Editing with Sreejith Sarang

This is the first post in an upcoming series during the lockdown. Since we are all staying in and trying to interact through social media, we thought this would be a good approach to get some technical conversations started.


The first time I met Sreejith was in a parking lot. True story.

Jakes picked me up from a shady lodge in Chennai and we decided to catch up for lunch. At that point, the D16 trailer was cut and they were waiting for distributors. I remember jumping into the car and Sreejith in the front seat. The first thing that struck me about him was his calmness. He was friendly but also reserved. I later found out that Sreejith was the reason Jakes came back to work on movies post the gaming industry. We ended up going to a buffet in Chennai and it was pretty amazing. After this, we got back in the car and for the first time, he showed me his work. Well, it was all of their work. Jakes, Sachin, Sujith, Sreejith. I knew I had a team on my hand. (I didn’t get to work with Sujith this time around, but that’s on the table.) I did my entire post in Chennai with this team and we became close friends. More like brothers. Today, I know that I can dream big cause I have these guys on my side.

OK. Enough mushy stuff. Let’s get to the details. We picked out a few questions from you and here are the answers.

1. Software. Which software do you use and how important is it to be technically savvy?

Software is just a tool. It doesn’t matter which software we use. At the end of the day, storytelling matters. How effectively we tell the story to the audience. These days people use AVID, FCP and Premiere Pro for film editing. It’s all depends upon your ease with the software.

D16 and Naragasuran I used FCP 7.

From Ranam I started using Adobe and continued editing movies like Taxiwalla, Dear Comrade, Meeku Mathrame Cheptha, Naan Sirithal, Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, Mafia and a bilingual (Telugu/Tamil) produced by Dreamwarrior Pictures.

2. Why did you switch to Premiere Pro?

The interface is similar to FCP7

Premiere Pro supports all modern codecs and cameras. In fact, Premiere can handle projects larger than 6K and Adobe is currently testing 8K with a few customers.

A big benefit to Premiere is that we don’t need to spend time rendering. That’s the major task in post-production. It saves so much time and was the biggest reason for the transition.

3. Tell us about your process/workflow.

We associate with the director in the pre-production stage and discuss the script and its screenplay structure. Before production, we technicians will be thorough with the content. While shooting, we get the footage in parallel and do a rough cut. At the end of the shoot, we will have a rough timeline. Once the shoot is over, I sit with the director for a couple of weeks and do the tweaks.

We edit all the footage to be used in dubbing (if not sync sound) and then once we have the dubbed version, we go for a final trim.

For the final trim, I concentrate more on content structure and pacing, the space for the score, audience engagement, scene to scene flow, sound design, identifying content repetition. We collaborate a lot with the music director, VFX team and sound design team at this point. Lot’s of back and forths and trims. Once we are all done figuring out our parts, we get to a final cut. Then the movie goes to the final score, sound design, and DI. This is the ideal process. (He laughs)

4. Who makes the call on the final cut of the film?

A mutual understanding between the director, producer, and editor is very important. In our industry, the editor plays an important role in this because his job is not only to edit a movie but to balance perspectives from the director and producers. In some situations, the director’s perspective while writing will be different after we cut the scene. It depends upon the practical difficulties they faced during the shoot. Some directors I worked with will be very fond of their scenes and it takes some time to convince them to alter sequence for clarity. Lots of patience needed sometimes. (He laughs again. I’m not going to ask him why.)

The same thing is applicable to producers. Their main concern will be the length of the movie and presenting an engaging film to the audience. During editing, while keeping all these factors in my mind, I still try to focus just on the content and how to best tell each story. At the end of the day, if I can justify my cut, then it will be easier to convince the director and producer.

So I think there is a compromise from all sides to get to the final content. All egos aside, if we focus on what is right for each individual film’s aesthetic, then we can aim to achieve a common ground and a presentable final cut.

5. Spot Editing

Spot editing is just to see the flow of the footage during production. A sanity check. So in parallel, they will be editing (very rough cut) in the spot. This is especially useful for songs and action sequences. I personally don’t use that cut for the final editing.

It is just a reference. But a very big privilege. Think about it. Think about the past. The clarity they had during those days was amazing.Precision was necessary since they didn’t have the liberty of technology. For example take movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Benhur, Singin in the Rain, Physco, Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind etc. PLEASE revisit the way they made these movies. Awesome it was!!! I personally want all of us to build that kind of clarity and try to learn the basic aesthetics and improve our sensibilities. Let’s keep learning and updating ourselves 🙂 And if spot editing helps with this, so be it.

6. Cutting brutally. How do you get rid of some of your favorite scenes?

“Write without fear and edit without mercy”
I personally love this quote. No attachment to your footage. This relates to our life as well. It’s philosophical. End of the day it’s a product for our audience. They should enjoy the movie. We are not gonna own it. It’s for them. So never ever love your footage. What the script demands, keep it or else cut it.

As an editor, we have to make the director understand this as well. We should keep maturing. Both as creatives and people. Sometimes if things go wrong, don’t get worried. Learn from it! For me, success and failures are the same. Balance it well to survive. Keep learning and gaining experiences. After some extent, you will go into a zone where this decision will be easy to make. It needs lots of patience and clarity. Experience speaks. (He smiles)

(Didn’t I tell you this guy was calm?)

7. Regardless of experience, what is one common mistake, editors make?

No one is perfect in this. It’s a team effort. But there are instances things can turn into a blame game. So as an editor we should be very careful in approaching and working (edit) on the script. Sometimes, I cut for multiple perspectives. Every now and then, the timeline may hold the wrong perspective and this transitions into many iterations. I guess the key is to make sure the checks are done from the beginning and the handoffs are done right during collaborations. Sometimes though, such mistakes have ended up in blessings as well. It gives a new perspective to the collaborators.

Sreejith Sarang – Editor and Colorist

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