Conversation with Director/Editor Erik Freeland

I was extremely fortunate that Erik Freeland of Springhouse Films was the editor on our film Opening Our Eyes.  I learned a lot from Erik through our collaboration.  I thought I would share some of Erik’s insights about the art of editing.

What makes a good editor?

Knowing a little bit about everything. Art history, popular culture, physics, linguistics, music… it gives you more points of reference for understanding and presenting the story. Attention to detail is very important because in the end, nothing goes unnoticed by the audience. I guess I’d have to say patience is tremendously important –– even though computers do amazing things, editing is at its core a tedious process.

We all seem to wear more than one hat these days – do you? If so do those skill sets complement each other and how?

I started in this business as an editor but really wanted to have more control over the material I was editing. I’ve have been fortunate to be able to also have a career as a director. Understanding those two disciplines and knowing what is possible in each allows me to visualize the editing process more during the shoot.

I know from editing projects myself, it has made me a better shooter. For still photographers who may not want to edit their own projects – what tips can you give to them about shooting video and motion?

Don’t cut too soon. Be patient and let a shot evolve.

When shooting a scene or a moment in time, think of it as different framings: the wide establishing shot, a medium shot of the main action or subject and little details that can serve as cutaways to prolong the scene or intercut the other shots while masking breaks in continuity.

Plan your movement of the camera and commit to it. When you start a pan, resist the temptation to reframe the shot mid-move. Keep it moving for long enough to make the shot usable in the edit and cut only if it really falls apart.

Keep in mind how much footage you are shooting vis a vis what you will want to end up with. You don’t want to miss anything important but a lot of redundant footage can really be a liability in your edit.

What does a well-edited film mean to you?

Many things. I think first and foremost, it’s about clear storytelling. It shouldn’t be confusing and leave the viewer behind. The editing shouldn’t stylistically overpower the story. Secondly, the rhythm of the cutting should help move the film and should be sympathetic to its tone. Third, it should move you, surprise you, change your mind, do something… I suppose I could say the same things are equally important in directing a film.

As an editor, you can have a lot of influence over the meaning and arc of a story. How much influence should an editor have? Does it depend on the director?

An editor should exercise as much as they can… without upsetting the collaborative balance. Everyone involved in the film should influence it to the best of their ability. Otherwise, their contribution to the process is short-changed. Of course, every working relationship is different and some are less collaborative.

What makes a good director?

I think some of the same qualities that make a good editor are part of a being good director. Knowing a little bit about everything as a director for instance, allows you to tell many types of stories and immerse yourself in the subject matter. Attention to detail, multi-tasking capabilities, being able to verbally communicate about visuals are of course all important skills. There is also a balance between focus and objectivity. A good director is fused with the film –– totally absorbed in every detail. At the same time, they have to be able to look at it and all decisions objectively and from a distance, almost like the eventual viewer.

What makes a good story?

Characters you care about, conflict and location, location, location…

What’s more difficult – editing a 2 minute piece for the web or a feature length film?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one. Kind of like asking which is better night or day.

Does editing have trends? Maybe you can point out a couple of examples of style over the years.

OK, first I don’t profess to be a film historian but I try to keep up on things. I tend to watch the films I like the most over and over. Technology has certainly created trends in film editing and directing. Advancements in keying technologies, motion tracking and motion capture as well as realistic CGI environments are but some of the major trends that have changed the way films look and are edited. Probably the closest things to trends specific to editing have been related to timing and pacing. The time-lapse of “Koyaanisqatsi” in the early 80’s, the repetition and multiple outcomes of “Run Lola Run” and the quick cutting shorthand jump-cuts and time-compression in Guy Ritchie’s films like “Snatch” have all had a huge influence over the editing of their time.

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