The Invisible Editor

Invisible00In my experience, there’s no place for cockiness in a professional edit bay.

The best producers & editors I’ve ever worked with aren’t hot shots who think they know it all. Rather, they are, across the board, incredibly confident and completely capable, yet wholly humble people. And to be the best I think they have to be. To be truly great, a producer/editor has to be able to lay aside his or her personal tastes and preferences and alter their approaches to do what’s required for the greater good of each individual edit. Why? Because, great producers & editors live out a belief that the ‘Content is King.’ They know that, like children, no two productions are exactly alike, so they give each one the attention and respect that it merits. As makers of media, though we may want our work to be about us, it ultimately isn’t. The point of the edit isn’t the editor; the purpose of the production isn’t the producer. Every edit is… sacred. And, when you’re confronted with the sacred, you don’t impose yourself upon it; you submit yourself to it.

The best media makers don’t simply plug every project into the same template. They are investigators. Trustees. Storytellers. Visual communicators. – The story you tell may be about a camp, a car, a Invisible01couple or a concept – it really doesn’t matter – at the heart of every edit there is an aim. Every professional production is conceived for a reason. So before you begin any edit, you need to know the goal. You need to know what you want your viewer to take away; how you want them to respond. Once you know the desired result, every decision you make – from writing and lighting to timing and transitions – should be driven by the vision.

I will venture to say that many, if not most, producers/editors out there don’t function this way. In reality very few people possess a diverse enough skill set to be able to produce high quality works in a wide variety of styles. Instead they land on a style that they do well and then apply it like a fingerprint to every project they touch. Shoot, I do this myself. It’s easier. It’s more comfortable. It’s known. But it isn’t always best. Sometimes the trademark, …the… ‘fingerprints’… of the producer, can be too pronounced.

The best productions draw the viewer past the construction of the production and into its purpose. This is one of the basic truths of TV/film/video production. When the viewer notices the edits, he is drawn to see the surface of the screen, and he stops looking past the glass. In my book, anything that moves my viewer's attention off the message and onto the medium is a mistake.

(Writer’s Note: I am happy to extend at least two notable exceptions to this rule: car commercials and kids shows. If you make either of these, forget the rules! Pretty much anything goes. Do whatever it takes to capture, and re-capture and re-capture your viewer’s attention. Yes, I’ve made both, and yes, the ‘rules’ go out the window.)

If it’s true that we want our viewers to look beyond the surface of the screen, it follows to reason that some of the best edits you’ll ever make will be unnoticed by the people who watch your work. Don’t miss this because it’s quite profound! The best edits of your life may well be the one that are invisible to your viewers. The best visual fx you ever create will integrate so seamlessly that an unknowing audience won’t even realize they are there, and the best fx guys I know revel in that reality.

You probably practice this, to a degree, without thinking about it. Every time you edit you make decisions to make smooth edits by eliminating jump cuts, flash frames and continuity errors. Things like that can be major disruptions to the flow of the program. Novice editors often settle for simply not making blatantly bad cuts. While that’s a good starting point, the overriding principle of ‘message over method’ can (and should) be applied at the highest level. Even technically good edits can miss the mark if the style, pace, music, graphic design and overall approach are mismatched. For instance, you could spend a hundred hours (or more) creating a complex multi-layered AE comp with all the latest and greatest effects & treatments the industry has ever seen, but if the look and feel don’t match the mood of the message, the result is little more than a meaningless demonstration of technical prowess that does more to undermine the message than support it.

And so, the greatest of all editors are digital ninjas. They are a powerful, yet unseen, force. They are masters of the art of invisibility, and consummate chameleons. Shape shifters who continually reinvent themselves in a never-ending effort to make a masterful mark on media without leaving any fingerprints.

Chuck-2Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award-winning producer and VP of Production at KIDMO/Rivet Productions in Nashville, TN. Find Chuck online at