Oscar Contenders: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, Editors for The Social Network

This is an article I wrote a few weeks back for a client. Enjoy!

Oscar hopeful The Social Network

Good editing can be explained as a combination of great storytelling, and crafting great performances with an overall stylistic approach that works naturally with the film, and the vision the director has for that film. It’s seamless … you shouldn’t know it’s there – it blends into the storytelling so that the audience feels that they are experiencing the film as it unfolds … in real time.

One collaborative team whose work surpasses the mark are Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall ACE, co-editors and hot favourites for an Oscar nomination for the Film Editing category for director David Fincher’s “The Social Network”.

Angus Wall

Angus Wall is known to many in the ad industry for his editorial work on Nike and BMW and as co-founder of West Hollywood editorial shop, Rock Paper Scissors. Wall first met David Fincher 20 years ago, doing commercial work for Fincher, and later editing the titles for Fincher’s film Se7en. Later still, Wall graduated to “editorial consultant” on Fight Club and co-edited Panic Room with James Haygood, (Fight Club). Australian commercial editor Kirk Baxter, joined Rock Paper Scissors in 2004, working with Wall on Zodiac (2007) as an “additional editor”. Wall put Baxter forward as co-editor on Benjamin Button and the rest is collaborative editing history.

Kirk Baxter

The Social Network screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, wrote a dense 160-page draft, which would normally translate into 160 minutes of screen time. With this much content in script stage, a big challenge for Baxter & Wall was the fear of over-extending the finished cut. The fear was very real when the production delivered 268 hours of raw footage. Known as a meticulous craftsman, David Fincher’s attention to detail, and Aaron Sorkin’s script structure, meant that they would both be intensely involved in the editing process.

Says Wall, “A lot of movies you do re-sequencing of scenes. I think we lifted three or four lines out of the movie. With Aaron and with David directing, our job becomes about making something as perfect as it can be. It’s not finding the through lines of the movie, unless you’re talking about performances, because just editorially, we have to make sure we have the best and most genuine performances in. But the construction of the movie really all came out of the script.”

Says Baxter, “It was performance and timing. It was a delicate thing. One sort of wrong beat of the eyes can show a look of guilt or holding on something a little bit too long. The movie was trying to be extremely sure-footed with everyone believing they were right.”

“One of the things David really wanted to stress was to just be propulsive in terms of the editing and make sure we were slightly ahead of the audience, but not too far ahead,” Wall says. “So it was trying to find the right balance where you had little micro-pauses to let things land where they needed to land.

David Fincher

In this clip from The Social Network, watch the way Baxter & Wall cut together the Henley Race at Harvard. Rooster Post managing partner/editor Bob Kennedy, makes this observation about the following sequence …

“What I really love about the Henley sequence is the way they play with screen direction and composition between shots. The camera axis is not just ignored, but deliberately crossed to maximize the energy of the finish. Check where your eye is going from shot to shot: your eyeball is being choreographed. Most of the time, they lead your eye directly to the perfect placement for the next scene, but towards the end, they start working your eye back and forth across the frame to add to the sense of frenzy.”

But it’s not just the editing that makes this movie an Academy Award contender. According to Kirk Baxter, “What gives editing a helping hand comes from within the script. If something is moving along quite rapidly and taking you to different places, then the editing gets pushed to the forefront. Technique tends to stand out, but the task really is to make everything land and deliver a message at full understanding. It’s a much bigger picture – the whole movie is your real job. It just begins with that technique part.”

Angus Wall goes on to say, “When it feels like it’s a new experience, when you’re sucked into the movie and you’re not aware that you’re in a theater. You’re experiencing things like the characters, living vicariously through them. It feels like you’re part of the movie. To me that is a signal that everything is working on 16 cylinders.”

Rooster Post editor Dave De Carlo offers up this Pro Video Coalition ProBlog article for anyone wanting more about the The Social Network editorial process with lots of insider details from Angus Wall. De Carlo also mentions a great article worth a read about the film’s VFX from FXGuide and the VFX Blog.

Nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards 2011 will be announced on January 25th. The awards ceremony happens February 27th with producer-director Francis Ford Coppola receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Award.

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What he said …

If you still have your head buried in the sand, it’s time for you to come up for air. Take a look around you. Ideas are still where it’s at, but the business has CHANGED. Read on.

BDW NY Making Digital Work NYC: Day One

A look at the Twitter stream tells you it was a day of awesomeness. Great presentations, lots of dialogue, hands-on workshops, and an end of the day session where the 70-plus participants actually invented new products or services, designed prototype websites for quick online testing, bought their keywords and prepared to put their content online — thanks to some Modernista digital elves willing to work through part of the night to make it happen.

