'Reach out to editors you admire' Mr. Robot editor Franklin Peterson offers tech tips and advice
Franklin Peterson has edited a string of TV and film cult classics including Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow's first theatrical feature film release Safety Not Guaranteed and the Golden Globe-winning hit television series Mr. Robot.
Here Franklin talks to Mandy News about his craft and career as well as offering up advice to aspiring editors.
Franklin, tell us how you got into editing.
I went to film school both at the University of Texas at Austin for undergrad and USC for grad school. Both programs taught me a great deal about all aspects of filmmaking and I found myself gravitating towards editing by the end of my time at USC. By my last semester, I was cutting as many short films of my classmates as they would let me. After I graduated, I knew I wanted to be an editor and that would likely require me to get into the union first as an assistant.
I went to a week long lecture series put on through the American Cinema Editors connected to their internship program which provided tons of information and gave me a clear path for how to get my first union job. I would need to accumulate days worked on non-union projects as an assistant editor in order to be eligible to join the union as an assistant and at the time, reality TV had the most available work. While I sought out reality TV jobs, I kept cutting on the side for little to no pay because I wanted to keep learning and growing. My first reality TV jobs were as a night logger and then assistant editor. I was working at night and cutting my first feature during the day and on weekends. The film was a low budget horror movie called THE CELLAR DOOR which screened at a few film festivals and wound up getting distribution.
While I was accumulating days toward union eligibility on reality TV, I began to get more interest as an editor on indie features. These were all in the low, to no budget range and passion projects for everyone that worked on them. Even though I wanted to ultimately edit, I knew I wouldn't be able to edit these movies full-time and support myself. So my two options were: get lucky that one of the indie movies I edited made a splash at a high profile film festival, or become a union assistant editor and use that as a stepping stone to edit. It was a hard decision, but I decided that going the assistant route was the best path for me.
Once I was union eligible, I was lucky and got a post P.A. job on a larger feature. I thought after that job I could make the jump to assistant editor on a smaller movie but finding the right project proved illusive in Los Angeles. I'm originally from New Orleans and at this time there were a number of movies shooting there which gave me hope I could land a job if I moved back. Two weeks after going back to New Orleans, I got my first union assistant editing job and began a working relationship with the editor Tom Nordberg. I assisted Tom on another couple of movies back in Los Angeles and learned numerous techniques which opened my eyes to all of the different tools available to an editor.
After I'd been working as an assistant in the union for a few years and saved up some money, I made the jump to editing with three movies back to back in a year. Although I was earning much less, I could support myself and was working on some really fantastic projects. Out of those movies, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED premiered at Sundance, FREE SAMPLES premiered at Tribeca, and IT'S A DISASTER premiered at the L.A. Film Festival the next year. All of them got distribution and I was able to get an agent and start my professional career as an editor.
Do you prefer to work on film or TV? What are the differences?
I got into editing to work on features. They are what inspired me to get into filmmaking and I want to help inspire the next generation of storytellers to embrace the medium. But a big part of what's so amazing about this profession is the variety of projects we can work on and the unique voices we can help bring to life. TV has become a bigger player in the kinds of stories that I want to help tell and many of the most talented filmmakers are pushing the boundaries of traditional episodes and seasons.
While I prefer features because they generally have a longer schedule that allows more time to explore the narrative, there is an excitement and energy with the deadlines of TV. You have to rely on your instincts far more and inspiration often strikes when your back is against the wall. The line between traditional film and TV is shifting and if it's a compelling story, it's exciting to be a part of the team.
What do you use to edit?
I edit primarily on AVID and it is my program of choice. I've worked on it for 15 years and over that time tried every other high profile piece of software but none have stuck with me in the same way. Any editing software is a tool and doesn't make the story any better or worse but like any tool, it should be the easiest and most effective at getting the job done. I have no problem editing on other software if the situation requires it; but if given a choice, I choose AVID.
How has technology changed over the years?
A big part of why I have a career in editing is because of technology. I knew my way around computers before I got into editing and would have never had the opportunity to edit the short films and early indie features I did had digital editing not been available. Even though this has been a great tool to allow more of us access to edit, it has now come with more and more responsibilities as the editor is being asked to do many of the tasks that used to be shopped out to other departments.
As the capability of software has increased and budgets have shrunk, fewer people in post are doing far more and that inevitably will make things more difficult. But just as the editors working with celluloid had to adapt to the digital world, I expect my generation of editors will have to adapt as the next advances occur and I'm ready for the challenge.
What film or TV show would you have loved to edit?
I love the ability to work on all different kinds of stories. In my career, I've made a point to not pigeonhole myself in one style or genre and I look forward to the kinds of movies and TV shows I'll be able to work on next. Science fiction, musicals, and westerns are all on my bucket list to edit at some point.
What are you working on next?
I'm currently editing a war movie called THE KILL TEAM based on a documentary of the same name. It's a fascinating real life story about a rogue commander who leads a squad in Afghanistan and the soldier who tries to stand up to him. It's directed by Dan Krauss who also directed the documentary and stars Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgard.
What advice do you have for prospective editors?
My advice to prospective editors is learn from everyone you can and cut anything you can. Get a trial for any program you're curious about and play around with it. Offer to edit others work and go to film festivals to meet filmmakers who could be future collaborators. Learn the ins and outs of the union and use resources like the ACE to best prepare for your first job.
Reach out to editors you admire - ask them to meet up for coffee or for a job to learn from them. There is no one path to becoming an editor and finding your own way may take years but if you're persistent and work hard, you'll find a place in this profession.
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