Sparkjoy Studios took a field trip to visit Random Acts of Romance editor Franco Pante at his editing suite. We bring you the first of a four-part interview. In this installment, Franco tells us about the experience he brings to RAOR, takes us on a journey through the last 20 years of film production technology, and describes his editing process.
S: Franco, what’s your background? How did you get started in film?
FP: I started like many people — on set, holding a traffic sign, a production assistant on set, and did that here in Vancouver – this was in the 80s – then moved to Toronto a few years after that, and started getting into post production at that point…and did a lot of years assisting on American features. So, a lot of synching dailies. It was a great learning experience because we got to work with a lot of really great editors up from LA and see on these bigger shows how things worked.
S: When you say “synching dailies,” can you explain what that is?
FP: It’s not done so much anymore, but it’s when you shoot on film and you have workprint, you start from that and then you get your sound and that’s put on mag stock, so it’s the same thing as a kind of film stock but it has a magnetic track on it. Then you’re physically putting them up on a bench and lining up where the slate closes with the sound of the clapper hit, and then you cut out the extra bits. That’s it (laughing)! And repeat ad nauseum.
S: So this is not for the final, this is just so that other people can see what’s happening?
FP: That’s correct. And also, when I started out, most features were still shot on film and cut on film, right? You would synch your workprint and you would have daily screenings so the director and crew would come in at the end of the day and screen with the editor.
S: So they could see what they shot?
FP: Yeah. So, that’s what “dailies” are. You would show the material that was shot from the previous day in a theatre. It was important because if a film was going to be released theatrically, you’d want to see it projected. It was handy because you were cutting on film, so it was easy to do. And the editor would cut on film on a flatbed usually, of some sort, or a Moviola, so that was real old school.
So, it was great to experience that and see that process and then see how non-linear editing started to come in. And, literally, I remember working one year with an editor who cut on a Moviola, and the next year, they came back and they were cutting another film on a non-linear computer editing system. So, it started to really shift in the 90s.
S: So, is it fair to say that non-linear editing requires a digital format?
FP: Um, no, because the Moviola was non-linear editing as well. I mean, there were two styles of cutting on film – there was cutting on a flatbed, which many may have seen: you put two big rolls up and you would roll it back and forth, and you make your cuts and you put stuff together and –
S: You physically assemble it?
FP: Yeah, and then some editors would actually have a second flat bed. They would have dailies rolls on the second flat bed, and they would be cutting on another one…some worked like that, but then with the Moviola, what you did is you took each take and the assistant would break them all down so that they’d all be on rolls.
So you’d have take one, take two, take three, whatever, in all these little rolls, and they would feed it through the Moviola, and you could go to any piece and then you would cut that piece out, and you might be assembling it on a bench beside you.
And, so, that was kind of non-linear in the fact that you didn’t have to roll through a big roll of takes to get to the point you wanted to use – you would just put another take up. And you could even go down half way through, and pop it in.
So, that was kind of the non-linear equivalent in film.
S: It strikes me that there must have been some intense record keeping to actually deal with that kind of stock.
FP: Absolutely. That was kind of a cool thing in a way. I mean, film cutting required a lot more assistants in the room, whereas now we generally have one assistant.
Sometimes on the bigger shows we’ll have more, but with computer editing, that’s really reduced the number, because [before] you just had all that physical labour. The synching of dailies required usually a couple of people to get done in time and then, also, if you’re cutting on a Moviola, frequently the assistant would stand right there with the editor. Which was really cool because you got to see their decision-making process.
S: So, did you go through that process? Did you actually work with an editor and learn the ropes?
FP: I never got to be in the room with the editor, unfortunately, on a lot of the shows, because on the American shows, they would have their own assistant come up with them. So we would handle the synching, but frequently what would happen with those guys is they would call you into the room and show you a scene that they cut. It was a great learning process to see how they made their decisions.
S: Were there multiple cuts done at that time?
FP: Oh, for sure, but there’s a difference cutting in a physical medium where you have to splice and re-splice, and after a time you’re getting all these cuts in your film and it makes it a little harder to go through the machinery.
The older editors, even today if they’re working non-linear, won’t make a cut, some of them, until they know where it’s going to go. Because they have to think about the ripple effect of – ‘If I make this cut here, how’s that going to affect the scene later on when this or that happens?’
And, even before that, I remember talking to an editor who, when he started out, they were hot splicing everything. They weren’t tape splicing.
S: What does that mean?
FP: Hot splicing is when you get this splicer that actually cements it together. But when you do that, you lose part of a frame, because you have to scrape off the emulsion to make the splice happen. So, you’re not going back. You can only go shorter after that, or get a reprint from the lab.
S: So, people who cut their teeth in that format still have that mindset today?
FP: Yeah. And I think that there’s something to be said about it in the sense that you really think about how the cut works. I don’t think anybody would want to really go back to that though. Just because it’s so much easier [to use digital], and you can experiment a lot easier, too.
And you can play around with effects that you couldn’t in film in the same way. Even a simple dissolve, obviously you couldn’t do in film: you would mark it with a grease pencil, (laughing) right? Or you had to get it done optically, which would cost money.
S: So, this is a good time to compare it to how you work today, in digital format. Can you speak a little about the tools you have at your disposal now?
FP: The digital format, going back to when it first came in, it was really expensive. As with most computer parts, things were a lot more expensive. Where a system years ago would cost you a hundred thousand dollars, now it’s a few thousand.
S: So, is that an Avid?
FP: Yeah. Well, initially there were a whole range of things I won’t go into, but, you know, they were all really expensive. Then it sort of whittled down to Avid being the one that most people were using. There were a few others, but a lot of people were using Avid. But it was still very expensive.
And then Final Cut was released and, once we saw that being used a little bit in the marketplace, I think it made Avid release a lower-cost version, a software-only version, which they hadn’t done before, so thank God for Apple and Final Cut.
So now, systems are a lot more accessible.
S: Are you using a commercial grade Mac?
FP: Yeah, because I’m running Final Cut 7. That’s the other thing – with Final Cut, recently they released a brand new complete overhaul. For the professional market, it’s really been hard, because they eliminated things that we rely on, and they’ve slowly been reintroducing them in the new version. But I haven’t tried it yet.
It’s a revisualization, I think, of the whole process, and could potentially be really great, but for the time being, it’s not. And Avid is still the main system that most people use in professional environments.
S: Is there a comparison – do you use both?
FP: Oh, for sure. I go back and forth a lot.
S: What’s your take on the two – strengths, weaknesses?
FP: You can talk to any editor and they’re all going to have their preferences. You love and you hate whichever one you’re working on at that time, because there’s just slightly different ways of working with it. And, as I said, with the new Final Cut, I haven’t touched it yet, so we’ll see what that brings in the future.
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We’ll post part two of this four-part interview next week. In that segment, Franco talks about his professional relationship with director Katrin Bowen, compares RAOR with with Amazon Falls, and brings us further insights into his editing process.
Franco is a freelance editor in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at: