I have worked on a couple shows that were shot on film.  The shows I worked on were shot on Super 16mm, and it was, and still is, an expensive process.  The film stock isn’t cheap (although cheaper than some tape formats), but then you need to add into that the film processing and telecine to tape.  And we wouldn’t receive the footage for the day’s shoot until the following day, when we needed time to capture it.  So the editor might see the footage perhaps two days later, or in the afternoon of the next day, depending on the edit bay situation.

And, because it was an expensive process, the shooting ratio was small.  On average you might see between two and six takes, depending on how good the actors and crew were in getting the shot just right.  Once they got the shot, they might shoot a safety…but there’d be plenty of takes that might have flubs, or something bad happening, but they still print because part of the take was good.  If something went wrong, they’d shoot more.  But, regardless, the shooting ratio was pretty low. And because it was low, the amount of time needed to review the footage, and produce a rough cut, was relatively short.  A week for a rough cut was totally doable…on a 30 min show.  60 min shows have more time…two weeks, or 12 days.

Then came tape….and more recently, tapeless.  Now the shooting format was cheaper.  And because of this, directors are shooting more…A LOT more.  And shooting longer takes.  Sometimes getting two to seven takes in ONE “take.”  Meaning that they don’t stop and re-slate, they just say “RESET…let’s take it from the top” and don’t stop the tape and roll again.  That is fine, we can subclip or add markers/locators to separate them.  But what this is really starting to do is make the amount of footage that the editor has to look at and deal with, increase ten-fold.  Yet, and this is the clincher…we have the SAME AMOUNT OF TIME to sort through the footage and present a rough cut.

That’s right.  The shooting ratio jumps to ten times the amount we used to get…but the time allotted to cut this footage remains the same.

I have an editor friend who is dealing with this right now.  On EVEN STEVENS, we’d have perhaps 3 hours of footage for the 22:42 min show.  But he is on another Disney Channel show where he regularly sees six to 8 hours of footage…multiple takes buried in one roll.  This takes time to sort through.  Producers and networks want the best take used in the show.  Well, this requires that the editors actually watch all the footage…and then compare all the takes. Several times. We need to see the subtle differences that make one take better than the other.  Comparing 3-4 takes is a bit quicker than looking at 10-12 takes.  It takes time.  But the big problem is, we aren’t given any additional time to do this.  And on shows that are Union, you can’t work longer hours to do this.  Well, not on the books anyway.  Yet, we are expected to take the extra time to do this.

But that brings us to the overall issue of dealing with lots of footage, and the expectations producers/networks have in terms of our work schedule.  To many, what we do is mysterious enough.  But many people don’t seem to grasp that when an editor is given 80 hours of footage, we need time to look at everything.  If we work 8 hour days, we need two weeks (40 hours a week) to review the footage. Given a 50 hour week (10 hour days…which is more of the norm), that is a week and a half…8 days.  The problem is that producers want to see results after a week.  They want to see some sort of cut…a string out, a rough cut.  Something.  So we have to start building the cut the instant we watch the footage.  And what this has me doing is cutting something, finding a better take later, replacing what I edited, getting that to work.  Then, oh dear, the second half of yet a later cut was better than the one I have, but the one I have has a better first half.  But, great, the continuity is off, so I can’t make that work.  My cutting can end up being more haphazard.

The message here to producers… who I doubt read this blog so they won’t get the message… is “please give us time.”  If you want a quality project, please give us time to review the footage.  If you don’t have it in the budget to do that, please shoot less.  Well, this won’t work out well in the documentary world, because they shoot what they shoot.  But in the “reality” world where there are multiple takes (yes, there are), and in the narrative world… you need to note that the more you shoot, the longer it takes us to sort through the haystack to find the needle.  So please keep that in mind.

This is why the cut we turned in wasn’t as good as it could have been.  Or the one that we did deliver… that cut that was really really good…we worked 24, 48 hours straight to make it that way.  Or we worked multiple 16 hour days.  That seems to be the expectation lately.  That we put in the long long hours required to produce the cut that they expect us to produce in the short amount of time they give us.

This, my lovely wife, is why I was working late all week long, and got home long after you were asleep.  And why I am cranky when I get up at 6AM to help with the kids.  And sleep until noon on Sunday.

EDIT: Read the comments!  They are full of great discussion…