Alkemy X

Bryan McGee is an editor who has spent well over a decade in production and post. Equally comfortable with storytelling, motion graphics, and audio post production, he has collaborated with and been inspired by some of the most creative people in the industry throughout his career. As a drummer, his editorial style can best be described as rhythmic and purposeful. A handful of his credits include: Comcast, Century 21, Morningstar Farms, IKEA, Levi Strauss/Dockers, MAACO, National Lacrosse League, Planet Fitness, Right Guard, Saint-Gobain, SEPTA, Swarovski, Under Armour, T. Rowe Price, Western Union.

LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project? 

Bryan> For me, it all starts with the script and any notes from the set. I like to have a discussion with the producer and/or director before I look at any footage to get a sense of what was happening at the shoot and what to expect before I dig into the footage. I’m also lucky enough to work with some incredible assistants who are meticulous about organisation, so I don’t have to spend much time with that. If time allows, I like to look for music first and download a bunch of options. From there, I like to have some time alone to look at all the footage, make my selects, and start assembling. 

LBB> Non-editors often think of editing just in technical terms but it’s integral to the emotion and mood of a film. How did you develop that side of your craft? 

Bryan> So much of it comes down to performance and time. I most often work on :30 and :15 second spots, so it can be challenging logistically to let a performance play out unless the creative specifically calls for it. When I have the luxury of time (60 seconds… or more!) I really like to see how a performer can carry a piece. In addition, a lot hinges on empathy. I know that as the editor, things aren’t always going to emotionally resonate with me, and in fact, I often have to keep a bit of distance if need be, but I have to understand how it will affect other people. You can’t feel all the feelings while you’re working on something, otherwise it will never get finished. All that said, “You made the client cry!” is feedback I never get tired of receiving…if that was the goal.

LBB> How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?

Bryan> I think it’s integral even with something as short as a :15 spot. As editors, we have to understand emotion, conflict, resolution, and what makes those things effective in order to tell the story we (and the client) want told. Mechanically, editors have such a major role in storytelling that it’s impossible to separate the two. Understanding why something will work (or not!) if it’s left in (or out!) of the cut is essential.

LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing (even when it’s a film without actual music) – how do you think about the rhythm side of editing, how do you feel out the beats of a scene or a spot? And do you like to cut to music? 

Bryan> I was a drummer before I was an editor, so I like to think I have a decent sense of rhythm! To me, it’s one of the things that makes a cut feel “professional” or “polished.” If the timing is off, I’m completely taken out of the moment, and it’s hard to get back into it. I would almost always prefer to cut to music, but with many of the projects I work on, it’s just not an option due to tight deadlines. In those cases, it comes down to finding the natural rhythm of the piece, and adjusting once the music is selected. It’s a combination of feeling, finding, and creating the rhythm using the mood, dialogue, and/or voiceover.

LBB> In the US we know that editors are much more heavily involved across the post production process than in Europe - what’s your favourite part of that side of the job?

Bryan> On pretty much every project, I’m lucky to collaborate with amazing colleagues. From audio to visual effects to colour, I get to work with the best. My favourite part of any project is probably the conform (and not just because it means we got approval!). I love seeing and hearing how my colleagues elevate everything they touch.

LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough? (And why?)

Bryan> I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t know if I have a definitive answer. They both present unique problems and opportunities for finding solutions. Too much material is an issue when time is an issue, which is almost always! So, often for me, “less is more.”

LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?

Bryan> It’s funny, but there’s a spot I cut for Century 21 (“The Chase”) in what I now refer to as “the beginning of my career” that will always have a special place. Probably because it was right after I had taken over as the senior editor at the agency I was with at the time. It had a decent budget, an L.A. shoot, and with a great director (Greg Popp). The concept is that it’s a misdirect playing off the old trope of a guy racing through an airport with flowers to find the girl before she takes off, and confronting her and her boyfriend. Of course, we come to find out the guy is her real estate agent with good news about a house. It’s a fun spot that had some challenges along the way but remained about 90% of my first cut, which is always an amazing feeling.

LBB> There are so many different platforms for film content now, and even in advertising something can last anything from a few seconds to a couple of hours. As an editor, are you seeing a change in the kind of projects you’re getting from brands and agencies?

Bryan> I personally haven’t seen much change in the kinds of projects I get. As a commercial editor, the :30 and :15-second spot is where I live and breathe. Regardless of what people predicted, they haven’t gone anywhere. Where the spots go after leaving my hands has obviously changed, but the core is still there. 

LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you? 

Bryan> I think comedy has got to be the hardest stuff to edit, and well-done comedy is on another level. I love absurd comedy: “Tim & Eric,” “Nathan for You,” “Portlandia” etc. More recently, “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” has taken the top spot in my book. If I had to pick a comedic editor I admired, it would probably be Vic Berger. He’s an oddity because he isn’t afraid to be on the other side of the camera! I also have to give props to film editor Paul Rogers. Anyone who’s seen “Everything Everywhere All at Once” can appreciate the herculean effort that went into editing that film. The curse of being an editor is dissecting the editing while you’re watching, and that film made my brain explode. 

LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years

Bryan> I think the biggest trend is the long list of deliverables that seem to come with so many projects now. It’s not uncommon to deliver 16x9, 9x16, and 1x1 for every version of a spot (with and without open captions).