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Finely Sliced: You Need to Know the Rules Before You Break Them Says Oliver Best


The Whitehouse Post editor on going from hand-processing Super 8 film at college to big-budget edits for top brands like Google, acknowledging diversity deficits and immersing himself in stories for a unique brand of ‘method-editing’

Finely Sliced: You Need to Know the Rules Before You Break Them Says Oliver Best

Oliver joined Whitehouse Los Angeles after spending the past decade honing his craft as a freelancer working with esteemed companies including Creative Lab, Google Brand Studio, Nike Global Brand Imaging, Beats By Dre, Apple, and 72 and Sunny. An adventurous athlete who surfs, snowboards, climbs, hikes, and runs, you can feel the adrenaline coursing through his thrilling work for top brands like Google, Nike, Beats, Sonic, Best Buy, Target, and Adidas. In 2020, Oliver teamed with Google to celebrate Black History Month celebrating the icons and moments that have been searched more than any others in the United States. ‘Most Searched’ premiered during the 2020 Grammy awards and garnered over 72M views on YouTube, as well as nods from D&AD, The Adcolor Awards, and the One Show.

LBB> Why did you get started in editing? And what has the journey been like up until this moment? 

Oliver> I began editing in ’98, splicing hand-processed Super 8 and 16mm film, and ultimately ‘digitising’ that work off the wall with a video camera to make further edits on a deck to deck for filmmaking classes at Pitzer College in Southern California.  At the time, I fancied being a philosophy major, I’d probably still be there if I’d stuck with philosophy. Filmmaking got me through college, without a doubt. 

At the time, I knew editing was part of being a filmmaker but I hadn’t considered it to be a career. This was probably in part due to the lure of titles like cinematographer or director. After college, I’d meet these people all the time working in commercial production as a set or office assistant, swing, and grip. I didn’t meet an actual editor until many years later after working on a film at Screengems called Stomp the Yard. I was in Atlanta for the production with the intent of parlaying my way into the camera crew, I stayed on in LA as post assistant under the good graces of the director, and friend, Sylvain White. That was an awesome experience, but I was not inspired to work in the studio system. 

Ultimately, I met another editor who worked at a boutique movie marketing company in Miracle Mile that had strong relationships with Warner Bros and Lionsgate. A smallish company with really talented editors - that was where I learned professional post-production with the intent of becoming an editor. While that path was traditional: assistant, to junior, to editor, the company dissolved and I went freelance. I landed in commercial post-production, often working with agencies and brands all over the world. 

Nine years later, here we are. I’ve recently joined the family at Whitehouse Post (albeit during a pandemic) where I’m thoroughly enjoying having the support and camaraderie of a bright, talented team of colleagues and partners.

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

Oliver> When possible, I’ll immerse myself in the world of the project, doing heaps of research based on what’s available to me at the time including decks, style guides, boards, scripts, books, film references, etc. Other times I’ll go in completely cold and suss it all out on the go (the room, the company, the bigger picture). I like both approaches and everything in between. The ability to pivot is advantageous, improvisation has its allure, but who doesn’t love a formula? Particularly if you’re convinced it's a successful one. 

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?

Oliver> This is an area where I do find research and exposure to be paramount. A bit like getting into character, immersing oneself in the sounds and imagery of a type of storytelling really helps to get your mind right while executing those technical aspects. Simultaneously leaving room for inspiration amidst that influence. If you’re cutting some drama and that’s been your world for a bit, throw in a tentpole action movie or get lost in a couple hours of youtube videos, dump a bit of acid over everything… just save a copy of your work first.

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

Oliver> Probably about as important as knowing the boundaries and limitations of anything you get involved in. You need to know the rules so you know when or how, or if you can or should, break the rules. The feeling or impression of a story can be far more valuable than having understood that Jack and Jill went up the hill for this, that or the other. Stare at a flickering projector screen long enough and story finds a way. It’s like a balancing act of letting the viewer find their own understanding while giving them the nuts and bolts to make sense of it, at least as much as you did.  Hopefully along with something that leaves them moved, touched or inspired. 

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?

Oliver> I’d say that the majority of editors, storytellers, writers and so on, that I’ve been inspired or motivated by, do have a sense of rhythm and music. They almost always play instruments and have extensive archives. One hand washes the other, sight and sound, so I’m a fan of handicapping work either way. If it’s a very musical piece - or if the music is heavily influencing the pace, emotion, or mood - then make sure to turn it off every now and then. If it’s a dialogue scene, watch it MOS and note the impression you get or when your mind or eyes wander. Be curious. Cutting to music should involve a bit more than looking at a waveform and making add edits on the beat. In my opinion, it's exploring the pocket and any potential variation or finding when to maximise the lullaby of the rhythm and so on. To have fun.

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

Oliver> They are all special and loaded with creative challenges. Right now, I’m working on a project that is still shooting loosely framed material and cutting with unapproved found content, while we’re sorting out the soundtrack and graphic execution. The style guide hasn’t been finalised, etc and the list of absent niceties goes on. We’re ‘building the car while we’re driving it’, as it were. And it’s great! The people involved are all smart, fun, and engaging, so it ends up being a pleasure, thankfully.

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?

Oliver> What is nice about being on for a bit more of the ride is getting an understanding for all the stakeholders and cooks in the kitchen. When you’re baked in early for a campaign there ends up being a bit less mystery as to where people are coming from with their notes, ideas or goals, which can be quite helpful to the process as a whole. That being said, there are times when I do envy anyone that simply gets the script, the dailies, and some temp tracks, along with some time and space to have at it before the notes start flowing.  

