How to Effectively Work With Your Editor

The editor holds a very special position in the filmmaking process. An artist in his own right, the editor is tasked with assembling the rough footage in a way that fulfills your vision. However, whereas you have been involved with the film for months, possibly years, the editor has an objective point of view and can spot problems in story and pacing you may never see. For this reason, you must trust the editor and give him breathing room to build the story.

As the director of your movie, you’ve been involved in virtually every step of the process – from writing the script to shooting the footage on set. But now that you’re in post-production, you have the opportunity to work with someone who can bring something to the project that you can’t – objectivity.

The challenge that somebody has to have, and most often that challenge is met by the editor, what is actually relevant to the telling of the story. They weren’t on set, they didn’t get up at five in the morning and fight the mosquitoes to get that incredible opening shot as the sun came up over the swamp and people were dying left and right because the bugs were thick and the air was hot and it was just a miserable [experience]; they don’t care, they want to tell the story.


             – Larry Jordan, Award-winning post-production trainer, member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America


The biggest disservice you can do for the film is to sit over the editor’s shoulder and direct each edit. This common mistake not only takes away the editor’s creativity as an artist, but also your ability to make objective decisions as to how the film will cut together.  Let’s face it, you have spent months, possibly years working on the movie and know every detail of the story. Subsequently, plot holes may be invisible to you as you mentally fill in gaps with your knowledge and familiarity with the story. That’s why working with an editor is so important – editors come onboard later in the process and aren’t exposed to the creative process during production. When they receive the footage, they can objectively build the story with the available shots.

One of the most difficult scenarios with a director, is one who is a little too controlling for their own good, because sometimes, directors, and it really comes from a state of passion, I find, they have their vision, and they’re so set on their ways that they can come into the editing room and completely dominate the process. And it’s a very uncomfortable position for an editor to be in because it doesn’t give the editor time to really explore the footage on their own and see if there are alternative ways to create the scenes.


                   – Brad Schwartz, Emmy-winning Editor, “Top Chef,” “Dancelife,” and “Viva Hollywood”


Be smart and give the editor guidance that allows him to build the assembly cut alone. Once the assembly cut is finished, can come in fresh, watch the film and give the editor notes as to what changes need to be made.

Some tips and tricks to keep in mind when working with an editor:

  • Concentrate and focus – The editor is the keeper and manipulator of the footage, builder of the story and the objective eyes of the director. Tasked with building the best possible story out of potentially thousands of shots, sound effects, lines of dialogue and music cues, it’s important to be completely immersed in the story and footage.  Part of being able to concentrate is setting up a quiet area where he can work uninterrupted. Make sure the editor can aside specific time to work on the film, turning of the phone or television so he can fully immerse himself in the world you are creating. Although it takes hundreds of people to produce the footage, it really rests on the shoulders of the one editor to put it together.
  • A good editor spends more time thinking than editing – The actual physical process of cutting a film is fairly quick and easy; but the majority of the editor’s time is spent discussing the ordering of scenes, what shots work and which don’t, options and alternate ways of telling the story, how to improve the performances, how to correct pacing issues, and address the flow of the story. The editing process involves a little bit of cutting, but a lot of thought, discussion and analyzing to determine whether the edit has improved the movie. Welcome, and be open to, this dialogue, for it is in these conversations that the real art of editing happens.
  • If you’re directing the movie, bring on an experienced, objective editor – No matter how good of an editor you think you are, NEVER cut your own film. You know it too well and will mentally fill in plot holes because you know the story so well. You need the objectivity of a third party.

Ultimately, a good editor needs time to wrap his head around the material to find the best way to assemble the story.  Trust him, and let him have a pass at the material before you jump in.  You may just be surprised at the result.

Shoot for the Edit

Believe it or not, the editing of a movie begins well before you shoot the first frame. Filmmaking is a tedious process of shooting a scene numerous times from many angles using only one camera, and it’s important to consider in pre-production, how these shots will be edited together. In the editing room, the editor assembles shots so the action in the scene appears to have had occurred only once, and was covered by multiple cameras positioned around the set. This can be tricky because the quality of the edit depends heavily on how well the footage was shot on location.

