A year on from Oscar winning film The Silent Child, another FCPX edited entry called Skin is in the last nominees for the 2019 best live action short film. Ronny Courtens spent time with the editor, Yuval Orr.
A small supermarket in a blue collar town, a black man smiles at a 10-year old white boy across the checkout aisle. This innocuous moment sends two hate filled gangs into a ruthless war that ends with a shocking backlash.
That's the resume for "Skin", a beautiful and shocking short movie which has been nominated in the Best Live Action Short Film category of the 91st Academy Awards. The movie, which has an amazing cast, was directed by Guy Nattiv and edited on FCPX by Yuval Orr, a well-known Fiction and Documentary feature editor in Israel. Here's the official trailer:
The trailer does not reveal the totally unexpected plot of the story but Yuval kindly gave us a preview of the entire movie, and I must say it does not surprise me that this production has been nominated for an Oscar. So we decided to have a chat with the editor and talk about his work with FCPX.
Yuval Orr: I am 45 years old and I decided that I would be studying cinema when I was very young.
I saw a movie on VHS during the Bar Mitswa of a friend, and that’s when I told my parents that I wanted to make movies when I was older. So I studied film at Camera Obscura, which was a very good film school in Israel at that time.
I started editing professionally in 2001. I have edited a lot of documentaries, series for the Israeli TV, feature films and shorts.
I work with a lot of directors, one of the most famous ones is multi award-winning director Amos Gitai.
How did you get involved in Skin?
Sharon Maymon, who is a well known director, had an idea for a film that only can happen in the US. So he called Guy Nattiv, and they wrote it together.
Guy studied with me in the same class at film school. We have been working together for years and now he lives in L.A. The short film we had to produce for our final terms won the Berlin Film Festival and we decided to make a short every few years for fun. So he called me to ask if I wanted to edit this movie.
For a short movie, Skin has quite an impressive cast.
Guy’s wife, Jamie Ray Newman, is a Hollywood actress and the producer of the movie. She knows everybody there, so he was able to get very good actors for this movie. Just to name a few: Jonathan Tucker (who starred in major Hollywood productions such as Hostage, The Ruins, Parentdom, Kingdom, Westworld...); Danielle McDonald (Glee, American Horror Story, Pretty Little Liars); Jackson Robert Scott (IT, The Prodigy) and Ashley Thomas (Black Mirror, Top Boy, Salvation...).
Some of them are also in the cast of the feature film with the same name, also directed by Guy, that recently won the Toronto Festival. The feature film will make its European premiere in 2019 at The Berlin Film Festival, and it was acquired by A24 for distribution in late 2019.
Is the short film literally a short version of the feature film?
No, both films are based on racism but they are different. The feature film tells the true story of Bryon Widner, a notorious and extremely violent white supremacist who ended up rejecting the racist movement. The short movie has a completely different plot line, and a quite a surprising one.
You cut all your work in FCP X. Why do you like it so much?
I actually started editing on Premiere in the first years, then I went to Avid. But I have ADHD, so I’m not very comfortable with bloated interfaces. That’s why I finally fell in love with the simplicity and the speed of Final Cut.
All of my movies have been edited on Final Cut: 15 documentaries, 7-8 feature films, some tv-series, and a lot of shorts and commercials. I started using Final Cut Pro X from the start and I have been cutting all my movies in FCPX since the day it was released, including the four latest feature films of Amos Gitai. Skin is a small movie, but on the features of Gitai I have like, you know, millions of events.
Right click for larger images)
When FCPX came out, I immediately saw that this was a program for me. I downloaded it and I said “Wow, this is exactly how you should edit”. So for me it was like, I fell in love with it from the first day. I did not care what other people said about it, I could do everything I wanted with it.
And I found a lot of help and information online because FCPX has a very large and very friendly community. FCP.co is actually one of my favourite sites.
You know, I have moved a lot of people from Avid or Premiere to Final Cut in Israel. They look at how I work and they say “this is amazing, how do you do this”? Final Cut Pro X users are a fast-growing community in Israel.
Tell us something more about your editing setup
Housing is so expensive now in Israel that I decided not to rent another place for my studio. Instead, I have this huge apartment with two floors, one for me and one for my studio.
I have a 2013 3.5 Ghz 6-core MacPro with 32 GB of RAM and the dual AMD D500 GPU. I also have an older Blackmagic video card. I have two Dell Ultrasharp 718Q 4K monitors, an HD reference monitor from Sony, an LG tv client monitor, and for audio I use a TC Electronic Post Production setup. I use a Promise R6 Raid for storage at this time. But I’m waiting for the new MacPro to build my setup again from scratch and then would love to buy a JellyFish for my new studio.
What kind of workflows did you use to edit Skin?
They shot in L.A. for 7 days, actually five days and two extra days. They shot with ARRI Alexa in ProRes 4444. Then they came here to Israel, they brought the hard drive with all the media and I ingested the clips in FCPX. I always ingest and organise the clips myself because this makes me more familiar with the footage before I start editing.
I used Sync-N-Link to sync the external audio with the ARRI footage and everything was like... perfect. Thanks to the iXML in FCPX, all audio channels got labeled correctly upon import. I really had no issues with video or audio. And I used Shot Notes X to get the script notes from the programs they used on set into FCPX, it also went flawlessly.