Coming just a week after Fast Company suggested that there will be carnage if the advertising industry doesn’t adapt quickly enough, followed by an alternative view from Bloomberg Businessweek suggesting that’s a bunch of BS, Making Digital Work offered a little bit of reality.

The facts are this. Change is coming fast and furious, even accelerating beyond what we’ve seen so far. It’s not just about making digital experiences it’s also about understanding consumers’ new relationships to media, technology and community. It’s about mastering UX and engagement instead of the age-old art and copy definition of creativity. It’s about changing every organization to learn new ways of collaboration.

Perhaps most importantly it’s about being far more agile and lean when it comes to inventing work, prototyping it, getting it to market, and as Tim Malbon of Made by Many tells us “Learning fast.” Challenging the fail fast mantra of recent years, Tim instead argues we need to speed up the learning process. Nail it and scale it as he says.

So what does it take? If you were here at BDW’s NY workshop yesterday you may have concluded the following.

1. The consumer is at the center of everything
And the most important thing to remember is that he is a participant, a doer, a sharer, a creator. How do you create an experience that engages and motivates participation and action? Awareness and attitude do not lead to changed behavior. Action and behavior lead to changed attitude.

2. New teams and process are essential
You can’t make experiences with the same people and processes you used to make ads. Not everyone has to write code, but if they don’t enthusiastically embrace all that’s new bid them adieu.

3. Put aside your fears and anxieties and make something
You need to just jump in and do it. Get over thinking that ideas and creativity are the exclusive domain of one department. Get your ideas on paper. Build a prototype, get it in front of people (you can easily hide things on the web so you get enough feedback without going big time public), learn and proceed.

More to come as we begin to post the decks and presentations. So keep your eyes open.

Read more: http://edwardboches.com/bdw-ny-making-digital-work-nyc-day-one#ixzz175xwGwXe

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A great quote

No one remembers boring ads. But they never forget how boring your brand is.
Credit: Lee Clow’s beard

Why is this a great quote?
There are far too many clients out there who want advertising and digital interaction that is safe, familiar and predictable. What they are missing is the big picture: the impact it will have on their overall brand. The best argument for creativity lies in it’s ability to get noticed and attract attention. You don’t get hundreds or thousands of Social Media “shares” for boring content. And you don’t motivate consumers to make the effort to buy your product if they don’t remember you. Once a consumer makes a positive or negative decision about what your brand stands for, undoing that opinion can be darned next to impossible … and you’ll find yourself hiring a creative agency known for it’s breakthrough work to save your failing brand anyway.

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Banner Ads: Why Creative Ideas Will Save Them, Not Google.

During the final keynote at the 2010 IAB Mixx conference held in NYC Google Executives predicted that by 2011, online display market will be a $50 billion dollar business with half of online ads featuring video, and 75 percent containing some sort of social element.

This morning, I found an article at MediaWeek.com. The article is a discussion on Google’s predictions under a headline that states “Google Sees “Smart and Sexy” Future for Banner Ads.”

That’s great. Those “You’re The Millionth Visitor Click Now To Win” embarrassments to advertising are long overdue for an overhaul. But in reading the MediaWeek article, I realized that people are still making the mistake of believing that technology is the device that will save the Online Display Ad industry.

Nuts to that. I’m sure the Google Execs were speaking only about the delivery device for the creative concept, but creative ideas are needed to make for a smart and sexy future for banner ads, not technology alone. (Cigarettes are a delivery device for tobacco – get it?) Technology will support those great ideas – but technology devoid of an advertising concept is still a lame-ass “Click Now To Win” banner ad. I know the point of what they were saying at IAB was that rich media with the ability to hold more content and imagery – more like a website will make static banners (thank god) a thing of the past. But without a great concept, those same display ad players will still be there with their bad ideas … only now they will be animated and will contain video (the horror).

Great ideas don’t rely on money, production values or file sizes to be great. At least not all the time. One of Canada’s most highly-awarded Creative Directors once told me that one test of a great TV ad concept was to mentally execute it for 25 grand. If the idea held up, then it was a great concept. I get what he was saying. Obviously “Star Wars” needed those special effects to be a great movie. But the story at the heart of the film had a classic damaged father-son relationship, good vs evil structure that might have worked in a parallel universe with cowboys and indians for example. Maybe.

I think display advertising has been populated by zero creativity marketers – and it’s my hope that the new hopped-up banners will provide agency creatives with paradigm-shifting opportunities … or at least the chance to show up the current users of display marketing. Simply put, it’s a category that will be ripe for the taking come creative award show time.

