Editor at Consulate on the differences between cutting commercials and features, why she’s “more like a synthesizer than a cutter”, and the importance of understanding the arc of a story
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Holle Singer has cut commercials, music videos, documentaries and fictional films for nearly 20 years at Consulate. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards - and even won a few. She recently edited her first feature length narrative film, Aviva (SXSW 2020) with director Boaz Yakin.
LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?
Holle> After I look over the scripts and treatments, the first thing I like to do is talk to the creative team so I have a sense of the overall expectations. I want to know what they want it to feel like - the tone, the music, the pace. I strive to give my clients what they want, but that big picture conversation will often tell me what they need. Once I understand the vision, I look for inspiration. I like to feel the footage and have a clear sense of what I’m looking for as I screen the material.
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?
Holle> Creating mood is one of the most exciting things about editing. There is something tremendously gratifying about playing with picture and sound and feeling the mood shift - the visuals come alive. I often feel more like a synthesizer than a cutter. Someone who puts things together and looks for the synergy. I love experimentation and accidental discoveries. Playing and stumbling upon the unexpected.
Sometimes I will create sequences and roughly try out ideas as I screen. It’s interesting to go back and look at those early tests after viewing all the footage. All these things help keep me engaged, excited and open which is for me the most productive and enjoyable way to work. I love what I do and want to keep that process alive for us all in the cutting room.
LBB> How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?
Holle> Whatever I’m working on, story is central. I always think of structure - of beginning middle and end - as I build an edit. I like to ask myself and all the creative collaborators, what is this film/commercial/music video/documentary really about? The answer will inform every editorial decision from shot selection to mood, music, sound design and pace. It will determine what stays and what goes. The style. The feeling. The arc. Without some shift, even thirty seconds will drag.
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?
Holle> Music / sound is everything when it comes to editing. I am a devoted student when it comes to feeling out the beats - constantly pushing the boundaries of what I know. I love to cut to music or some sort of atmospheric sound design - even if I remove or swap it out later. It helps me find the flow - the rhythm of the piece. To play with something that makes the visuals and editing come alive. When the picture and sound work well together, I can feel the footage. At the moment, I like to cut between the beats - to find that exact frame where the edit point becomes invisible.
LBB> Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.
Holle> Last year I cut my first feature film, Aviva, with director Boaz Yakin. The major roles were filled by non-actor dancers with multiple actors of different genders playing the same character. This was a wonderfully complicated and challenging film.
When I first began cutting, Boaz and I had many discussions as we tried to distill the story. I needed to simplify and find the relatable, human experience to anchor me and the film. Aviva is an ambitious story with a complex narrative. But at its heart, it is a love story. That discovery shaped every decision in the edit. An entire storyline was dropped from the film opening because it was not moving us down that path. And a scene in which the two main characters fall in love over long distance phone calls was largely created in post to help flesh out the beginning of their love. So that creative challenge led us to some very interesting creative solutions.
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?
Holle> I love the creative freedom and collaboration. Working with a team. To be involved in the big picture which sometimes leads to very different editorial choices than those originally conceptualised. I work hard to achieve the original concept presented. But I’m often inspired by the footage which often leads to something we’re all surprised by which might check all the bigger boxes in a new, unexpected way. This new direction often opens the door to creative play and collaboration, and we can move together in a new direction often leading to a more interesting edit than any of us imagined.
LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough?
Holle> Good question. I think too much material is harder to cut. Not only because it’s more time consuming to screen, but there is always a fear I may have missed that perfect moment. It is much easier to find a needle within three pieces of hay than one in a haystack. That said, I would much prefer to have too much wonderful material than not enough - even if it requires more time and effort.
LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?
Holle> Tom Ford ‘SS18 Ready to Wear’ directed by Steven Kline – girl chase. We were creating little narratives in the edit room. I like to think of this one as a twisted love story. Something clearly went very wrong between these two. I am happy with the rhythm - I was playing with the technique of cutting away before the end of a moment. Like when the woman closes the door, we hear the slam but jump cut before we see it visually. The cut point becomes invisible. It’s hard to turn away from unexpected edits like that so it’s a fun piece to watch over and over. Fine tuning by zooming in or out of shots to create a feeling of speed and build momentum during the driving. It was also satisfying to find the audio pneumonic we wound up using at the end for the entire campaign. Sinister and fun at once.
Partnership for Drugfree America PSA – AICP Winner. Weaving together one singular story arc from many voices, I was touched by the honesty, frailty and humanity of the real addicts, family and friends sharing their stories. I wanted to honour them all. I looked to the work of Errol Morris - specifically his short film “Survivors” on cancer survivors. This cut, which never once mentions the word ‘c’ word, is so tragic and heartfelt and sad and funny and captures all the pathos of humanity. I wondered if we could cut a film about addiction without focusing on drugs. There is one moment where they list their narcotics of choice, but otherwise, it’s not really a piece about drugs. It’s about people who use drugs to try to fill something missing - the heartbreak of that for themselves and the people who love them and how they work through the struggle, the loss and, hopefully, find solution and salvation.
Wrecking Ball - MTV VMA Award winner. I had so much fun cutting this project. As soon as I saw the footage, I knew this was something special. Right away, I wanted to see how long I could hold on that first close up shot of Miley singing as her eyes well up with tears. I like the way the tension builds, the use of the empty set and wrecking ball swinging. Continually cutting before an action resolves - flowing from shot to shot so your eye is constantly engaged.
Tom Ford ‘FW20 directed by Benjamin Lennox spot. Rhythm, symmetry, the movement. Music was tricky on this one so it was very satisfying when I found a piece of music online - and even more exciting to learn it was buyable and within budget! The seamlessness is fun to watch.
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?
Holle> The whole world seems to be changing at head spinning speeds. A decade ago, there would be a large budget for two thirty-second spots and two fifteens. Now there is a very challenging budget for as many as a hundred deliverables in different format and aspect ratios for socials and online films. The upside is there’s tons of interesting creative work and lots of creative people pushing to find new platforms and develop content.
LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?
Holle> I love the work of Hank Corwin and Thelma Schoonmaker - emotive, innovative storytellers who rely heavily on sound and are masters at creating pace and feeling. For me, the best editing pulls me into the current of the story. It flows like music. Like a song you listen to on repeat (yes, I do that!). Whether it’s the fast-paced tension of a Le Mans car race, or an intimate moment between two people, I am instantly pulled in
Those same things apply to all my favorite films: Amadeus, The Graduate, Goodfellas, Terms of Endearment, Boys Don’t Cry, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jaws. Beginners. Before Night Falls. A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints. The King’s Speech.
As for spots, Albert Moyas’ ‘Spacewalkers’ film for Riwoma blew me away. I loved the inventiveness. The sound design which feels more art film than ad. The way the sleek high tech suitcases slide in and out - an integral part of it all. It’s so trippy and out there and weird in the best way.
I continually look at the work of other editors I admire for inspiration and just to continue to learn and grow. The more I know, the more I see how much there is to learn.
LBB> How does editing in the commercial world differ from the film world and TV world?
Holle> Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the most obvious difference between the two - the duration. Film is longer. It takes up more time - not just the piece itself but the amount of time devoted to creating it. So, I might cut two back-to-back scenes weeks apart from each other. Where I am in the story needs to be very clear so I can create the right emotional bridge between what came before and what will flow after.
LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years?
Holle> Covid and TikTok both seem to have had a profound effect on our industry in equal measure. I see a trend towards more lo-fi verité material - including some tv spots that seem to have been shot on phones. A trend towards the natural, the real and spontaneous. Less retouching and big fancy productions which makes sense both practically and philosophically given the world we live in today.