James Lee started editing in high school, and after flirting with writing and directing in film school, he pursued a career in editing because he felt like this gave him “the best of both worlds.”
Name: James P. M. Lee
Can you describe your company?
We are a production company, but these days you have to be much more than just that. We’re more of a co-op of directors, producers, writers, editors and designers. Depending on the job and client needs, we truly are set up for all-in video content and beyond.
What is your job title?
I am an editor and based in NYC.
What does editing involve? The obvious and the not-so obvious?
Video editing entails selecting and arranging shots to tell a story, but each project has its own unique challenges. It’s the editor’s job to discover and resolve those challenges. No two projects are alike, and so much of the work of the editor is this type of problem-solving. Whether it be creative, technical or, more often than not, somewhere in the overlap of that Venn diagram.
What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
How much of your time is spent doing things other than what most people think “editing” is. Assembling the footage into a cut is certainly the most important part, but everything around that obvious goal takes about as much time — whether it’s looking for music or sound effects, screening and pulling selects, or experimenting: trying things you know probably won’t work to find approaches that may not be the most obvious ones.
Finding a style or rhythm for a piece almost never comes from just throwing the boarded spot onto a timeline. And that’s just the fun stuff. There’s also the technical side — media management and efficient workflows. Turnarounds on jobs are faster and faster these days, and so much time can be lost or wasted if the logistics of those workflows aren’t set up and maintained. That’s the boring stuff, but it is vital to the process. It’s much easier to cook a five-course meal if you don’t have a sink full of dirty dishes.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I live for creative problem-solving. It could be identifying a problem when something is not feeling right and massaging it to get it to a better place, or getting a note from a client that seems unachievable at first and coming up with solutions that you didn’t think were there initially. Sometimes, it can even be the thing no one will ever notice, but if you did your job right, that’s the point.
What’s your least favorite?
Staying organized. As I said before, keeping those workflows lubricated and clean is paramount to a successful job, but sometimes you just want to dive in and do the fun stuff. Maintenance isn’t fun, but you’ll be kicking yourself at some point soon if you ever neglect it.
What is your most productive time of day and why?
I’d say the afternoon. I love a good deadline for motivation. When you look up at the clock and see half the day is already gone and you’ve only done so much. I can definitely turn it on then and get myself in a good groove.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Carpentry or woodworking of some kind. I am a complete novice, but it’s the only other type of work I’ve done that sort of feels the same as editing. It’s creative problem-solving with the grain of a piece of red cedar instead of some Alexa Mini dailies.
How early did you know this would be your path?
I’ve known since childhood I wanted to be involved in filmmaking. I started editing in high school and very much enjoyed being able to make creative stories at my own pace and from the comfort of my own room. I went to film school and had times where I was leaning more toward writing or directing, but the more I pursued editing, the more it felt like I was getting the best of both worlds.
The decisions the editor is making can have as much of an effect on the finished piece as the writer or director. Plus, you get the added bonus of instant gratification that writers and directors don’t have the luxury of. I can try an idea and see right away if it’s a good one or not. There are no stupid ideas in editing; the “undo” button is your best friend.
Can you name some recent jobs?
Working during COVID has been interesting — to see how creatives are adjusting to making things work safely while not sacrificing on creativity or quality. We’ve done some really cool stuff with BBDO on a couple ServiceNow projects. We’ve also done a lot of work with MLB and ESPN before and during the pandemic, which is always a thrill for me being a big baseball fan.
Can you describe editing through the COVID crisis?
ArtClass didn’t really miss a beat during quarantine. We’ve been very busy with lots of opportunities for creative problem-solving. I’ve been very impressed with the ingenuity of my collaborators at ArtClass and our client creatives during the pandemic.
Do you put on a different hat when cutting for a specific genre?
I’d honestly have to say no. It’s still the “editor hat.” Obviously, different genres require a different approach, but that’s more in the finesse. The core of the process is still the same. I feel it’s that consistency that allows me to more easily jump between genres and styles. And the advantage to wearing one hat is it also allows you to more easily borrow techniques and ideas from genre to genre.
What system do you edit on?
I’m on an iMac Pro cutting on Adobe Premiere.
Do you have a favorite plugin?
Not really a “plugin” but the closest thing that applies for me personally would have to be DaVinci Resolve. I use it on just about every project. It’s a great tool for transcoding dailies, prepping footage for color and conforming finished cuts. And that’s not even mentioning its main feature, which is a powerful coloring suite.
Are you often asked to do more than edit?
With all the programs at our disposal, there are few editors who are just “editing” anymore. An editor has to be a designer, colorist, sound designer and even a VO artist, to name a few.
What are three pieces of technology you can’t live without?
Studio headphones are a must for an editor. I’m also of the persuasion that the more screen space you have, the better. I currently have three monitors for my edit setup. The third would have to be my Wacom tablet. I would highly recommend using a tablet to any young editor. There’s a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used one before, but once you are comfortable with it, the speed and ease that it enables will change how you edit for the rest of your life.
What do you do to de-stress from it all?
“Hurry up and wait,” as they say. Most of the time, the job’s not stressful. But as you get closer and closer to finishing, the stress certainly starts to ramp up. You may think you have all your ducks in a row, but it would just feel wrong without a curveball or two thrown at you at the last minute. As my co-workers and clients know, I’m never far from my goldendoodle, Luna. Hard to get too stressed with a curly red pup on your lap!