Editing Music Videos: Emily Denis

For Class #15

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com


Editing music videos is an entirely different experience than editing dramatic films. Sometimes they tell a story. Sometimes they merely hint at plot and create a style instead. Sometimes they're merely a documentation of a performance, either live or staged. It is important for the editor to determine just what the video is trying to do and analyze each beat of the entire piece against that log line.

In the following interview, Emily Denis talks about editing Beck's video for "Mixed Bizness". She uses a standard technique discussed in the highlighted sequence below, laying down the music track first and editing the images onto it.

Emily Denis edits Beck's 'Bizness' Music Video

By James Monohan
From EditorsNet

Emily Denis, the Mad River Post editor who cut Beck's "Mixed Bizness" video, originally was a fine-arts student. "I studied painting and printmaking," she said, "and fell into editing. I grew up on television, partially because my father had been a commercial director. He thought I might enjoy the editing process, and his producer invited me to sit in on the post-production of one of his commercials. I went there and never left. They were still cutting on film back then, and since I was from an art background, I really liked the tactile experience of cutting. I'm come a long way from then, as I'm now cutting on the Avid."

Denis first started using Avid around 1990. "I encountered the Avid when I moved to Los Angeles for two years and started working with Mad River Post as an assistant," she said. "At first I missed the (tangible) experiences such as being able to write on the film with a grease pencil. Then, of course, I realized that it was great, for example, not to have to rummage for small trims at the bottom of a trim barrel. I've been at Mad River ever since."

Denis has been an editor at Mad River for six years, cutting mostly commercials. "It wasn't until this year that I started cutting music videos," she said. "Stephane Sednaoui needed someone to edit a Beck video over a weekend. To date, all of my videos have been for Stephane. Cutting a video was a new challenge. There is a big difference between cutting a 30-second commercial and doing a four-minute piece. Both the structure and the process of the edit are very different."

Denis said she finds cutting videos to be more rewarding than commercials. "Working out the puzzle of an edit, the part that I like the most about cutting, only takes a day or a day and a half in commercials," she said. "In contrast, video cutting requires a week to work out the puzzle, because it's so long and requires one to create a coherent arc over four minutes. That said, music videos don't pay as much as a commercial. So, cutting both types of pieces is a nice combination. Cutting a video now and then keeps the creative muscle working. When I'm cutting commercials, I often think, 'I've seen this before. I've done this before. I've solved this problem before.' "

On Beck's "Mixed Bizness," things happened very quickly for Denis. "I got a call on a Friday asking me to cut the video, and we got the footage on the following Tuesday," Denis recalled. "I also received a treatment of the video from the director, as well as some photographs that were visual references. Sednaoui and I talked about the concept, and then he left me alone for two or three days to block out the performance and rough structure of the piece."

In some cases, based on the coverage that was shot, a few of Denis' editing choices were made for her. "Sednaoui had a rough idea about certain elements of the piece and specific ideas about other parts," she said. "On certain lines of the song, only one setup was actually filmed, so those shots had to be used. For example, the pullout from the band singing the chorus was very specific. In the early stages of editing, I was able to put in some of the anchors, which were the specific moments in the song that were only covered in one way."

When she began editing the piece, Denis first lay down the music in the Avid timeline and started going through the performances. "Because Beck was often shot against green screen, I was able to key the moments that I liked over themselves. In other words, I took advantage of the Avid's multiple video tracks to layer overlapping elements that I liked. That way, I could keep multiple choices on the timeline and narrow them down later. Whenever I put a new take in the source monitor, I hit the gain button so that I could play the clip and have what was already laid down in the record monitor follow along. "

Sednaoui provided Denis with background plates for the green screen shots. "Those backgrounds were completely based on photographs that Sednaoui had created 20 years ago," she said. "I accompolished the basic compositing of those background plates, and another facility did the final effects in the on-line session."

For the style of the piece, Denis said she was most strongly influenced by Sednaoui. "My tendency would have been to make the video more visually complex than how it turned out, especially since Sednaoui's other videos often involve complex overlapping images," she said. "There were so many layers of Beck that I liked in this video, I would have left much of it in. However, Sednaoui saw the video as being more flat than I saw it. Thus, his reaction to my first cut was that it was too complicated. He simplified it during the course of post-production."

Denis said her overall approach to editing this piece involved "looking at what was there, what was the best and how I could make the entire piece work within the confines of the time limitation as well as the director's needs. Of course, I also wanted to make the artist look as good as possible."

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Last Modified - September 30, 2008