Of all the artists who come together to create a film, an editor is arguably the most important. Screenwriters and directors create the feel and tone of the film, set decorators and costume departments create the look, and cinematographers capture all of it; but an editor, an editor is responsible for crafting the final product. They sift through hours of footage, find the best takes, the tiny perfect moments in performance that make a film truly memorable. To some this might be the most boring job in all of film, but to others it is their passion and their life’s work. One such person is local freelance editor Lindsay Ragone.
Ragone began her career around 2000 as a production manager, post supervisor, and assistant editor for a number of documentaries (including biographies of Robert Munsch, Lesley Gore and the Barenaked Ladies). By 2003, Ragone had gone out on her own as a freelance editor, with much of her work focusing on lifestyle TV programs such as Holmes on Homes, documentary series such as Sex & Religion, and reality series such as Dinner Party Wars. According to Ragone, she wanted to be a film editor before she even knew what an editor was. “Movies have always been my passion, and once I outgrew my adolescent dreams of being a broadway musical star, filmmaking was really the only career I ever considered. As a child/teenager, when using a video camera (the few times I had access to one), I would always pause my recording to re-frame, and un-pause on a different shot. I didn’t have any actual understanding of editing, but I wanted to emulate what I had seen in the movies,” she says. “When I decided to study film/television in college, I initially had a desire to be a director or cinematographer…but the moment I laid eyes on a real edit suite I knew I’d found my home.”
Movies have always been my passion, and once I outgrew my adolescent dreams of being a broadway musical star, filmmaking was really the only career I ever considered.
In the days of celluloid, editing was done by physically cutting pieces of the film reel with a device called a guillotine and splicing them together with mylar tape or glue. Today, editing is done almost entirely on computers, using editing software such as AVID, Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere. The type of software that Ragone uses to edit typically depends on her client, but notes a preference for AVID after Final Cut Pro 7 was replaced with Final Cut Pro X, however she was clear that it ultimately does not matter what software is used. “No matter what software is used, the end product will be the same,” she states. “Some programs are faster, some are more user-friendly and some are a total mess… but it’s the editor that puts the story together, not the machine, and so a good editor will find a way to utilize any tool you give them.”
Depending on the project Ragone will either follow a formula established by the director, or go in her own direction. “If it’s a new series there’s much more opportunity to experiment and set the style of the future episodes. If it’s a returning series, then of course I would watch past episodes and try to emulate the editing style,” she says. On average, Ragone states that an average 44 minute broadcast hour of television would often take her seven weeks to finish, which includes five weeks to reach a rough cut (the edit stage where the piece begins to resemble the final product) and another two weeks collaborating with notes to reach fine cut (an edit is labeled as a fine cut after all the rough cut notes from the producers and broadcasters have been addressed) and picture lock (the stage when all changes have been approved and completed). However, Ragone says the length of time needed to edit often varies on the project, noting that documentary features she works on often need closer to three months to finish.
Since most of Ragone’s experience is in the non-scripted format, she states that her relationship with filmmakers is different than in a scripted environment. “When I started my career about 15 years ago the director was often present in the edit suite, but the filming process has changed drastically since then. Directors, particularly in reality & lifestyle television, will now bulk-shoot a series, meaning they shoot episode after episode non-stop until the entire series is in the can,” says Ragone, adding that the role of the director on her projects has been replaced by the story editor. “I now work with the story editor the way I once worked with the director (nowadays it’s not unusual for me to edit an entire series without ever meeting the director). The nature of this collaboration really varies from project to project; if I’m editing a narration-heavy show, then it might make more sense for the story editor to create a paper-edit for me to work with, [where] other times we’ll just have long discussions about the story direction, and then I’ll work independently until I have a rough cut put together.”
Once I’ve completed a cut that I’m happy with, it’s sent to various story editors/producers/network executives who will critique and make notes. It’s my job to keep re-editing the show, taking everyone’s notes into consideration, until we have a cut that the whole team is happy with.
With much of her work involving documentaries and reality programming, Ragone notes that much of the story is created in the editing suite and that it can be quite challenging for her to decide which storyline to use. “First off, I watch all the footage — and I mean everything! I don’t feel confident with my cuts unless I’ve heard every line and explored every facial expression. This can be a challenge when the schedule is limited and I have 50 hours of footage to go through,” she says. “Once the story is edited, music becomes a huge part of my job. I’m either provided with a large collection of tracks to work with, or I’m given access to a stock music library to search through, and I edit the music into the show. Once I’ve completed a cut that I’m happy with, it’s sent to various story editors/producers/network executives who will critique and make notes. It’s my job to keep re-editing the show, taking everyone’s notes into consideration, until we have a cut that the whole team is happy with.”
For the last few years, Lindsay Ragone has also been busy directing and editing a documentary on Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) called Braingasm. ASMR is a tingly sensation experienced when a person is exposed to a specific stimuli. It might happen while you’re getting a haircut, or maybe it happens when you’re unwrapping candies, or perhaps you get it while listening to someone whisper. Not everyone can experience it, but of those who do, it has been helpful in treating depression, anxiety and even severe insomnia, which is how Ragone found the ASMR community. One night while searching YouTube for soothing sounds to help her sleep she came across her first ASMR video. Digging further into the community she found that this phenomenon was widespread but unresearched. What if a film could help shed some light on it and intrigue scientists, ultimately developing treatments that might help people just like her. Braingasm ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and is currently in production. Of course, Ragone is both directing and editing the film.
Lindsay Ragone is just one of the talented editors who work in the Canadian film and television industry. The dedication and artistic craft of editors truly defines the entertainment we enjoy, so the next time you’re watching your favourite program, take a moment to reflect on how it’s cut.