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Finely Sliced: Cutting Through the Noise with Mike Sobo
New York, USA
Uppercut editor Mike Sobo talks about balancing agency, director, and client priorities, the importance of sound in editing, and his personal workflow

Mike Sobo is an editor at Uppercut Edit in New York, joining in 2021 from Lost Planet, where he spent six years working with global brands like Cadillac, Nike and the NBA. He has a distinctive knack for bringing emotional resonance, musicality, and imaginative storytelling into perfect harmony in his varied projects, which is a stellar complement to the burgeoning studio. Growing up in Connecticut, he soaked in the New York culture as often as he could and eventually moved to the city to study at film school at NYU. Since first cutting his teeth in the industry with Mother’s in-house post-production team, Mike has recently collaborated with directors such as Lena Dunham, Spike Lee and Zack Snyder, as well as cutting personal artistic projects including the feature film La Voz de Los Silenciados.

Launched in New York in 2015, Uppercut is a creative boutique elevating post-production in New York and Atlanta. Focused on telling stories that blur the lines between advertising and entertainment, this collective of passionate editors, visual effects artists, and producers are driven by dynamic, visual storytelling. After joining the team, Mike said: “I’ve admired their work and their culture for quite some time, so I’m honoured to begin this new chapter with them. I can’t wait to see what we make together.” Uppercut managing director Lisa Houck describes Mike’s ‘heart and skill’ that he brings to visually-driven material as the perfect fit for the edit house.

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

Mike> Right after screening footage, I can usually picture what I want to try and do visually, but the first thing I put on my sequence is usually sound. Whether a spot is based on music, dialogue, or even just atmosphere, I always try and build a sound bed first, because to me that's what gives an edit its shape. Then I’ll fill in visuals from there, letting the story guide how that sound bed has to change and get reshaped.


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?

Mike> I’m the son of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, so let’s just say understanding emotion was ingrained in me early. Combine that with an early love of genre film and TV and there is how I found that side of me.


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

Mike> Picasso said something like, “You need to know the rules to break them.” Story is important, but advertising can be a great medium because you don’t need to tell a “story” in the traditional sense to communicate the message. That said, plenty of advertising is incredibly straightforward and there’s nothing wrong with telling a story that way. But sometimes creating a feeling can overtake the need for a story, which can be a really great way to get a message across.


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?

Mike> I love to cut to music. I grew up in a musical household – in addition to being a therapist, my mom was an accomplished composer of children’s music. Also, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I was a big musical theatre dork in high school. Musicality is so important in most types of editing, whether it's building a dramatic crescendo of emotion, or sustaining a comedic beat. The rhythm of an edit is why I almost always approach sound (music OR sound design) in my edits before, or simultaneously, to picture. If I can nail the rhythm of a spot as I’m crafting it, the spot is always better for it.

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

Mike> For the Disney Bundle, I made three spots intended for a sports audience. The final spot, ‘Cut from the Same Cloth’, was a bit of an intense proposition by the agency, Preacher. They had chosen this incredible music track that was built on a call and response, and the idea was to create the same call and response by visually matching moments from sports featured on ESPN+ and moments from anything that can be found on Disney+ or Hulu. But, none of the sports moments were shot to match – so it was up to myself, my assistants, and a lot of help from the agency creatives to find compelling moments that matched as close as possible. 

So, for example, we’d find a shot of the Hulk screaming, and then we’d say “hey I bet we can find a basketball player screaming after a big dunk or something.” Eventually, my family even got involved in searching – I had a great shot of Antoine Griezman of Atletico Madrid blowing a kiss after scoring a goal and I just knew there had to be a clip from some Disney movie with a kiss being blown. It was my six-year-old son who remembered that Aladdin blows a kiss during the movie, and it just so happened to be a perfect match at the exact same angle as my footballer.

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

Mike> Too much material. When something is overshot, everyone tries to fit everything in. Nobody likes to kill their babies, but only so many shots fit in 30 seconds without losing the thread. I like the challenge of having to figure out what to do when something feels missing. That can really spark creativity.


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

Mike> My Nike spot for Kevin Durant that played the moment after he won his second championship. It was made entirely of found footage and home movies but told such an amazing story in a non-traditional way.

Also, my work for Cadillac. I did so many spots for them that I consider special, but if I had to pick one it would be ‘Rise Above’, which premiered during the 2019 Academy Awards. The combination of beautiful car footage and a badass track by Childish Gambino, all interspersed with triumphant mini-stories make it feel special.


LBB> 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?

Mike> There are so many platforms, but also so many ways to avoid advertising (DVR, hit the skip button, etc). Which means it's hard to cut through the noise. My job as an editor is the same no matter the platform, and that's to make something that cuts through. Obviously, if you're cutting something for the Oscars, it will get seen, cause it's one of the few live events apart from sports that still gets a huge audience. But it also feels special to be part of something that gets noticed on newer, less watched platforms. 

In the closing days of the 2020 presidential election, I cut a spot for the Biden campaign that got such a powerfully overwhelming response - almost entirely through Twitter. The ad itself was a traditional 60-second spot (and the 30 did run on TV a bunch as well), but the way it was shared through Twitter and how quickly it spread was unlike anything else I’ve done.


LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?

Mike> My first editing hero when I was young was Roderick Jaynes, aka the Coen Brothers. Of course, their writing and directing deservedly gets the most credit, but they are clearly masters of editing as well. Their comedic timing, risk-taking, and ability to create tension are all top-notch.  

I also spent six years at Lost Planet, and Hank Corwin is definitely a personal hero of mine. He’s a brilliant film editor and a brilliant commercial editor. His personal style has certainly rubbed off on me in a great way.

As for spots that epitomise good editing for me? I absolutely love the Nike spot ‘Unlimited You’, directed by Daniels. The pace in it builds and builds and takes a ‘normal’ Nike spot, and literally breaks it with constant surprises and a great sense of humour. Also, while not technically a spot, I’d also call out ‘A Brief History of John Baldessari’, by Henry and Rel. It’s the editing itself that makes the film so entertaining, and the style it invented is constantly copied in the ad world.

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

Mike> Commercials tend to have a lot of creative visions competing with each other. Just like in film or TV, you’re trying to make the most entertaining or effective piece possible; and obviously, in an ideal world, the director, the agency, and the client are all on the same page. But typically, all three have slightly different priorities, and balancing those priorities falls on the editor. Of course, you want to use the best shots, use every line the copywriter wrote, and make sure there’s ample brand recognition – but you just don’t always have time for all in 30 seconds. That's why, when I start a project, I always think it's best to get something as good as you can get done and shared quickly. I don’t strive for perfection at first, because I always know once the director and agency start seeing cuts, then I’ll start gleaning out what their priorities are, and from there I can perfect it.

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

Mike> If anything, the last few years during the pandemic have proven that tried and true works - have something to say and be clever or emotionally impactful in saying it. Don’t overthink it!

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