know, done.
And your work had better still be great.
The first time I took the clock seriously—the first time I had to take the clock seriously—I worked broadcast news as a floor director where I discovered how ten seconds is actually a super long time.
So is five, for that matter.
And if you’re in front of the camera with one second to go…
No one cares so long as you’re not still there when the red light comes on that second later.
Of course it’s live news, but it’s not like they make the whole thing up on the fly. There’s a “format” which is the blow by blow of what’s to happen in each segment of each hour or half-hour. And while I don’t know or completely understand the process by which novice floor directors become expert… I will say that somewhere in there your brain puts it all together. Whereas on your first day you had no idea the director was talking to you on headset… and you could only think about what was on paper for the next, say, five seconds… at some point, your brain filters out everything directed at everyone else so that you only hear the director when the director is, in fact, talking to you.
At some point, as well, you’re seeing more than the next five seconds.
You can see minutes.
And in those minutes, you can see where various land mines lay… and do something about them now.
Yes, you can see into the future.
Working in the booth intensifies that experience exponentially. The booth, you see, is nothing but information about the future, provided you’re watching… and listening.
Provided that your senses are tuned to the future.
It’s also this:
When I started weekends, they had two graphics people up there: one running the Chyron character generator, the other running Quantel’s Picture Box for still graphics.
At some point, the decision was made to make those two jobs a one-person job. And just as with novice floor directors, I don’t know or completely understand the process by which a person doing one of those jobs… mentally absorbs both.
For example, the first time I was on deck for this kind of duty, the director called for a still graphic.
I knew he was calling for a still graphic.
Everyone knew he was calling for a still graphic.
Personally, my expectation was that my partner on still store would make that happen.
Except… that person was me.
Not long after, I was able to be the split personality the new job required. There came to be two filters in my brain prompting me to independently perform each of the jobs, as well as make accurate predictions about what would be needed of both.
Still, it was weird having to absorb the whole human being working the other job.
I’m still talking about the clock, by the way.
No matter which job I was doing, or how many of those jobs I was doing at once, during the course of a newscast there’s what the producer knows and tells you about… but there’s the other stuff that no one knows: breaking news.
And all of what you need to get done… in the time you have in which to get it done… has to be reconciled.
Because—accuracy being the most important thing—if you can’t get something done by the time it’s needed, you have to let the director know in sufficient time so he can drop it from the show.
No harm, no foul.
Still, I was biased to get it all done no matter how much piled on. And in that adrenalin-filled atmosphere of live news, I learned The Three Things You Need To Beat (And Cheat) The Clock:
1. Raw speed,
2. A Tetris-like ability to sequence your actions, and
3. An ability to see into the future.
No joke on Number 3, by the way.
There really is some critical mass of information and observation that allows you to know what happens next. Then what happens after that. And what happens after that.
Take that experience, move it into an edit suite, and I say there are still similarities.
The clock’s still there; let’s not pretend it’s not. Because every time I go down to the wire on some show I’ve been finessing a day, a week, two weeks, a month… I’m reminded that hours really do count.
As do minutes.
Sometimes seconds, still.
So… speed matters.
How I sequence my actions matters.
Seeing into the future… matters.
Plus, there’s this: with more time, you’ve gotta contend. Because, as is so often the case, everything you touch has some impact on something else. Sometimes everything else.
And then you’ve gotta deal with that.
As you might guess, the big difference is that there’s more creative endeavor here. Remember, there’s what we want our shows to be… and there’s what our shows can be.
For example, I cut a show once that—in laying out all The Things That Must Be Put Into The Show—came in exactly on time.
The show dealt with adult care of parents with Alzheimer’s… and one of the scenes in the show achieved something important when allowed to play out.
It was a scene in which an adult brings her parent home and begins the process of taking care of them.
And the longer you watched the scene, the more fascinating it became… until in watching, you as the viewer realized how rote it was and how it was never. going. to end.
All it was ever going to be was worse.
And the longer this one scene continued, the more desperate it became. The more mind-numbing. The more tragic.
You’re not just watching it anymore, you’re feeling it.
Feeling it deep.
Of course now the show was long, and I had no idea what to cut. According to the client’s priorities, everything else in the show was untouchable.
So I showed it to the producer, who loved it. And also had no idea what to cut.
Then we showed it to the client, who loved it. And because they were struck by the power of that scene, resolved to make cuts elsewhere. It was their call to change the rules of the game, you see.
In the end, I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy what I do if it was art; if somehow there wasn’t a clock to contend with; if there weren’t hard limits on how much I could create.
Call me an adrenalin junkie.
Call me crazy.
Or maybe just call me someone who loves a good challenge.
It’s a craft.
It’s my career.
It’s this thing that fully engages me every day.
How cool is that?