Images source: Third Man Films.
An official winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Blind Ambition is an inspiring underdog story for the ages. This uplifting documentary follows four Zimbabwean refugees who escape starvation and go on to become South Africa’s top sommeliers.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
I taught myself how to edit using Adobe Premiere 6 back in the early 2000s (before the software added “Pro” to its name). I had studied writing in college, started filming my own screenplays, and it dawned on me that a large part of writing a film happens during the editing process.
How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?
I always like to start by watching every frame of footage with the director and talking about it with them. I mentally log as much of the film as possible so that every option is available to me, while also gauging what the director is responding to in the footage.
I can work in almost any size workspace, but the two most important things to me are a second monitor (so I can see the picture full screen) and a decent set of headphones. My editing process always starts with audio, so it helps to hear things like dialogue as clearly as possible. It’s amazing the nuances you can hear in someone’s voice just by listening to them through headphones instead of speakers.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.
My favorite scene in Blind Ambition is the one where we meet the Zimbabwean team’s new coach Denis. Denis is a French sommelier and avid shooter, he rode in the Dakar Rally in the 70s, and he talks a mile-a-minute. There’s also some sadness and regret to his life story. As both a writer and editor, it’s a real challenge to distill such a larger-than-life character into a more digestible scene for the film, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Image source: Third Man Films.
What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?
There was a lot of footage, filmed by many different cameras, and in many different formats. I could combine most of it on the same timeline, but for some formats (like h.265), I had to create proxy files. For footage shot in different frame rates, I had to convert it.
Another challenge was the many different accents in the film — most of the main characters do not speak English as their first language. I had to really sharpen my dialogue editing skills to ensure subjects were concise and easy to understand.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge was that my family and I were based in New York at the time, and the film needed to be edited in Sydney, Australia. We lived in Airbnbs for 15 months!
I did all of the editing with Premiere Pro. I’ve been using Premiere Pro for almost 20 years now, so I’m very comfortable using it. I also think it’s the fastest when it comes to timeline editing. For me, the key to documentary editing is trying out a lot of different things and seeing what works, and Premiere Pro allows me to do that very quickly.
I also designed and animated the opening titles to the film with After Effects. Animation is another passion of mine, and it’s always nice when I get to do both editing and animation on the same project.
I really like the speed and flexibility of Premiere Pro, but I also like its finishing tools as well. More and more, directors and producers expect to see something polished. It helps to do a quick color grade, sound mix and add some titles when you’re showing someone an idea. It helps them focus on the idea, rather than wondering, “Why do all these clips sound weird?”. As for After Effects, it’s such a robust tool — I love that you can do almost anything with it!
What’s your hidden gem/favorite workflow tip in Adobe Creative Cloud?
The first is to split your application window into two windows — one narrow window for my media, effects and timecode, and another larger window for my timeline and everything else. Then use the accent grave key to maximize one, while still having access to the other.
Another time saver is creating presets for track targets. When editing on the timeline, I’m constantly switching between dialogue, music or SFX tracks, and to be able to do this with a keyboard shortcut rather than reaching for my mouse every time is much faster without disrupting my creative process. It will save you seconds in the moment, but when you do it so many times in a day, it really adds up.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
I’m influenced the most by filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Walter Murch, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick. I like artists who take risks and drive innovation in the pursuit of telling great stories.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?
The decision to quit my job and start freelancing 15 years ago seemed tough at the time, but in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. At first, I was panicking that I didn’t have the security of a full-time job anymore, but over time, I learned to be more patient and focused. I think it’s important to take risks — calculated risks, not reckless ones — and never miss an opportunity to broaden your skills or expand your experience.
Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?
I started using a standing desk a couple years ago, and I love it! I alternate sitting/standing throughout the day, and it does wonders for my focus and energy levels — especially in the afternoon.
Image source: Paul Murphy.
You can watch Premiere Pro tutorials from Blind Ambition editor (aka ‘The Premiere Pro’), Paul Murphy, on his YouTube channel.