A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

I’ve been working in an ad agency for the past few months, which is both interesting and terrible, though largely terrible for the reasons regular employment is terrible. On the more interesting side however, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really talented post-production professionals, which is a side of film making I’ve only lightly dabbled in before.

If you work in film, or went to school for it, chances are you’ve done a little bit of editing. I had considered myself a capable editor, perhaps even more so than most, before getting this job. Thankfully, my job requires little editing from me.

There are many things you pick up at a professional environment like that, where through trial and error they’ve found the best way for them to work. How to arrange files and folders. How to sync clips to audio. Naming conventions. Render settings. Default sequence layout.

The biggest perk about the job is the ability to work along side some absolute pros, and in the meantime pick their brains about their work and their process. I had the opportunity to sit in on an editing session with one of the editors and some account people from the agency, and to watch him work.

He didn’t even take his hands off of the keyboard. It was like he was just typing, as I’m doing now. Everything was in arm’s reach. It was magical.

Later, I had to work in one of the editing suites with account people from the agency, just working through some clips for a case study they had conducted. Never had I been struck me so forcefully that my way of doing things was so wrong. So inefficient. I was stumbling around with the default keyboard shortcuts, one hand on the mouse, like a drunk bear in the woods.

I thought yes, that must be it, if only I had taken the time to make and learn a set of keyboard shortcuts, then I too could be a fast editor.

So I set out to make my own. A few searches on layouts, and I had written out all the commands I thought I needed, and mapped them all to no more than a key’s jump away from where my hand came to rest. I started to try and put them in practice, with the sheet of all my commands written out in front of me, banging my head against the wall hoping it would stick.

I was doing this one evening, when an editor asked for help on something, as is common. I told him I wanted to ask him some questions on shortcuts when he had time, and he was very receptive. He said after I had finished the job, I could come to his office and he would walk me through his shortcuts.

After I finished what I was doing, I went over to his office, where his wife and kid were waiting patiently on the couch for him to be done for the day (it was a Saturday).

He started to talk about how he has his keys laid out, which I noticed having studied the layouts for the past week, was strikingly similar to the way Adobe already lays out the keys. He had mapped a few essential functions within reach, but it was mostly building off existing paradigms.

Then he did something he didn’t expect. I asked if he was using the keyboard to set in and out points (as is common in three-point-editing) before moving clips to the timeline. He said sometimes, however a lot of projects he wouldn’t do this at all, preferring to work in the timeline as much as possible.

He went on to explain how he kept his left hand on the keyboard where he needed them most, and left his right hand on the mouse. He said when moving around the timeline, nothing beats the mouse for fast, accurate moves.

Both of my major ideas on how to be a fast editor, shattered just like that.

He showed me the shortcuts he used, but of course that is only half of the battle. What’s far more important is the philosophy behind using them. I was so caught up in the idea that if I only knew the magic keys, I would suddenly become a better editor, rather than taking the time to learn the hard part: how to use them.

Anyways, I hope this post wasn’t too specific for the non-film folks, and too vague for the editors in the house. Thanks to Steve for taking the time last week.