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Writing in Twitter’s Shrinking World

In my corner of the world, it seems that everyone is on Twitter. All of my friends are Tweeting. Somedays, it feels like almost everyone in the ad/digital/marketing industry worldwide are Tweeting. And all this activity is contained within my little old 17″ screen. It’s an incredible shrunken world … all at my finger tips. But that’s not the only thing that started off small and then got big. As Twitter itself has taken off growing in a few short years, having over 105 million Tweeple chirping away on the service according the The Huffington Post, one thing hasn’t changed: Twitter is (and likely will always be) 140 characters of communication. And yet, as anyone who has ever written for a living knows, it takes a special kind of writer to be able to make every single word count in a sentence. And that’s basically what Twitter is. It’s a baked, low fat potato chip sentence.

Writing in such a skinny format is hard. It takes work. But it’s not much different from other writing formats – like poetry, copywriting, headline writing … or even greeting card writing.

I’m an awful writer – a fact that I blame on my grade 9 English teacher. A child of the 60’s, she destained creative writing and grammar lessons in favour of spending an extra few months of the class reading William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But maybe she was way ahead of her time. If you google some Willy Shakespeare quotes from that play, you realize that if he were alive today, Wills would have had more followers than Ashton Kutcher. His brilliance and spare use of language are simply incredible. In one scene 2 characters (Quince and Flute) are discussing casting for a play. Flute is asked is asked to play Thisby, a female. Shakespeare could have written, “No yee lads, ’tis not a good idea for me to play a woman. Being a man of dark hair my 5 o’clock shadow will show and there’s no way I’ll be able to pull that off.” Instead he wrote, “Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.” That’s 58 characters of tight prose … with plenty of space left over for ReTweeting.

Good writing can be long or short. But good writing is less about how you put it together, and more about the ideas contained within it. What do I mean? Most of this article is literal. I’m saying what needs to be said. But for this article to be well written, it needs to contain new concepts – new ideas – that are different ways of saying the same old things. That’s where the true brilliance lies. “I have a beard coming” is a clever concept. “I can’t pull it off because I’m a guy” is not. Rather than worry about numbers of characters, great writers worry about filling the blank “What’s Happening?” box with language that is not cliche, boring or devoid of concept or personality.

But once you have that creative nugget of genius it all comes back to good editing. And that’s the secret. Having a luxury of space to express yourself in is great. Make no mistake. But many will tell you the true skill lies in the edit. And editing takes a certain amount of detachment. And practice. You have to kill your baby over and over again until it can be born. I have been lucky to have worked with some really great copywriters in the ad industry. Great writers with equally great, surprising ideas and points of view. But one thing many of them shared was the inability to edit their own work. Brilliance is great, but if the headline is going to run to 4 lines and the art director is ready to kill because the layout wasn’t designed to hold it, then you have no choice but to stay up all night re-crafting and editing that headline. It has to fit and it has to be genius.

On Twitter, there are also standards to uphold. For example, Internet ebonics are to be avoided (gr8!) if you want to maintain your status as a serious writer. Contractions are okay (what’s up?) but your content and meaning is your first priority. Most writers will write for intent first, say going to 215 characters, and then start hacking, chopping off language here and there until they’re close to to 140 characters. From that point you contract, squeeze and generally go into labour to squeeze out your 140 characters of tight, well-written brilliance.

Adverbs are another sapling to thin out of your woody forest of words. The definition of an adverb is words and phrases that describe or limit the meaning of a verb, an adjective,or a whole sentence. In other words, The horse ran Swiftly. Most words ending in “ly” can be chopped for Tweets. For that matter, an adjective is a word that describes a noun. A “fluffy” cat is an adjective. Without it the word cat is generic.

I think Twitter’s Shrinking World is great for good writing. I find I use more nouns and verbs, instead of adjectives and adverbs. When every word matters in my 140 characters I really look at my intent and my construction. Twitter keeps me from getting lazy. It won’t turn me into a writer of great prose, but it keeps me thinking about my writing. Not a bad thing at all.

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Will The New Twitter Save Our Engagement? #fail #TheNewTwitter

Dear Twitter

Ever since we announced our engagement, I’ve had a sad feeling in my heart. I’ve been thinking a lot about you and I lately. All the good times and laughs we used to share. When we first started out things were different. We were more open with each other. We used to stay up late, just talking and hanging out. Now things are different. You’re too busy for me. You’ve become successful and with that success you’ve become distant … cold. We don’t talk like we used to. We aren’t relating to each other anymore. You’ve changed.

You say The New Twitter is going change how we spend time together. You say it’s going to bring us closer together … it’s going to strengthen our relationship – increase our quality time. I sure hope so. Because it feels like this relationship has become pretty one-sided. We don’t talk, we don’t relate to each other. We just broadcast our thoughts, feelings and share information. Without discussion or engaging … or even a thank you for the RT.

