Why editors are the Michelin chefs of film and video

Of all the art forms that go into making a movie, editing is one of the most under-appreciated, and perhaps more profoundly impactful than any other.

michelin chef

I consider myself a filmmaker proficient in writing, shooting, directing, producing, and editing. But editing is where the magic happens. Let me ‘splain.

Let me start this post off stating some ground rules. What you are about to read is a personal, subjective look at the craft of filmmaking. I am in NO WAY stating that one aspect of the craft is better or more important than the other (I mean, come on, let’s be honest. We all know the REAL top dogs on any film set is whoever is in charge of craft services. Am I right?)

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The beauty of filmmaking is that it’s the only art form that incorporates literally every other art form. And by literally, I literally mean the literal definition of literally, not the lazified reworked definition of literally that now also includes figuratively or virtually.

But, I digress.

Filmmaking at the highest levels involves visual arts, acting, graphic design, music, architecture, visual effects, audio manipulation, make-up, fashion, and perhaps the most profound and important “art form” of all, movie based accounting. (Those of y’all in the biz know exactly what I’m talking about).

Of all those disciplines, my career as a filmmaker has encompassed being a writer, director, cinematographer, producer, and editor. (I haven’t had the need to get artsy in my accounting. I leave to my tax accountant.)

I consider myself a pretty solid writer and director actually (if I do say so myself). I know just enough about cinematography to be dangerous (I couldn’t read a light meter to save my life though).

But editing! That is where I truly shine. And in this filmmaker’s humble opinion, I think editing is one of THE most under-appreciated aspects of the art (this is where I remind you that this is a subjective blog post, based strictly on opinion. I know there are other under-appreciated art roles on a film crew. So all you members of the grip IATSE Local #728 in Burbank, you needn’t email me. I know you all ROCK!)

The Michelin Man (or Woman. Or non-binary 😁)

Let me just come right out and say it. The meat of the storytelling is done in the edit suite.

There. I said it.

Yes, I know it has to be on the page first. I’m a writer through and through. I know this.

Yes, the director has to bring her vision to the script, and if she doesn’t direct it, then it isn’t there to edit. I intimately know this too.

But at the end of the day, it’s in the edit suite where all those ingredients are thrown together.

Let me ‘splain it this way.

I can take a bunch of flour, yeast, egg whites, cocoa, almond milk, coconuts, sugar, bananas, and ungodly amounts of butter, throw them into a pot, then toss that pot into an oven. All the ingredients are there to make a word-class, Michelin 4 caliber dessert.

chocolate cake
Photo by Jacob Schwartz on Unsplash

But unless I’m f*cking Gordon Ramsay or Dominique Crenn, I ain’t gonna end up with that aforementioned dessert. What I will end up with is a mess, and I will find myself going out to the local Kroger, Safeway, or Tesco, and getting myself a day-old slice of chocolate cake for 2.95+tax .

Are you starting to smell what “the Ron” is cooking? (See what I did there?) The editor is like a master Michelin Star chef, taking the best ingredients supplied by the director, cinematographer, writer, etc., then working his or her magic.

You can have a Roger Deakins DP’d, Martin Scorsese directed, and Ennio Morricone scored film. But you put all of their work into the hands of the wrong editor, you will find your production going to the Kroger/Safeway/Tesco equivalent of the movie business.

However, I bet you a million dollars, if you got a script written by a hack and directed by Tommy “The Room” Wiseau himself, and then put that “mess” in the hands of a talented editor, you could theoretically end up with an emotionally moving piece of art.

Seeing the light

Trust me. I speak from experience when I say this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to edit absolute crap, or a total FUBAR situation, to end up with a masterful work of art that made my clients swoon.

And I know it was crap because IT WAS MY OWN CRAP.

There was the time during my stint as a wedding filmmaker when a job I sent two freelancers out to shoot came back with the footage of the father of the bride walking the bride down the aisle GONE. (That was a fun phone call with the bride. I would watch the DV tape on which the footage would have been, hoping it would somehow just reappear. It didn’t.)

Or the time when a corporate client for which I made a promo video had all of their employees interviewed; and all the interview soundbites sounded terribly canned, so I created a video from using the VO from just one person–the one who ironically was the most nervous about being interviewed, and in that nervousness, delivered one of the most honest and authentic-sounding interviews.

In each one of those cases, it took massive amounts of creativity to salvage the project and create something wonderful in the end. (Yes, I had to, <gulp>, fix it in post.)

But the very first time I realized the power of editing was again during my wedding days. It was only the second or third wedding I shot (so, the rookie maneuver I’m about to share with you was done because I was literally a rookie.) It was a 1-camera shoot, and the sun was behind the bride and the groom (you probably already know where I’m going with this). You ever hear a photographer or videographer comment on loving the light of an overcast day? They love those kinds of days because it’s like a giant light filter giving a nice even light. You also don’t get the sun shining directly into your lens like I did. FOR THE ENTIRE CEREMONY.

That’s right. The entire 15 minute ceremony (give or take) was “blinded out” by the sun. I think by the grace of God, the sun moved enough for me to capture the kiss.

Well, you can only imagine the sheer horror when I had to actually sit down and edit the damn thing. There was only one thing to do. I used other parts of the day as b-roll for the entire ceremony (thank heaven the audio was clean. NEVER UNDER ESTIMATE THE POWER OF GREAT AUDIO. It can mean the difference between life and death of a production.)

The end result was by far the best, most powerful wedding video I had edited to that point (yes, I know it was only my second or third, but still, the clients swooned.)

Just desserts

So the next time you sit down to watch your favorite movie or TV show, as you admire the quippy dialog, or marvel at the masterful cinematography, or get swept up by the dramatic score, remember you’re “eating” a Michelin Star caliber dessert that was dutifully, painstakingly, and lovingly “baked” by someone (or someones) sitting in a dark room, pushing pixels, weaving storytelling elements, and creating a delectable cinematic delight.

Author: Ron Dawson

Ron Dawson is a brand and content marketer, satirical author, cinephile, and filmmaker traveling the world. He has strong opinions. For the love of all that is holy, Do NOT get him started on the plight of the Star Wars saga or the final season of Game of Thrones. He also believes 500 Days of Summer is a perfect film. Naturally, he loves the movie Blade Runner (pick your version.)

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