Last summer, cinematographer Alex Buono — my friend and SNL Film Unit compatriot — traveled the country on a whirlwind workshop tour, discussing cinematic lighting, visual structure and other subjects that made those who attended say things like, “Whoa” and “No, really — whoa!”
When his tour wrapped and he finished sleeping for what I assume was a month straight, he gave me a quick debriefing. Some of his main points: The country is large. Touring and teaching to engaged audiences is exciting and fulfilling. And, apparently, there were people out there in America (and yes, parts of Canada) who were interested in learning more about editing and post production.
“Hey, I know at least eight things about editing and post production,” I said. “Nine or 10 on a good day! Perhaps I should do something where I tour around the country like a loon and talk about such things?”
By then, Alex had walked far away, so I was talking out loud to an empty chaise lounge — but the seed had been planted. So to that end, I’m about to head out on “The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour,” a 32-city post production workshop, where I’m hoping to meet some of those interested people that Alex had mentioned. By discussing some of the lessons and techniques I’ve honed while being lucky enough to edit for the SNL Film Unit, I hope to carry on the tradition of describing what it is we do there and maybe get a “whoa” every now and then.
The post production process for the SNL Film Unit, led by director and producer Rhys Thomas, is unique for two main reasons. The first is the wide variety of styles we work on. Most shows establish a consistent vibe and tone, and then maintain that over the course of their run. At SNL, the film pieces are unrelated from one week to the next, jumping from a short film to a trailer to a promo to a music video and so on and so forth. This requires a large degree of flexibility when it comes to editorial construction and an understanding of the underlying bones of a project — what is it that makes something “what it is.”
By diving into a variety of projects I’ve been a part of at SNL, on the tour we’ll explore how, but more importantly why things comes together the way they do.
The second distinct aspect of Film Unit post production is the timeline that we’re working under every week. What a lot of people don’t often realize about SNL is that every aspect of the show, both the live performance as well as the filmed pieces — scripts, sets, make-up, everything — is pretty much started from scratch each week. The talent of every member of the cast, writing staff, producers, crew, everyone, never fails to inspire. On the post end of things, we don’t learn what piece we’ll be working on until late Wednesday, which means all pre-production takes place on Thursday and everything is shot Friday, often going late into the night. This tends to give me about a day to do the actual edit, which leads to an exciting, caffeine-soaked concentrated period of edit mayhem.
This process has taught me the importance of working clean and working efficiently, and on the tour I’ll be demonstrating some of the methods I’ve found that best help me to make sure I’m working fast, but more importantly, working well. No matter the type of project you’re working on, working more efficiently will allow you to spend less time on the technical aspects of the job, freeing you up to focus on the actual process of creation.
Editors have never been asked or expected to have a grasp of more areas of post production than they are today. Sound design, compositing, motion graphics, color correction — the more tools you have available in your arsenal, or at least the more areas where you have a solid frame of reference, the more you’ll be able to bring to a given project. But that being said, all of these skills should always be in the service of the bigger picture of the project as a whole: Is the desired emotion of the piece being maintained? Is the story being told the way it needs to be told?
On the tour, I’ll be touching on a wide range of the above topics, showing both how and again, why we did something a certain way in order to best serve the piece.
I can’t wait to get out on the road and meet people who are eager to learn. I’m can’t wait to get interesting types of heartburn from various local cuisines. I can’t wait to continue the multi-faceted, unending, and ever-changing discussion that is editorial and post production while both teaching others and learning more myself. I hope to see you there.
Adam Epstein is an editor who’s been working professionally on promos, commercials, TV and film for years, and for the past five season, he’s been editing for the Saturday Night Live Film Unit. This summer on “The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour,” Adam will break down some of the techniques and theories that he uses, and share with you the experience that he’s gained working in a fast-paced broadcast environment. No matter what you’re working on in your creative or professional life, one of the things Adam hopes to show you is that with post-production, there's always a way to plus it. Check out Adam’s upcoming Tour (www.cuttingedge.mzed.com).