10 Lessons from the Top Film Editors

 

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Skillshare get a two months free trial
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by clicking the link in the video
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description I think the best example and
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the best description of when not to cut
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is in my interviews with Jill Walker
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there’s a scene in 12 years of slave
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from the main character is being hung by
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a tree and the shot lasts 90 seconds
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with this guy just on his tiptoes barely
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able to keep himself from strangling and
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people walk around and are kind of
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ignoring him as he’s hanging there
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because they know they can’t there’s
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nothing they can do without being killed
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themselves it helps the audience to
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realize the truth of the moment because
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people know that when you edit that’s
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lying right I mean an edit is a lie
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see how it’s thought editing is the
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ultimate truth Paul Hirsch says the
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opposite he says when you shoot the film
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that’s the truth when you edit the film
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that’s the lie sometimes you have to
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because that’s the most powerful thing
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you can do is the lie but if the most
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powerful thing you can do is to tell the
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truth just sit on that edit just let it
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go
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there’s no sin and the Oscar goes to the
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onion god
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Joe Walker the invisible performer in
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the editing room thank you
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the way this all started was I actually
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saw the Oscars and Lupita Nyong’o won
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Best Supporting Actress for 12 years of
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slave and she thanked her editor and I’m
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like oh my gosh I got an interview
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whoever it is the good side thanked by
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the actress so I actually found Joe
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Walker’s Twitter feed and sent him a
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message and said I’d love to interview
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you and he agreed and I just kept
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setting up these interviews one after
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another after another and really
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learning a huge amount of editing some
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of which were a complete revelation to
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me
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[Music]
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Steve we’re going to talk about some of
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the biggest lessons that we can get from
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some of the biggest editors and let’s
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get started with just the first one that

02:29 1.) KEEP YOUR EGO IN CHECK

stuck out to me which is it’s important
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that you’re confident as an editor I
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have a point of view but you got to keep
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your ego in check houston we have a
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problem
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dan Handley Ron Howard’s longtime editor
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he said when collaborating remember it’s
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not about you it’s about the final
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product so many times people make it
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about oh I made this great editorial
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choice I made this clever editing trick
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and it’s got to stay and they’re not
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thinking about what it means for the
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project and for the story in a man so
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many of these editors and they’re very
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humble people I think they’re all
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brilliant you know almost everybody know
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I’ve talked to almost every Oscar winner
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for the last 30 years and they’re
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obviously clearly skilled but they all
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just want to do the best they can for
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their director did any editor stand out
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to you as having an outsized
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bigger-than-life personality
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yeah I did kind of get that sense from
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one specific actor that’s Joel Cox who
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edits all of the Clint Eastwood movies
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already he’s the one that basically said
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selects reels are for sissies seasonally
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you don’t need any of that crap you you
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watch the dailies you know what the rate
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takes are and you cut them in the order
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that they need to go you’re done yes I
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sent us I love that when editors just
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say well you know what when I do my
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editors cut I’m just gonna do it my way
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you don’t need to
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you said it three times like if I feel
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like a line needs to go
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I don’t wait but I like the idea of just
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giving it a good shot before the
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director comes in well I certainly
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believe in that many people stated you
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can’t edit thinking of what the director
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is going to want you’ve got to edit
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thinking of what you want that’s what
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the director wants of you but then when
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the director will seize your editors cut
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at that point it becomes another film

04:24 2.) TRUST THE PROCESS

[Music]
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really am i dramatic editing career I
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was doing the same thing you were doing
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where I would just cut out lines you
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know oh we don’t need these that I
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didn’t think we’re necessary and I
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played it for the director to have that
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information immediately you know as soon
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as they hit play the guy something’s
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wrong with what you do exactly there’s
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the guy what happened to my scene
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where’s those lines I love it he was mad
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about it and I explained that I didn’t
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think that those lines were necessary
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that they were extraneous and I think it
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the other way back in and I put him back
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in and over the course of several months
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you know that he had a chance to live
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with them himself he realized as well
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that those were extraneous and that by
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the end of the movie those lines were
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cut out but two things about that one I
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pissed off the director and I made him
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feel at least temporarily to lose faith
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in my judgment and number two even if
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I’d convinced him that we didn’t need
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those lines he might have always
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wondered what it would have looked like
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if they’d stayed the way I cut it I
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didn’t give him a choice I didn’t give
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him a chance to see this is the way he
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intended it so he never really would
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have bought into my idea you have to
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understand that editing it’s not a
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one-and-done kind of thing it takes
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place over weeks or months or even years
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so just trust the process I guess it
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also has to do with the relationship you
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already have with your director and sure
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if you’ve gone through that process
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before but you built that relationship
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over years curious are you dreaming in

