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No Country for Old Cutters

Updated on September 8, 2017

No Country for Old Cutters

We’re a strange lot, we editors…especially the older vets. And guess what? We get as tired of hearing our own bitching about things as you younger cutters must be — you pups raised on desktops and digital. But we have a right and a reason for our cantankerousness: we’ve fought in the Big One…Analog Tape.

And we lived to tell about it.

Our blood, sweat and tears paved the way for you whippersnappers to adroitly drop your glow filters and feedback wipes, nest your effects, and make revision number 30…or 40…or 200 in the blink of an eye….you think you’re so clever! Why… when I was younger I had to Color Frame my edits!!

The things you take for granted — and the things you’ve never heard of — sticktion, tip penetration (not what you think), Turbo-Trace, tweaking pots, eight inch floppies, 409…. Something called generational loss… (nothing to do with kids and parents) were our Pork Chop Hill, Iwo Jima, or (in some cases), Pearl Harbor. Surviving these edits was the stuff dreams and legends were made of.

Yeah…we’re weird and disturbed. Nonlinear made us this way.
Here it is: There are two moments in time that I’ll remember forever: The day in 1963 when JFK was shot, and I cried and we were all truly scared…and the day in 1987, when, in a room on Lankershim Blvd., I first saw a wise-ass editor lasso a group of edits on a thing called a timeline and move them from the front to the end of a sequence — my heart skipped a beat: I knew my life as I knew it (ok, career) was over. The writing was on the wall and, once again, I was scared. I tried to tell myself it was gimmicky, that it would never catch on…that this weird proselytizer from some company called Avid was a crackpot.

But in my heart I knew. I knew that everything I had spent the last decade learning was changed with that one crashy, hiccupy demo…no longer could I harangue a producer not to move that soundbite from the beginning of the cut to the end, desperately listing the reasons not to: it’ll take hours!...It’ll be down too many generations!... It’s OK the way it is!!! “ Oh God!!”, (I’d look at them with desperate eyes, tears almost welling, sort of hyperventilating…) trying to say, without really saying it: “Yes…I can do it…but if I do I will die!!!” Or if a slight change in a graphics build was suggested, (like changing the border color of the fifth layer) I felt like bringing out the Harakiri knife and plunging it into my midsection…

But, being the pros we were, we’d sigh, make our calls home to our spouses to tell them where the wills were located (or that we wouldn’t be home and tell the kids I love them and don't let them forget me), pull out the list management programs, brew some coffee, have a somber talk with our tape ops, and pray we had kept our lists clean, that our disciplined approaches would save our butts again…

And as the sun rose on the hills of LA, we’d emerge, brain-dead, like an army of zombies from our electronic catacombs. We’d leave editing rooms festooned with real expensive equipment, dozens of radiation-spouting CRTs, cool joysticks that could move pictures around… and more buttons than a Space Shuttle…the end product on this thing called tape now safely secured in libraries, copies being made by our half-asleep tape ops.

We’d squint in the morning light, say goodbye (sometimes muttering murderously, sometime hugging, emotionally bonded for life — a fellow survivor even if it was just a producer).

In each case we were now soul mates, for better or worse, having lived through this night together…we’d manage to get home without driving off a cliff or hitting a truck head on, sleep for 3 hours and do it again!!!

(And while we recovered in restless sleep, our million dollar rooms sat lonely, waiting for us to caress it’s buttons and thread its machines and make the money back our bosses threw into them like water through a sieve).

Why did we keep torturing ourselves this way? Because we were Gods.

Being an editor in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s BD — before digital — was heady stuff…We weren’t nerds (ok, some of us were), we were heroes — like fighter pilots going into combat, only instead of a cockpit with our name painted on, it would be Post One, Edit 5, or just CMX…We didn’t need our name on the damn door, because only We could fly this thing and everyone knew it! We were rock stars — or so we believed.

And then non-linear came along.

And every kid with a Mac or a PC thought they could edit. (and most everybody could edit…sort of).

Making changes that took hours before now took seconds, list management became a lost language, like Sanskrit, huge switchers with a thousand colorful buttons that did cool things was now so much junk that was donated to community colleges. That was just the equipment — it was our skill sets that were truly trashed...

Effects that we had spent hours, days, weeks perfecting, effects that were our unique signature looks, (marking our genius and creativity!) now were simply icons dropped on clips that immediately were overused, and unappreciated.

(I hate filters. I use them every day…)

And luxurious, sumptuous edit rooms became cubicles, joysticks disappeared, ADOs and Kaleidoscopes were thrown into dumpsters…and none of us were really special anymore…

Worse than that, there were no more rules. MTV saw to that. Things we avoided like the plague, like jump cuts or color shifts or mismatched video, crappy signals, were now de rigeur...they wanted messed-up video...and we sure gave it to them!

Producers became editors…editors became preditors. Some gave up altogether, unable to adapt and opened comic book stores, or invested in the next big thing (something called the Internet, for God’s sake), or entered “management,” where they would never have to look at an edit system again.

Life would never return to the way it was supposed to be when technology only belonged to the select few. (Me? I bit the bullet…over the last few years I’ve bitten enough bullets to keep working as an editor that I must have lead poisoning by now).

And you wonder why old editors are so bitter.

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