When on set, always shoot for the edit by envisioning how every shot will be cut together. A great way to ensure continuity between shots is for the actors to perform the scene in its entirety and cover as much of the scene as possible from each camera set-up. The more rehearsed the actors, the more consistent their performance from take to take; the more consistent the performance, the better the continuity of the footage.

Although editing is the process of assembling footage shot in the field into a meaningful, logical sequence, smart directors and cinematographers will determine how to edit the shots together before stepping foot on set. Shooting for the edit will help you better achieve your vision, control costs by eliminating extraneous set-ups and streamline the editing process.

Shooting for the edit covers several aspects:

  • Planning camera angles and movements – During pre-production, think about the relationship between each of the shots in the shot list and how they will ultimately cut together. Storyboarding the shots, or using software that allows you to animate each shot will help you visualize the flow the each scene.
  • Plan to maximize the coverage in every camera set-up – If working on a tight budget, shooting each camera set-up from a wide shot, a medium shot and a close-up will instantly triple the options available to the editor.

One technique I employ when planning my camera angles is to place the camera where an observer would be compelled to look during a scene. As I block the actors, I take note of where my natural human tendency is to look. If I feel the need to look at a character’s face in a certain moment, odds are I will need to cover him in a close-up. If I am pulled to stand back and watch an entire action unfold, I will think about covering that part of the scene in a wide shot.

The camera is really an extension of the audience, so treat it as such. Pretend as though you were taking an audience member by the hand as the scene unfolds around you and walking him or her to different parts of the set to experience the action unfolding. What would be the best vantage point to see the action? Where would the audience member stand? How close or how far would he or she be? All these answers can translate directly into the positioning of the camera.

The Actor’s Responsibility

We often think of the director as the master storyteller, guiding the cast and crew towards one unified vision.  While much of the responsibility of crafting this vision falls on the director, the line can be come blurry between the director’s work and the actor’s responsibility.

For the actor, much of his work happens before the cameras even roll. The actor bears the responsibility of creating his character under the director’s guidance. By better understanding the actor’s process, you, the director,  can more effectively work with him to create a multidimensional character.

  • Backstory – The actor is responsible for creating her character’s backstory. What was her life like and what events in her life lead to the events of the movie? Although the director plays a role in helping the actor craft her backstory, she is solely responsible for doing the work.


Remember that good actors prepare for the role on their own. A good director is there to guide them… not do the work for them.


  • Research – It is the actor’s responsibility to do the research necessary to render an accurate on-screen performance. If the actor is playing a policeman, then he may consider working with a local police department to learn the life of a cop on the street. If she’s playing the British Queen, she must understand the life, customs, time period and behavior of a British Queen. Each role requires a different amount and type of research, the responsibility of which falls on the actor.
  • Delivery, Dialect and Behavior – If you’re shooting a period film, or a movie that involves a language other than the actor’s native language, consider hiring a consultant or acting coach to train the actor in the proper dialect or accent. It is the actor’s responsibility to learn the proper dialect of his character. In addition to the spoken word, the actor must also learn how to carry himself. Whether its learning the mannerisms of a real-life person for a biopic, or understanding the social morés of the 1890s, the actor has been hired to convincingly play the role and is expected to fully understand the person he is playing.
  • Memorize lines – This, although it should go without saying, is a the true mark of a professional. In the same way that professional crew members arrive on set with the tools they need to do their job, so too must actors arrive on set with their lines memorized and with a firm understanding of the scenes they are performing. Actors who don’t memorize their lines cost the production time and money as the crew much shoot take after take, all because of the actor’s lack of preparedness.
  • Know the objective of every scene – Talk to the director and make sure you’re clear about what the character’s goal is in each scene. What does he want and what is he doing to attain it? Know where the character is coming from in the previous scene and where he is going in the next scene. If you don’t know, then ASK!
  • Act the subtext –  Acting isn’t about reading lines; the dialog is a symptom of the deeper feelings and drive of the character. Act for the subtext, or deeper meaning, not the dialog. Ask yourself WHY the character is saying a certain line, what is the underlying motivation for this comment, and is that motivation the real driving force behind the movie?
  • Know the story – The process of making a movie means shooting it out of order. When shooting a scene, know where, how, and why it fits in the overall movie. Understand the complete plot and character arc so that when you’re asked to film Scene 46, you know what your character’s behavior, feelings, and motivation are in Scenes 45 and 47. When the editor edits Scene 46 together with Scene 45 (which you may have filmed a month later), the transition of performance must be seamless.

