Q&A with Ron Diamond, Editor

How did you get to be an editor?

I more or less stumbled into it, and it happened in stages. I’d been an audio guy working in radio, then found myself working on the studio crew (mixing audio, initially) at the CBS affiliate TV station in Boston. I gradually branched out into a lot of other jobs, including Technical Director, and others. Having done a lot of live TV in its various forms, then, I’d always wanted the ability to go back and tweak things a bit — which you can’t do, of course, when a show’s live.

Eventually, I wanted to assemble a comp reel to submit for the local Emmys, and in the process, taught myself the linear edit controllers used to cut the station’s feature packages. But what blew me away was that pretty soon, other editors were asking me questions about the gear — seems I was one of the only people who’d actually bothered to read the manual!

Finally, there were several of us hand-picked to do a special in-house presentation. I ended up writing, producing and editing the piece, which generated a lot of buzz around the station. But what really got me was the sheer creativity and serendipity of taking a bunch of material that someone else had shot, and creating a finished, cohesive (and hopefully entertaining) whole. From that moment on, I was hooked, and moved out to L.A. not long afterwards to pursue editing full-time.

What system do you prefer to edit on, and why?

Really, I’d say it depends on the workflow. Thankfully nowadays, we have at least two very capable platforms to choose from (namely, Avid and Final Cut Studio). Generally, a decision like that has already been made before I get onto a project. But if it hasn’t, I try to take an honest look at the workflow, and approach it accordingly.

Sometimes I even mix the two as needed. For example, not long ago I was doing a Symphony job, a special for ABC, and ended up doing title treatments for 75 lower-thirds on my laptop (using Motion, and Martin Baker’s wonderful utility AutoMotion), while the Symphony was busy rendering. The finished show ended up noticeably better as a result.

So I’d like to think I’m not afraid to use the strengths of whatever’s available, in whatever combination, to provide the best value for the client and the production at hand.

Is there any really crazy editing experience you want to share?

Well, I suppose there’s been more than one. Here’s an example:
Early on in my freelance career, we’d been putting in some ungodly hours on a project, trying to make a deadline. It totaled 140 hours in a little over a week, and that culminated in one session of about 35 hours straight. Near the end of that, my client turned to me, looked very concerned, and proclaimed: “Dude, your eyes are bleeding!”

I found a mirror, and sure enough, my eyes were entirely bloodshot — I’d gotten conjunctivitis from all the long hours and not taking my contacts out for that entire final session.

But what really impressed me about that project was the sheer dedication of the really talented people I was working with. The video itself went on to win a couple of Telly Awards, even more reason I still consider it a good experience, and we also went on to work together on other projects as well.

Are there any major trends you've noticed in the postproduction industry? What are your thoughts?

The biggest trend, I would say, is the commodification of NLE systems and other related software and hardware. It used to be you needed $100,000+ worth of editing gear, and now I can do much of that and more on my very own and much more affordable systems.

But this affordability also means a couple of things:  1) People have to distinguish themselves by their talent and experience, and not just their access to the tools. And 2) you still need some fairly expensive gear (like DigiBeta and HDCam decks) to bookend the post process — so there’s still a place for post facilities in the equation, in order to do that “heavy lifting.”

What are a few things that add value to you as an editor?

Primarily, I’d say just a lot of experience, having worked with a lot of people on many different types of projects. I try not to get too limited to any particular style or genre. Doing the same thing for too long isn’t enough of a challenge, and I learn new tricks and skills from each new person and project that I encounter. (Having said all that, I’ll admit that multicamera productions are certainly a specialty.)

Second, one of the things I learned working in live TV was how invaluable it is to really understand what the other members of the crew do. (This also seems to be a distinguishing trait of a number of great Directors I’ve had the good fortune to work with.) There’s nothing like being able to speak the language particular to another person’s part of the craft — often by virtue of having done those jobs myself at one time or another. I also think this level of understanding is something that clients appreciate, as it makes me a more integral part of the team, rather than just something tacked on after the fact.

Lastly, while we use a lot of really cool software to do much of our work, I’m always amazed at how many editors and assistants don’t really know the ins and outs of operating the rest of their gear (VTRs and audio mixers, for example). Aside from just avoiding potential problems down the line, it can also mean finding more reliable or productive ways to do things, as needed. I routinely customize the workflow in facilities I work in, to make things run as smoothly as possible.

What new tools are you using at the moment?

Well, I’m actually doing a lot of work on my MacBook Pro at this point – both with the Avid Media Composer (software), as well as Final Cut Studio 2. In addition, I like plug-ins such as Sapphire and Trapcode; and am really beginning to appreciate Apple’s Motion, which is a surprisingly deep and capable application.

But primarily, I’m editing … and I think it’s pretty cool to do a 15-camera show on a laptop, when you consider the heavy-duty gear that sort of thing used to require.

To date, what's one of the more unique projects you've worked on?

There have certainly been a few. I guess one of my favorites would have to be a remake of the game show, “To Tell the Truth.”  If you remember the premise, there are three people purporting to be someone special, and the cast & audience get to vote. Well, we were posting the show down the street from NBC, where it was being shot. And so, I’d never actually met any of the cast. So my E.P., Michael Weinberg, came up with the idea of my actually appearing on the show as one of the impostors …

Finally, after teasing me with the prospect for months, he burst into the room one day and said: “I’ve got it – you’re going to be the guy who wrote the history of toilet paper!” I was reluctant at first, as you can imagine, but then started seriously preparing for the role. And I guess I was convincing, because everyone voted for me!  I’d had such a blast doing it, that I couldn’t resist putting part of it on my reel.

(c) Copyright 2007, RonDiamond.net