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Savannah Bayse On: Becoming an Editor

In middle school I’d walk down the hallway, oblivious, my nose tucked in a book. It was the mid-2000s, and the young-adult book market was booming. Recently, a friend recalled when I shoved Twilight into her hands, with a forceful, “You have to read this.” (You’re welcome/I’m sorry?)

I still have trouble keeping my favorite reads out of every conversation.

R.I.P Blockbuster - Forever in our hearts

My love of film developed later. My dad and I would venture out to Blockbuster, and I’d thumb through the DVDs, while Dad asked the high high-schooler on staff what they’d recommend. We’d take a movie or two home.

One night, we watched Little Miss Sunshine, and I felt like I’d never seen a movie before. I was besotted with filmmaking.

Fast forward ten years later, I found myself in my room, in college. I was working into the night editing my thesis film. Picture a folding table in one corner where I’d set up my laptop, opposite the other corner where my mattress sat on the floor. (I’d like to blame everyone but myself on why I didn’t have a bed frame, but I can’t.)

Savannah on set of their film "Holdfast"

My thesis, Holdfast, was a simple

drama I’d written about a woman returning home to see her mother and brother, (conflict ensues).

I’d loved writing Holdfast. I poured myself into the script and revised it again and again. But, when it came to producing and directing it, despite my wonderful cast and crew, I felt it fall short of what I’d imagined. This gap

between script and screen was my new


Savannah reviewing the monitor on set of "Holdfast"

I spent the next semester on the edit, and attempted to make Holdfast the best version of the film it could be. Not because I had to, but because I couldn’t help it.

And it was then, while losing track of time in front of my computer I had a small thought: maybe I liked editing.

Plus, I’d already spent one too many nights breaking down C-Stands in the freezing cold on student sets. (My best to everyone who works production. I salute you.)

These days, I’ve started to tally up my experience as an editor. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on everything from branded content, to commercials, to feature documentaries and scripted films.

Every film or video I edit comes back to story for me. The overused, but accurate term: storyteller. I am still the kid happy to have their nose in a book imagining a

world play out in their mind.

An example of an editor's project within Adobe Premiere Pro

I’ve found editing documentaries to be great fun because of how much the editor may be able to help shape the film. It feels like writing, except you’re lucky enough to be given all the words you can use. (Unlike writing a book. You have to make all those words up!?)

Recently, I started editing my first scripted feature. I sat in front of an empty timeline, daunted. I had to remind myself to take the film a scene at a time.

I never believed editing was just based on vibes, but with years of experience, and

study of story structure, the process does sometimes feel like that. Just vibes. I make cuts, shorten shots, keep the camera on one character, because “it feels right.”

“Is the scene effective, or not?” Is the main question I ask myself. To answer it requires an understanding of the characters and intentions of the director, but also the possibilities, and limitations, that exist in the footage. Maybe more accurate: I don’t feel a nagging sense that something is wrong. (No bad vibes.)

The nagging feeling for me, is just like a loose tooth.

The first tooth I lost, as a kid, sort of just tumbled out of my mouth into my palm. That began a compulsive habit, a constant prodding of my other baby teeth with my tongue. I’d check, wiggle, check wiggle, check again.

When a tooth was loose, I’d annoy it until that ever-present wrong feeling went away, and the tooth with it. This relentless checking, testing, is every choice in an edit for me. A few frames to the left. A few frames to the right. Maybe swap these lines–– no, it was better before. I prod it. I test, I wiggle, and bother the thing until I can watch it down and it works.

In an effective scene, the character’s emotions and intentions are clear, and the scene doesn’t feel too long or too short for the material it contains. I’ve had time to bring in sound effects, and music. It begins to feel like a movie.

Whether this process takes a few hours or a few days, or a few weeks, (months,

years!) depends on the deadline.

Then, I get to share my work for feedback. My favorite part of filmmaking, versus writing, or other art forms, is being part of a creative team. When the wrong feeling just won’t go away no matter how many clever tricks, morph-cuts or speed ramps I employ, I know someone on the team will have a thought which sets me on the right path again.

The last, but maybe most critical component of effective editing: I take screen breaks, and step outside for fresh air now and then. I walk around the block.

It works every time.

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