Living The American Dream: Editing Sharknado 5
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Living The American Dream: Editing Sharknado 5
Ana Florit is your typical Los Angeles-based film editor: among other things, she grew up in the French Alps, moved to Paris, directed a one-hour movie, moved to LA, and has worked on five Sharknado movies, including the most recent, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.
You know, your usual run-the-the-mill American Dream story.
In Ana’s case, the journey also included a stint at Video Symphony leading to editing all kinds of projects, including Mischief Night which earned her a Saturn Award nomination. For her, working in movies was “the perfect balance of creativity and technical work,” which very much applies to her work on the Sharknado films for Hollywood independent film studio, The Asylum. Serving as lead editor on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th films, and working in some capacity on the others, Ana also had a huge hand in moving post fully from Apple Final Cut Pro 7 to Adobe Premiere Pro.
Creative COW: You've worked in some way on every Sharknado movie and served as lead editor on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th films. When you first became involved in them, did you have any sense it'd become a franchise? Why do you think people go crazy for Sharknado?
Ana Florit: Sharknado was an overnight success; the first one literally blew up Twitter. I remember working on the first one alongside editor Bill Boodell and we had no idea the kind of monster it was about to become. At the time it was just another crazy creature feature for Syfy. No one, not even Syfy, thought it would be anything more.
As you can imagine, we were all very excited when everybody started talking about it. I am honestly not sure how or why it became such a cult franchise. I think it was a combination of the name being so unique and good timing. People want that kind of entertainment. Watching Sharknado is a very social activity: you watch it with your friends and a six-pack.
Sharknado 5: Global Swarming was the first of the films you cut to be edited on Premiere Pro. What was the transition like from Final Cut Pro 7 for you? Why choose to move to Premiere?
Sharknado 5 was the first Sharknado film to be cut in Premiere. I personally had worked with the program before, and I was a big advocate to switching our workflow to Adobe. The Asylum used to be an FCP7 house but, let's face it, a program that hasn't had any upgrades in years is a bit obsolete. We were starting to encounter issues, especially on the systems that ran the newer OS versions.
It was just time for a change, and it was a pretty smooth transition really. On the technical side we were able to adapt our FCP workflow to work with Premiere in many similar ways, and as far as offline editing I just watched a few tutorials to get acquainted with the software and I was off to the races.
Premiere is very flexible and customizable, which I believe is a grand quality for an editing software.
What was your workflow for this film?
Sharknado 5 was shot all over the world, from Europe to Japan. We had local DITs processing the dailies on set and sending us shuttle drives every day. Here in LA our assistant editor Max Sun would then transcode the raw files to a proxy format, if it hadn't been done on set, then sync, label and organize everything for us to edit right a way.
I also had a wonderful co-editor, Ryan Mitchelle. He took over when I had to take some time off for medical reasons and the movie would not be what it is without him. I am very grateful we had him on board for this project.
You have to understand the schedule on Sharknado films are very tight. From start to finish in post, we usually have less than 5 months to get everything done. Once we get a picture lock, we then pass the cut along to the sound department and our composers, while at the same time the project gets onlined for our colorist who then finishes in Resolve.
Ana Florit editing Sharknado 5: Global Swarming in Adobe Premiere Pro
What was the most challenging part of the film for you and how did you solve that challenge?
Working with and incorporating visual effects is the most challenging part of these films. Ideally you'd want to picture lock your movie with as many VFX as you want to tell your story, but in reality it's just not how it works. We have to deliver plates weeks before we are even at picture lock, and we have a very strict number of shots we are allowed to use if we want the movie to be done on time.
It becomes a very close collaboration between the VFX department, our director Anthony C. Ferrante, and the producers to find the right balance of shot and where to place them. It's a lot of back and forth, a lot of late nights counting frames and finding the best timing for everything. We all want the movie to be as awesome as possible.
Sharknado has a lot of action and a lot of VFX. How do you keep the action logical for the viewer, so they don't get lost in the geography of the scene? How do you cut a scene properly when the shark tornado itself isn't in the frame yet?
