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December 26, 2014
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Back to school


“Editing, after all, is an art achieved largely by subtraction, by a negation of all of those elements that do not serve the final product.”

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m preparing for my upcoming class at New York University as an adjunct professor. It’s the third time I’ve assembled a lecture about the role of an editor, and I glance briefly over my previous notes: inspiring quotes about the art of editing, a few examples of famously edited scenes, and a brief bio of my own work.

Last semester ended decently, not spectacularly. Honestly, I struggled a bit with the disciplinary parts of the class (kids today with their Facebook, phones and distractions); it was surprisingly hard to get them to actually do the editing work necessary to have a proper conversation about the process.

Their final screenings were fine, though none of the films were as good as they could have been (the mark of an excellent edit). I had given out decent grades (nothing lower than a C+), but in retrospect I wondered if I should have been harder on them. I found it impossible to separate the inherent talent that many of the students possessed from their lackluster performance in the class.

I had known my evaluations were coming; late in the semester I had left class early and allowed my teaching assistant to pass out the anonymous questionnaires for the students to fill out. I was never allowed to see them, talk about them, or even touch them. This was the students’ chance at revenge, their chance to tell the university what I’ve been up to, to give me my own grade.

Time had passed, and life had moved on, and I wasn’t thinking about those pesky evaluations until an e-mail buzzed into my inbox: “Last semester’s evaluations.”

I quickly downloaded it. It popped open.

The first page was a graph, and the first thing I realized was that only six (out of 10) students had actually filled it out. Not sure if that’s good or bad. The students were split down the middle on whether they would recommend the course to a friend. Eeesh, not a great start.

How many would recommend me as a professor? Five to one would not recommend. A little harsh, I thought, but not bad.

Below the graph was their actual handwritten responses. I knew that it was going to be impossible for me not to take their responses personally. Here goes...

A few of them wanted me to be more prepared. Show more of my own work. More guests. Less time for them editing. “Not sure this class is worth all the $$,” one had written. “Professor gives excellent feedback,” another angel wrote. (It actually felt strangely similar to getting notes on a film.) Their sentiments were unexpected, but many rang true.

The goal this semester is to be better prepared, less friendly and more professor-ly.

I glance over my new syllabus. I am teaching Intro to Editing. (Last year I taught Intermediate Editing). Beyond the obvious differences in the difficulty level of the class this semester, I would not be assigning a text book but instead a “Course Packet.” (Basically a homemade book, printed at one of the many copy shops scattered around the campus.)

I scan the list of articles that would make up the packet. Mostly interviews with famous editors, many of them I’ve read before, a few I haven’t.

“Professor could be more prepared,” flashed through my mind. My class starts this week, how would I get this course packet in time to review?

I did some Googling and found the first article online; unfortunately it was the whole book, but I could easily download it. Awesome, I thought, then $15. Dammit. It’s important, I thought to myself, plus it’s probably a good book. Click. My phone buzzed an e-mail, the confirmation of the purchase. I downloaded the book and was just settling into reading it when my phone buzzed again.

An e-mail from my NYU supervisor. Here’s a link to download the first three articles from your course packet. A copy will be in your mailbox this week.

So much for being prepared, I thought as I began to read, reminded that patience is also something to keep in mind.