In this month’s installment of In Depth we have an artist that often goes unnoticed (intentionally)! Bradley Furnish is an editor extraordinaire, whose seamless work secretly graces the likes of Pixar animated films and indie projects alike. Hear about what it means to be the man behind the curtain, how it feels to be a major part of indie projects, and what it means to work for one of the most innovative companies in the world.
Junkyard Arts: I will preface this whole interview with this: I know absolutely nothing about the finer points of editing! I mean, I know what it is…but I don’t know how you do it, where you learn about it, etc. So, I hope you don’t mind my going in baby steps. Let’s start with this: How did you get started in editing?
Bradley Furnish: I went to LSU for graphic design and along the way fell into movie making with two friends of mine. LSU didn’t have a film program, so we worked on our own shorts, music videos, and other projects and educated ourselves. We all tried out different roles on every project, and early on I discovered I loved editing.
JYA: So this wasn’t something you initially intended as being a career! Interesting. What do you think drew you to it? Was it something that sprouted from an interest in other things technical?
BF: Editing was definitely something I discovered in the early days of college. And I have been pursuing it ever since. To do that I chose a route that was a little circuitous. I picked up as many technical filmmaking skills like compositing, color correction, motion graphics, etc. in order to get closer to editing.
JYA: What was it like the first time, like, just working it out and all of a sudden >poof!< you’ve edited something?
BF: The very first time that I put together a rough cut was an “Ah ha!” moment for me. It was the first time that I could say “Holy shit we made a movie!” and I really felt it. As lumpy as that first cut was, watching it for the first time felt like pure movie making. From then on I knew I loved editing.
JYA: And you do your editing how? Just on your personal computer? (ack! I sound like such a novice!) Do you think being able to do this kind of work from your home makes a difference in your ability to really try it out, particularly in college, without having to invest in time in a studio, or super expensive equipment?
BF: I, like many others, found that the digital filmmaking revolution gave anyone with a laptop the means to edit. I saw a lot of writer/directors making their own independent projects and taking on the editing themselves. I knew that if I wanted to produce my own projects and really work on my editing I couldn’t be held up by a post production skill I didn’t have. Now that I have a lot of core technical skills down it’s hard to not distract myself with projects that lead me away from editing.
JYA: And just that like, you took on a new career path…
BF: A lot of that came together for me when I worked with one of my lifelong friends, Winston Good, to put together the I Lie Pretty video for VTG. Winston and I produced and directed the video, doing a lot of the prep work and production ourselves. We then took the footage into post and I spent a great deal of time editing and building the effects that you see in over 50% of the video. It was a creative and technical challenge that I have not since repeated.
JYA: What would you say are some key elements to good editing? Is it the ability to listen to a director and translate their needs? Individual vision and creativity? The ability to envision a project in its full form from the get go? Sorry. That’s a lot of questions…
BF: I think there a lot of different subtleties to great editing, but no editor can express any level of skill without being able to collaborate with a director. A good editor will take a director’s ideas and execute an interpretation that lives up to the director’s vision. If the editor comes up with new ways of seeing a cut they should be excited to explore it with the director and know when to concede and when to fight to make a better film.
A lot of fast paced or unconventional editing tends to get the most attention when it comes to an individual’s skills. It has it’s place but a lot of great editing goes intentionally unnoticed. The structure of individual scenes or an entire film may change in the editing room, and the audience will never be the wiser. This requires the editor and the director to hold everything about the film in their head. On a macro level it may be the structure of the entire film and on a micro level it may be the buildup and pacing of a mostly dialogue-driven scene. It’s hard to keep all of that together for a feature length film, and I think everyone who cuts works on that constantly.
JYA: That is a really, really great way of putting it. When a film’s pacing is such that you find yourself totally sucked into it – it really has a lot to do with seamless editing that pretty much goes unnoticed…
BF: Totally. There is also a middle ground where in even conventionally edited films you may see a few cuts that purposefully juxtapose dialogue or a color or a shape or the composition of the scene. When it ties into the theme or pacing of the scene I find those moments to be some of the tiny brush strokes a skilled editor can add to the picture.
JYA: Ok. So in addition to working on a number of indie projects, you also work for a company that I am moderately obsessed with: Pixar. Tell me a little about why you chose Pixar and your experiences there as an editor. I’m a total Disney and Pixar nut so…mind my girlish sighing and daydreaming of one day being a character’s voice…continue…
BF: When I went to see Monsters Inc. for the first time I went because it was a Pixar film. That was the first studio that stood out to me as a place of creative filmmaking. Until then I had attached that distinction to individuals–directors, writers, cinematographers. To think of a place or a company that was completely devoted to creative filmmaking was inspiring and I knew I had to work there. Fast forward 5 years and several attempts at getting in, and I landed a job there.
JYA: Squeeky wheel always gets the grease! What are some projects that you have worked on for them?
BF: I started off as an Editorial Production Assistant on Toy Story 3, and I am currently a 2nd Assistant Editor. I’ve been at Pixar for about four years with most of that time being spent on Toy Story 3. Animation editing is a very long process and is different from live action editing.
JYA: Tell me more about that. How different is the process of editing an animated film vs live action?
