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Finely Sliced: Why an Editor Needs to Be an Empty Vessel for Work with Matt Dunne

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Bindery senior editor on the joys of cutting to music, working with John Mayer and his editing heroes

With a love for all things post production, Matt has worked at film and branded content studio Bindery for the past seven years. As Senior Editor, he prides himself on his ability to work in multiple styles, and to adapt to any project. Since joining Bindery, Matt has worked on many large campaigns for well-known companies such as Bombas, Apple, JBL, Oakley, Bose, Roman, Etsy, Neighborly, and 1800 Tequila. 

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

Matt> Starting a project can be overwhelming so the first thing I do is organise everything into sequences and bins. I spend a good deal of time making sure I know where everything is so I have a good feel on how to access it quickly. Then, it’s all about whittling down the task ahead into something that’s much more mentally manageable. 

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?

Matt> It really comes down to watching as much as you can and thinking about how it makes you feel. I’m often asked if I can watch movies or shows and just enjoy them or am I breaking them down. I watch movies to be entertained but often I do like to analyse afterwards as to why I responded a certain way.

The editor also needs to be an empty vessel for the work. You need to be able to understand emotion and put yourself into the seats of the audience or into the minds of the characters to feel what they are feeling and then support that with the editing choices you make.

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

Matt> It’s everything! It doesn't matter if it’s a two hour film or a 30 second commercial, if you don’t have some foundation of story mechanics to build off of, you’re going to have an audience that passively watches your work and doesn’t engage in it. If people aren’t engaging in your work then what are we doing it for?

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?

Matt> Every edit is going to have its own unique rhythm and beats and there’s so much of this that starts with your gut instinct and then followed by discovery. When you’re watching the footage you’re actively thinking about the story beats that you can build, when you’re reading the script you’re visualising those before you even get the footage. There’s so much to consider when you’re building out the rhythm of an edit, but like music you’ve got to start with something simple and then build from there. Cutting to music is a ton of fun but making sure the music is working with the edit and not doing all the work is the most important part.

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

Matt> I had nearly finished a short film but there was something about the ending that wasn’t quite landing the way we wanted it to. The director and I ended up taking a scene from earlier in the film that we had cut and dropped it at the end. We undercut the audio so you hear it when the main character is having his final moment of reflection and then bring the visuals on screen before the credits roll. We immediately knew that this was the exact ending we were looking for. It was a great moment in the edit suite.

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?

Matt> The actual editing side is definitely my favourite but I love being involved in conversations from production all the way through finishing. When you have a real love for filmmaking then you want to just inundate yourself with the entire process. I love being able to see other people share their craft. Colour grading and sound design is especially interesting to me.

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

Matt> Both certainly have their challenges and it’s hard to find that perfect amount of footage to work with, it really depends on the subject. Sometimes not having enough forces you to not only be creative, but to be decisive. Personally I would prefer too much footage to work with. Provided you have the time to work with it, it’s better to have more options than to be stuck.

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

Matt> I got to work with the Re:Think Team at The Atlantic on a Land Rover project starring John Mayer. It hit post right when we decided to go remote for Covid and then picture locked the week before my son was born. We shot with a very loose plan for the days and let John take us through his thoughts on what it means to go on an adventure, his song writing inspiration, and a ton of other subjects. He gave us a mountain of material to work with, which really presented the opportunity to write the story in the edit. We ended up with a very genuine spot that had an overwhelmingly positive reception. It felt true to the brand and true to who he is as a person.

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?

Matt> We’re getting tapped to do all sorts of different content, which as an editor is very exciting. You have these opportunities to work on sponsored content that is impactful and isn’t burdened by the limitations of broadcast. If we aren’t limited by a time frame or a strict structure, brands are willing to take chances and let the best story drive the campaign, which ultimately is what we’re after.

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

Matt> Thelma Schoonmaker has always been my favourite. I personally feel that the tone and most memorable parts of Scorsese films really come from her. Then there’s Lee Smith, Roger Nygard, Paul Machliss and Tom Cross. Whiplash is one of my all-time favourite films and there’s a lot throughout that movie that is a masterclass in editing. The film weaves through invisible editing and then brings it front and centre to make the audience feel the same intensity that the characters are feeling.

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

Matt> There’s a lot to love about both worlds and that line is blurring. Workflow aside, we’ve got all this great talent on the commercial side and it’s made up of people who just want to make the best thing that they can. Working on commercials allows you to tell these short little stories that are creating something actionable whereas in the film world you get to spend more time on performance and characters to flesh out a story. I don’t believe there is a strict divide between the two approaches. The lessons you learn from working on one medium you take to the other.

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

Matt> It’s tricky because there’s a large swath of content out there, from branded short films to user generated content. I think more and more we want to see content that we can connect to, that feels personal to us.

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