Fat paycheck or trip to the ER?

Emergency-RoomLast week sucked. Bad.

Not only were editing deadlines upon me – NBC wants two hours of TV a week from us – but for the better part of the week, I had a strained chest muscle, a random swelling in my elbow with spidery streaks of red stretching down my arm, and a temperature that peaked somewhere around 102.5. And flu symptoms that left me feeling like I got hit by a 20-ton grip truck.

Twice. In the same place.

Those who know me will attest that I barely ever get so much as a sniffle. I maybe get a little 2-day cold twice a year, and that’s about it. It’s literally been years since my temperature crossed into triple digits.

As to the chest thing, well, I’m not exactly sure how that happened. I have some ideas, but nothing for sure. That’ll just take some time to rebuild itself.

The flu – as much as it sucks, I know that it’s temporary. The achy, sensitive skin, hit-by-a-truck feeling usually goes away in a couple days or so with the fever.

But that whole swollen elbow thing with the streaks going down my arm?

That ain’t cool.

I texted an elbow selfie to my wife, and she proceeded to freak out.

I didn’t though… because I knew what it was. I’d experienced this sort of thing before.

It was a number of years ago when I was still a freewheeling bachelor. I was cutting on a really cool show with really cool people… and we put in REALLY long hours. As in every week, I as the senior editor had to pull an all-night edit, chugging 7-11 coffee and Monster drinks just to get a complete pass at an episode for the weekly network screening.

One Saturday (weekends were pretty normal on this gig too), my executive producer was in the bay with me and happened to see my leg.

“Holy ****, Jefe, what is up with your ankle?!” Continue reading

Editor lunch ala Steve Jobs

I eat the same take-out lunch every weekday when I’m editing. Come lunch hour, I pick up the phone and order what everyone at Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill knows as The Usual: a half-sized Power Plate with chicken and a double serving of grilled vegetables.

Sharky's Power PlateOh, Power Plate. How I love thee.

Some folks say, “Jeff, how on earth can you stand to eat the same food every day?” Easy – it keeps me mentally sharp. It’s protein and veggies with almost no processed carbohydrates… which means that nasty mid-afternoon crash that happens all the time to everyone else doesn’t happen to me.

At least not anymore… eat tortilla chips with that Power Plate, and it’s a different story – 2:30 rolls around, and I’m about to fall off my chair in the bay from sleepiness.

But eating the same lunch every day is about more than avoiding the Afternoon Carb Crash – and here’s where Steve Jobs jumps into the picture, more on him in a bit – Continue reading

Why brown candy matters

Eddie Van HalenRock star legend Eddie Van Halen became notorious for a clause in his contract forbidding the presence of brown M&Ms in the backstage candy bowl at his concerts.  Here’s the flip side of that story and why it matters.

aretha franklin performingCelebrities have had all sorts of random requirements included in their contracts over the years.  Aretha Franklin contractually insists that her hotel rooms must never be higher than the 5th floor, and that all air vents must be taped shut.

john kerryJohn Kerry, when appearing for speaking engagements, requires a recumbent (not upright) exercise bike.

Though in the heyday of big hair rock and roll, Van Halen’s prohibition of brown M&Ms was particularly singled out with disgust as the classic example of rock stars run amok with infantile delusions of grandeur. Most of those critics never found out what you’re about to read. Continue reading

Defending your choices – or not

A week ago today, I was in Crazy Man Mode. My team and I put on a three-hour live webcast, opening up a private meeting of our Los Angeles-based Power Edit Academy coaching group to the public. We screened Academy member edits and interacted with Power Edit friends from all around the world.

It was pretty sweet, and folks watching the livecast asked some really great questions. Here’s one of them taken from the event transcripts:

Question

How do you argue for a music cue you really think works? It can be so subjective. Sometimes producers want almost everything changed.

Answer from Jeff

You’re absolutely right. A lot of the times it comes down to “It’s their project not ours.” And a lot of the time we as editors say, “This is what I offer out of my experience and out of my gut, and if it meshes with the people who are making the decisions, fantastic. If it’s not, it’s not my piece. It’s not ultimately my responsibility.”

Now it IS my responsibility to do everything within my power to make sure that the piece is as good as humanly possible. Continue reading

Four Lies of the Editing Matrix

matrix power edit hallMy wife and I don’t watch many movies. I don’t watch TV either. Heck, I spend my whole day making the stuff, and the last thing I want to do is come home and turn the damn thing on.

However, on New Year’s Day, we did watch a movie. A groundbreaking, jaw-dropping, thoroughly enjoyable movie that I saw again after watching it in a movie theater for the first time 15 years ago. The dystopian science fiction thriller that showed the good guys whooping up on the bad guys while running sideways on the wall, dodging bullets like a prize fighter slipping under a ham-fisted right hook.

Much has been said about The Matrix which I won’t attempt repeating here. It has so many reasons to love it, not the least of which is the idea of reality being much more malleable than we might realize – and far different than what it seems.

Editing is exactly the same. Fluid, constantly changing, and riddled with misconceptions and lies to be avoided and bent towards the truth. Here are some of them:

LIE #1: Only the elite few are worthy of editing high-quality content.

This was true… LAST CENTURY. The tools of content creation and editing are now available to literally anyone anywhere who seeks them.

LIE #2: You have to be innately talented to edit well. It’s a gift that can’t be taught.

Wrong. Some sort of talent – overrated as it tends to be – is always helpful in any pursuit, but those who say powerful editing can’t be taught merely say so because they don’t know how to teach. Continue reading

Explain yourself, dangit

baby on planeVery recently: I was sitting near a screaming baby, in the very back row of a small airplane, with no legroom, and seats that would not recline. Things that would otherwise drive me nuts, or at very least annoy me. But I was ok with all of this.

