The NAB Show

May 24, 2023

An estimated 65,000 gathered April 16-19 for the NAB Show and its centennial celebration – and American Cinema Editors was in the center of the activity. ACE presented a panel on the making of HBO’s The Last of Us – a standing-room-only program on the event’s large Main Stage – as well as two in-depth four-hour workshops on the art of editing. Aaron I. Butler, ACE, and Mark Hartzell, ACE, presented one workshop, and the second featured James D. Wilcox, ACE, in conversation with ACE president Kevin Tent, ACE.

With emphasis on the importance of teamwork, The Last of Us session was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Carolyn Giardina and featured co-creator, executive producer, writer and director Craig Mazin; cinematographer Ksenia Sereda; editors Timothy Good, ACE, and Emily Mendez; VFX supervisor Alex Wang; and sound supervisor Michael J. Benavente. Said Mazin, “There is no way for a film to be ‘by’ one person. There’s hundreds of people – in our case, thousands of people.”

The Last of Us is based on the PlayStation game set in a world that has been ravaged by a global pandemic and follows survivors Joel (Pedro Pascal) and teen Ellie (Bella Ramsey). The editors talked about building the relationship between Joel and Ellie (see the feature story in this issue of CinemaEditor for more on the project), and earned applause as they shared the story of how Mendez began as an assistant on the series, but with her valuable contributions (plus she’s a huge fan of the game) was elevated to editor during the season’s post-production.

During their workshop, Butler and Hartzell shared “some of our greatest hits, big swings, and little triumphs.” Using his work as an editor/producer on 2017 documentary Cries From Syria, Butler talked about the intensity of seeing the horrors he repeatedly watched on the oftentimes smuggled out personal videos from Syria, as he edited alone in his Prague hotel room.

He credited his husband, Hartzell, with helping him emotionally endure the process. Butler and Hartzell covered topics including the importance of music and how editors can deconstruct a music track using ‘stems,’ then remix and repurpose the individual stems to empower the story.

Before he focused on editing as a career, Butler edited home videos for fun, but never thought it was possible to earn a living doing what he loved. While a prelaw student at UC Berkley, a friend encouraged him to take a film editing class and the rest is history. Timing and following one’s passion are critical to success.

He recently won a 2022 Emmy for his work on Euphoria. Hartzell – who began his career as an ACE intern – has edited episodes of series including The Last of Us, True Blood and Deadwood. He went to film school to become a writer, but when required to take an editing class as part of the curriculum, his goals changed.

The editor emphasized the importance of being flexible, prepared, maintaining relationships with assistants and PAs, and knowing when and how to present an alternate version of an edited scene to the director. He said he will go ahead and edit a scene as scripted, but if he sees a problem or has an idea he thinks will work better, he also edits his own version, and will sometimes present it as an alternative to the original, then discuss the options with the director. “Nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie. Nobody sets out to make a bad TV show,” he said, noting that things go wrong on the set and things happen beyond your control. Hartzell emphasized the importance of not giving up, of understanding that there are ups and downs in the business, and to treat everyone on the crew with respect.

During the second ACE workshop, Tent sat down with Wilcox, whose feature credits with Ron Howard include Thirteen Lives and Hillbilly Elegy. He began his career editing broadcast news and sports for local TV stations and CNN. His ‘side hustle’ editing music videos and commercials highlighted his passion for storytelling and eventually led him to editing features where story and character are everything. Wilcox suggested that you need to be prepared for when timing and luck present opportunity. After years of editing and directing TV series including CSI: Miami and Hawaii Five-O,Wilcox was tapped to edit 10 episodes of the first season of Howard’s Genius, which chronicled the life of Albert Einstein and for which he received an ACE Eddie Award, which led to editing the director’s features.

Wilcox emphasized the importance of finding the story behind the story, citing as an example a dinner scene from Genius. The script description simply referred to it as a dinner table scene, but Wilcox says the real story was Einstein’s mother pressuring her son to get married. He enhanced the tension between family members by intercutting various closeups of the characters. Tent and Wilcox also chatted about the importance of knowing how and when to introduce alternative editing options to a director, and knowing when to accept the director’s decision.

To round out their NAB experience, ACE delegates spent Monday with Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic Design and other companies while exploring the huge exhibit floor where they saw new products and the latest versions of editing software and hardware. Adobe introduced an update to Premiere Pro, with emphasis on a new text-based editing feature that the company said “automatically analyzes and transcribes clips so editors, producers and assistants can simply copy and paste sentences into any order they want and instantly see them appear on the timeline. Transcripts can be searched in the transcript window to identify exact words and phrases.” It also highlighted tools including an automatic tone mapping and log color detection feature and background auto save.

Avid put emphasis on shared storage with the unveiling of the Avid NEXIS F2 solid-state drive flash storage engine. “Production teams continue to see growing demand for highresolution original content amid increasing pressure to deliver projects faster and sharpen their competitive edge,” said Ed Harper, director of product management, creative product, clouds and storage at Avid. “The Avid NEXIS F2 SSD perfectly fits the performance requirements of today’s most demanding high-resolution workflows.” The new system is compatible with current NEXIS systems, the company said.

Blackmagic Design announced DaVinci Resolve 18.5, an update with a collection of AI-driven tools and feature upgrades such as speech-to-text editing, automatic subtitling and AI audio classification. Blackmagic also presented updates to the Cut page so that editors can transcribe audio within clips to
search for media based on narrative content or generate subtitles for timelines with the automatic speech to text feature. “This is a major new release with tools that have been specifically designed to speed up workflows,” CEO Grant Petty said, adding that “the new menus on the cut page also make it faster and simpler to use.”

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