BF: [For animated films] we come in at the beginning of the film and work with the story team to cut their storyboards into a full length film. It has everything you need to get the story across–temporary dialogue, sound effects, temp music. It’s kind of amazing that you can experience a film in a bare bones form like that. Once we have it assembled we screen the film and rebuild the parts that aren’t working. Editorial and Story iterates back and forth like this for years before the first shot is animated. Once the animation starts rolling along, we integrate those pieces into the film and fine tune the cut until the movie is ready for release.
JYA: You must get really attached to the films…or hate them with an undying fire…
BF: Ha! Well, I love that with animation we are there early and get the opportunity to add our voice to the creative process. Live action editing is a process that kicks in at the end of production. While there are strong director-editor relationships in live action, the editor is traditionally not involved early on. The place where animation and live action does overlap is the cutting. Whether they are cutting story boards or footage the editor is engaging the same creative mechanism and using the same core filmmaking techniques.
JYA: What has been your favorite project to work on to date?
BF: Without a doubt it was the Pixar contribution to the It Gets Better campaign. It was a very fast project. One of the core members to spearhead the video, Kate, called me up and told me a group of employees had seen the It Gets Better videos that were starting to spread around the internet, and they wanted to make their own. She asked if I was interested in cutting it, and I immediately said yes. Within a week I had hours of footage from dozens of employees. I only had a couple of days to put together a small proof of concept to show the team what I had in mind for the cut, and they loved it. We spent the next two weeks working on the cut and scrambling to get the finishing touches locked down. It was very collaborative and I had an enjoyable time working with a great team–Kate, Daniel, Afonso, and Lauren.
JYA: I remember seeing that video popping up all over the place – very powerful, often funny, devastating and of course, inspiring. What a great project to be able to say you had a part in making it! Did you feel more of a sense of responsibility because of the personal nature of it, particularly because these are your friends and coworkers?
BF: Yes, the main challenge was finding a way to honor the stories of the interviewees in a way that would draw people in to it with only a short amount of time. I had over thirty interviews to work with and every one was beautiful or heartbreaking or uplifting in a unique and magical way. More importantly they were all intensely personal to those individuals and I had a profound respect for their contributions. We quickly realized after the second or third interview that their stories had a common emotional arc. It was a story of not fitting in, realizing why they felt different, coming to grips with that knowledge, and ultimately facing the world as a proud gay person. Once the team and I found that thread, the cut fell right into place.
It was also fulfilling to jump into a project and three weeks later have it released on the internet. People all over the world were watching it, and the dialogue that sprang from it was incredible. There were blogs posting it everywhere and I could see in real time people in those comment threads sharing their own stories and reaching out to each other for help and support. I don’t think anyone working on the project had any expectations past the release, and to see something like that happen was magical and fulfilling on a very basic, human level.
JYA: It’s got almost a million views…I’d say it was pretty successful. Do you consider yourself an artist? I mean, I certainly would..and it sounds like editing really takes both the left and right brain in equal parts – you have to be able to visualise and conceptualize a director’s motives and ideas while also executing it technically – though I imagine many people would think (wrongly) of editing as strictly a technical path.
BF: Definitely. Editing isn’t an art that often draws attention to itself. 99% of the time if an editor has done their job right, no one can tell that they’ve done the job at all–we are there to make a story work and build a rhythm that services the story. For me a lot of that process is sinking into a zone where I navigate halfway with logical decisions and halfway by feeling it out. It’s the same mental zone I would get into when I’m drawing, working on a design, or doing anything else that’s creative. I’ll get into a cut and the hours will fly by and hopefully on the other side I’ve made something that other people will respond to.
Editing technology has been in flux for the last few decades and will continue to change. The editors change with it, but the artistic core will remain the same.
JYA: So who are some of your influences then? Other traditional artists? Technical? Creative types of all brands?
BF: There are so many to count. I’ve always admired self-sufficient movie makers, especially when working in film was literally thousands of miles away. Steven Soderburgh was a huge influence early on because he made Sex, Lies, and Videotape in my hometown, Baton Rouge. He also learned to work the camera, edit, and do many of the jobs not typically taken on by directors. I love seeing a new batch of filmmakers, like Duncan Jones and Neill Blomkamp keep that style of movie making alive. Moon was one of my favorite movies of the last 10 years.
As I’ve experienced more about how film get made and how damn hard it is to make a half-decent movie, I’m impressed by the brilliant filmmakers that can squeeze beautiful works of art out of the studio system. Christopher Nolan–who came from the bottom up–and David Fincher are now two big budget directors that have great respect for editing. Fight Club is just a masterful work of filmmaking that I’ve placed on the highest pedestal and still holds up to the highest scrutiny. It’s incredible to see those kinds of filmmakers get better and better even when you believe they are at the top of their craft.
I absolutely adore Errol Morris’s documentaries. I had the opportunity to see Tabloid at the Telluride Film Festival last fall, and highly recommend it to anyone who gets a thrill out of a carefully structured, entertaining documentary. I still go back to Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control once every year or two to remind myself that you don’t need a serious, heart breaking theme to deal with the human condition in art.
I’m also constantly going back to graphic design and motion graphics and pulling inspiration from there. It’s an art form that is intrinsically tied to commerce, just like filmmaking, yet still manages to foster beautiful works that many people can appreciate.
JYA: This very well may be the most informative interview to date. Thanks so much.