8 min read

#172 - Cut/daily Meets... Editor Jay Prychidny

This issue of Cut/daily Meets... is probably the longest issue in the history of Cut/daily so far, but I guarantee it will be well worth the extra investment of your time.

Editor Jay Prychidny shares a wealth of knowledge in the next 1800 words which will serve editors at any stage in their careers to grow in their confidence, industry connections and understanding of the craft.

What more could you want?

Jay's credits and awards include Canadian Screen Award wins for Orphan Black and Amazing Race Canada and a Gemini win for Canada's Next Top Model.

Other major scripted projects he has edited include; Altered Carbon, Into the Badlands, and the Alienist. He was also a producer and editor on Orphan Black and Snowpiercer.

He's currently editing the Tim Burton-directed episodes of the upcoming Netflix series Wednesday, focusing on Wednesday Addams as a teenager.

Given his knowledge and experience I asked a couple of bonus questions!

When editing a TV series as a team of editors how do you maintain editorial consistency across the board?

I've been fortunate enough to be a supervising picture editor or producer on several projects that I've worked on.

In those cases, I was responsible for overseeing the editing of the other episodes so that they would feel consistent. Having a hand in guiding the sound and music direction on all the episodes of the series is also a big part of giving them all a certain editorial consistency.

But in situations where there isn't a particular person directing the style in such a formal way, I've found that this process happens rather organically and naturally. Most television editors I’ve worked with want to consult with their colleagues and make sure that what they are doing fits with what others are doing as well.

When I am an editor coming into an established series (even if just the pilot has been edited so far), I find it's part of my job to adapt to the "house style." I want my pace, tone, sound and music choices to be similar enough to the episodes that come before so that it doesn't shock the producers into feeling they are watching a different show, but personally I also like to push against the bounds of the current style box in order to keep things fresh and interesting and unpredictable.

Finding the happy equilibrium between these two things is a bit of a skill all on its own. You definitely don't want to get the dreaded "This doesn't feel like our show" note from producers.

What do you know now, about taking on a multi-episode show, that you wish you'd known at the start?

Probably that other editors and team members are more useful as collaborators and people who can support you, rather than people to be feared or to compete with.

Though, a certain quality of healthy competition can actually be a really positive creative environment. But I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of being scared of or threatened by your colleagues.

It definitely takes a good amount of intention and empathy to build your relationships with colleagues in positive ways from the beginning, as they could well have their own negative feelings about you, of course.

But I think it’s worthwhile, and leads to a more positive environment, when you put in the effort to try to smooth out problems before they begin. You’re not always going to be successful, of course.

Like life, some relationships just aren’t meant to be. But at heart, I think most people are oriented more towards wanting to contribute to a positive work environment with happy and supportive collaborators.

What’s your daily work routine?

I usually start my day by taking a really long time to get started. I'm not so good with going fast in the mornings. I prefer starting late and working late.

As I wait for dailies to come in, I'll look at the sound work my assistant has completed for the previous day's cut scenes and make any mixing changes, or add music, or give feedback to my assistant on how to adjust.

Once the dailies are sorted and organised, I'll focus on that. Depending on the amount of footage shot, that will often take me the entire rest of the day.

I'm not an editor who makes a lot of changes to my first cuts, so once I have a scene together, I will give it to my assistant to start working on the sound. And beyond some minor frame adjustments and slight timing changes, that first cut is almost always what ends up in my editor's assembly to go to the director.

If I'm working in a team of people, shared lunch and coffee breaks are a delight that always makes the work day a lot more enjoyable for me.

What do you now know about your work that you wish you’d known when you first started?

In any creative person's evolution, there's a threshold barrier to cross between not knowing if your work is good and trusting your own creative instincts. For all the criticism and notes we receive in this business, there's precious little true artistic feedback that helps one learn and grow as a creative.

You need to learn the connection between your intentions when you are putting something together, and how it is actually received by an audience.

