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Finely Sliced: Having a Sense of Rhythm with Esteban Pedraza

Post Production
New York, USA
Forager editor sits down to chat methodical working, editing for the NY Ballet and his love of movies

Esteban Pedraza is New York based, Nashville raised and Colombian. Se habla Espanol. :)

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

Esteban> I’m pretty methodical when it comes to starting a project. I always start off watching all the footage and making selections all the way through. I usually re-watch the selections a couple times if the schedule permits to really get to know the footage. It’s very boring and tedious but it makes the cutting process go way faster and it makes my decisions feel more confident. 

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?

Esteban> I think this has been an ongoing process ever since I really got into film. I just watch so many movies. I try to stick to work that has a vision or does what it’s trying to do really well. Then I try to recreate those feelings in my work.  

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

Esteban> Very. Especially if you’re cutting a narrative or documentary film. Even if it’s just a car commercial or something, the basics of tension and release are fundamental to making anything good. 

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?

Esteban> I think my sense of rhythm is my best asset as an editor. Story and music both have rhythm to them. It’s about feeling out how your edit is playing and being honest with those feelings. You just know when it feels right. Any frame or element of sound design can change everything. Cutting to music is a bit boring to me but it feels right most of the time. My favourite edits are the ones that amorphously cut to music, where the picture and the music are like in their own dance but somehow syncing up perfectly beyond just cutting directly on beat. That’s the best. 

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

Esteban> I cut a 20 minute film for the NYC Ballet in 2021 and it was amazing. It ended up premiering at the Venice Biennale in the Danza section and what was great about it was how still the edit was. I come from editing very fast and flashy commercial style projects but my sensibility is way more towards the opposite. It was a privilege to be able to intentionally sit on long, beautiful shots and not cut until the piece really called for it. It felt like zen master editing (lol). And it was difficult to not cut for long periods of time but the director and I were just honest with ourselves with what was needed and we got to live in our real sensibilities. 

LBB> How important is your relationship with the director and how do you approach difficult conversations when there is a creative difference of opinion (with the director or with the agency/client)?

Esteban> I love working one on one with the director. It’s my favourite part of editing. I love the feeling of being in a room with someone collaborating on this one thing that needs to be perfect. One example recently was for a Nike Run Club commercial. So much of the footage was from the perspective of the runner. It was really difficult to get right, so I just invited the director over and we tackled it together almost every day of the schedule. It was so much fun, and turned out way better than if we probably hadn’t done that. When the director and I are both invested, there’s always long discussions about every moment in the cut and you just have to be honest about what you think. You owe it to the project, it’s never personal. 

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

Esteban> The only thing that really matters is the quality of the material. Too much trash is harder to cut around than not enough footage that fully executes its vision. 

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

Esteban> I cut some designer profiles for Carmelo Anthony’s Stay Me7o 2020 campaign. The one I cut for the collective Ghetto Gastro is my favourite commercial edit I’ve done. It perfectly expresses this sort of ethereal yet gut punching style that I had been developing with that director, DA Yirgou. It’s full of luscious sound design and camera movement. It never stops morphing into new moments that really extract the essence of the subjects. I went in deep on symbolic sound design as well. The piece also had a lot to do with Black voices, and the sense of an everyday revolution for social justice. It was very much from the heart while not being cheesy at all. I’m really proud of that one. 

I also directed and edited a Paris Fashion Week film for Yeezy in early 2020 in which I completely did what I wanted and even developed some of my own techniques that ended up in Stay Me7o as well. Sadly, the Yeezy film will never see the light of day ☹ 

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?

Esteban> It’s funny to do a 45 second edit and then do a five second cutdown that’s scrutinised more than the 45 second one. But the reality is that the five second one is going to be seen by more people and will probably generate the most clicks, so it’s important to focus on that and make that pop. We are selling products at the end of the day. 

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

Esteban> I love the classic heroes like Walter Murch and Thelma Schoonmaker. Everything they brought to the craft in the golden age of American cinema still holds up as the standard in my opinion. David Lynch from a sound design perspective is the goat. He became his own adjective, “Lynchian!” I also love the jarring and blatantly discontinuous editing you see in early Godard films, or even Lars Von Trier films. There’s something really beautiful and exciting to me about how Lars’ editor, Molly Malene Stensgaard, disregards continuity, as well as the audience’s comfort, in her editing. She’s going straight for the raw emotion back to back. There’s no fluidity, just feeling after feeling after feeling like slaps in the face and it works. I really admire that. 

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

Esteban> In the commercial world, you’re trying to sell something. With film and TV, you’re trying to give someone a timeless feeling through a character’s journey. With commercials, we strive to transmit real, timeless feelings as well, but it’s always coloured by the fact that we’re selling something. So it never really gets there. Oftentimes it feels contrived no matter how hard you try. And it’s limited by the clients’ neuroses. Obviously there are commercials out there that make you feel more than many films, but the central goal of an ad compared to a film is very different, and they’re both equally difficult to achieve in their own ways. 

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

Esteban> I can’t say that I have.  

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