06:08 3.) BAD IDEAS LEAD TO GOOD IDEAS

their language so that sort of leads to
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the third lesson here bad ideas lead to
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good ideas one of the best examples of
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that Joe Walker in my interview with him
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about cutting the movie arrival denne
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villain who came to him and said hey Joe
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I know we didn’t shoot the scene but I
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feel like we need a scene where Amy
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Adams character is dreaming in the alien
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language if you speak multiple languages
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you might know that one of the ways that
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you really know that you’re starting to
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get into that language is because you
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start dreaming in it there you go
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and they wanted to show that amy adams
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was becoming immersed kind of maybe
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Dangerously in the alien language but
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they hadn’t it wasn’t in the script and
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it wasn’t shot and so Danny said what if
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we took this scene from here and this
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shot from here and this up from we
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dropped this one thing can we put that
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in here and and Joe is thinking there’s
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no way this is gonna work this is the
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stupidest idea I’ve ever heard and yet
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he you know trusted Denny and even
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though it didn’t work at the beginning
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it made Joe think you know maybe if we
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got some ADR and we got them to do a
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special visual effect shot to show an
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alien creature then we could get it to
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work I don’t think that that makes me
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unfit to do this job
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and so what seemed like a bad idea
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became a great idea that’s something
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that sets an editor immediately apart
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when he or she will always address
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whatever concern is being raised and not
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try to talk their way out of it yeah
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absolutely and just think about that
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from your own career perspective if you
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refuse to do a note you just become the
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guy that’s not willing to be a team
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player
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Kelly Dixon from Breaking Bad in The
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Walking Dead says be willing to lay
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aside preconceived notions and
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re-examine them in a new context I just
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think it’s really critical to have an
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open mind at all times and to remember
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your collaborator and other people have
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ideas too that leads us to the next
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lesson I have here editing is edited I

08:18 4.) EDITING IS EDITING (It makes sense if you just watch the section)

kind of wrote it that way because it
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seems like a stupid thing but really
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it’s one of the most critical things how
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often do you just cut a scene and it’s
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done out of three thousand movies
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there’s maybe 20 examples mm-hmm editing
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is just a process of revision and
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there’s a ton of reasons why it
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one is that it’s contextual right it
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depends on the scene in front of it and
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after it when you’re originally cutting
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that scene you’re cutting out of order
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and you’re not seeing your choices in
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the context of the scenes around it
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right I remember in your book I think it
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was John revoir who said that it’s like
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every scene is a delicious course and
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then when you put them all together you
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can’t eat them all so you have to pick
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the ones you really like that’s a great
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quote before we move on to the next

09:08 5.) ORGANIZATION IS EDITING (It begins at a shoutout to Skillshare tho. The lesson actually begins at ~9:50 )

lesson I want to take a brief moment and
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thank Skillshare for their support it’s
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an online learning community with
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thousands of classes and filmmaking
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editing writing design business tech and
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more I want to recommend a course by
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Marxist Asuma who’s a filmmaker and also
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works on Vimeo and he did a great course
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on how to shoot your own video resume by
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using a simple point-and-shoot camera or
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smartphone the video resume is a video
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design to show off you to show off what
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it is that you do in a nutshell it’s a
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52 minute course that takes you through
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the concept of shoot and edit so the
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first 500 people that sign up through
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the link in the video description get a
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two months free trial now back to Steve
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downbeat on 18 why is it critical for
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editors to be organized when you’re
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watching the dailies and you’re maybe
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building a selects reel your brain is
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starting to organize and start the
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editorial process at that point not
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quite my tempo Tom cross he said the
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goal is to organize the material and
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understand it a lot of times that’s
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about figuring out what can be ignored
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Andy Greve is a great documentary editor
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he said the biggest trick is to
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compartmentalize break it down into
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smaller chunks and that’s definitely the
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way I feel about editing I need to be
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able to get to a point where my brain
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understands the material and then I can
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start to build the story from that you
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mentioned Tom cross I looked at his IMDB
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page and I realized well that’s an
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editor who did a short same short did
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the movie and then just his career
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exploded is that how it works like how
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can edit errs young editors get to that
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level where they ultimately want to be

10:53 6.) JUST EDIT

which is playing the big league will
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never get it out now my biggest advice
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is the same every time anybody asked me
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that question you have to just do it you
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have to say okay my goal is to be a big
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time editor what can I cut maybe I can
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shoot some stupid little scene with my
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iPhone and then I’ll try cutting that
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together great do it it may not look
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like what you want it to look like but
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your brain starts to understand how
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story works and how scenes are
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constructed and what you need is an

11:27 7.) STORY TELLING IS A MUSCLE

editor the next lesson I’m really
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excited about
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it is that storytelling is actually a
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muscle that can be built up yeah
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Steven Mariani who cut the revenant said
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storytelling is a skill that you can
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become better at through lots and lots
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of practice joke-telling is the shortest
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form of telling a story as a joke is
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always just a short story what do you
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need so that the audience understands
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the punchline the audience is kind of
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misdirected and then the punchline snaps
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them back into a different direction the
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other day I was thinking it’s actually
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you know I tend to overthink things and
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then I thought do I though I mean are we
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having the Afghan version of this
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conversation where in New York we would
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have gotten to the point you need to
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edit things and then realize how your
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editorial decisions affect the story
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Glenn Ficarra I talked about a character
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named Fahim there’s a scene where Fahim
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is basically telling Tina Fey’s
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character I do not want to what would
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you know okay well for him I know I
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fucked up I do not think you do hear me
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out
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and after he leaves there’s a series of
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three jump cut close-ups of teens face
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cut cut cut and it seems kind of jarring
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but though that’s the whole point
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vicara mentions that that’s the midpoint
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of the story that’s where the stakes
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change
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it’s this very visceral way of showing
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the audience oh you know yet it almost
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shakes you as an audience when you see
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these three jump cuts that’s the whole
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point that’s the storytelling in editing
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that’s completely told in editing not
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with a word of dialogue and it tells the