I think I spent too long trying to be an island, and not seeking out true, honest and raw creative feedback from other professionals or mentors who I knew and trusted. Because once you learn the connection between your creative intentions and how your work is received, it's a powerful tool you can use for the rest of your life.

What did your biggest professional failure teach you?

I think I've been lucky enough to not have had full-out, public professional failures, but I've definitely had personal, private ones.

I've had a few jobs where I felt like I was in over my head, and would become very stressed out or emotional over trying to figure how to adapt to a new creative challenge all on my own.

The jump from factual to scripted television is one such challenge that comes to mind. I didn't know the best way to work in scripted, and I was too shy to ask anyone for help. It was a true trial by fire, so I had to learn how to adapt quickly.

I remember my first day working on a big scripted show, and the first day of dailies was one absolutely massive scene. I started by watching all the footage from beginning to end, as I believed was the one and only process, and suddenly it was the middle of the afternoon and I hadn't actually cut anything yet.

Panic set in, but panic turned out to be a good motivator for eventually developing my own process of working which is fast, efficient, productive, and also allows me to be familiar with all the footage.

What’s the #1 thing that has helped you shorten your craft’s learning curve?

As alluded to above, the number one thing was gaining confidence in my own creative instincts.

To me, one of the biggest time wasters of a day is uncertainty and insecurity, which can lead to endlessly going in circles on your own creative decisions. And often, people get stuck on decisions that ultimately don't make a huge difference to the audience's enjoyment of the final product.

So, learning the difference between decisions that do or don’t make a huge impact for the audience is an important thing to learn as well!

Working in reality television taught me that there's no way to explore every option, you just need to go with the first thing that works. Of course, "what works" is a subjective call, but that's part of learning how to trust your creative judgment.

The idea is to aim for a high standard, and use all your skills try to achieve it, even if the footage that particular day is lacking.

But probably one of the most useful things that shortened my learning curve was working on-staff at a network where I had to churn out the equivalent of a documentary short every couple days.

Nothing is a better teacher than actually doing the job. And I was very lucky to end up in a job where I could hone my skills working on a huge amount of creative and varied material in a very short amount of time.

So after being in that environment for a couple years, I was ready to move out into the freelance world and work on longer form projects.

Currently a steal on Amazon for only £9.99 / $20

What book has helped you the most over your career?

This feels like a very predictable answer, but it's also true!

The most impactful books for me were:

So many thoughts and concepts and images in those books completely shaped how I think about film editing, and continue to impact my day-to-day editing.

The way he talks about how you can tell if an actor is invested in a scene by their blinking pattern, I have found to be absolutely true, and I take special care to where actors blink in my cuts.

His main lesson to me was about prioritising instinct and emotion in your cutting choices, and that is something I have taken very much to heart in my own work.

He also said something along the lines of, a scene is done when you watch it and it almost appears to be propelling itself on its own or as if it wasn’t crafted by you at all. I often think about this standard for judging my own work, and use it to focus in on the areas where I can still see my own hand at work too strongly.

There are so many other little tips and tricks in the books that I think about all the time, even though it's been almost two decades since I've read them.

And your parting piece of advice?

I'm always very positive and optimistic when it comes to people wanting to move up in the industry.

The two most important things, as I see it, are talent and networking. And they support each other, of course.

Many editors are used to being quite isolated, and not getting out there and forming relationships with content producers. But this is the number one thing that will open doors for you in the industry.

Many editors are terrified of that kind of thing, but something that helped me was realising that most producers WANT to meet and create relationships with creatives.

Producers want to help you and support your journey, if they believe it will be a mutually beneficial relationship. And it doesn't have to be as difficult as cold calling.

The most valuable networking relationships are people who know what you are like to work with in the room, or people who are one or two degrees removed from that.

So, if you focus your efforts on building and maintaining relationships with people you have worked with, as well as utilising and expanding out into their contact base, that makes it somewhat more manageable. And also more likely to yield positive results.

Thanks Jay, so very much for sharing all this wisdom!

So remember, you can do it and cut daily.