Why?

Context.

Because my wife and I were finally on our way to be with family. Our departing flight had been delayed 4 hours, and it was looking like we might be stuck overnight in O’Hare airport… on Christmas Eve. And we wouldn’t have reached our destination until halfway through Christmas Day.

You're a perfectly fine airport, ORD... and get me outta here!!
You’re a perfectly fine airport, ORD… just get me outta here!!

Nothing against y’all, Chicago, but I’d much rather spend Christmas Day with family than with hard airport seats and a 6AM flight. Errgh.

But thankfully, when we finally touched down in Chicago, we were told 2 seats had opened up on a flight that was boarding, well, right now. Run run run run to the opposite end of the concourse, we’re the last people boarded, and shut the doors.

Whew. Just in time. But we’re on the flight, and we’ll get to where we’re going.

And that is why not even zero legroom with non-reclining seats behind a screaming baby bothered me at all.

Having just explained it, I have a decent expectation that you now know why. The shifted context changed everything for me.

In your storytelling, have you ever experienced showing something that you find incredibly powerful or significant, but other people just don’t seem to get it? The power and impact that you felt was loaded into your story just flies straight over their heads? Continue reading

Is it art or not? The answer is yes.

The Power EditAs editors, are we artists? Some say yes, others say no. Others say it depends on the project. Some years ago I was wading through an editing forum and found the below thoughts from a user named guanacaa58:

I think editing is directly analogous to writing. Here’s a couple of lines of writing that I consider art:

“When my love swears to me that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies.
That she might think me some untutored youth
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties”
-William Shakespeare

Here’s some writing I don’t consider art: Continue reading

How to kill editorial brain drain, part 1 of 2

Brain!!Thousands of choices every day. That’s our life as an editor. Constantly, constantly choosing between This and That. Weighing options of What I Want… versus What I Actually Have… What They Want, versus What I Think They Want… What I Think Is Possible versus What Is Actually Possible. Take all those, jumble them around in varying orders and balances, and you have editing.

All those choices take a toll on the editor. If you approach a typical day of editing with even a moderate amount of focus and concentration, you will end up tired.

This isn't me. But that's what I did. Great big stacks of bales on the trailer and later up in the hay loft of the barn.
That isn’t me, but that’s what I did. Great big stacks of bales on the trailer and later up in the hay loft of the barn.

Focused, applied mental work is every bit as tiring as manual physical labor, in some ways even more so. And in case you’re wondering whether I’ve ever done anything other than sit on my butt for a living, the answer is yes – I helped local farmers bale and stack hay when I was in high school, and I spent my first two years in college working at a lumber yard packing semi trucks by hand in 100 degree summers with 80% humidity. I get the physical labor thing.

These days, though… at the end of a day of editing, I’m mentally drained. I’m ready to go home and begin the process of refreshing my mind and my energy for the next day’s edit. Oh, and have a life outside the edit bay too. Talk with my wife, have dinner, walk the dog.

Sadly, I don’t have a solution to eliminating editorial brain drain. It’s pretty much an occupational hazard. Having said that, here are three ideas to help minimize it and keep your creativity flowing throughout your entire edit. Continue reading

State of the huh??

You need to hear some things I’ve been hearing this week. I’ve been hanging with some crazy people. Authors, multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, movie moguls, you name it.peter guber
One of them, a gentleman by the name of Peter Guber, said something especially worth passing on. Now Peter Guber isn’t some random shmuck – he’s the former CEO and Chairman of Sony Pictures. He’s the current CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group and  Dick Clark Productions. Also the co-owner of the LA Dodgers. And that’s just part of his background and what he’s into now.

Here’s what he said: “When it comes to relating to audiences, it’s not about state of the art technology, it’s state of the HEART technology.”

He also said that we are not in the fill-in-the-blank business, whatever you happen to be doing. “We are in the emotional transportation business.”

At the time, he was talking about business in general. But this is coming from a genuine Hollywood movie mogul, and it applies most directly to those of us who put our hands to the shaping of stories through sound, music, and moving pictures.

How easy is it to get caught up in all the crap of planning, shooting, and editing that we forget our primary directive?

Whether they know it or not, our audience is waving their arms at us, saying “Make me FEEL something,” exactly what we’ve been discussing in our Academy sessions here in LA. The audience wants an emotional experience from what we offer them. Not just a random “eh, that was sort of cool” or “I wonder if we have any beer left in the fridge” sort of experience. Continue reading

Editorial cookery: Artist vs Craftsman

Professional chefs have more in common with editors than you might think.

chef looking in panMy wife was recently listening to the audiobook version of New York Times best-selling author Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. It’s a fascinating and entertaining look into the world of chefs and high-end kitchens.

One of Bourdain’s diatribes raged against line cooks and junior chefs who graduate culinary school and try to be artists when it comes to the daily delivering of the dishes the chef has created. They constantly prepare menu items differently, when the chef knows that the customers who order those plates quite likely have ordered them before; the chef also knows that diners expect that “one amazing dish” they ordered a year ago to be exactly the same when they order it tonight.

The chef needs a Craftsman who can deliver flawless execution of the chef’s vision over and over, and the rogue sous chef or line cook who switches things up by playing Artist will most likely end up fired.

That idea fits right into the world of editing. We as editors need to be aware of the times when an editorial “recipe” has already been established that we need to maintain. We also need to know when to step outside of the “recipe” and make an offer of Art.

So how do we know when to do one and not the other? Sometimes it’s obvious; the client, director, or producer specifically tells us that they want something like X Project or to feel like such-and-such a vibe. Or they may say, “Here’s the project, do your thing however you see fit, then we’ll talk.” Continue reading

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