Am I actually creative?

Who in their right mind would disagree that this is an example of creativity?
Who in their right mind would disagree that this is an example of creativity?

I’ve heard editors wonder at times: “Am I creative?  Really, genuinely creative? I’m not writing a screenplay, I’m not directing the shoot, I’m just the editor putting together stuff that other people handed off to me.

“Is that actual creativity?”

Consider a similar scenario.

Chantel, my wife, regularly questions whether she’s at all creative in the kitchen.

“I could never come up with these recipes on my own,” she tells me with a sad shake of her head. “I mean, how on earth do people figure out all these random ingredients to put together into a brand new thing?”

She then proceeds to examine the recipe at hand with a practiced eye.

“Are you kidding me? This says it’ll take 15 minutes to prepare. Not a chance.”

She strides over to the cabinets that hold the needed ingredients.

Saint, Minister of Propaganda and VP of Canine at The Power Edit, perks up from his position under the kitchen table to gauge his chances of scoring a snack from food falling on the floor.

“The recipe says to use half a cup. I think I’ll make that a quarter cup,” Chantel announces. She decides on an alternate ingredient to make up the extra quarter cup.

“What do you think about wine to go with this?” she asks, striding around the kitchen island to give a quick stir to the bubbling contents of a saucepan on the stove, sticking a spoon in for a quick taste.

“Hmm,” I say. “Well, what about –“

“Needs a little something more,” she mumbles distractedly before I can finish. She opens up the spice cabinet, spins the rotating platter of spice bottles until she finds just the right one. Continue reading Am I actually creative?

Why cutting on the beat is KILLING your edit

Hey, it's corn. Fascinating stuff.
Look, it’s a cornfield! More on this in a bit.

Years ago, I edited a music video containing shots of the artists walking down various sidewalks and alleys until they ran into each other.  The song was a hipster-ish, minimally produced track, and I started experimenting with jump cuts of the artists walking on specific beats of the music track.  It worked pretty well, and both the director and I were happy.

Unfortunately, for a while after cutting that video, I relied too heavily on idea of putting the edits right on the beats of the music.  What worked well for a hipster music video looked downright clunky in other contexts.

And time after time, amateur and professional editors alike try to “give the piece more energy” and “add some flash” by doing edits – usually a bunch of them – right on the beats of the music.  Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t.

Here’s why:

Choosing an edit point exactly on a noticeable music beat calls attention to the edit.

Which of course raises a question that goes far beyond just editing of music:

Do you want your audience to notice the edit?

Now like many questions in life, it’s difficult to answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no”.  Personally, speaking in broad strokes, I strive for my editing to be invisible, for nothing to call attention away from whatever message I want to communicate.  So in most cases, I’d say “no, I don’t want the edit to be noticeable.”

Having said that, there are times when my job as an editor is to present something in an engaging, energetic way, but the subject matter just kind of sits there and does nothing exciting.  Like a cornfield in Iowa.  In that case, I may very well want to add extra edits to the beats of the music to say “Hey, check out this cornfield.  Isn’t it cool?!”

Trust me. Cornfields are anything but riveting. I have permission to say this because I spent a good chunk of my younger years growing up in Iowa.

So yes, there will be times when you do want to call attention to your edit point by putting it directly on a music beat.  More often than not, though, you will want to keep the edit point OFF the beat… and let the ACTION in the shot do the talking.

This is just one of my Top 5 Tips For Picking The Perfect Edit Point Every Single Time that I’ve used over and over again throughout my career editing TV here in Hollywood for some of the biggest media outlets in the world.

These ideas work on literally any project, whether you’ve been cutting for decades or mere days, no matter your editing tools.

See the instant improvement in your editing when you check them out here.

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 Fat paycheck or trip to the ER?

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 Editor lunch ala Steve Jobs

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 Why brown candy matters

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:


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 Defending your choices – or not

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 Four Lies of the Editing Matrix

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.



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 Explain yourself, dangit

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 Is it art or not? The answer is yes.

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 How to kill editorial brain drain, part 1 of 2

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