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  • Bricklayers and Sculptors

    Posted by Simon Ubsdell on May 24, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    There are two different types of editors:

    Those who lay one shot after another like a bricklayer builds a wall.

    And those who discover the shape of their film by sculpting the raw material like a sculptor works with clay.

    These processes are not the same. There is no continuum that links these two approaches. They are diametrically opposed.

    One method is additive. The other method is subtractive.

    It goes without saying that bricklayers eventually spend some time being sculptors, but it is not their natural inclination.

    Sculptors, by contrast, spend as much of the available time sculpting as possible. They devise strategies that put sculpting to the fore and minimise bricklaying.

    Bricklaying suits certain types of projects better than sculpting. And vice versa.

    Certain editing modalities are better suited to one type of process than another.

    All editors know that bricklaying has its place. However, I’m not entirely convinced that all bricklayers are aware of the rich potential of sculpting and how deeply it can inform the whole process.

    I could be wrong. But I have seen many editors at work over many years, so my sample size is quite a bit larger than most.

    Simon Ubsdell
    tokyo productions

    Simon Ubsdell replied 6 years, 11 months ago 13 Members · 26 Replies
  • 26 Replies
  • Charlie Austin

    May 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    [Simon Ubsdell] “One method is additive. The other method is subtractive.”

    But isn’t all editing subtractive? Or at least a combination of both? Taking a large amount of material – dailies for a feature, a feature for a trailer etc., and shaping it into it’s new form. I suppose if you’re given a storyboarded spot, then it may just be bricklaying?

    I can’t speak to film or long form editing, as that’s not my bag, but doing what I do is first sculpting…making selects from a larger whole… then bricklaying… get all the chunks in place… then sculpt it all down into it’s final shape. Like making a big block of wood out of smaller blocks glued together, and then carving that block into it’s final form.

    Except cutdowns… creating a :30 from a 2:30 piece and keeping it’s “essence”. Thats all sculpting. With a chainsaw. 🙂



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  • Bill Davis

    May 25, 2017 at 2:35 am

    With the possible exception of Gutzan Borglund, no bricklayer or sculptor can begin to practice until they source, organize and understand the nature of their raw materials.

    That’s universal.

    The amount of time the creator spends in either mode is dependent on their skills and preferances and is ONLY relevant if they lack access to a required tools for their work.

    A jeweler using a chainsaw will fail.

    But a fine jeweler requiring a small hole in a silver band can likely get that done with hand drills, power drills or for all I know lasers.

    Imagining that one of these tools is deficient in some fundamental editing capability is just foolish.

    Sure they were built at different times and with different design orientations, but to imply that users of one might be “sculptor” types and users of another are “bricklayer” types isjust really, really dumb.


    Creator of XinTwo –
    The shortest path to FCP X mastery.

  • Scott Thomas

    May 25, 2017 at 5:17 am

    Kind of depends on the medium for the sculptor. If you are using some Roma Plastilina, you can add and take away as much material as you like. If you are chiseling away at a block of marble, your decisions are measured and careful to not take away too much, or make a move that fractures the entire slab.

    When I was editing with videotape, it was more like the marble slab. With an NLE, it’s a little more like the Roma Plastilina. And by that, I mean, one generates a lot of dust, the other is soft and oily. – jk

  • Nick Toth

    May 25, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    And yet…

    In 2008, the Bureau of labor Statistics states that the average annual salary for fine artists, which includes professional sculptors, was around $42,650. On the low end of the pay scale, these artists earned around $20,000, and on the high end, they earned over $80,000.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for all bricklayers, both union and non-union, at all levels of experience from across the U.S. was $22.50. Annual salaries range from more than $80,570 to less than $28,950.

  • Greg Janza

    May 25, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    This is the best video I’ve ever seen describing what the process of editing is all about:

    Sculpting is what makes an editor an artist.

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  • Oliver Peters

    May 26, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Nice analogy. But with Resolve on the rise, will some be painters instead? ☺

    – Oliver

    [Charlie Austin] “But isn’t all editing subtractive? Or at least a combination of both? Taking a large amount of material – dailies for a feature, a feature for a trailer etc., and shaping it into it’s new form.”

    I think to call it subtractive isn’t necessarily the best way to look at is. “Shaping” is the operative word. Good editing often results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

    – Oliver

    Oliver Peters Post Production Services, LLC
    Orlando, FL

  • Simon Ubsdell

    May 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    [Oliver Peters] “I think to call it subtractive isn’t necessarily the best way to look at is.”

    Is your finished edit a) the sum total of all the bits you have chosen to put in it; or b) the result of removing all the bits you don’t want in it?

    Simon Ubsdell
    tokyo productions

  • Mark Suszko

    May 26, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve talked about the difference between additive and subtractive techniques before. It even influences the semantic language editors use.

    In Europe, specifically Britain, directors operating a switcher are or were called ” Vision Mixers” and the editors are or were referred to as “joiners”. Their process was obviously in the semantic sense more additive, and for a longer time than ours, partially because I think they tended to shoot a lot more wild sound, with unsynched sound there, depending more on Foley and Looping in post production.

    Our American editors were called “cutters” from almost the beginning, and their task was usually described as “cutting away the useless bits and shortening clips that were too long”.

    There is absolutely room for both techniques in any project, though it can be argued, the nature of the program may fvor one style rove another. In News production, for example, the deadline is everything, and the process concentrates on reducing away all non-essentials to get to the bare minimum that tells the story in the limited time slot, and to get that done before air time. You typically would lay down a core narrative from the reporter, a sound bite, more narrative, second bite, and a closing shot for voice-over. Those were your “bricks”. next, you’d go back thru your raw material and find the best visuals to lay over the voice track and transition to the “actuality”, (the interview quote). From there on, it would be all subtractive, shaving frames here and there and bumping things forwards and back until it was time to color correct and sweeten sound and ship it.

    Documentaries often take the opposite tack and are more additive, though the director and editor generally have a skeleton of the story in their minds already. The “purest” sort of doc, IMO, comes from an organic process of letting the material suggest it’s own threads. The story is “found” in the edit, not pre-determined. Working that way these days is a luxury.

    Theatrical and narrative television and film, anything driven by a script, is going to at least start out subtractive, in that you’re collecting the best takes of everything shot for the script. They’re bricks, labeled in the order they were meant to fit. It only becomes Additive when you run into trouble and have to fix something, or to enhance the flow of what was dictated by the shooting script.

    All of these statements are relative, not absolute. You are “editing” the moment you pick up the camera and decide to turn it on or off. You are editing when you decide to show up to the scene or not. You edit when you decide what’s getting into your hard drive and what sits on the desk. In FCPX you are really editing as soon as you’re importing shots, by the way you tag them and apply metadata. In a sense, several rough cuts gave happened before you ever pay the first master shot down on the timeline. If it wasn’t shot, it never happened: that’s a conscious choice made about what to show and not to show – that’s an edit.

  • Bill Davis

    May 26, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    In my opinion, Mr. Suszko wins. this round.

    No good editor will survive over time being exclusively one of the other.

    And every good editor must balance both – regardless of the tool.

    Creator of XinTwo –
    The shortest path to FCP X mastery.

  • Greg Janza

    May 26, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    [Mark Suszko] “There is absolutely room for both techniques in any project”

    I use both methods in every project if you think in terms of building a-rolls as bricklaying. I was taught from the start that the first step in building any piece is to assemble the base or a-roll and then everything else comes after.

    It’s now been 21 years since I began as an editor and my approach to the process remains the same. I always create as strong of an a-roll as possible before moving onto the fun parts of b-roll and finesse.

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