Editor Profile: Ben Guzman

Posted by Doug Klinger on February 15, 2013 in Interviews

Staff Post

Last months when we talked to Nicolas Heller, he described to us what he calls “Guzman effects.” Named after editor Ben Guzman, these are ways to “spruce up the visual and give it more of a ‘music video’ feel.” We wanted to find out more about how Ben works, to maybe provide a little insight on how these “Guzman effects” work as well, so we talked to Ben about his techniques as an editor and how he is able to apply them across different genres of music. 

Ben Guzman

Doug: I was interested how you got into editing to begin with? I know you do some directing as well, but you primarily edit. How did you find yourself into that particular role?

Ben: I went to Brooklyn College to study directing - I think everybody goes to film school to direct. As a kid I always liked puzzles so over time I naturally gravitated towards editing and appreciated it as part of the storytelling process. At the time, my school really emphasized cinematography, writing, and sound design. Editing was like forbidden territory. I took the only post class they offered - the professor had a super-thick accent and sped through everything. I would literally put headphones on during class and zone out on my computer, eventually learning Final Cut Pro just by playing around with it everyday. I eventually got the opportunity to meet and intern for Frankie Nasso, still one of my closest friends and collaborators. At the time he was shooting a music video trilogy for Mudvayne on Epic Records and he hired me to direct and edit a behind-the-scenes video, it was my first professional job. The whole production process was overwhelming, but I felt 100% in control when it came to the edit. It was challenging, but I think that was part of the initial appeal. I delivered the edit, kept cutting, people kept taking chances on me, and I just kind of stuck with it.

Doug: Are you still looking to direct? Is there a difference when cutting your own stuff versus cutting somebody else's?

Ben: I love directing and I will always want to work with artists whose songs inspire me and who trust my judgment enough to interpret their sound. When a Director or artist approaches me to edit for them, they are coming to me for a specific reason and with an image in mind. If I’m working with Frankie or Ricky, sometimes they'll sit with me and provide confidence boosts and direction to keep me fresh and motivated. Other times we’ll have one conversation and then not talk again until a cut is complete. The director-editor bond is probably the strongest bond in the industry; it’s based completely on trust and communication. Those guys know what I can and will do, but they also know what I need from them to help bring their visions to life. When I’m hired to direct, the post approach is much different. There’s nobody to guide me or tell me what doesn’t work so it becomes a guessing game. I spend so much time developing looks and effects for other directors that there is always a fear of unoriginality when it comes to editing my own projects. I bounce some ideas off the people around me - Jess Orsburn, another very talented and dedicated editor is helpful with that. With the speedy nature of music videos, jumping from post on one person’s project to directing your own project can be jarring, having somebody put in the hours with me keeps me grounded and reminds me of what I want to achieve with each video.

Doug: When getting into the actual edit, are there particular techniques that you like to use and utilize in a video?

Ben: There are a ton of techniques I utilize, composite modes, overlays, light leaks, shakes, flares. Sometimes I will use existing footage to create project-specific effects. I have my Benny Gordo fallback options - flashy edits that people seem to dig, but I try to challenge myself by bringing something new to each project. I love color grading, I love the After Effects interface, I watch tutorials and read forums, I do tests. I don’t think I’ve gone more than five days in the past two years without opening Final Cut Pro. Lately I've been trying to grasp the 3D world with Cinema4D. It's important to keep learning - it allows me to stay current and gives me ideas on how to approach an edit during the early stages of production. Developing effects is totally crucial, but its just as important to know how and where the effects will be placed in the video. When I get a new job I play the record until I memorize it - that can be 100 times over the course of a project. I would hate to be the person sitting with me while I go through that process. I pick out the subtleties in the record and use the visual elements that fit best to bring those moments to the foreground. Most iconic videos contain features that people associate them with, yet there's still a stigma that comes with altering footage. I embrace it. I will go out of my way to damage footage if the story calls for it. When we did “Protoman” for Emmure, the treatment called for the band performing in a stylized arcade with POV shots from the video game screens. Frankie and Matt Workman shot a clean video with a super dope flashing light setup through gutted-out arcades. Post was intense and had a quick turnaround - I remember building and animating the nonexistent arcade screens while Frankie shot arcade screen close-ups on a macro lens. We incorporated these shots as overlays and created the feeling that the entire video takes place inside a video game. The light flickers became strobes, the overlays created 80s/90s nostalgia, the colors started looking insane. The VFX edit created a completely different music video. To date, that video is one of my proudest achievements. The elements we created were original and brought the video to life, perfectly accenting the intensity of the song.

Doug: Is there much of a difference when editing a metal video compared to a hip-hop video or another style like a pop video? Are you approaching it completely differently?

Ben: There are definitely rules to every genre, but I don’t base my approach on that. I approach edits based on how the music and treatment make me feel. Obviously I’m a fan first and I want to work on music that inspires me, but as long as the record evokes an emotion and sets the tone, I make it a goal to interpret that visually. Looking at an artist as a product and the music video as their commercial almost makes the genre of the song irrelevant. Artists in any genre will always want to look their best and be represented properly. I’ve cut metal videos for artists who only want their face shown from one angle and hip-hop videos for artists who have scrapped expensive setups based on the lighting. So much of our culture is based on image; vanity edits are usually in the first round of comments we get from the label in any genre. As far as my approach to pacing goes, it really depends on the tempo of the record. Generally I like to maintain high energy in my edits. I have a short attention span so I really try to make each cut count and get the story across at the cost of bombarding the audience with information. With any genre, the main challenge is figuring out how to squeeze the large amount of content into a small time-frame.

