I did not go to film school.
I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology.
And I didn’t know what an Editor was until I was 23.
Me right before I moved to LA in 2004 to beg for a job as a P.A.
I had never heard of an NLE until after I graduated college and I attended a filmmaking bootcamp program in San Francisco called the Digital Video Intensive. From the time up until I was 23, I was a Math/Science Geek who happened to always be performing, whether it was Marching Band, Colorguard (I twirled huge flags around and dropped them on my head a lot), or dance. I also choreographed dance performances for my College dance department that were performed in our Annual Spring Dance Concert. I also worked as a scare actor in a Haunted House. That’s right, I got paid to chase people and scare them.
As you can tell, I have a very non-film background. I love watching movies and television but I had never studied them with a critical eye until after I was already working in the industry. I’ve learned to appreciate and take advantage of skills that I learned from my non-film background and apply them to my storytelling.
As a dance choreographer, I was trained to create movement that is dynamic and interesting. The same concept applies to each dance performance as a whole. The dance piece I choreographed was 15 minutes long. I had to make sure that it felt dynamic. When I say dynamic I am talking about changing the rhythm of the movements, changing the rhythm of the music, changing the lighting, and changing the relations of the dancers onstage to one another. Sound familiar with cuts? Editing is all about pacing, and how a scene plays out depends on how it is paced. There are other factors to a scene, of course, but I am just talking about pacing for now.
Music plays a big part in editing a story. As a dancer, I learned to feel the subtleties of music in my body. I can easily count the patterns in music, which is really helpful when I am cutting a music track. I sometimes conduct the rhythm of a scene with my hands as I am watching it down. Understanding how music can change the mood in a scene is also an important skill. I have met editors who have trouble cutting music to a scene because they haven’t developed their intuitive understanding of how music affects human emotion, and they also cannot detect the basic patterns in a music track.
While working at a haunted house, I learned how to read people’s body language so I could time my scares to maximize their fright. Even the concept of asymmetry, which I used when I would contort my body in an odd way, unsettles people. Editor’s are masters at reading body language when they are deciding which actor’s performance to use. In an Emmy Nominated episode of American Horror Story, jump cuts (which, in a sense, is an unbalanced, noticeable cut) were used in combination with Dylan McDermott’s performance to create a strong sense of dread and unease.
These are just some examples of how I have used my random life experiences to develop my editing and storytelling skills. I sometimes wonder where I would be right now if I had a formal film school education, but I am a working editor in television, so I’m not doing too badly for myself. For those of you whose time has passed for a film school education, you never know what your non-film life experiences can teach you about storytelling.