Cannes Silver Lion Winning Editor On Editing Commercials

By Anshul Joshi. Posted on April 28, 2015

Editing commercials is one of the most challenging and exciting professions. However not much is known about the why’s and how’s of this creatively challenging role. With an intent to help aspiring editors know more about the same, Anshul Joshi  recently interviewed the multiple award winning editor Priyank Prem Kumar. Priyank is all of 24 years old and has edited award winning commercials for Nike, Microsoft Lumia and other brands. He has won the Silver Lion At Cannes 2014 and Gold Award at Spikes Asia 2014 amongst other awards.

Published below are some excerpts from the interview.

1. Did You Always Want To Be A Commercial Editor?

(Laughs) To be honest, I didn't really know that I was a commercial editor till I saw a commercial I worked on, play on TV. I went to the Symbiosis Institute Of Design, Pune wherein I did a communication design course and when we had to make films for our courses, I learnt about cinematography, editing and writing through the faculty who were very good and were from FTII and JJ School of Arts. All through the design school I was interested in every bit of film making, but I was always inclined towards writing and editing.

Towards the end of college, I was pretty sure that I wanted to get into editing. I worked in Mumbai for a couple of years, and got an opportunity to  work with some really great people at Babble Fish Productions (a part of Only Much Louder) and Studio Eeksaurus, before shifting to Bangalore. All along I tried to work on various projects ranging from television shows to music videos and commercials. With the pace at which our industry moves,everything is like a blur, and somewhere along the way I became a commercial editor.

2. Your Silver Cannes Lion Winning Nike 'Make Every Yard Count' Commercial Seems To Have A Lot Of Actual Footage Compiled. How Did You Manage To Achieve This?

The Nike Make Every Yard Count film was a crazy project. The raw footage had over 200,000 images. And I did go through most of it​, along with Senthil Kumar (Director), Atul Kattukaran and Anup Kattukaran (founders of 1st December Films) ​before I started editing it. But once I finished a rough cut, I had others comb through all the images, and short list the best images for me to go through and add to the edit wherever necessary. Generally, I prefer to see all the footage at least once so that I can make any notes that I feel are relevant to the film. But usually the best takes will be sorted out first and compiled into the line up before I go through anything else, since time is of utmost priority.

3. With Regards To The Same Commercial - Did You Do Your First Cut To A Music / FX Bed?

​Yes! I did cut to a rough music track. The music was composed by the brilliant Dhruv Ghanekar . So for the initial edit I used an earlier track composed by him, as a reference. I used a rough track so that I could get the pacing for the film right, making rough cuts in the audio wherever needed. Then we gave the edited version to Dhruv so that he could compose a new track for the film.

4. For The Lumia Ad, You Had To Match Cut On Action Across Scenes. Did You Advise Them On Editing During The Pre-production? Were There Any Edits In The Ad That You Came Up With On The Editing Table?

​I generally prefer to sit on the pre-production​ of all the films I edit. For Nike as well as Lumia, we made scratch films first. For Lumia especially the scratch film was quite detailed in terms of the match cuts. We used stand in models and made sure we had almost all the actions and timing for each shot as close to the final as possible. The scratch film just took a day to make, and it helped us a lot in making the final shoot a lot smoother to execute.

Although how much ever you plan, after seeing the final footage, there will usually be some edits you want to add which would vary from the initial script. If the director/agency/client sees that the edit you  have added actually adds some value to the film, they would always be happy to retain it.

5. So Now Are You A 'Commercial Specialist'?

A majority of the work coming to me now are commercials. But every now and then some fun projects pop up, and I don't really care if they are paid projects or not. If it's creatively engaging or something I haven't done before, I don't need any convincing to take it up. So a few months ago while I was working on a commercial, I got approached by Varun Agarwal (author and entrepreneur) who wanted to make a music video for a character he had created named as Anu Aunty.

I was really amused by the concept. The 'Forced Engineering' topic is not unique, but it's definitely something a lot of people still identify with. So I immediately took it up and I didn't mind balancing the commercial and the music video Anu Aunty to deliver both films for their respective launch dates. Not to mention I laughed a lot while watching the rushes, so it was a lot of fun.