I always do a first cut of a scene the way I think it should be seen, without counting VFX. Then what usually happens is that we look at the full movie with our VFX team and realize we have about twice as many VFX shots as we can afford to have. We have a team of about 12 people doing the visual effects for these films, in a fraction of the time it takes big studio to do them, so we have to make compromises while still making the best movie possible in the allocated time.
It takes a lot of tweaking. Putting together temp VFX or getting animatic versions from our VFX team really helps with fine tuning the timing. There's a lot of guessing when you have nothing in the frame to work with. You don't want to linger on a shot too long or cut out of it too soon. It helps to break down what the important beats are in the scene and make sure they come across visually - then the rest falls into place. We are also very lucky to have actors like Ian [Zeiring] who understand timing and give it his all, even when acting against a green screen. That helps immensely in editing.
What kind of additional temp work did you do?
If it's a long stream of ADR, like a long news broadcast or a narration, then I will absolutely do a temp version. You don't want the director and producers to have to read pages of text on screen because it pulls you from the edit. I also always try to have as clean a sound mix as possible. I use A LOT of temp music and select sound FX -- I'm a picture editor, but sound is such an important part of the process it cannot be ignored.
I also very much enjoy doing temp composites for some of the visual effects, which makes our VFX people laugh out loud at the crudeness of my work.
But especially on films like Sharknado, if you know how and have the time, you should definitely try and do as many of these as possible. There are entire sequences made of visual effect shots and sometimes you have zero video associated with it, so if I don't put a temp VFX together, whoever is watching will have to read many slugs and pause every five seconds to get a sense of what is happening.
Sometimes adding a simple shark cut out and animating it across the frame is all you need to sell the dynamic and purpose of a shot.
Is there a moment in the film you're proud of most?
That's funny because when you say Sharknado most people are going to think about all these crazy shark scenes, but for me what I love the most about it, what I enjoying working on more than anything, are all the little character moments. We sometime forget but in the middle of this shark infested weather there is a family.
For example my favorite scene in Sharknado 5 is a scene where Fin (Ian Ziering) and Nova (Cassandra Scerbo) are having a pretty strong disagreement about how to deal with those storms, and it leads to a very personal confrontation.
Cassandra Scerbo as Nova Clark, and Ian Ziering as Fin Shepherd, by Yana Blajeva/Syfy
It was such a treat to edit that scene. I mean, the actors have been working with these characters for five years now, so they know them pretty well and can really pouch them to interesting places. As an editor my job is to find those perfect moments and piece them together to generate emotions. It might be a film about flying sharks, but you still want to try and keep it grounded.
Sharknado 5 director Anthony C. Ferrante and editor Ana Florit at the film's Las Vegas premiere
After 5 of these films, is there any sense that you need to try new things to keep audiences entertained? Or any sense that you need to stick to a certain editing formula to keep it familiar for them?
The biggest challenge working on all these movies is that we are always trying to top the previous one in terms of scale. We want it to be bigger; we want it to be better. We went from destroying Los Angeles in the first one to the whole world in the 5th.
In terms of editing, that means you really have to scale everything up in your head. What we could sell with just one or two shots in the early movies, we now have to use a lot more because everything is so much more complex and large. We have to show more and give the audience the time to grasp what is happening.
These are no ordinary circumstances, and they are a little silly, but at the same time we have a mantra that most people who work on these films use and that is "This is not a comedy. This is not a comedy." I think this is one thing that sets Sharknado apart from a lot of the other creature features out there is that everyone, from the writer, to the actors, all the way to post, treats it as a very serious movie. We just sometimes have to remind ourselves that this is not a comedy.
There is a lot of pressure to make each movie wider than life and have some sort of evolution, but that's part of what keeps it interesting. If it was the exact same thing each time it would get boring.
What's an important lesson about editing you learned from Sharknado?
Don't overthink the edit. At least not at first. Just cut the scene together so you have something to work from. If it's not working you'll know, but at least you'll have something to improve on.
When working on these films, and most independent productions really, there is just no time. You can absolutely do a good job in a short amount of time but you can't doubt yourself.