Nice Shoes’ creative director of editorial Adam Liebowitz on the genius of Jojo Rabbit, the connection between great comedy and drama, and why he can never have enough Spotify playlists
If there’s something Adam Liebowitz doesn’t know about editing, there’s a strong chance that it isn’t worth knowing. Nice Shoes’ creative director of editorial enjoys the ability to draw on three decades’ worth of experience in his craft, including sixteen years running Go Robot!, his own editing company.
Along the way the editing guru has worked with clients such as Apple, IBM, AT&T, Verizon, UPS, Nike, and Nascar. That work has won recognition from Cannes Lions, AICP, Clios, AICE, and London Film Awards, among many others.
Today, Adam is an integral part of Nice Shoes’ dedicated editorial division. To learn more about his craft, and pick up some tricks of the trade, we caught up with Adam.
Q> How did you come to be creative director of editorial at Nice Shoes?
Adam> I guess it’s the natural point of a journey that started while I was at Go Robot, my own company. While I was there I did the majority of my colour and finishing work with Nice Shoes, and that’s why I have such a family-like relationship with these guys. I knew that they had been wanting to build up an editorial team here and I loved the idea of being a creative leader and helping to build up that portion of the business.
Philosophically, I love that Nice Shoes as a company totally gets what an editor is - it’s the creative director of post-production.
Q> When it comes to humorous spots, just how much of that depends on the editing allowing the humour to land?
Adam> Whenever I approach a comedic spot, I keep in mind that you’re not trying to hit people over the head with it. You want to keep it about characters, just like you would in a dramatic spot. You’re paying attention to tone, little bits of reaction, eye blinks, all the things that you would apply to any good dialogue editing. Given that comedy is timing, it’s in the hands of the editor to ensure that you’re hitting the right beats. Character interactions, spatial relations and micro-timings are what count.
Above: Citizens Bank - Thankles
Q> So do you need to have a good grasp of comedic timing yourself in order to edit a humour-based ad?
Adam> I don’t necessarily think of it as that - it’s more a kind of sense that builds up over time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s quite important to ensure that you don’t have an overarching philosophy when it comes to editing dialogue of any kind, be it comedy or drama. Because it’s about looking for the right reactions from actors and that changes on a project-by-project basis. I’m always careful to have a moment where you see who’s being spoken to, so the audience knows which characters are absorbing information, whether that’s a setup for a joke or some drama.
Q> So are there a lot of similarities between editing for comedy and editing for drama?
Adam> Yes, I think they’re two sides of the same coin. With comedy, the nature of the punchline is less important than the delivery. So you can’t have great comedy without proper framing and delivery, just like great drama.
Above: Visa - "Passing the Torch"
When I look back, I think my favourite work has always actually been a blend of the two, so there’s something in that for sure. I remember working on the first few Progressive spots with Stephanie Courtney, the actress who plays Flo. I remember she came in with around forty jokes she’d written herself, so it was such a pleasure to work with material from someone like that. With those kinds of performers, they always seem able to give both sides of that coin.
Q> Is there an example of a film that really encapsulates the power editing can have over the comedy or drama?
Adam> Yes, and I can give you a recent example which is Jojo Rabbit. I’ve watched that maybe four or five times - is it a comedy or a drama? The timings in there are just astoundingly fantastic, they absolutely blow me away. It’s one of the most perfectly edited pieces of film I’ve ever seen.
Q> So as an editor, how can you put together a piece of work like that?
Adam> You really need to take the actors you’ve been given for each project. I don’t write them or direct them so I try not to have a preconceived idea of how those actors will communicate their characters’ thoughts. Sometimes you get beautiful performances that make you look like an editing genius, and your job is to just make it work. The beauty of being an editor is that sometimes you get to be the hero when all you did was have good stuff to work with!
I always do consider that a lot of people put a lot of work into each project before it’s handed over to me, so I never want to trample over it or totally change it.
Q> And how much of a role does music play in what you do?
Adam> Oh man, enormous. I would say I spend as much time trying different music tracks as I do cutting dialogue. I really try to keep up to speed with lots of genres, whether it's rock or jazz or soundtracks or whatever it is, you never know what’s going to come to the front of your mind and be useful. I have a pretty deep, well, what used to be an iTunes library and is now about 300 Spotify playlists based on different kinds of ads. They’re so helpful to dip into when projects come up.
Music can take the audience by the hand and move them to the place they need to be for a piece of film to work. It’s absolutely key to everything we do.
Q> Finally, it seems as though an important part of being a great editor is the ability to read people. Would you say working in this job has made you a better poker player?!
Adam: Haha, well I’m a terrible poker player but I can see what you’re getting at. Whether they’re cheats or legitimate performances, being observational about small ticks in people’s faces and eyelines are what you’re trying to pay attention to in the takes. There’s a lot that goes on in human communication that isn’t just what we say to each other. If we’re feeling generous, maybe without my career in editing I would be an even worse poker player!