Learning about Editing from the Perspective of a Sound Designer

As a sound designer, I've always been aware of Walter Murch, having studied him and his influence on sound design for film during my time at University. What particularly interested me was that he appeared to be as well known as an Editor as he was as a Sound Designer. I remember discovering this and being very impressed: "this guy is working in two disciplines at Hollywood-levels of quality!". At the time I was focused on getting my first job in game sound so I put it down to an interesting note and nothing more.

More recently, I started reading The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. It's a book covering conversations between Michael Ondaatje, the author of the novel The English Patient and Walter Murch, editor and sound mixer on the movie The English Patient, both of which he won the Oscar for. I subscribe to Valve's idea of "T-Shaped" people contributing the most value to a team, and was eager to understand how Murch related his knowledge and experience as a sound designer to his editing work, hoping to learn how I could better apply my sound design experience to at least understanding other disciplines in games, if not actually working in them myself.

As it turns out, my understanding of what an Editor actually does was pretty far from the reality. Prior to reading this book and taking a real interest, I had no well-formed ideas about what editing entailed. I (naively) assumed it was "just" choosing where cuts were and without spending any time thinking about it, probably had it pegged as "a mostly-technical task, with (some) elements of creativity.".

I had a long conversation on Twitter with LA-based editor Eddie Doty about what the role entails (part of which is shown below). My biggest revelation was discovering that editors make audio cuts, edit dialogue, adjust the mix, and many other things I had assumed were left solely to the audio team for any given project.

How naive I was...

How naive I was...

My experience of working in games led me to think that people trained in multiple disciplines (or at least, people working in multiple-disciplines) was uncommon at companies creating large-scale, high budget projects and was usually the preserve of small teams, born out of necessity more than from a desire to hire people with multiple skill-sets (programmer art rather than hiring an artist, designers using royalty-free music libraries instead of hiring a sound designer, etc.). It felt refreshing to me to discover that although not exclusively responsible for audio, there was a level of collaboration and cross-discipline knowledge built-in and expected of editors! I felt like this had the potential to benefit the sound team on any film. 

As I continued to sate my desire for knowledge on this topic, I came across a documentary called The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing, in which numerous directors and their editors are interviewed about their films and certain editing techniques. This really opened up and made clear what the relationship between Director and Editor is, and what's expected of them. The Editor has far more creative influence on a film than I realised! Editing is also far closer to sound design than I'd first observed: they're both "unseen" disciplines i.e. do them right and the audience shouldn't notice, and they both have the capability to radically change a film after the footage has been shot.

Learning about Film Editing has made Walter Murch's dual discipline nature much easier to understand in that sound design and editing are far more closely related than you might think. As a sound designer who's always working towards being "T-Shaped", I think my next step should be to try my hand at some editing, to get a first hand experience of the effect it can have. I don't doubt that there will be lessons learned in the process that benefit my professional life as a sound designer.