Editor Jeff Buchanan has worked on commercials, films and television projects, including HBO’s Barry, for which he received two Emmy nominations. Recently, he was named parter at Final Cut (www.finalcut-edit.com), whch has offices in New York, Los Angeles and London. There, he leads the editorial roster as well as serves as a mentor. Here, Jeff shares insight into his career path and experiences.
What is your background and education that led you to editorial?
“I took a few film classes at Georgia State University in 2000 and 2001. We were mainly learning how to shoot and edit on 16mm film. Our first films were edited on flatbed systems where you’d cut the film with a razor blade and tape the shots together. It would be so cool if I said, ‘from that experience, I learned the beauty and finesse of editing. Holding the film in the palm of my hands changed the way I view cinema.’ But really, it was very difficult, and most of my films were poorly edited. Around that time, Final Cut Pro came out, and I taught myself how to edit on that. That was much easier. My films went from really bad to just normal bad.”
What were your early positions and what did you learn from them?
“The first real job I had that was in the orbit of the film world was helping out a filmmaker in Portland, Oregon, named Lance Bangs. I met Lance when I was driving a tour van for David Cross, and Lance was making a documentary of his tour. Lance was filming all of David’s shows and getting tons and tons of behind-the-scenes footage in the van and at all of the venues. I asked Lance if he needed help editing it, and he said sure. So I moved from Atlanta to Portland and just started showing up at his house. Lance was doing a lot of documentary work at the time, so I would hold the boom pole on shoots, help him, film bands, do sound for interviews, and edit anything he was filming. I learned so much in those years. Mainly it was how to be around creative people. How to just sit back, not make yourself the center of attention, and just observe.”
Was there a project that boosted your career?
“In the mid-2000s, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Chris Cunningham released a compilation DVD set of their music videos and short film work called The Directors Label. Lance, who had been shooting behind-the-scenes documentaries for Spike, was hired to do all of the interviews, commentaries, and short documentaries for the supplement materials on the DVD. So he and I traveled all over the world interviewing musicians, filmmakers, and artists for the series. Those interviews were turned into films that I edited for the series. I edited audio commentaries and some ‘Making of…’ short films for Spike’s DVD, but my main collaboration was with Michel Gondry. For his, we made a 60-minute experimental documentary about his entire life called I’ve Been Twelve Forever. It incorporates animations that we would film in his office and process the film in the bathtub. Photos of his childhood home. Re-enactments filmed in the town he grew up in. Interviews with all of the artists he worked with throughout his career and interviews with his family, including his mother and his 12-year-old son. Michel and I worked day and night on the film to finish in time for the DVD release, and through that became great friends and collaborators. About a year later, he asked me to come out to NY to edit Dave Chapelle’s Block Party, and I ended up moving there and working with Michel for the next decade.”
Photo: Extra gum - For When It's Time
Do you have a preferred editing system and project type?
“Does everyone say they like them all? I feel like everyone probably says that. So I’m not going to say I like them all. But if I say I like long-form more, what if one of the directors I edit commercials for reads this and says, ‘Oh, I guess you don’t like working on my commercials?’ But, if I say I like commercials more, then…you see where I’m going with this. It’s a real conundrum you’ve got me in here.”
You’re now a partner at Final Cut. Tell us about your new role and responsibilities?
“I have been so extremely lucky to work at Final Cut for almost 15 years now. The amazing Eric Zumbrunnen brought me into the company in 2010 and introduced me to the world of commercial editing. Rick Russell, our founder, asked me to be a partner last year, and I must say I have really enjoyed telling people I’m a partner at an editing company. It makes me sound so grown up and responsible. Mainly I’m just trying to talk to all the editors and assistants and listen to what their needs and wants are. I feel like you can really tell when people are not happy at work, and it reflects in their performance. So I try to make sure people are heard and feel taken care of. We have a great group of young up-and-coming editors and assistants who have long careers ahead of them. And if I can share any stories or advice with them, the same way Eric and Rick did for me, I’m happy to help. See?? Didn’t that sound super grown-up?”
Do you have advice for up-and-comers in the industry?
“Read the room! That’s my thing now. Read the room. My answer to this question used to be ‘live cheap’ or ‘say yes to everything when you’re starting out.’ Then I went through a phase where I was saying ‘work on as many different kinds of projects as possible.’ And all of these things are still true. But… I find that there’s an epidemic in this world, and it’s the inability to read the room. It’s so important in an editing room. So much of what we do is working with people and collaborating. It is a giant part of the job that I don’t think gets talked about enough. I find that it’s so important to listen and observe, try to anticipate what people’s reactions might be, and adjust accordingly. So much of editing is being able to pivot when a new idea is thrown at you or someone comes in with a different perspective. That doesn’t mean this is exactly the way your spot or film or TV show is going to end up; it just means let's try it and see. You’re never going to lock Version 1. It’s important to try and figure out where people are coming from. And another thing… oh no… am I getting old and just ranting about ‘youngsters.’ Am I one step away from talking about how I don’t understand the music young kids are listening to nowadays, and I’m confused by baggy clothes? Am I about to say I don’t understand TikTok? I better stop.”