Recently, I watched Austin McConnel’s video “i made a movie. it stunk.” In it, McConnel talks about the one feature length movie he made after achieving a string of successes with short films. Sprouting Orchids (2013), broke him. And this video is an attempt to share every lesson he could salvage from that disaster.
It’s a great video. No, really. If you got thirty minutes, you should stop reading this, and just go watch that video instead. You can come back later if you want.
So who’s left reading this article? The devoted and the lazy? Maybe a few bots? I’ll take it.
While the video is excellent, McConnel chose to avoid talking about the editing process. According to him:
“There’s really not much to say here. At least nothing that would keep your attention. Editing is often slow and monotonous work. It is not glamorous. And there’s really no way to tell a fun story about how I would spend 18 hours a day staring at an Adobe Premiere timeline listening to the same thirty seconds over and over and over again.”
And he’s right. It isn’t fun. I can’t say that I’m in the same mental space McConnel was. He needed to edit a feature length movie by himself in two months before the film festival season. I only need to deal with fifteen episodes of an audio drama that will be done when it gets done. So editing for me isn’t a living nightmare in the way it was for McConnel. But it’s still exhausting. And it’s demeaning; all I want to do is create something new, and all I can do is retool the same scenes over and over again. And it isn’t rewarding. Not really. I mean, when Season 2 goes live I’ll be rewarded many times over by sharing all this work with you guys. But if I do my job right, everything about making the show will sound fun. It will sound like we stood on a street corner and turned on the microphone and people read their lines while goofing around. If I do my job right, we won’t be able to appreciate any of this frustrating work because the audience won’t recognize it ever existed.
And McConnel is right about another thing: editing doesn’t lend itself well to interesting stories. No one almost gets hurt. No one cracks a bunch of jokes. I didn’t get to work with someone who was a complete jerk, or a total cool dude. I just listen to stuff by myself. I listen to stuff, then I make a cut, then I adjust some levels, and then I listen to stuff again. Ad nauseum.
This is why you haven’t heard from me for a while in Say Hello to Black Jack’s blog section. After auditions, I chose the actors I wanted to work with, and sent them off to record. There’s some great voice work coming which I would love to talk to you guys about, but I don’t want to jinx the production. Sometimes people don’t fulfill their commitments. I can’t pay anyone, and we aren’t popular yet, so I know that this project is not of the highest priority for many of the talented actors I’m working with. I assume it gives them work they enjoy doing, while padding their resume. And maybe SH2BJ will someday be bigger than it is right now. But I can’t guarantee an actor or two won’t shirk responsibilities for a more important project, and I wouldn’t want to get in their way if that happened.
So I can’t share line reads with you yet. And now I’m editing and… no really, this is the terrible part. It isn’t as bad as the first season, since I didn’t know what I was doing back then. But I’m looking forward to hours and hours of tedium. For many people, success at their job means bringing in a paycheck so that they can better enjoy their home lives. My idea of success at my job is to bring in any money so I can pay people to do the soul draining work, and I can better enjoy my work life.
So, no, there’s not many stories to tell about editing. But when McConnel chose to skip the editing process in his video, my heart sank. The average person doesn’t need to hear this stuff, it’s true. Editing is where movie magic goes to die. But for those of us slugging through the work, fighting to keep everything together, trying to remind ourselves why we do all of this in the first place? Validation helps. I guess that goes for anyone going through tough times. My idea of tough times is different than yours, I presume. But yeah, it sucks. Struggling sucks. I don’t know if it’s worth the reward. It doesn’t matter really, because as one who creates and insists on wanting other people to see what I made, I’ll keep putting myself in this position anyway.
Because the alternative, where I used to create something and throw it in the trash, feels much worse. In my twenties, I used to write scripts and stories that I would be proud of, and then with no patience for editing, I’d shove that work in a drawer. And I’d forget about it. Except when I remembered it and would be sad because I knew I made something good, and did nothing with it. But as the years passed, the energy to rework those pieces wasn’t there any more. Then, one by one, I lost them. Sometimes through negligence. The cloud didn’t exist back then, and computers fail over time. Papers shuffled around and moved. Ideas that spanned numerous notebooks were separated from each other, with an end result that it would take far less time to create something new and the end result was probably better than cobbling together old ideas anyways.
I don’t want to think back on my previous projects with regret. So I must edit. I must edit thoroughly and completely, until the germ of an idea is processed and ready for consumption. And until I finish doing that, I can’t allow myself to create more, as frustrating as that is. Because that new project is meaningless without the assumption that it will be finished.
But damn. I can’t wait to be done with editing.