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Editor Alan E. Bell (Catching Fire, (500) Days of Summer) on Keeping Up With New Technics and Advancing Your Career

In one of the most interesting and fluid interview I’ve recently listened to with an editor, Alan E. Bell, who is behind (500) Days of Summer, the Amazing Spider-Man, Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the two Mockingjay‘s talks about his workflow, his collaboration with filmmaker Francis Lawrence and his career.

If you’ve seen Hunger Games and Catching Fire, there is a great deal of chance you’ve noticed the difference in quality and sensibility in storytelling. Watching Mockingjay, I was pleasantly surprised by the tasteful choices used to visually tell what could have been just another big budget YA blockbuster story.

In an interview with Avid recently released but shot over a year ago, Alan E. Bell mentioned two elements that captured my attention: how he keeps up with new technics and what makes him stand out in a very competitive field.

In the last ten years, editing has probably known the most changes in terms of both workflow and programs development. The Editor went from editing images to now also tackling sound and vfx in greater details, even if only temp ones, to make for a better viewing experience for the director and producers. So it’s always a wonder to me how full-time working editors keep up with the changes and stay current in this ever changing landscape. Here is what Bell says:

On Keeping Up with New Technics

[pullquote]”I want to better myself and get more creative, because I recognize that to be able to do these stuff quick, I have to know how to do it”[/pullquote]

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve started learning these applications at a relatively young age, and I did have a small visual effects shop for a time, so I spent a lot of time day in and day out doing composites and that helped a great deal. But I’m also a little bit of a nut, I enjoy 3D modeling, I just do it for pleasure -I’m not particularly good at it. But I also enjoy comping. I’ve gotten fast enough at it, because I’ve done it enough at home. When I’m on location, I’m just a work machine. If my family is not around, I’m just working. So when I go home on the weekend -and when I say ‘go home’ I mean when I go to my hotel room  on the weekend or to my apartment that’s not really home, wherever I’m cutting, I just play on my computer. I am not a person who likes to watch TV, I want to do something, I want to better myself and get more creative, because I recognize that to be able to do these stuff quick, I have to know how to do it, I can’t be sitting there, struggling and trying to learn these things with the director in the room. When I take the director it’s going to take me 15 minutes to do something, it better take me 15 or 20 minutes to do it, I can’t be like going to the manual. So recognizing that, I put in the time and the hours to study these stuff.”

On Standing Out in a Competitive Field

Alan E. Bell is known in the industry for being a tad more than an editor, meaning that he can also do some visual enhancements. Here is what he says about it:

[pullquote]When I decided to make the break and become an editor, I realized that if I learned how to do these stuff well and I could do them quickly, as quickly as I could, that would be a valuable added asset that I would have.[/pullquote]

“I have turned this phrase, which I called performance enhancing visual effects and it has kind of become my calling card and specialty as an editor. It  occurred to me a long time ago that if you can slip dialog, why not slip facial features or cut an arm off and put it in a take, or cut a whole person off and put it in a new scene. You know speed-ramp, one side of a take to make a person’s performance a little bit faster, things like that, things that are invisible, that you would never know they were there, but help either the film match, or make the pacing better or blend two performances together. So I sort of figured out ways to try do these sort of things. And you can’t do it in every case, but knowing when you can and being able to do it quickly has been very effective, and I think that’s one of the reasons why certain directors have called me back, because I’ve been able to do these things in the cutting room and show them immediately that it’s going to work or it’s not going to work. I am even able to think of those things that they are not  generally thinking of and show it to them, and I usually I would do something and they won’t even be aware that’s done and then when we go back in the dailies they realize ‘Oh, that take didn’t really exist.’ So yes, that’s something that I do and I started doing that years ago.”

(…) “When I decided to make the break and become an editor, I realized that if I learned how to do these stuff well and I could do them quickly, as quickly as I could, that would be a valuable added asset that I would have. As much as I love other editors, it’s still a competitive business, and this is a service industry, yes it’s artistic and creative, and I want to make good stories and work on good films but I also want to have something to offer that the next guy might not. I want to do all those things but I also want to be able to offer more, so that was a way for me to distinguish myself.” 

Without being a VFX supervisor, he brings to the table additional skills that can impact the speed at which the work is done but also creative inputs that can better the film for a lower cost: time + money + creativity = a golden card to employment. Ultimately the two points are two sides of the same coin: you have to bring up something different to make a difference and get hired, and you have to keep up with new technologies to bring something different. And to do both of those things, you need to be extremely passionate by what you do, so long hours will fly by.

Watch the full video if you’re interested in editing, this is a great interview with plenty more to learn:

 


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Mentorless is a blog for indie filmmakers, storytellers & storymakers with a diy spirit to find tips and nurture their craft and creativity. Read more