The director’s primary job on set is to work with the actors to get the best performance for the story, and this process begins long before the cameras roll, during rehearsal. Once the actors are cast, work with the actors to craft their character’s history, motivations, and subtexts so they can play their characters realistically during the time of their lives in which the movie takes place. This is when the homework you did by defining the subtexts, themes and motivations of each scene in your script is helpful.

Directing – It’s All In the Script

Although we all think of the director as exerting his or her influential on set, in reality the director’s work is mostly done well before hand in pre-production. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complexities of production. From working with difficult actors, to fighting the setting sun, to trying to overcome problems with the location, it’s easy to lose sight of the fragility of the emotional moment you’re tasked with creating amid this chaos. As a result, it’s always best to do your homework in a quiet environment, and look to your script for the answers.


Prep is where the big part of the director’s job happens. That’s where we figure out: what is this scene really about, what is the story I’m telling, what is the emotional point of view of each character, and what is the intent and obstacle of each character? Now how do I illuminate that by how I shoot this scene? Where do the characters want to be physically in the set, and how do I demonstrate that with a camera? I cut it all together in my head before I shoot a single thing, so that my screen direction will be correct. And so that I can answer any questions that an actor might have about intention, or about obstacle, or about subtext, or about point of view. I have to know it all through and through and completely, know it cold. Once I know that, I can come on set that day and throw it all away, just like an actor does, and let the magic happen.


– Bethany Rooney, Critically Acclaimed Director, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Private Practice”


Here are a few tips to get the most from your script before you start shooting:

  • What is this scene about? Know the complete story arc of both the A-story and each subplot.  Work through how each scene moves the story forward and the narrative purpose of each scene. Determine what each character wants in each scene, where each character is going, and where each character is coming from before the scene begins.
  • How does it fit into the scene that came before and the scene that comes next? Determining this will help you design transitions to segue from one scene into the next scene.  Let the emotion, energy, and pacing of each scene guide these transitions.
  • What is each character’s motivation in this scene? Perform a character analysis for each and every scene.  You can learn more about this process in the chapter,  “Analyzing Character.”
  • What is the driving subtext of each line of dialog? Invariably, actors will ask you why their characters are saying a particular line, so be clear what each character really means, and why he or she is covering this truthful subtext with the written line.
  • What does each character really want and is he/she speaking the truth or masking it? While dialogue can seem to be a truthful representation of how a character feels, it probably isn’t.  Look at the scene to determine why the character is masking or revealing his true intentions.
  • How would you like the lighting and cinematography to serve the theme?  In addition to the performance, determine how the other creative elements of filmmaking will work to enhance the emotion of each scene.  From the blocking of the camera to sound design,  understanding how the technique can adorn the actor’s performance can greatly enhance your control of the moment.

By unraveling and understanding these three principles in advance, you’ll be able to much more effectively tackle each scene on set.

How to Shoot a Short Film

So, you’re thinking about shooting a short film? Short films are a terrific way of learning the process of making a movie, showcasing your talents, and generating interest from producers and investors in future projects.

Despite the educational and career benefits, there is virtually no market for short films, making it nearly impossible to see a return on your investment. While there are a few distributors who may release a compilation DVD of short films, filmmakers rarely see their money back or see distribution of a short film by itself.

If I can give one piece of advice from the years I’ve been working as a filmmaker, it is to produce several short films before tackling a feature. The process of learning how to make a movie is cyclical, meaning you have to go through the entire process at least once just to begin understanding the craft.


