The Kindest Cut

Editing a show is no easy task, as I quickly learned the other day. Of course, in my TV-naïve eyes, nothing about making television is an easy task, but editing a show is particularly dicey.

Before we sat down with series editor Aaron Drury and his wall of high-tech editing machinery, Tina Salter (series producer, who irons guests’ shirts for kicks) explained to me that the better the show, the tougher the edit. Why? Because you have to cut down an hour episode to fit into a half-hour time slot, and when you have a good episode, you are loath to get rid of anything.

Tina starts off the process by doing a “paper cut” on her own. Quite literally, after reviewing the entire tape of the show, Tina writes down time codes that mark the areas she thinks can be cut. When she sits down with Aaron, he finds the corresponding times on the tape and the segment is reviewed. On the spot, Tina mulls it over and tells Aaron what she thinks can be cut.

The day I got to be a fly on the wall, we went through Tina’s entire paper cut and found that we still need to get rid of ten minutes. Ten minutes! It doesn’t seem like much, but in TV time? It’s a buttload. You can’t cut a whole hank of time out of just anywhere; the cuts have to make sense. The transitions have to be smooth. Speaking of which, I learned the coolest thing about difficult transitions. Sometimes the beginning and end of a sentence is kept and the middle is lifted out and discarded. However, then you are probably left with a weird continuity issue. For instance, at the beginning of a guests’ sentence, the wine glass might be on the table, untouched. However, when the guest finishes his or her thought, the wine glass is suddenly up to their lips. That’s a continuity issue and also a perfect time for the Aaron to smoothly splice in some nice B-roll (shots of the restaurant filmed on location) or some “noddies.”

Noddies are hysterical and are done after the full episode is taped. During a noddy, two guests will talk while the other two are asked to just sit there and react without speaking. Then the balance of babble will shift, and the two who were just talking will be silent and reactionary while the other two carry on an animated conversation. At this point, they aren’t talking about restaurants, just about whatever enters their head. See, the audio is not the important part, it’s the visual that is potentially needed for later. Sometimes the guests get so into their noddies conversation that they forget they’re supposed to be silent and jump right in with a comment or two. They always feel really bad afterwards.

The other thing Tina has to consider is what story she needs to tell. She will never change the opinion of the guests by cutting out their all their negatives or all their positives, but if she needs to whittle the episode down, she might take the fact that the guest listed everything they ate and how much they loved or hated it and cut it down to one instance of love or hate.

I was proud that I made one or two minor suggestions that resulted in a successful cut. However, I am 100% certain they would have gotten along just fine without me.

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