I’m trying really hard to save our relationship. I follow the people you say I should. I respect your code of ethics and try to always have something meaningful to tweet – to put out into the world. But you’re so busy broadcasting your content you’ve forgotten about me. About my thoughts, opinions … and feelings. Hello #FAIL it’s Jill talking. If The New Twitter doesn’t change our relationship, I’m worried that we’re doomed to a life of information broadcasting, breaking news reports and YouTube links.

Maybe it’s me but this relationship isn’t going to work out unless you spend more time with me. Talking, engaging, and RTing like we used to. It’s not too late Twitter. There’s still time. We can save this thing if we both try a little harder. Forget therapy. You’ve been down that road. You’ve forgotten the vows that @aplusk and @mrskutcher took before one million followers became the norm for celebrity couples. I’m not rich. I’m not famous. But we’re in this thing together – for richer, and for poorer. Let’s save what we had … together.


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Online Advertising Has To Change

If you are a fan of advertising and social media you should follow Edward Boches. If you don’t know Edward, get to know him. He’s a marketer, Blogger, and Chief Creative and Chief Social Media Officer, at Mullen in Boston. Plus he’s smart. I read this and wanted to both share it and keep it someplace safe. A year from now it may be interesting to go back and read. Online advertising is long overdue for an overhaul. I think he’s bang on the money with this article.

By Edward Boches

Digital can be fun, entertaining, interactive and worth our attention. Is it possible to get all of this into standard online ads?

My last post suggested that maybe (not definitely) Apple’s iAds could be good for digital advertising, making them a bit more useful and a little less interruptive. Only time will tell, of course.

In the meantime, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) has also come to realize it hasn’t done enough to make paid online advertising appealing or effective enough to attract spending commensurate with the amount of time people spend online. Click rates remain pitiful and no one has yet cracked the code on how to do display advertising or brand building executions in the online space.

While marketers spend $30 billion a year on OLA, $25 billion of that goes directly to search. According to Peter Minnium, who’s helping the IAB develop new standards, the big problem has been too much emphasis on response and too much dependence on the lowest common denominator units – typically the 2” by 3” ads that can be served by anyone from Google and MSN to your local blog.

According to Peter, as a result of standards that have to work for every website out there (in an effort to save advertisers having to create an excess of custom versions) creators face restrictions that drive them toward mediocrity and consumers live with tired, boring ads that fail to capture their imaginations.

The industry knows this. As search starts to slow, all the big portals are looking for ways to beef up revenue. That means Google, AOL, MSN and others will all try to figure it out on their own, but that approach could lead to confusion and fragmentation. Imagine if advertisers had to create totally different units, experiences and executions for every site where they ran ads?

Can the IAB change this? Well they’re trying. They’ve asked a number of creative folks from the advertising industry to help develop new standards. The objective is to come up with something that excites marketers, agencies and media planners.

IAB thinks that the solution, not unlike Apple’s approach, just might be to combine the sight, sound and motion of video with the web’s power of engagement and sharing, then somehow develop new formats that everyone buys into in order that brands can create fewer units and have the option of running them anywhere.

The big question of course is what is the role of branded display advertising on the Internet? In an ideal format, it will allow consumers to get the information they want, learn something meaningful, search directly from the ad, share if they wish to, and experience entertaining content in the process. Oh right, and it can’t interrupt.

Can this ever be achieved? Is there a model that works for both advertiser and consumer? How about the role of tablets to influence new formats?

Right now, advertisers need to move money out of TV and align budgets with consumer behavior. (Relying on memory here, but I believe the web accounts for 30 percent of consumers’ media time but only 10 percent of marketing dollars. Someone correct me if I’m off with these numbers.)

Running TV spots on the web doesn’t work. We’re online in order to discover what we want. Ads that interrupt us find little welcome. In fact, they’re disdained. And finally, as we turn to our social networks directly for the content we want, traditional search becomes less necessary and OLA close to useless.

Put that way it seems an insurmountable challenge.

The promise of digital advertising, of course, is that it serves us as much as the advertiser. It knows what we’re interested in without violating our privacy. It lets us opt in on our own terms. It includes all the best features of social media – sharing, ratings, recommendations from friends. And it’s exciting.

We seem to get more of the above in great social media executions and compelling viral ideas but not in paid digital ads, despite the few exceptions.

So, will we ever see standard units that are actually conducive to more inspiring advertising? Can the IAB win consensus from both big portals and smaller sites? Will iAds raise the bar for what consumers expect? Can paid digital advertising that lives on a website actually earn our attention? Lots of questions. But at least we have acknowledgment of the problem and a set of criteria that seem to make sense.

What do you think? Any chance we’ll ever learn to love online advertising

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