Let the renowned editor of the documentary advise you Young state.
Shortlist for the Oscars 2021 for documentaries, Young state follows 1,000 high school graduates in Texas who gather for an annual weeklong program to build a bogus state government from the ground up. The film gives the audience a glimpse into the inner workings of the race and captures the journey of a select few teenagers running for governor as tensions build up. History paints a vivid picture of division and democracy.
Editor Jeff Gilbert, ACE, received the Best Edited Feature Award at DocNYC 2020 and was nominated for the IDA Documentary Award 2021 as well as the Cinema Eye Honors Award for best editing, recognizing all of his compelling work Young state. We talked to Jeff about why Premiere Pro was the right choice to edit the movie, his favorite scenes and the value he finds in his workspace.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
I taught myself how to edit on a 16mm flatbed machine when I was working on my own short films. I honed my skills and studied nonlinear systems at NYU Film School. From then on I started working as a (terrible) editing assistant and eventually switched to editing myself. I can imagine that the producers I worked for just wanted to replace me as AE and were kind enough to give me a punch to give the cut side of things, which fitted much better.
How do you start a project / set up your workspace?
I am very meticulous in setting up my project and workspace because it is a critical part of the process – it lays the foundation for the work to eventually become intuitive and fluid – and because it helps me manage my fear. At the beginning of any game documentary, the amount of footage is overwhelming. Setting up an orderly file structure and bins with dailies broken down into event or scene string outs gives me a sense of control over a seemingly insurmountable task. It’s the first step on a long journey.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why you noticed it.
My favorite moment in Young state is located in the middle of the film, where Robert, a young man running for governor, reveals a deep secret about his campaign. I don’t want to spoil the moment, but the story turns in its arc and towards a deeper meaning, however important it is. At a critical moment, the film becomes a deeper examination of integrity in politics and the electoral process as a whole.
It was fun finding the right place to reveal this important twist.
What were some specific post production challenges that were unique to your project? How did you go about finding the solution?
With the directors in San Francisco and me and my assistant editor Connor Hall in remote locations across Los Angeles, the dispersed workflow posed significant challenges. It was difficult to share my project and pass sequences back and forth as I am used to and required some creative problem solving on Connor’s part.
Using remote desktop and team viewer solutions helped a lot, but the remote workflow was difficult with this movie, mainly because we weren’t prepared for it from the start.
What Adobe tools did you use for this project and why did you originally choose them?
In addition to Premiere Pro, Connor, our assistant editor, is experienced in Photoshop and After Effects. We relied heavily on him to make pre-vis composites and Stabilization recordings throughout the process and he turned to these two tools extensively and with great effect. The ability on our team to try things out before passing them on to a higher quality finishing team has been really beneficial.
Why were you the best choice for this project?
As mentioned earlier, the freedom to try composites or remove unwanted elements from a frame was a nice luxury to test whether our ideas are even possible. Using Photoshop and After Effects made us feel good about what was possible.
What do you like Premiere Pro, and / or any of the other tools you’ve used?
I really like the Premiere Pro user interface. I love the feel of the timeline and how easy it is to make adjustments within a given clip and on the timeline itself. I also think the markers are a great tool. I use markers a lot to track my footage and love how easy it is to edit and edit them in a snap.
Premiere does a great job creating multicam sequences and patching audio. The ability to drag a sync map into the source monitor and get a multi-clip in the end was a great workflow for us. Young state because we may be filming up to seven cameras at the same time.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
I draw creative inspiration from all facets of life – be it music, movies, food … I don’t have a touchstone source per se, but try to stay up to date with what I’m reacting to on a particular project. Lately I’ve been turning to Abbas Kiarostami and Michael Ritchie’s films and listening to a lot of Destroyer and Anderson Paak. I don’t know how they correlate, but I trust that everything is entering my work indirectly, in ways that I cannot pinpoint.
What was the hardest part of your career and how did you cope with it? What is your advice to a budding filmmaker or content creator?
I’ve been fortunate to avoid difficult moments that are worth a story (though I’ve heard more from several editors than I would like!). I feel like the toughest knot is always at the beginning of a project. In any case, I am overwhelmed and convinced that this will be the only project that proves that I am unable to understand the story.
I say this to budding editors to be helpful (the moral of the story is I always find a way to figure it out). If the process in front of you seems completely unattainable, just reach for something. Make an edit, tackle a small problem, jot down a thought – take an actionable step forward and the creative engine will stall.
From there, lean into the swing and have confidence. Good old blind faith!
This is a photo from my editing room.
I am spoiled. It has huge windows, loads of space, an empty couch behind me, and a nice playback monitor that allows me to step back from the computer and see scenes from a viewer’s perspective.
I also love having an adjustable desk. Sitting breaks keep the blood flowing and make the whole time in front of the screen more bearable.