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Finely Sliced: The 'Second to Last Take Rule' with Lucas Eskin


Cut+Run partner/editor on why great film editing should be invisible and how editing is a lot like music

Finely Sliced: The 'Second to Last Take Rule' with Lucas Eskin

I am an editor because I just can’t stand unedited footage. It’s really true, it keeps me up at night until it is edited. It haunts me. I’m not afraid, but it is up to me to fix the poor helpless footage.

When I am not editing I am living a double life as a rock star in Santa Barbara. I have crazy fans and everything. They can all share an uber.

Most people don’t know that I like movies other than Star Wars. I like Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One as well.

My personal sound track would be set to the tune Lucky Star.

If I could be any film character I would be Burt from Mary Poppins.

LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?

Lucas> I like to start out by having a conversation with the director to understand their vision. The more I can find out about the project, the more impactful I can be with the edit. Also, starting an editing project is all about how much time I have before I show my first edit or edits. If I have the luxury of time, I will watch every frame that was shot. I think that as I’m viewing the footage my mind starts to build the story and only then will I know which are the best takes. If time is of the essence and I need to share something right away, I use one of my editing rules  — The Second to Last Take rule. Over the years I’ve found that everyone tends to love the second to last take. I will quickly build the story with those takes and explore the other takes with the director and clients after I present the first cut.

LBB> Non-editors often think of editing just in technical terms but it’s integral to the emotion and mood of a film. How did you develop that side of your craft?

Lucas> One of my editing mentors told me something on my first day that I consider every editing moment.  He said, “the shot tells you how long it needs to be.” I didn’t understand what he meant right away, but eventually it became my mantra. It isn’t as simple as a wide shot needs to be absorbed or a close up can be a quick shot. It has to do with context, timing, sound and everything in between. Figuring out how to grab attention and keep attention and deliver the message is the challenge. Have I pulled the heartstrings as effectively as possible? Have I timed the laugh to the right moment? I have to feel emotionally connected before I can convince someone else to. 

LBB> How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?

Lucas> Great film editing, in most cases, should be invisible or if it isn’t it needs to serve a purpose for the story. The story or the message should be all that a viewer takes with them, and editing is the vehicle that steers that narrative to the desired outcome. 

LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing (even when it’s a film without actual music) – how do you think about the rhythm side of editing, how do you feel out the beats of a scene or a spot? And do you like to cut to music?

Lucas> As someone who loves music, plays music and studies music, editing is a lot like music to me. There is a rhythm to editing that needs to flow like music or the viewer’s attention will be dropped like by a sour note or a missed beat. I often feel a bit like I’m conducting an orchestra when I’m editing. I can connect the rhythm of the edit to the music so that they dance together and sometimes that pushes the edit to be faster or slower than the original footage suggested.  And I love when the music is predetermined because I get to work with one track and that gives me time to explore the beats of the scene and how that music plays into it to achieve that perfect dance. 

LBB> Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.

Lucas> Recently I edited a short film for Blizzard Entertainment’s game Hearthstone. The main character in the film was the famous Russian Chess Grandmaster, Garry Kasparov. The director captured interviews and game play with a mysterious opponent.  I had a wonderful time on that job because Mr. Kasparov took the whole project very seriously, which fully supported the legitimacy of the story and this wild experiment. His insight was brilliant, and I learned so much from his experience. There was also a lot of tension that I was able to work with during the final match. And because the length of the original film was indeterminate, I was able to explore more emotional moments as well. What I liked most was that I felt like I got to spend time with Garry Kasparov. 

In the US we know that editors are much more heavily involved across the post production process than in Europe - what’s your favorite part of that side of the job?

So many people have been involved leading up to the moment it all comes together in my edit room, so I like to honor all of those professionals. My favorite part is bringing it all together and showing it to the team with the hopes that the sum of all the parts turns out to be more than what they were expecting.

LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough? (And why?)

Lucas> Each scenario has challenges and I make it work with whatever I’m given. I’m always up for a good challenge. 

LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?

Lucas> Apple’s Mac vs PC has so far been my favorite editing campaign with many others being a close second. That was the one that brought me in long before the shoot and had me on set for my input which allowed me to truly own the entire editing process. The mechanics of that campaign were so exciting and fulfilling and it didn’t hurt that everybody loved them as well. The trick to those spots was the simplicity of the messaging. The audience could easily follow along with the familiar characters relating simple familiar stories. Making it all look so simple was the hardest part but quite rewarding.

There are so many different platforms for film content now, and even in advertising something can last anything from a few seconds to a couple of hours. As an editor, are you seeing a change in the kind of projects you’re getting from brands and agencies?

I have witnessed the age of the longform being the main focus of a campaign with shorter cutdowns supporting, to the age of the 30 second version being the main focus, to the age of the 15 second, then the 6 second and beyond. It still comes down to the same basic need of communication. Our audiences and our platforms have changed but the message is the same, does the viewer laugh or cry or feel at the right moment? The story is still paramount. 

LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? 

Lucas> My editing heroes are my assistants. I love their energy, I love their perspective, and I love that they are always down to try new things and break a few rules with me. Mentoring is something I have benefited from over the years and also love to do. One of the special things about Cut+Run is that we have mentorship as part of our way of being - and that’s how I got to know so many heroes along the way. One of the special things about Cut+Run is that we have mentorship as part of our way of being - and that’s how I got to know so many heroes along the way. 

LBB> How does editing in the commercial world differ from the film world and TV world?

Lucas> I think they are two different skills. When I cut something for film or TV I have to remind myself that I have the extra tool of time. Commercials are a different puzzle than longform. 

LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years

Lucas> There is so much more awareness from everyone about the existing content that is available. Keeping up with current trends is helpful because everyone seems to watch the same content. I make sure I have seen or researched the latest shows or movies or music just to remain helpful to whomever might try to communicate an idea to me. As for editing trends, I have always tried to stay ahead of the technology. I do most of my offline compositing myself and use other digital tools beyond just editing. Learning these additional skill sets is exciting and keeps evolving my craft in fun and new ways.

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Cut+Run US, Thu, 25 Aug 2022 07:44:00 GMT