LBB> In a sentence or two, describe your editing style.

Oliver> One shot after the other, sometimes split the screen…  No, I like that idea about editing being like hosting a party.  You want everyone to feel special, involved, and taken care of, all of which happens with as much help as you can get your hands on, and allowing your guests to be helpful when available too. A proper collaboration of co-conspirators. 

LBB>Can you explain the impact that someone’s style of editing has on a project?

Oliver> It is really tempting to force what you think you’re good at onto a project. I mean, you get awarded a job, the job gods have shined their light on you! So it must be because of such and such. Sometimes you even get the red carpet for that - we’ve hired all the funny actors, the funny director… so ‘have at it you funny editor’ or ‘you’re the editor who did the thing that time, so here do that thing you did then for this one here’. There’s also speed, social skills, ability to handle pressure, limitations and last-minute changes or forecasting issues based on previous experience but not inducing them. Style for miles.

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

Oliver> Both are fine, with enough experience neither ends up being a showstopper depending on the context. I mean if it’s a single take performance straight to camera we’ll chop it up and composite the best one out of it. Bless our VFX teams… The caveat being you’ve got to have the budget or connections to solve the problem that way. No money, no collaborators, now you’ve got yourself in a pickle. The same goes for having all the footage in the world and no time to go through it or resources for help. 

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

Oliver> Love them all, I say... Or at least I honestly aim to. I can remember my first cutdown as an assistant for Harry Potter going to broadcast and a sense of pride and joy. There was a spot with the Martin Agency for Purina, the edit was done via zoom a year before the pandemic. I was thankful for that remote primer, plus there were horses and Montana with a healthy dose of ‘let's figure this all out’ with the agency. I also had a lot of fun working with the World Surf League a few years back. Recently the monoculture of surfing’s representation has come under a bit more scrutiny, I’m black and I surf, so to be a part of updating the look and feel for their marketing was a lot of fun and hard work. 

And of course, there was The Most Searched BHM for Google Brand Studio. The nature of working with a very large tech company’s ‘identity’ and having it air during the Grammys (which is its own cultural hotbed - and to then have had the Bryant family tragedy on top of it, and all these events going on that are a part of and reflect Black Culture in the United States… 

As a black man who’d spent many months working on the thing, I felt more pressure in a different way than I’d experienced before personally and professionally to ‘get it right’, or - since that is sort of impossible to forecast -, let’s say: ‘not get it really wrong’, at the very least. Fortunately, it was received well. Big nod to the creative team and all the collaborators, but it wasn’t until almost a year later - and a whole lot more tragedy in American politics and policing - that anyone came knocking on my door for work because of it.

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?

Oliver> Yes and no. There are a lot more opportunities to cut a longer-form version of a campaign or spot but the 90, 60 and 30-second iterations are still show-running it. Recently I got to collaborate with another Whitehouse editor in NYC on a campaign to raise awareness on the topic of obesity. Queen Latifah was the talent and veteran director Chris Robinson was at the helm. There were four films that could be whatever length felt right and the compilation piece of all four had its own TRT - as well as the usual suspects and social iterations. More freedom and experimentation to pursue the story instead of filling the single media buy is lovely.

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

 Oliver> There’s the art/academic side of editing which is all well and good, but at this stage in my life, my peers are my heroes. My fellow working editors. The senior editors from when I was just learning, the mentors, all of whom are still working of course, because who can afford to retire, and if you can then you’re probably in the position where you don’t want to. In high school, I fell in love with Hal Hartley movies. Something magical happened with Michael Spiller’s cinematography, Steve Hamilton’s editing and Hartley’s storytelling. Bob Murawski’s work spoke to me as well - loved Army of Darkness and Sam Raimi’s films - that was Bill Pop lensing too so you know… I also love what Maya Hawke and Joe Bini did with Little Ethiopia as well as their previous films. Keep working! All of you!

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

Oliver> My experience of those differences, coming up, was that of no one wanting to share their toys. The commercial editing world didn’t care about movie marketing or vice versa, if you’re not in TV, then stay away.  Years later you look at what happened in 2020 with a simple post in a Facebook group “Looking for Black editors.” Acknowledging the spectrum in the room (or zoom) happens a bit more these days. A lot of baby steps. More often than not people will want to go with what they think is safe or whomever they’ve worked with before, and that’s fine, that’s understandable… so long as you’re running a check on the homogeneity you’re inflicting with your hiring practices.

If the room is monocultural, whether it be ethnically, sexually, or politically, there isn’t easily the courage to acknowledge that as a deficit. That is business as usual and comes with pats on the back, but a lot of brands and agencies are picking up the gauntlet and seeing the improvements in their balance sheets that conscious practices of inclusion have to offer. Those players reap the rewards.

LBB> What plans or projects are you looking forward to?

Oliver> All of them. Bring me all the projects! It is the holiday season and inevitably there will be scrambles, fires to put out, reckless deadlines or turnarounds… I look forward to working with my teams to do it all with style and grace. Otherwise, I’ve got my hands in some long-form and doc work and I am excited to see where those go.

LBB> Do you have any tips for young editors starting out right now?

Oliver> Dentist, lawyer, doctor… no, I kid. Take walks, get some sunshine, mind your posture.

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Whitehouse Post - US, Thu, 09 Dec 2021 17:40:00 GMT