For example, much of directing stems from understanding the editing process and the way shots work together to make a scene.  Understanding just this one aspect will have a huge impact on your choices for camera placement and pacing when directing on set.


Don’t turn your star idea into your first film… you’ll regret it for your entire career.  Start small and learn the process with a short film, then with the second and third films, hone the craft of directing, working with actors and directing the camera.  You will know when you’re ready to take on a feature.


– Jason J. Tomaric, Emmy-Winning Director


The power of a short film is that a viewer can watch your work and see an entire story arc without a big time commitment.  This is really important in Hollywood as you start marketing your talents to producers, agents, and managers.  They are all extremely busy, and won’t have time to commit to a new filmmaker’s project without a lot of buzz.  This is why a short film is a great calling card.

  • A viewer can watch your short without a big time commitment – This will make it more likely for them to see the entire film
  • You can invest your time and resources into only a few minutes – If you have $10,000 and two months, you will produce a better quality 2-minute short film by focusing those resources on 2-minutes than on a 90-minute long feature film.
  • You have more distribution options – You can easily release your short on youTube, Vimeo, post it on blogs, and even stand a better chance of being accepted into a film festival.  It’s easier for a festival programmer to fit a 2-3 minute short film than a full feature.
  • It’s a great way to practice your craft – The only way to become a better filmmaker is to practice, practice, practice.  Shorts are an outstanding tool to craft a story in three acts, create compelling characters, and emotionally engage your audience.  If you can do it in 2 minutes, then you’ll be able to do it over a 90-minute feature.
  • They don’t have to be complicated – You can shoot a compelling story in your own living room with one actor.  Short FilmSkills aren’t about scope – they are about telling an emotionally compelling story in a short time frame.
  • Don’t expect to make your money back – There isn’t a financial model or market for short films, so when you produce one, be prepared to invest in your craft and in a great calling card.  You probably won’t see a direct return on your investment.


So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and shoot your short film!

How to Be an Effective Director in Post Production

Once a movie is complete and enters the post production phase, the director is usually exhausted and may be disappointed with the results of the footage. It’s rare in the independent world for a director to have achieved her exact vision due to time and budget restrictions. By this point in the process, it is best for the director to find a fresh editor who isn’t familiar with the movie to bring an objective eye to the project. The director should sit down with the editor and talk about her vision and the tone, style, and pacing of the movie and then leave the editor to assemble a cut of the movie on his own.

Many directors are afraid of losing control of the film by turning it over to an editor. Holding the reins too tightly is a mistake because the director is carrying a lot of baggage; she knows what scenes she likes, what scenes didn’t turn out; she knows what performances were difficult to get, what shots were time consuming to shoot; each shot is full of emotion, blood, sweat, and tears. This emotional attachment makes it difficult for the director to separate herself from the footage to assemble the shots objectively into a cohesive, well-paced story. The editor doesn’t have this emotional connection to the material and is confronted with the task of looking at the available footage and assembling it in a way that best serves the story. The director should allow him the time to do this while he relaxes and clears his mind so when an assembly cut is ready, the director can view it with fresh eyes.

  • Communicate your vision to the editor in the same manner as you would with an actor. Discuss each scene, what you want it to accomplish, how you envision the tone, style, and pacing.
  • Be open to ideas and suggestions from the editor. He is seeing the footage with fresh eyes and may have a perspective you haven’t considered yet.
  • Relax and let the editor do his job. You’re probably tired and emotionally charged from the shoot itself, so take the time to get away from the project and clear your mind while the editor builds the first assembly cut.
  • After the cut is finished, work with the editor to refine and tweak the edit until you are happy with the pacing and flow of the story.
  • Confer with others to get objective opinions throughout the editing process, but be careful which advice you listen to. Everyone will have an opinion, but not everyone will be right.

Refer to the postproduction chapters for more information on the editing process, working with composers, adding digital effects, and the audio postproduction process.


