Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Tech and Craft of Editing in 2023 with Versus Editor Brian Sanford

Video is one of the most powerful marketing tools in the industry today. It allows you to deliver messages to your audience in a way that no other medium can. More importantly, how that video is edited and produced determines just how well that message is received - and there's a lot of work that goes into editing behind the scenes.

Versus Editor Brian Sanford shares his take on video editing in 2023, including selecting the right editing software, characteristics of a really great video editor, and his take on AI.

PH: How would you describe video editing in 2023?

Brian Sanford: Boundless—editing now has fewer rules and more points of inspiration than ever before. Content styles and mediums are constantly evolving, which has pushed directors and agencies to open up their briefs to editors, thus expanding on the creative potential of every project by tapping into their knowledge and experience.

When I started my career in editing, it was common to look to art house films, music videos, and features for inspiration. I would pull classic Mel Brooks films when cutting comedy. Not just for my own inspiration, but as a bit of a comedy timing cheat sheet for the room. If anyone was going to start questioning the timing of a cut, I would pull up a perfectly crafted Mel Brooks setup and punchline to remind us all how the master did it. Now, inspiration can come from a TikTok post, AI-generated art, or boundary-pushing branded content.

PH: How important is selecting the right software? What should one be looking for in terms of software specs, and does that verify depending on the type of project you're editing?

Brian Sanford: Editors take note: Don't limit yourself to JUST using editing software.

Modern editors must be able to jump between programs and have a stronger visual toolset at their disposal. Personally, I use Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop, and Cinema 4D. However, a big reason for coming to a studio like Versus was to not only leverage its dominant visual effects division but to also absorb all the amazing knowledge from the artists around me, and apply that practically to my own edits.

Oftentimes, I use features like head replacements for performance and massive speed ramps that just don't look good enough when using the tools in editing software. My VFX producer was frustrated with me on my last project because a shot had six layers and he said, “It’s just two people talking’...” Well, he didn’t understand that it’s two body performances, two heads, and some better background action, all tracked together.

My goal is always to make the smoothest rough-cut.

PH: What technology (in your opinion) has been the most useful and groundbreaking? On the other hand, what tech do you think has been a bit overrated?

Brian Sanford: Cloud-based, real-time storage is absolutely groundbreaking. This technology eradicates a majority of the clutter, so you can just focus on the craft. The countless hours that editors spent dealing with servers, shuttle drives, and tape backup? Gone.

At Versus, we use LucidLink—a product I literally can’t shut up about. Its super clean interface allows for a seamless workflow between everyone on the post-production team, anywhere in the world, while working in one storage system. Our whole company can collaborate in real-time, off the cloud, as if they were connected to a local server.

As for overrated? Mobile-based post-production apps… Just because you can create a project on your iPhone, doesn’t mean you should. If you want to take the craft seriously and elevate to the professional level, then you should absolutely not be using any software on your phone. Screening, selects, and the actual process of editing just cannot be properly executed on a mobile device at the professional level. Saying you learned how to edit on your phone is like saying you learned how to build a house with Legos.

PH: AI is all the rage it seems. What's your take on AI and does it have a place in the future of video editing? Pros/cons?

Brian Sanford: All pros! AI will be an efficiency multiplier that allows creatives to do more creating. I have experience in comedy dialogue where editing various improvisational performances is commonplace, meaning that I need all of those adlibs transcribed and organized quickly for auditions with my clients.

Personally, speech-to-text transcription is a timesaver, however, it doesn’t replace the work an assistant editor does to prep dailies—but it absolutely gets the job done with greater ease, breaking up the transcription by speaker to make it quickly searchable. The technology still flubs a bit and needs a lot of cleaning up from an assistant, but it allows me to jump into the film right away, while my assistant is wrapping prep.

The only cons will be when our clients think they can cut time out of our calendar because AI will let us ‘do it faster’.

PH: What are some of the characteristics of a really great video editor?

Brian Sanford: Most importantly? Excellent communication skills. It’s by far the most overlooked (yet critical) aspect of running an edit session. Great editors need a strong point of view on a variety of topics within the craft, but they also need to be able to explain (and sometimes educate) the team about the rationale behind all of the choices. All editors need to understand how to present their work with a rationale behind each cut.