Doug: Do you frequently get notes that just say "We want to see more of the artist"?

Ben: All the time, and it's tough to make those decisions when working on videos that have narrative and performance intercut. I recently cut a video for Escape the Fate that has a violent storyline. Typically if the content is too controversial, the label will ask for a separate “clean cut” with elements of the original replaced or censored. In the case of this particular video, censoring the narrative would have really diluted the story and the video would lose its impact. The solution was to deliver two versions: the original with narrative, and a separate “performance only” cut that served as the censored version. Obviously this meant that the performance-only cut had a ton of great band shots that aren’t in the original because we didn’t have the space to fit it all. The attention to detail becomes that much more significant in the original edit - every performance clip was carefully chosen to ensure a balance between the five band members. I never need to dig too deep for performance moments because I always cut performance first. I sync each clip and create my selects using markers - my workflow is heavily based on consolidating. If I have a five-piece band, 1 camera angle for each member, two takes each - I consolidate the best footage (from both takes) of each setup into one track. Winding up with five different tracks of selects, I edit them together to create my base sequence. It's a tedious process and so much of what I do will never be seen in a final cut, but it allows me to both learn my footage in its entirety and find the best moments for every artist and camera angle. This way, if the label wants to see more of a certain person, I can pull any given select from my original sequence without having to dig into the raw footage.

Doug: What are some other ways the learn the footage, just basically watch it a bunch?

Ben: Basically. I mean there are ways to streamline the process and organize your clips but at the end of the day, you obviously need to watch the footage to know what's there. I'm really picky about how my files are organized - every scene has a bin, my project files and scratch disks are all set to one specific folder, I need to know where my media is at any given moment. In film school I was one of the last classes to actually splice 16mm film. If you've ever been delirious in the lab and dropped a five-frame film strip from a 100-foot mag into a bin with the rest of your footage, you'll understand why it's crucial to keep an organized workflow. If we shoot on RED and there's time, I sometimes review low-res footage while doing my one-light color in Red Cine-X. By the time the transcodes are done, I at least have an idea of what was shot.

Doug: What about editing from New York City? Do you find you're working with a lot of directors who are also located in New York City?

Ben: Well up until recently I really only worked with New York-based directors. Ricky just recently made the move to L.A. from New York and Frankie flies back and forth all the time for productions - everything seems to have changed overnight. I've been talking a lot with Rik Cordero who is NYC-based, we'll be collaborating on something soon. I have a few independent directing jobs lined up that are all NYC-based. Honestly though, the physical placement of my director doesn’t really affect me - technology has allowed Nova to essentially be bicoastal. We definitely live in a generation and work in an industry where accessibility is key. Ricky approved Adrian Lau's "Look Real High" edit from his phone when he went to Israel. I can share my screen, hard drives are as simple as dropping in the mail, videos can be uploaded and reviewed anywhere. Productivity will certainly not slow down based on location.

Doug: So that's how it would work for you, they just drop a hard drive in the mail?

Ben: If they’re not around and we don’t arrange an alternative option, yes that’s how it works. I always review the treatment and shot list with my director from the beginning to get an idea of what was achieved versus what was written. Sometimes we’ll do a “slate cut” together, which is basically the entire edit laid down to the music as typed notes so we have a timecode reference of where things belong. But again, if they’re not on the East Coast, we’ll have calls or video chats to jumpstart every edit so we’re both on the same page. Then I lock in and don’t really hit them up until I have a full cut prepped for review.

Doug: And any notes that you get, that's always from the director, right? Even if the notes originate with the artist or the label, is your contact always the director?

Ben: Yes, typically. We have relationships with labels so I'm usually chained in on e-mails but I try not to respond, the director is the liaison. Revisions come from artist, management, and label. It's distracting for me to address emails when I'm locked in on an edit - an ideal situation is to get one EDL with all comments as bullets so that I can cross them off as I go. Occasionally artists will hit me up with notes directly, Kosha Dillz did that when I cut his video, as did The Knocks. Adrian and Zak are my homies so we'll usually review a cut on the phone or in person, whatever's convenient for the client.

Doug: Is it usually the case of the director reluctantly asking you to change things because they obviously approved that first cut in the first place?

Ben: It varies, but revisions are always expected. There will always be vanity edits. There are sometimes clearance issues when a particular brand is in a shot, or sometimes there are sponsor brands that need to be included in the edit. Those are things you can’t really battle. I also stay out of those conversations as much as possible. Sometimes directors will be reluctant to change something they’re attached to, then we sit down together and try to find an even balance between what the label wants and what the director wants. When multiple revisions have been made, the delivery date has been met, and additional notes are requested, it gets a little more complicated and ideally we get the label to compromise.

Doug: What do you mean by compromise? Do you get to ask for more money if you have to do more work?

Ben: It really depends on the label, your relationship with them, and what the notes are. Sometimes you’re able to compromise by asking for more money, other times you’re able to compromise on edit changes. If they decide they want to change the entire structure and we’re forced to work for another two weeks, ideally we get paid for our time - but it’s really unpredictable. If they’re maxed out financially, sometimes we’re able to convince the label to let us hit some notes and leave the rest of the video as is. Payment is a great incentive but that can’t be everything - there’s just not enough money in the music industry. There’s definitely a rush I get every time I begin and end a project - being a part of something big and knowing people are seeing my work and appreciating it enough to keep coming back to me is really an amazing feeling. It’s a fast-paced job, and certainly stressful at times, but I love coming to work everyday. When the thrill is gone and I’m no longer inspired or having fun with edits, I won’t do it anymore. Hasn’t happened yet.

ben guzman, editor profile

Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.

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