Unlock the Most Powerful Acting Tool – Backstory

A play, story, or movie is nothing more than a short glimpse of a part of a character’s life in a moment of conflict. The audience does not have the luxury of knowing the character from birth, so personality and behavioral traits, quirks, likes and dislikes, and temperaments must be derived during the short time the audience watches the character in action. An actor who plays a character must understand the character’s life up to the point the story takes place. This is called the “backstory.”

Backstory is critical to a performance because people operate on many levels, each level determined by our past. For example, a man may react when provoked in a bar fight differently if:

  1. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in a single-parent family. His father is in prison for murder and his mother is a drug addict who has resorted to a life of crime to support the family, or  .  .  .
  2. He grew up in a wealthy house where money was no object. His father is an attorney and his mother a congresswoman.

When creating a character’s backstory, determine:

  • How was the home life? What was the character’s relationship with parents, siblings, and extended family? What conflicts were there?
  • How was the character in school? What was the best memory of school? The worst memory? Was the character teased? Was he or she popular? An outcast? How did this affect the character later in life?
  • What is the character’s job history? Is he or she frustrated at work? Ambitious? Lazy? Always waiting for the big break?
  • Who are the character’s friends and enemies?
  • How did the character get to the point at which the story begins?

Although much of this backstory doesn’t appear in the script and will not appear on screen, it is critical to helping an actor determine how to play a role or how to react in a given situation if he fully knows and understands his character’s past.

Write out the backstory for every character in the story. Create a detailed character profile as if you were writing the character’s biography. In addition to broad points, create a variety of specific moments (scariest moment, happiest moment, a moment when the character experienced death) for the actor to refer to when on set.


How to Direct Inexperienced Actors

As independent filmmakers, we need to use the resources we have available.  Often times, those limitations extend to actors.  While it would be great if we could afford to hire SAG-AFTRA actors from a top agency for our projects, the reality is that we are forced to work with amateurs.  And part of the challenge of filmmaking is learning how to direct inexperienced actors.

Communicating with actors requires a finesse that will help the actors find the emotional and mental state needed to play a moment properly. Although the basics of acting seem simple, crafting the details of a performance requires a special level of trust and communication between the director and the actors.

  • Explain to the actors what production is like: slow, tedious, and repetitive. The more prepared they are for the experience, the better they’ll be. This is especially the case when working with inexperienced actors. Painting a picture of the realities of production will help them pace themselves and maintain a strong energy throughout the shoot.
  • Make sure the actors have their lines memorized before stepping on set. This will allow you to craft the subtleties and nuances of the scene without having to waste time and the actors’ energy.  Nothing is more draining than doing take after take because the actor forgot the lines.
  • Always give actors feedback on what they did correctly and what they need to change. Never begin another take without giving the actor something to work off of. Remember that as a director, you are their only lifeline, so go to them first with feedback as soon as you call “cut.”
  • Help the actors develop a purpose, or objective to attain, during the course of the shooting. “In the scene, all you want to do is get to the car, to get to the store before it closes in 10 minutes.”  That type of direction will add an underlying urgency to the moment.
  • Always help the actors stay RELAXED on set. Keep actors sheltered from any problems and issues on set. The more relaxed the actor, the better the performance.
  • Avoid saying phrases like “Just act natural” or “Just be yourself.” These phrases don’t give any meaningful insight or direction to the actor.
  • Be specific in your direction. “Hank, when Samantha approaches, don’t step back. Look her straight in the eye. It’s a challenge. Which of the two of you is in command of this moment? She thinks she is. You’re letting her know she’s not. It’s a power play.”
  • Don’t be negative when asking an actor to change a performance, but rather, put a positive spin on it. Don’t say, “I don’t want you to say that line so loud,” rather, say “Let’s try it again, but this time, try the line a little softer. I think it would be more effective in this moment because  .  .  .  .” NEVER say what they did wrong; suggest a way they could do it differently.
  • Encourage actors to remain in character, even when the camera isn’t rolling. The more comfortable they are in their role, the more convincing and real the performance will be. Set a place aside for the actors to go to between setups so they can practice their lines and prepare for the next moment.
  • The only person an actor should get advice from is the director. If crew members or other cast members feel free to give helpful acting suggestions, it will only undermine your relationship with the actors.
  • Avoid foreign dialects or accents unless an actor can speak them convincingly. Not only does a bad accent take the audience out of the moment, but it is also distracting for the actor. Often  times, he will be so focused on getting the accent right, that he won’t be focusing on the reality of the moment.
  • Be aware that working with children or animals increases the time and effort needed to get the shot.
  • The more you rehearse, the better the on-set performance. Help the actors prepare not only their lines, but also their character motivations.
  • After auditions, consider hosting a social event with both the cast and the crew to give everyone an opportunity to get acquainted with one another before you get to the set. You will find a tremendous improvement in quality and camaraderie.
  • Help the actor understand where the character was emotionally before and after the scene you are shooting. Because movies are shot out of order, it is important to establish and discuss the character arc of how a character got to this scene and where they are going after the scene.
  • Respect the fact that acting can be an emotionally stressful and trying process, especially with difficult scenes. Be sensitive to the actors’ needs and always be supportive.

