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Finely Sliced: Setting Tone and Pace with Danny Pellegrini


Tank Design's head of branded content on starting with the audio, the art of colour sessions and his love for Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese

Finely Sliced: Setting Tone and Pace with Danny Pellegrini

Danny Pellegrini is the head of branded content at Tank Design, a leading independent design firm specialising in brand and experience design. Daniel has over 20-years of experience in the marketing and advertising industry. He has worked in campaign development, brand positioning, content creation, social media strategy, experimental, video editing, motion graphics, voiceovers, and more. 

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

Danny> While my process might not sound exciting, I start by establishing a VO track and music track. Even if the music changes, as it usually does, I labor over a music edit first. I ask myself, “Is this rock? Electronic? Emotional? Urgent? Mellow? In-your-face?”. This process sets the tone and pace. I then get the music edit right, cutting into an early build, a crescendo, and a finale. Having the audio structure in place is the first step from nothingness. I’m very anxious until I have a working version of music/VO, and once I have that, I can relax a bit.

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?

Danny> I had a knack for editing in high school video production, long before digital non-linear editing was available at a consumer level. At the same time that other students were doing 'man-on-the-street' interview segments, I was making montages of different movies and setting them to popular music. I did this using a deck-to-deck system, equivalent to having two VCRs. I just understood how to match edits and create flow. Then I went to film school and worked on a Steenbeck, a massive table with a reel-to-reel system. It looks like a computer from the Batcave in the old 1960’s Batman show. I shot 16mm film, hung clips on bin hooks, and assembled edits by hand. When I got into advertising in the early 2000s, technology changed; you could experiment. That’s also when I saw my first 'brand essence film.' I didn’t know they existed. It was part music video, part movie trailer. And they were an essential deliverable for clients because they provided such a complete experience: music, moving images, rhythm, design, typography, maybe some animation, and then a logo at the end. It was like showing a client their dream, what they could be. The moment I saw my first brand essence video, I understood this industry in a new light. It wasn’t just about selling products. It was about a brand’s purpose in the world and creating an emotional connection with its consumers. Video editing was a powerful way to express all of that. 

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

Danny> Extremely important. Any video that is :15 or longer should follow a 3-act structure. There should be an arc. Editing is like storytelling in that it is about the doling out of information and emotion. You want the viewer to know, see, and feel something precise every step of the way.  

LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing (even when it’s a film without actual music) – what 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?

Danny> I don’t cut to the beat because that feels too technical. There are moments when you have to hit something at the exact right time, and there are instances (like a pronounced drum intro or bridge) that will look awkward if you’re not hitting those beats. But in general, you’re editing a song into a :30 or :60-time frame and trying to truncate a three-minute track into the central parts: intro, build, chorus, and resolution. These parts act as guideposts, and the tempo is built. To me, it’s the choice of music that is key. Music can be very unexpected and adds something fresh and delightful to a project. That’s why I like internal videos or concept videos because you don’t have to worry about rights. If you want to use a Madonna song, you can. 

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

Danny> Covid has presented many challenges when it comes to corporate brand videos. For example, we recently did a video that involved stakeholder interviews in the client’s office. Of course, the office was empty because everyone was working remotely. We tried to get customary b-roll (people in conference rooms, meetings, the buzz of office life), but it just wasn’t happening. The place looked dim and vacant. In editing, we added a lot of nicely designed copy supers and some elegant animated transitions to solve the problem. We used micro shots for texture and shifted the story from “a day in the life” to “glimpses into our legacy.” We also didn’t want to use stock because we felt that was disingenuous. It was tough, but I think we ended up with a good result.

LBB> In the US we know that editors are much more heavily involved across the post-production process than in Europe - what’s your favourite part of that side of the job?

Danny> My favourite part is probably the colour sessions. It’s a mystery to me and such an art form. I never really have great notes, but it’s fun to sit with a CD, have lunch delivered and watch them nit-pick any over-saturation or levels of blue. 

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

Danny> It is more challenging when there’s not enough material. You run through the footage quickly. You think you have enough because maybe there are three or four hours of raw material, but when you get into the thick of the project, you realise, “if I only had a shot of this or a different angle on that, or I wish this shot was moving instead of on sticks.” It’s inevitable. You always want more variety.

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

Danny> A few years back, I was asked to re-edit an existing TV campaign for a denim brand that was a long time client at a previous agency. I had done a lot of work for this brand and was sort of a gatekeeper of all types of different shoots across different brand segments. A week into the project, I realised we had tons of recent footage unused, and there was no reason for it not to be, so I changed the concept altogether. I went through all the footage and put together more of an anthem that spoke to the breadth and power of the brand. I was able to create a cohesive visual story, and once I had that, I wrote a script that tied the story to the brand’s value props and current business objectives. It was not what the client was expecting, but they liked it, and when they tested it in focus groups, it scored the highest of any TV spot in the history of the brand—not just the brand, but the entire parent company. So that felt good, and that was all editing and retrofitting a script.

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?

Danny> Yes, I see a change. For one thing, there’s a lot less broadcast. And budgets have shrunk considerably. Why pay 500K for something when the cost of media is zero? Brands want quantity, as they should, and they want to populate their site and social channels. And with so many targeted media buys, big brands need everything in multiple formats, sizes, and versions tailored to specific audiences. If a spot is going on Bleacher Report, they want the “male-heavy” version. If something is going on, they want the “fishing-heavy” version. Also, everything needs to work without sound, which is sad but a reality. As a result, you have the version with supers, the version without graphics (some channels will put on their own graphics), or the version with closed captioning. Then there are the bite-sized lengths. I don’t mind the :06 videos, though. I think it’s a nice challenge to prove what you can do in 1 or 2 shots and a single line of copy. However, it is still painful to take something shot beautifully in a landscape format and crop it vertically for an IG story– it breaks my heart. 

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

Danny> I’m a movie person, and my favourite filmmakers either heavily influence their editing or work with star editors. The top two that come to mind are Steven Soderbergh and Scorsese (Scorsese works exclusively with Thelma Schoonmaker– a genius). David Fincher’s editors were terrific on 'The Social Network.' I love the editing of Tony Scott’s films, which are very commercial and stylistic. And Hank Corwin, who’s an editor that’s done a lot of commercial work, plus edited 'Natural Born Killers' and 'The Big Short.' Both of those movies have a wild editorial style. Many people find it distracting, but they’re probably my biggest influences in short form commercial editing, where sometimes you must throw the kitchen sink at people just to keep their attention.

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

Danny> There’s not a lot of room for subtlety in the commercial world, so you can’t linger on anything. Time is precious. You have something like :06 or :08 before a person statistically loses interest, so you must be captivated from the start and cram in all your essential information and brand recognition in those first few moments. It’s a tricky balance.

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

Danny> The industry's most significant trend or change is the revolution of stock footage. With the combination of the pandemic and the growing wave of brands that don’t offer a physical product—like tech, healthcare, data, many B2B and start-ups—clients don’t see the need to shoot something. I see stock clips all the time now; shots I’ve used, shots I’ve scrolled past, even in major brands on TV. That is quickly becoming an issue. Stock footage has come a long way over the last 15 years, but it’s still stock. You end up with many anthem spots about a better world, with a lot of stop-motion skylines, wind turbines, and close-ups of people staring off into the sunset, and that is fueling a lot of sameness out there. That’s why creative editing is more important than ever– where beautiful design and typography come to the rescue and set you apart. 

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Tank Design, Mon, 21 Feb 2022 08:58:22 GMT