6. What Editing Software Do You Use? And Which Would You Prefer Over Others?

I don't really have a preference anymore. I edited the Nike and Microsoft Lumia commercials on Premiere Pro. While the Star Sports Women's Day commercial was done on FCP 7 and Anu Aunty on FCP X. I am a freelancer and often have to work on different softwares that are available in different studios. So whatever I'm using, I always map the keyboard shortcuts to FCP 7 and after that I'm good to go. I did however find that I was far more comfortable using Premiere Pro,FCP 7 or even Media Composer compared to FCP X. The latter's lack of track based editing may have advantages, but it's definitely something I need to get used to before I use it on larger projects.

7. Can You Take Us Through Your Commercial Editing Workflow?

Personally I request that the footage be organised as per the day (Day 1,Day 2,etc.) and then by camera workflow schedule (Camera A, Camera B, etc.). I have often observed that directors remember that they took the 'shot x on day 2' or 'shot y on day 1', so it's just easier to find takes that they liked. Then the assistants will have a sheet with all the best takes written down, and the first line up is made using these best takes. That really helps with getting an idea about how well the story has come through. After that initial line up, we get down to the really gruelling task of trying different combinations of the shots, depending on the emotion of the actors and the rhythm in every shot. I think I read somewhere that the edit is like the final rewrite of the script and I really find that to be true.

8. Are You Allowed To Work On Your Own Or Is The Director Present From Day One Of The Edit?

I have been really lucky to work with directors who always give me a lot of freedom. For the first cut I always have the room to myself (along with an assistant). I think this really helps you get accustomed with the rushes, and this is the time you need to take to form your own opinions about the shots.

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9. How Much Does The Final Commercial Change From Your First Cut?

Well, it depends a lot on the director, client and the agency. The first back and forth between the agency and the production house would take care of most aspects regarding branding and story. This is where the edit has the most potential to change. I've learnt to not get attached to the first cut, as there definitely will be changes at the earlier stages of the film (practically speaking), but I have not had too much trouble so far. After the presentation to the client, if there isn't much feedback from the legal team, there will be a few tweaks here and there and we're good to release it on air.

10. How Long Does It Take You To Edit Your Promos? Are Overnights Common?

On average 2 days for the first cut (Nike "Make Every Yard Count" is an exception). ​Then it depends on the revisions, which can range from another two days to a week. Overnights used to be very common, but it has started to get better.

11. How Much Do Editors Get Paid For Cutting A Promo?

​The pay can range from around Rs. 30,000 to above Rs. 1.5 Lakhs. The amount of effort and time involved plays a big part in deciding how much to charge. But there's never a single flat fee that can be charged due to the complicated nature of our work.

12. You Seem To Be A Freelancer. How Does A Freelancer Get Jobs In The Industry?

Being a freelancer is not easy. You have to constantly market yourself and your work. I began as an employee and only took the freelancer route once I had enough projects coming my way through several contacts. ​If anyone is looking to go the freelancer route, make sure your work is out there. Check out mandy.com or other similar websites. And, of course, keep making films.

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13. Your Profile Reads Editor, Filmmaker - What Films Have You Made?

Hahaha! The films I'm making are currently in production. It takes a little more time than usual, as I have to do it in between editing other projects. I think it's a good idea to experiment with film making in general even though you maybe a cinematographer or editor etc.

14. Do You Think It Makes Sense For Editors To Know Other Softwares Outside Of Editing?

That's really subjective. The kind of softwares available out there are really powerful and in depth. I myself prefer Premiere Pro at the moment because it's very well integrated with After Effects for basic compositing or colour work. Blackmagic is releasing a powerful edit and colour grade software in one. The lines between specialised software are slowly blurring, so it would definitely help that you have some idea of what they are capable of, instead of turning a blind eye.

15. What Does The Future Hold For You?

I hope to develop some original content. A few months ago I was at an artist's residency in Italy called Fabrica which is run by the Benetton group. I showed them a few rough edits of a mini series I'm working on, based in Bangalore. And they were quite interested in seeing the average life of an Indian in a metro city. So I want to actually find time to get into longer formats. Long formats are beautiful for audiences to get connected to your characters. Though commercials will always be the fun and fierce aspect of film making.

To see more of Priyank's work or to get in touch with him you can check out his website at www.ppk.co.in


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