Filmmaking Techniques to Get Proper Coverage

The set is a busy, stressful place to work.  You’ve spent weeks, if not months preparing for each shooting day, and when it arrives you have to create art out of chaos.  There are a thousand things that can go wrong. Crew members call in sick, a breaker pops, location owners get demanding, the camera may not work, or any one of a thousand thousand other problems. The secret to getting the coverage you need is to be prepared. Follow these filmmaking techniques to reduce on set problems, get the coverage you need, and make every scene a winner.

  • Make sure everything is planned out on paper before stepping onto the set. All storyboards should be finalized, actors rehearsed, and camera angles planned. Remember that the production process is about executing the plan that you built in preproduction.
  • Make sure camera angles are concise and camera coverage overlaps so that the editor has options in the editing room. A script supervisor will keep track of which parts of the scene are covered by which camera angle.
  • Make sure the camera follows the actor’s actions and the actor motivates the camera’s movements. Rehearse every camera move to ensure the actor, dolly, focus puller, and boom operator hit their marks before rolling on a take.
  • Do a complete rehearsal with the actors for the crew before setting up equipment so everyone on set understands what is happening in the scene. Go over general camera angles and how the scene is to be shot.
  • Be mindful of the rules of composition when placing the camera and determining angles and movement.
  • Think about how the shots will be edited together while figuring out optimum camera angles on set. A smart director shoots for the edit.
  • The camera operator should always communicate with the boom operator so she knows where the frame edge is BEFORE  rolling. This will minimize the microphone  boom drifting in and out of the shot.
  • When shooting a camera setup, consider shooting another size frame (i.e., a long shot, medium shot, or close-up) of the action from the same angle. While this doesn’t require a repositioning of the camera, it will provide the editor the option of intercutting closer and farther shots of the same action.
  • Before each new camera setup, discuss the details of the shot with the crew. Good communication is always key to a smooth-running set.
  • Be mindful of on-set continuity as the camera positions change. Are props, set dressing, and even actors where they are supposed to be from one shot to the next?
  • Productions always go slower early in the day. As the hours wear on, filming usually has to pick up pace because the production is running behind schedule. Move quickly and efficiently from the beginning of each day to avoid the mad rush at the end.
  • Have a backup plan if exterior scenes are canceled due to weather. Always have a backup interior scene to film so the cast and crew can change locations and continue shooting.
  • Make sure every crew member knows his on-set duties. If a crew member has nothing to do, he should ask his department head if she needs help. There is always work that needs to be done on set.
  • Keep the set clear of equipment. Organize lights, grip gear, and electrical cables. This will make cleanup easier at the end of the day and make getting out new gear easier.
  • Make sure meal breaks are scheduled every six hours.
  • When working on set, practice on-set safety by securing cables and riggings and maintaining an environment that minimizes accidents.
  • Ensure that every crew member has the day’s script, call sheet, and shooting schedule.

As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Think, plan, and prepare for every contingency before you get to the set.