Alkemy X

Ricky Heidelbaugh has been a part of the post-production team at Alkemy X since 2020. As assistant editor, Ricky collaborates with his peers to create stunning video content that meets client and creative expectations. Let’s learn more about his experience in editorial and his latest venture into coloring!

AX: What inspired you to pursue a career in film editing? Can you share about your journey thus far in the editing field? 

RH: Funnily enough, I found myself in the editing world by circumstance. I've always had an interest in the Film & TV industry and wanted to be a part of it because I love storytelling and have been ever fascinated by the technical and creative wizardry that goes into making movies and commercials. As a kid, I dreamed of learning how those films were made and wanted to try my hand at making my own, and I started my career in film as a child actor doing mostly background roles. I enrolled in Drexel University with the intent of working in production, specifically camera operation and directing. There I started learning about tools like Avid and Resolve in-depth (and I thought Windows Movie Maker was pretty advanced!). I got my first real taste of editing when I interned at Alkemy X as part of Drexel's co-op program. But it was when COVID and quarantines hit during my senior year and post-graduation that my world pretty much flipped and I found myself full-time in the post-production side of things. Alkemy X reached out to me about an opening for an Assistant Editor and I've been here since!

AX: How do you collaborate with the lead editor and other members of the post-production team?

RH: It varies per project, but for the times when I'm brought on board at the start I typically sit down with the editor and we discuss what a project will look like and what is needed of it and us. Stuff like what we're expecting to receive from production or client or stock providers, what the editor wants in the organization and project structure, client needs and eventual deliverables, and if there are any technical requirements or hurdles we're expecting that would shake up our standard workflows. Every editor works differently so it's important to establish a steady line of communication and baseline of wants and needs early on.

AX: What software and tools do you use regularly?

RH: DaVinci Resolve has become pretty integral to everything I do. It's an amazing piece of tech that can be used from the start of a project to its delivery. Adobe's suite of apps is also a constant companion, be that Premiere for when our edits live there, After Effects for motion graphics or rotoscoping, or Photoshop for all those times a client sends us a logo they need the background removed from.

AX: Can you share a significant project you've worked on and what you learned from that experience?

RH: There's so many projects I've had the privilege of being a part of that I'd consider significant! Recently I was given the chance to color a documentary, Mestre Guga, about a community leader in Brazil shot by students from Villanova. Within typical assistant editor duties, I don't usually interact directly with clients, but for that documentary, I was working with Villanova's creative team and sending versions to and getting feedback directly from them. It was an eye-opening experience about how to combine a client's vision with my own creative input and technical abilities. Not to mention an amazing opportunity to broaden my coloring experience.

AX: Who are some of your mentors or influences in the field of film editing?

RH: As a relative newcomer to the post world our entire post-production team has been major mentors for me in learning how this all works from both a technical and creative perspective, and I can't express enough appreciation for their kindness and patience!

AX: What is your favorite part of the editing process?

RH: My favorite part of editing is problem-solving, specifically answering creative problems with technical solutions. Stuff like weighing the best of 3 takes to decide which better maintains the upbeat, constantly moving nature of the rest of a spot. Configuring keyframes' values on a logo's entrance animation to display the cool professionalism the client is looking to put forward. When do I add a cut away from this shot of talent to the reaction shot of the other so I can best emphasize the impact of their dialogue? 

AX: What skills do you think are essential for success in this field?

RH: I've come to learn that technical skills can be learned by pretty much anyone with the willingness to do so. What is much harder to teach, and much more important to hone, is the ability to work and communicate well with others. Whether that be interacting with clients to ascertain what's needed out of a project, or sitting down with a producer to give them an idea of how we can avoid problems in post-production while we're still in the midst of pre-production, or simply hashing out the solutions to technical problems that editors run into. This industry demands cooperation and everyone I've personally seen who's successful within it has been experts in that regard.

AX: Do you have a professional goal you are working towards this year? 

RH: Yes! I'm actually hoping to become more experienced as a colorist and generally explore that field of work, and Alkemy X has graciously granted me many an opportunity to do so. The most recent was the opportunity to color a stage recording of The Four Phantoms In Concert for broadcast using Premiere's Lumetri suite.

AX: How do you handle the demands of fast-moving projects?

RH: With communication, first and foremost. Frequently we assistant editors are presented with fires that we first need to discover how to put out. The client's spec sheet had the wrong file type - where is the file going or what have we given them before that's worked? There's no audio on this clip - where is the edit happening, did production give us audio for this clip, does it need to be synced with a separate file? Taking a moment to ask a few questions now has often saved me from being asked 400 questions about what went wrong later.

AX: What are some common misconceptions about your role?

RH: It can be hard to visualize what exactly an Assistant Editor does here at Alkemy X. Traditionally, an assistant might be attached to an editor or two and expected to build edit projects, string footage together, and start or alter edits for those editors and that might be the extent of their responsibilities. While those are certainly things I do, there are a host of other duties one might not normally consider. For example, I create and embed the closed captions for our commercials. I prepare and reduce edits to send to our audio, VFX, and color teams. I receive and integrate the files we get back from those teams. I make the delivery files we send to TV channels and websites like Vimeo and YouTube. I write documentation on how to solve technical problems when we come across new ones. Even if I'm not the assistant who creates the project for an editor or does any editorial changes for that project, I likely have had or will have a hand in that project in some capacity.

AX: What was your most challenging project, and how did you tackle the difficulties?

RH: The first project that comes to mind is a series of videos I handled for Bumble & Bumble that needed editorial and graphical changes done to existing edits that came to us from out-of-house - meaning I didn't have access to source media or the work from the original editors and artists. It required heavy After Effects work like animating text and logos, adding backgrounds where none existed, and removing burned-in elements from a shot then filling that blank space with something diegetic. As someone who wasn't too particularly familiar with After Effects at the time, it was quite the challenge and entailed a lot of googling, conferring with editors who had experience with that type of work, and collaborating with Ryan Sun, the producer, on how best to meet client needs. I walked away from that project with a whole new skill set, but I was able to tackle it in the first place by communicating and cooperating with the rest of the team.

AX: Have you worked on projects across different genres? If so, how do they differ in terms of editing approach?

RH: I come from a narrative background and when I am asked to help with editorial it's generally for commercial work. The two are surprisingly similar - commercials are also stories, they just happen to be in 30-second increments. That and they generally want to sell someone something, be it a product or an idea. However, that itself is a large difference. For fictional narrative work, often you're thinking as an artist with creative intent. For commercial work, you're both an artist with creative intent and a salesman with a message, a call to action, and a product to convince someone to buy. That message needs to shine through your entire story, and it informs how you build that story.

AX: What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on, and why?

RH: Frankly there's too many to name. To pick just one, I'd say the color work I did in collaboration with our Senior Colorist Janet Falcon for the first Villanova documentary I worked on, Her Time is Now. It was an opportunity to explore color and express myself creatively in a way I hadn't been able to in a professional capacity before. That project cemented my desire to further delve into color work, and I've thankfully had many opportunities to do just that thanks to what I accomplished on that project.

AX: What strategies do you use to improve your editing skills continuously?
RH: The practical answer is practice, especially on a variety of projects and with a variety of footage. But another is exposure. Exposure to other cool work, spots, or films I find outside of Alkemy X's immediate circle. Exposure to the workflows of my colleagues when they're handling their own projects, or editors who outline their procedures in forums online. It's all enlightening to figure out how I might apply those additional tools and methods to my own work.