I created one library for my footage called Materials, and I put everything in there. Once the clips were synced with Sync-N-Link, I created another library with different Events for Day 1 Sync, Day 2 sync, music, sound effects, Projects, VFX...
Then I started working through the footage. I always use Favorites to mark the best pieces, then I switch my view to just show the Favorites and I start editing based on my pre-selects. But sometimes I also come back to All Media to check if there's something extra that I can use or that works better. I worked in REC 709, I did not use any LUT for the edit. The clips were recorded in 3200x1800 format, so I applied a 2:4:1 Letterbox filter from Alex4D.
The actors were so good that I actually only had good takes. I just needed to decide which one was the best, which is a great luxury. It’s not always like this, the Director of Photography on this movie was amazing.
After I had been working a few days on myself, Guy came in for a few hours to discuss the finished parts. We made changes, we tried out a few things, and then I started working again for another few days, etc... Sometimes, when Guy was not in Tel Aviv, we just connected over Skype to go through the edit.
I cut the movie in 10 days. The final edit was 22 minutes and we needed to shorten it to 20 minutes to comply with the specifications of the festivals.
Shortening the film was actually harder than making it. And a little side-story: we also wanted to screen the movie in Cannes, but they required a 15-minute version. We did it but then we realised it ruined the story, so we decided not to send the short to Cannes at all.
The sound design was done by Ronen Nagel, who is one of the best sound designers in Israel. He uses ProTools, so I gave him an H.264 reference video along with an AFF from X2Pro and it worked perfectly from the start. I have had some issues with X2Pro before, especially with clips that had different frame rates, but this time everything was great.
I have worked with Ronen many times before, and after a while you know exactly how the sound designer wants to receive the project.
The trick is to turn off all unused channels in the Audio Inspector so that they won’t clutter up the UI in ProTools or Logic Pro X. Then check and adjust the channel figuration for all the audio, in particular making sure that clips are correctly tagged as stereo or dual mono. Next, you need to assign Audio Roles and Subroles (if you haven't already done this during the edit). This is the key step in the process.
Finally, use the Timeline Index to check and adjust these Role assignments as needed. If you have correctly prepared your workflow, you will see that everything is properly tagged and organised in your DAW, ready for mixing and sweetening. Also, be aware that you need the full version of X2Pro to make things work correctly, especially when your audio is quite complex.
The final grade was done at Technicolor in Los Angeles. I exported an FCPX XML plus a regular XML using XtoCC, plus an EDL made with EDL-X. I don't know what they used in the end, but I gave them everything and there were no issues at all.
When the edit was completed, I used Worx4 X to archive the project and create some space on my drives. I like to buy programs that help me with my work. I also bought Cinema Grade now, even if I don’t need it fully because I’m not a colourist. But it’s an amazing application.
For now, I’m using Vimeo to collaborate with my directors and producers but I want to start working with Frame io. The problem is that many directors and producers are old-school and they don’t know how to use these things. But I will try.
What are the best features in FCPX for your work?
First of all, the look. That’s very personal, but I love modern aesthetics. For me, the UI in FCPX is very easy to manage. It’s simple and clean, but there is a tremendous amount of power under the hood. And, most importantly, I like the speed. As an example, I once edited a series on Avid a year ago and it was crazy for me. I did not like it at all. It was so hard, like, things that I’m doing with one step in FCPX took me 10 steps in Avid. And we regularly needed an engineer to come in to solve some technical problems. I don’t like that because I’m a creative editor and I don’t want to be interrupted by technical issues.
With FCPX, I don’t need to bother with this at all. I can concentrate on the story, so it’s great for me. And everything is so easy. The directors or producers ask me to export a scene for Vimeo, and a few minutes later they have it. I don’t need to think about the program, it just works.
What I also like a lot about FCPX is that you can use many different methods to achieve what you want. Because I’m not technical at all, I don’t always do things the “right” way. I like to play with different options, and I often discover new ways of doing things that are not necessarily in the manual. But it always works for me.
How satisfied are you personally with Skin?
You know, generally, I don't like my movies when they first come out. I am only satisfied when I watch them a few years later to make a show reel or things like that, and then I say “Wow, that looks great”. But with this one, I had a really good feeling from start to end. And it has been very well received from the beginning. We won at the “Festival du court-métrage de Clermont-Ferrand” and at the San José International Short Film Festival just to name a few.
And finally we won the HollyShorts Film Festival, which qualified the movie for the Academy Awards. We got into the final 20 and now we are in the final 5. Another short we made, “Strangers”, won at Sundance in 2003 and qualified to the last 10 for the Academy Awards. So now we are closing the circle. We didn't go up to the last five then, now we got there.
How did it feel when you heard that Skin has been nominated for an Oscar?
Absolutely great! Guy and Jamie Ray were watching the announcement of the Nominees in L.A. while we were following them in Tel Aviv. We were eating our nails. And the relief when you hear that your movie has made it to the final 5 is simply indescribable. We actually recorded our reactions live:
One year after "Silent Child" won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2018 Academy Awards, another short movie made with FCPX gets an Oscar Nomination. "Skin" was cut by a renowned feature editor who edits all his movies with Final Cut Pro, and it was finished in high-end post houses in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. As Yuval said, the handovers to audio post and final grading were flawless. We wish Yuval and Guy and the entire team from "Skin" all the best at the Awards!
©2019 Ronny Courtens/FCP.CO