You can certainly make choices that just ‘feel’ right, without invoking some film school debate about ‘The 180° Rule’, but you need to know why you made those choices. As you work from rough cut to fine cut, lead editors must be able to help the team visualize how and why the decisions are going to work. Your clients need to see you as a peer and someone who can confidently speak at eye-level to agency executives and high-profile directors.

Editors also need to be true leaders. Although we certainly know how to take orders, editors must display strong leadership skills if we ever want projects to get over the finish line. Great editors lead the entire post-production, from assistants to producers. Additionally, it’s important to nurture and elevate young talent, facilitating their ability to deliver great work for you today and be the editors of tomorrow for your studio. Your team needs to be motivated, but, more importantly, they need to feel respected. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink… But when dealing with creative talent, you have to make them thirsty, too.

To complement communication and leadership, having a deeper understanding of the full post process is HUGE. When you understand how color will affect shot choices, how mix and music composition can change the tone of a scene, and what the fully-realized VFX world will look like, you can make stronger creative choices. Immerse yourself in the finishing process of a film and learn as much as you can from fellow artists in other vocations to develop a deeper understanding.

PH: What are some of the most important video editing techniques?

Brian Sanford: It’s not necessarily a technique—more of a mindset—but, I would say that you have to be open. Allow yourself to be influenced by things you might not find enjoyable at face value. I might not like TikTok videos because of the vertical framing or homemade quality, but there is no denying that those techniques can be embraced to add creativity and authenticity to your cuts—especially when the work is supposed to speak to that same audience.

I now make it a point to spend some time on TikTok and the algorithm totally gets me now. My feed is full of quick VFX techniques, interesting editorial choices, and some truly innovative DIY filmmaking solutions. Some of the creators on the platform execute visually interesting shots in a completely bootstrapped manner with just a smartphone and free software. In some ways, it really feels like the right way to build your filmmaking knowledge, unlike most privileged people who get their hands on a MacBook Pro at age 12.

PH: Can you share some of the biggest challenges that you think video editors will encounter in 2023?

Brian Sanford: With all of the economic turmoil around the world, the biggest challenge all of us in the industry will continue to face is the fear of stepping outside of our comfort zones. From editors to creative directors, the industry needs to stay hungry and be willing to push boundaries. One of the main reasons I partnered with Versus is because their reel included work that didn't look like anything I’ve been a part of. I wanted to push myself into the mixed media and VFX space. I was eager to learn skills from non-editors and had carved out a safe niche for myself as an in-demand comedy editor, but I wanted to get my hands into more challenges to broaden what kind of work I could apply for in the future—and it was the best career choice I’ve ever made.

Also, the ‘snow globe’ of editorial companies has been violently shaking over the last two years. From my own experience and speaking with my peers, I know that finding the right fit for a company is terribly tricky right now, but you have to stick with it. There are still a ton of great studios out there looking for premiere talent—never sell yourself short and apply to everything.

And feel free to reach out to me! I always love chatting it up with peers and seeing if we can support each other in this crazy industry!

PH: How do you think the role of the video editor will evolve in the next decade?

Brian Sanford: Decade?! Ten years ago, I was cleaning the heads of Digibeta decks and shipping everything in standard definition. So much can happen. If we’re really talking ten years, then we can expect to see some extraordinary tech enter the space as remote work becomes the norm, and the prize for the companies that make the transition painless will be massive. I believe that ‘integration’ is going to be the word that gets thrown around most often in the post-production landscape throughout the next decade.

For example: 1) How quickly can a company like Adobe integrate AI for quick VFX in a real tangible and efficient multiplying way? Or 2) How can Avid integrate screen sharing and video conferencing into remote editing sessions to eliminate the need for teleconferencing apps like Zoom? Then of course 3) Does a behemoth like Apple throw $10 billion at the idea and build the whole thing from the ground up?

Yes, some of that will come in the form of acquisitions, like Adobe and, but the real fruits of that integration haven’t even begun to ripen. Just imagine when one software solution can truly ‘do it all’. I think that's the “North Star” of most of the big players in the industry right now, making it very possible to accomplish within the next ten years.

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