13:15 8.) BEWARE OF REACTIONS

story okay next one be careful with
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reaction shots that was really
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interesting for me because I was like
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hmm I’m never careful with we actually
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shot a couple of things multiple people
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said that you shouldn’t be on a reaction
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at certain times Eddy Hamilton said if
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you want a specific piece of information
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to go into the head of an audience the
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character should say the line on camera
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and his team would be dead yes they
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would
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that’s the job and Lee Smith said
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basically the same thing if you play a
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line off you’re diminishing that line
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you create the world of the dream we
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bring the subject into that dream and
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they fill it with their subconscious you
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have to be really strict in the way you
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edit whether you play a line over or off
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because I think that’s just emotionally
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much more interesting to beyond the
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person who’s listening than the person
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is speaking I agree your honor that day
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there’s a scene in minehunters these two
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guys are interviewing up who they think
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might be a serial killer and there’s
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just a local detective there and even
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though the scene is really between the
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suspect and the two interrogators and
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that local detective doesn’t say
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anything
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he looks pretty tasty in that outfit is
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he Tyler Nelson describes why the
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reaction shots are done the way they’re
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done come on you guys don’t think so
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there’s these great close-ups as he’s
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like where are these guys going with
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these questions I mean by the time a
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woman has hair on her pussy you think
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she’d be able to decide who gets a piece
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of it I mean yeah man I’ve never thought
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about it like that before but yeah
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didn’t mind the you were older she
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probably kind of liked it and then you
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start to see in his brain oh my gosh I
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see what they’re doing they’re gonna get
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it out of him holy crap
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when you picked her up from the bus was
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she wearing this jacket he’s acting as
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the audience going oh my gosh this is
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brilliant
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Lisa’s skull was crushed that blood goes
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everywhere in crimes involving blunt
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force trauma it’s almost impossible for
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the attacker to avoid getting his
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victim’s blood on him so that detectives
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reaction shots bring the audience into
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the scene you want to take a sample well
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can we do that I can arrange that
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that’s awesome I have a side question

15:37 9.) STUDY THE PROCESS

here what do you think about watching
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these lessons of how to add a how to
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film things watching a lot of YouTube
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videos how helpful is that really oh I
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think it’s tremendously helpful to be
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able to watch someone and see what the
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process is and the why the editing
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that’s the real thing and so many people
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will say like oh it’s all intuitive I’m
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like this intuitive editor and I just
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feel it in my gut
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you don’t really it’s not really
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intuition but they have soaked up these
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lessons of how to tell a great story and
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when is the right moment of editing and
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if they really thought about it and and
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there’s plenty of editors that can
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actually explain the reason why they cut
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in an exact moment
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some people go oh well you’re so
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analytical no I think those people made
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those choices intuitively but they can
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explain them analytically I mean I agree
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with you I think the important part is

16:32 10.) WHEN NOT TO CUT

you got to take action yeah you got to
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find that balance of just accumulating
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information that is making you think but
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then also use it in a way yeah when I’m
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doing real nuts and bolts training
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sessions which I do for various
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companies they need to put it into
16:49
action immediately well Steve thank you
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so much I got a real kick out of this
16:53
one
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I really enjoyed the way that you
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structured these conversations that you
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had with
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I can tell you an editor in those great
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conversations and those insights they
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are divided up into sort of the process
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of editing how do you get organized how
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do you watch dailies how do you attack a
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scene on top of that you really have the
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takeaway highlighted in the book so if
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you are facing a specific problem or a
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certain situation where you just want to
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know how do other people deal with it
17:21
that book is a great reference thank you
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editing that book was what made it good
17:26
in my opinion cut it in avid I did not
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cut it nabbit no I did not there you
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have it so how do you feel about
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watching YouTube videos on filmmaking
17:36
and are you putting it into action let
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me know in the comments I want to thank
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Steve for giving me so much time there
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were many more tips he shared and I’ll
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have a worksheet by Steve plus a bonus
17:47
video available to patreon members
17:49
there’s also a whole section on the
17:51
sizes of shots and the reason specific
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sizes were chosen do you think that’s a
17:55
trade of being a successful filmmaker
17:58
it’s something that I definitely have
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picked up on on numerous interviews if
18:02
you like this type of content and want
18:04
to take your editing to the next level
18:05
consider joining me on patreon thank you
18:09
for watching

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