M. Edward Salier is an award-winning feature film and television editor. Ed began his career editing two cult horror classics, Alice, Sweet Alice and Silent Scream. He has edited the hit primetime dramas Max Headroom, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Quantum Leap, and the original Beverly Hills, 90210. Currently, Ed is editing Season 3 of NCIS: Los Angeles after editing NCIS. Ed is a member of the American Cinema Editors (ACE), Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and Motion Picture Editors Guild.
Ed has had a huge influence on Bryan’s films, editing his first film, The Second Room, and serving as Supervising Editor on Along for the Ride, and I’m No Dummy.
Bryan: We’re at Paramount Studios Post Production facilities for the hit TV series NCIS: LOS ANGELES and I’m speaking with award-winning editor Ed Salier. Ed edited my very first film THE SECOND ROOM and supervised editing on my next two features as well. Thanks for taking time out to speak with us.
Ed: My pleasure.
Byan: So let’s jump right in. How do you choose an editor?
Ed: If you’re making a movie you find somebody that either has a lot of experience or that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has a lot of drive to be a better editor and really wants to make that film with you. So where do you want the learning curve to be and what’s your comfort level and how much money do you have to spend? I think it’s like casting. You have to find somebody that you’re going to be compatible with, that is going to bring to the table what it is that you’re looking for. Where do you feel your strengths and weaknesses are and how do you want to compliment that with that other creative person who is going to fulfill your vision.
Bryan: Should you look at reels or films of editor candidates?
Ed: I think judging editing is a very difficult thing to do. I don’t believe in awards for editors. Looking at a reel doesn’t really tell you anything about the editor. All you see is the finished product and you’re making a judgment on a finished product. You have no idea what it took or how it got there. To me the editor that should win the award is the editor that took something that you could never release and made it into something half decent.
Bryan: So if you can’t judge it on performance, is it more about finding an editor that understands what the filmmaker is trying to say?
Ed: First and foremost, it’s about having an understanding. A chemistry. Someone that you’re willing to spend a lot of time with. Someone that can bring your project to life. It’s not an easy task. If you’re bringing someone in that doesn’t have a lot of experience, do you have the fortitude and patience to work through their lack of experience and will their enthusiasm give the momentum to carry it through to the end. They may be the only person you can afford.
Bryan: So is an assistant editor who would like to cut a movie a good choice if you don’t have a lot of money?
Ed: You can bring someone in that’s been an assistant and has wanted to cut a film for a long time and has that big film vision and is willing to do your low budget project. Or maybe you get someone that’s been editing for a little while on television or reality shows and is willing to come in for little or no money. Something else that a first time filmmaker can do is approach an editor who has lot of experience on films, but doesn’t have the time to cut it, to come in as a supervising producer and give notes. So I think it’s worthwhile to bring in someone who has more experience and work with a lesser-experienced editor and can see technical issues or creative issues and can come up with a solution for those problems.
Bryan: You’ve done all of those things on my films. Cutting our first film on the side while you were cutting a network television series, then coming in on our second film as a supervising editor, when your former assistant edited that and then advising me on the documentary, when I was cutting that. You’ve been involved in every picture I’ve made.
Ed: That’s true.
Bryan: So I guess you want to avoid hiring your friend that just got Avid or Final Cut Pro and would like to start editing.
Ed: I don’t think you want to work with someone who has never edited anything. If you’ve never directed anything, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes as a director. You’re going to work with someone who can minimize or fix those mistakes. So how are you going to do that? Many of them may be technical solutions, which may not be obvious. Which gets us back to the experience the editor has. Will an inexperienced editor even recognize the mistakes?
Bryan: How soon should you get your editor involved in the process?
Ed: If it’s a feature and not a short film, I think it’s good to have somebody cutting while you’re shooting. If the editor sees some kind of problem there might be time to shoot something, or reshoot something or rethink some things. It gives you a little time to fix problems. Before hand I think it’s up to the editor as to whether they really want to get into the script. There’s such a big jump from script to the way things are shot, to the way the director sees it. I think it’s always good to have a conversation before shooting begins about what the director is planning on doing, whether this or that will work.
Bryan: You mean like insert shots, transitions. Things like that?
Ed: Yeah, but again it comes down to whether you’re having a conversation with an experienced editor or not. An inexperienced editor may not know to say, “well we have a limited amount of time so what coverage are we going to get. Are we even going to get coverage? Here’s a scene that maybe doesn’t need coverage, and here’s a scene that does. What kind of coverage do you need? If your piece is really about the details of something, we need to see the details. It’s the directors’ job to know those things. Again, I think cutting during production is very valuable. An editor can be helpful by assisting the director during shooting by looking at footage and making sure the transitions work and giving feedback. Sometimes you start to cut and see that they really haven’t thought about certain things and you make suggestions while they can still shoot it. If you start to cut after everyone has left you’ve lost all of those opportunities.
Bryan: How involved should a first time director be in the editing process? Should they be sitting there from the very beginning?
Ed: I think it depends on the director’s comfort level to a certain extent. I think it’s important for the editor to be able to take every thing and put it together first so it gives the director an objective point of view. So they can see things that they hadn’t thought about or see things a little differently from how they imagined it. See things fresh with a new eye. I think the most difficult thing for any director is to stay objective. I think new directors can get married to an idea and not want to change it. I think directors, editors, and writers need to be open to suggestions. If an editor puts something together in a way the director hadn’t thought of, it can spark more creative ideas. If the director is sitting there the whole time, that probably won’t happen. I don’t want anybody sitting there when I’m putting a first cut together because of the concentration it requires. After it’s all put together, then it’s time to look at it and maybe try this other take, or closer here or wider there and so on. But an editor needs that quiet time or you’re going to be distracted and can’t do your job. I don’t even like my assistants sitting in the bay with me. The appropriate time to come in is after the editor has a cut that they’re happy with and they feel works, and now the director comes in. The assembly is very hard work and the fun comes when you’re massaging this stuff. That’s where it really comes together. The first cut is going to be fat and long and the construction is what’s tedious to me. The subsequent work is what’s enjoyable.
Bryan: What mistakes have you seen new directors make?
Ed: The only thing that I can think of is some new directors don’t communicate well. You and I have worked together so we have an understanding and communication, but a director that’s working with an editor for the first time needs to work hard at making sure his vision and intent is understandable to the editor.
Bryan: That’s about all the time we have. I know you have to get back to review your latest cut with the producer, so thanks so much and we’ll talk again soon.