Welcome to the third of our four-part interview series with RAOR editor Franco Pante. In this segment, Franco reveals how he approaches editing from the vantage point of the audience, and how that influences the decisions he makes.
S: From your point of view, what makes the movie? Is it the script, or the actors, or the director…?
FP: It’s everything, isn’t it? You start with, hopefully, a great script, and casting is really important, and then the director has to bring it all together. I mean, they’re the focal point of everything. With Katrin, it’s amazing the hard work that she’s done just to get the film made and to carry it through. It’s what every director does, but in her case it’s even more so.
S: There’s some intangible thing about being an editor that directors talk about. What is that for you?
FP: It’s been said that what an editor does is cut out the bad bits. That’s a quote from Walter Murch. You’re looking for truth in the performance. It’s one of the most fun jobs in film I think. We can’t tell people it’s too much fun, because everybody will want to do it (laughing)!
S: So do you put yourself in the audience’s frame of mind?
FP: Definitely. You are the first audience for the film when you’re putting it together. I love watching movies, so this is my chance to watch the movie and see how it gets put together in all its iterations. By the end, you hope you’re moving toward the best possible version of what you want to see.
S: Do you watch movies and slip into your editor hat, sometimes?
FP: With a good movie, frankly, for me, I’m not really watching the editing necessarily. It’s the story that draws me in.
There’s the whole theory about editing being a transparent art, right? So you’re watching a scene and you’re not really watching the cuts. For some films, the cuts are in your face because there’s a reason for that. But, even so, it’s still the story that keeps me involved in a film. I might go back and then watch a film again specifically to see – you know, in that scene, I felt like this, and how did the editing make that happen for me?
But, when I’m first watching, if it’s a great film, I’ll just watch it and enjoy it. And that’s the beauty of it. The art kind of slips away and you just watch it. You can’t tell people “This was really difficult to put together because we didn’t have the coverage here,” and then the director can step in and say, “Well, you know, on that day it was raining and the lights were falling over and then this crashed and the actor slipped…”
S: The audience doesn’t care!
FP: They don’t. All that you have is what’s up there and either it works or it doesn’t. Sometimes you watch a film and it’s okay, but if you know what was involved in the making of it, just to get to okay was a monumental task. Whereas, you look at a Hollywood feature that’s really slick, and it’s like, well, yeah but they had a lot more resources to get to okay. So I think there’s virtue in the fact that if you can make something good from difficult situations, then you’ve done well.
S: I’ve heard the term “we’ll fix it in post” on set quite often. What’s your take on that (laughing)?
FP: …And in the edit room, we say “we’ll fix it in the mix,” and in the mix, they say, “we’ll fix it in shipping.” If it’s a problem, it’s going to be a problem. Sometimes, yes, we can solve it in post, but sometimes not so much.
S: You’re not a magic maker.
FP: Well, we do what we can, right? Sometimes it costs money to solve it. Usually that’s kind of what happens, if there’s a problem on set for whatever reason that you need to fix with a visual effect, perhaps. Say there was signage in the background that they couldn’t shoot around it and can’t get clearance for it, so now we have to actually physically change it with visual effects, or that actor wasn’t available that day, so we had to do this work-around. So, certainly there’s a lot of things you can do in post to try and fix problems.
S: I’ve heard people in the industry lament that, when it was film, you had to be so careful about the shots you took that it kind of, in the moment of production, put a focus on things that is lost today.
FP: I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case on set. You still have to light, you have to compose your frame. It’s maybe less costly to have more cameras in certain situations, but you still need a good camera operator, you need somebody that knows what they’re doing moving the camera, a good dolly grip, and you need a good focus puller, and if you have more cameras on set, if you’re shooting multiple cameras, they can get in the way of each other if your scene isn’t designed to be able to do that.
You can go faster, but sometimes you don’t get the shot you really want. So, let’s say you’re shooting a conversation and you have two cameras, sometimes you think you’ve got it covered because you’ve got both sides of the conversation, but you might want a different angle or a different shot that you didn’t get.
S: I get the sense you must have the capacity to hold a lot of these things in your head at once.
FP: Well, with every editor, they need to have a sense of the footage. I’ve heard editors say you have to know every frame. Obviously you don’t know every frame, but you do have a sense of ‘There was that take that I remember that I liked where he did this,’ and that’s where some editors are very methodical with their note taking, so they get that first impression and they write that first impression down.
Then again, they might go through the material and as they go through in more detail, make notes. I don’t, usually, but I will look at all the dailies and get a good sense and then as I go through, look at each individual line reading as I’m putting together a scene.
You’re also choosing whether, if there’s coverage for it, where you might want to go in closer or be wider or stay on the other actor for a reaction. And all of these things you’re taking into account as you go through.
S: Holding it and juggling it…
FP: Yeah, and of course looking for technical glitches and any problems that might come up – the camera was shaking here, or was out of focus here, the lighting was a little bit off at this point – anything.
S: Do you think in your head in terms of beats?
FP: Exactly. In a scene, I’m looking at: are the beats being hit within the scene – are the moments that we want to bring out in that particular scene, are they there, are they coming forward? And if they’re not always captured in the best way, for whatever reason you need to kind of build that. You have to look at what the point of the scene is and is the material there for it, is it supporting it? That’s the challenge. But it’s a fun challenge. It’s like a great organic puzzle.
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We’ll post the final segment of our four-part interview next week. Director Katrin Bowen will join the conversation and, along with Franco, will reveal some of the drama and challenges that accompanied the making of RAOR.
You’ll have a front-row seat into the relationship between director and editor, and how they collaborate to create the movie.
Franco is a freelance editor in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com