Editor Jeff Boyette Reveals How Adobe Premiere Pro Saves Workflow

documentary materials

Amy Tan: An Unfinished Memoir courtesy of KPJR FILMS

Trying to improve your editing process? Editor Jeff Boyette has some ideas for you! He just worked on Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, directed by James Redford, and we were lucky enough to ask him a few questions about the experience.

Check out Jeff’s tips for how to be a better editor and utilize all the features of Adobe Premiere Pro!

How did the new Productions feature in Adobe Premiere Pro help you make your film? 

Adobe is eager to promote the real-time collaboration features in Productions, but in my case the biggest benefit of Productions was project stability. Feature docs intrinsically involve lots of footage and lots of long sequences which can really bog down a traditional project file leading to slow load times and frequent crashes. This always gets worse the longer the project goes on, which means the project starts to feel extremely fragile just as you are approaching your finishing deadlines. This can be unnerving. Productions eradicated these issues by allowing you to spread your clips and sequences across multiple projects, which are all accessible – just like a bin in a traditional project – but can be left closed when not in use. This really improved performance and added a lot of flexibility. The software was really stable throughout the whole process. I didn’t have to think much about technical issues or workflow I was able to just edit. (I wrote up some detailed notes on the experience here.

Are there any other special features or tricks in Premiere Pro that new editors should learn about?

This is nothing new, but I love using Premiere Pro’s ripple editing options. I remember this was something I found buried in the keyboard shortcut menu when I first started working in Premiere Pro. Once I got all the ripple options mapped and got used to using them it really sped up my editing. In fact, the real trick is to explore the keyboard shortcuts. I’m still finding new tools and options that I’m adding to my custom shortcuts. 


Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir courtesy of Jim McHugh

What was a challenge that came about during the editing process, and how did you figure out a solution? 

There were a handful of technical challenges along the way – one related to using full length audio books as source which I recommend avoiding. The biggest challenge, however, was related to story. The film is about an author whose career is ongoing, but our through line was about her relationship with her mother who died 20 years ago. We couldn’t talk about her mom passing and then spending another 30 minutes talking about the rest of her career. We had to save the pivotal moments in their relationship for near the end of the film. This meant fudging the actual timeline a bit, but the key was to prioritize the relationship with her mother and balance everything else against that. This was an important take-away: always know what your core story is and let everything else be in service of that central story.

How can editors approach creating tone or emotion in their work? 

Remember that every choice affects tone and emotion. Everything from visual composition of a shot, to the pace of cutting, to the words being spoken, to the order of the scenes, down to the exact frame that you cut on has to work together to create tone and emotion. So, you have to think about all these choices individually, but also as a whole. For instance, you might choose to use a really emotional moment from an interview, but that moment might lose some impact if you cut away too soon or linger so long you start to see the speakers’ eyes shift. It may work better with music or that might come off as manipulative and you are better off letting line speak for itself. And it may be the best line in the entire film, but if you put it too soon in the film it may lack context or feel too intimate for a character the viewer has just met. Maybe you are trying to create a more cinematic feel and are avoiding traditional talking head interviews. Then you are deciding what visuals compliments the emotional line as VO without distracting from what is being said. All these elements have to work together, and they are all a part of how you set a style for the film. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to become an editor or get more editing experience?

My advice is to accept that it might be a long process, be willing to work on things that are not necessarily what you want to eventually focus on, and listen to feedback. If anyone spends years editing, whatever the content, you will develop an instinct for what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think that is a gift anyone just has from the outset; it takes a lot of time to develop. And this does not happen if you don’t listen to other people’s feedback on your work. The same way an editor has to listen to an interview with empathy to really understand what someone is trying to express, you have to learn to listen to your directors, producers, and whoever else watches your work so you can understand how they really experience the work. And for me, this process is ongoing. Each project is a learning experience that I take forward into the next.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, part of the PBS American Masters series, is available to watch now.

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