As we move closer to a world of telecommuting and online collaboration, film editors are jumping on the bandwagon. As a group they’ve been traditionally somewhat removed from the day-to-day moviemaking process, working in dark suites far from the set. But it’s one thing to work across town and quite another to work on a different continent.
Take Langdon Page, who has edited feature documentaries “Salinger” (2013), “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” (2016) and this year’s “Inventing Tomorrow” from Chile, the South American country to which he relocated in 2011 for family reasons. (He did have to travel to Los Angeles to edit 2017’s “The Final Year,” about President Obama’s last year in office, because it was “politically sensitive.”)
“Between 2012 and now I’ve cut six documentaries remotely,” says Page, who received a grant from the Chilean government to start a production company. “At that point, the technology was just getting to where this dream of being able to live anywhere but still work with the U.S. was becoming feasible.”
Page isn’t the only editor to work remotely. Individuals choose to work far from a production for various reasons. These can be as simple as wanting to be a stay-at-home parent or as complicated as facing political risks if they work in a certain country.
Stay-at-home mom and freelance editor Chloe Reynolds Gauthier lives in Maine and works on smaller narrative projects and also for digital agency Spot Creative, whose clients include Bloomberg, NYU Langone Medical Center and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. She began as a full-time in-house editor in New York and moved to Maine for a better quality of family life.
Douglas Blush lives in Los Angeles and has been cutting films from his home for a decade. He was the consulting editor and producer on the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary “Icarus,” and he won an ACE Eddie Award for the 2013 Oscar-winning doc “20 Feet From Stardom.” “I’ve been working globally for years now,” Blush says. “I have an edit and production office at home set up exactly to my liking. I’m able to work odd hours that can match to time zones around the world as needed, and often do it in my pajamas.”
Remote editors frequently use Adobe Premiere Pro — a nonlinear editing software to which many switched since the decline of Apple’s Final Cut Pro products. Gauthier supplements Adobe Premiere Pro with several apps to communicate remotely and transfer files. She’s regularly on a sync app called Resilio, which she uses to pull all assets and sync them to a folder that shows up soon after on her collaborators’ desktops. Cloud-based computer file transfer service WeTransfer is another of her tools.
Gauthier recalls that when she began her career, editors and producers were shuttling drives back and forth, but now her producers have all her files in an hour. “I work mostly with the producers,” Gauthier says. “I get the footage, and then we have several conference calls with the client and the producer talking about what they want. I take it from there on my own schedule.”
A communication tool she likes is Slack, which is handy for creating threads within each project. “It’s much more convenient than going through emails or text message threads,” she says. Google Docs is another favorite collaborative cloud-based tool for keeping track of notes from clients and other pertinent project details that everyone can access.
“I’d say in only the last three or four years has all this become more streamlined,” Gauthier says. “The communication flow was messier when I first came up to Maine, but I was really lucky to [be working with] a company that didn’t want to lose the relationship we’d already built.”
Despite the rapid development of remote-collaboration technology, there’s still a role for physical transportation. Both Blush and Page use shipping services like FedEx to ship drives back and forth. For feature documentaries, there’s just too much footage to deal with to be working with online transfers.
“We’re talking about sometimes hundreds of hours and terabytes of footage, and it’s totally inefficient to be downloading that,” Page says. “I’ve used Media Silo, but just for uploading cuts for review or pickup shots.”
In the opinion of all three editors, the pros of remote editing certainly outweigh the cons, but they agree that the main challenge they face is maintaining their presence in the industry. After all, in a people business like entertainment, face time still counts for a lot.