At Stillmotion, we are always under tight deadlines, but not like this.
Picture this – you’re an editor with a crew that has two days to produce, direct, shoot and edit a short film that will be seen by millions exactly 48 hours after you have the concept. From start to finish, and with not even an inch of wiggle room if something goes awry.
If you’re Adam Epstein, editor for Saturday Night Live’s film unit, this isn’t an every once in a while-type event. Every single week, Adam has less than 24 hours to turn around an edit that’s ready for broadcast just in time for SNL’s iconic “Live from New York…” to hit the airwaves. As Lorne Michaels says, “It doesn’t go on because it’s done. It goes on because it’s 11:30.”
After five seasons of this madness, Adam is hitting the road this summer on MZed’s The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour to share the methods, theories, techniques he’s developed while editing in a lightning-fast turn around environment like SNL.
We had the privilege of being able to check out Adam’s workshop when he came by Portland, and it’s seriously awesome. The workshop delves deep into the technical side of things, but what makes it every cooler is that Adam shares a lot about the art and soul behind what makes a good editor, too. As Adam says in his workshop, being an editor today encompasses so much – you have to know how to cut, know rhythm and story, be a compositor, a sound designer, a motion graphics artist, and maybe more importantly you have to be able to deal with people. But, according to Adam, none of that is as important as the why – the overall feeling and bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.
We had a chance to ask him first-hand how he turns around hilarious, memorable work, and stays sane in the process.
Grasping what story really is, is a tough one. Then learning how to not just tell a story, but tell an amazing one is that much harder.
For us, we are always looking for new ways to push our understanding of story and test out what we know. When we told Jude’s story over at Sugar Wheel Works we debated whether or not to include a few clips of her meditating in the morning as it wasn’t directly related to her craft of making wheels. A few clips may seem trivial but Joyce and I went back and forth, talking about it for a quite a while before we came to the conclusion that it was important to show that sequence as a metaphor to what wheel building does for her character.
By really understanding and embracing the structure of story, we can look to inject it into every film we make.
And by understanding these 4 things that every amazing story needs, we can look at each of our stories moving forward and ask ourselves how we can strengthen each element.
This tutorial is part of Storytelling Parade, a Story & Heart initiative to bring people together and encourage us all to tell stories of those doing good.
We want to make sure everybody that joins the Parade gets as much out of the experience as possible. We are offering 5 tutorials, entirely free, for those that sign up – the one above plus 4 more over the next two weeks.
We asked Maribeth to share the 5 directing tips that she took from her experience.
Before we get there, some back story on what she was up against.
Tell a story that matters. Learn about it, dive deep, then bring it to life, all over four days in Portland. In true Stillmotion style, it’s about making the impossible possible. Each team member pushing themselves to help create something that is so much more than any one of us.
Each team will have a Director, Producer, DP, Second Camera, Gaffer, and Audio. Then two Stillmotion team members to constantly push the story forward and hold the team accountable.
Coming in, nobody knows the role they’ll get. In the am of day two, roles are assigned and then it’s off to the races.
A short time later each group learns of their charity and has about 48 hours to produce, direct, shoot, edit, and deliver a strong story that will will push them in every way possible.
One by one we sit down to meet with each attendee. We share the role we’d like them to have .
For the group I was with, Maribeth was chosen as our director. Directing at EVO is a very challenging position. And for Maribeth, it was her first time directing a larger crew while also having such a tough timeline.
Many of us feel like an island. Though we’d love to, we often don’t have crews to collaborate with. And when we do get that chance to work with a team, to direct a team, it can be quite overwhelming.
To help prepare you for that opportunity, we asked Maribeth to share the 5 biggest directing tips she can offer from her first time directing.
First off, we asked Maribeth how it felt when she got asked to direct?
When P handed me a booklet and on the cover it said “Director’s Handbook”, my first thoughts were:
Director. OK. Deep breath.
This is what I wanted, right? I came to EVO for a challenge. But, director? Leading a team of 6 to tell an important story that matters. Gulp. I was equal parts excited and nervous for what the next 48 hours would hold.
I used to be a photographer and have recently fallen in love with the power of film. I’m also a mother of two wonderful kids. As a busy mom with a part-time career, I’m used to juggling responsibility and making decisions. But, I don’t have a ton of experience in motion. And I’ve certainly never dove into anything as ambitious as leading a team of 6 to develop, shoot, and deliver a story over 48 hours.
I wish I could say that I felt excited and up to the challenge. But, really I felt like I was going to puke. I felt responsible for the experience that the 6 people on my team were about to embark on. They had taken time away from their own work and families to come to EVO to learn. And as director I felt like I needed to make sure they had a positive experience. Not to mention, we had an unknown story that we had to tell in two days.
Could I really do this? We were all about to find out.
At 2pm we were handed our project briefs. The ball was rolling. There was no turning back. In the next 48 hours we would be telling the story of Oregon Public House, the world’s first non-profit pub.
And here are the top 5 directing tips from Maribeth:
But not the buzzword story. At Stillmotion, we’ve taught across the world, we’ve worked on several Emmy Award-winning productions, and our studio mantra has long been ‘Story First’. Story is in our DNA and this is something we share with
Story & Heart.
Guided by heart.
We know the power of a well-told story. We donated our time to telling the story of Old Skool Cafe, and a year later, we dove into our first feature-length documentary about a 9-year old fighting child slavery with lemonade. We’ve invested ourselves for years in stories we believe in, and that we believe need to be told. We have, and always will be, guided by heart.
Today marks a significant moment, and no countdown could ever correctly represent the breathless anticipation we’ve felt as we’ve spent the past year telling a new kind of story.
The time has come: Story & Heart has taken flight!
Story & Heart, the world’s first story-driven stock footage licensing platform is HERE.
When was the last time you told a story that you felt so connected to, that if you could, you would tell it entirely for free? And as a storyteller, when was the last time you made a film that truly moved people, and intensely reminded you of your passion for this craft?
Today we announce something very special. An opportunity to tell an inspiring story, to learn, and to win $100,000 in amazing filmmaking awards.
Bad news is easy to come by — in the newspaper, on screen, over radio waves, saturating our media: the world is a troubled place, and it seems like this is something we’ve grown used to hearing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to let it deflate us or try to drown out the noise.
We are media makers too, and there are some pretty incredible stories out there to tell!
A little more than two years ago, we told a story that changed our path as a studio.
It was a story without a contract, or client, or payment. It was a story we were deeply connected to both in its purpose and how the film we’d craft could help them. It’s because we had such creative freedom and felt so deeply connected to the piece, that we still consider it be the best short film we’ve ever made.
It was a story full of hope, struggle, diversity, deliciousness, and support. In fact, those were our 5 keywords — themes within the story that guided us as we made choice after choice to bring the film to life.
This story was that of Old Skool Cafe, a youth-run supper club in San Francisco. Their mission: Confront the epidemic of violence by providing at-risk and previously incarcerated youth with career opportunities that would normally not be afforded to them.
We’d just wrapped production when it happened. One of our last scenes was in the projects in San Francisco, an area so dangerous, we were advised to back into our parking spots so that we could get away quicker, should the need arise.
We were in the gear room of our old Mountain View studio putting everything away. It was a tiny cube of a room with uber-ugly fluorescent lighting. And as everything was going back onto the shelves, Justin walked in and said he had an idea.