Finding A New Path: A Miniflix Interview With Editor Nitzan Saar
Professional Editor Nitzan Saar talks editing for several different mediums, the short film scene in Israel and the power of female collaboration.
Nitzan is a shining example of an artist who puts no limitations on what medium or type of project she is capable of delivering for. She started as a professional editor in her home country of Israel, but eventually moved to Los Angeles where she has since collaborated on short films, feature films, documentaries of varying length, music videos, commercials, art installations and more. Even though she’s had her fair share of obstacles along the way (including those who have tried to put her down or judge her abilities), her story has ultimately been one of perseverance and finding solace in who she is. One of the biggest turning points came during the shoot of 6: An Unbirth, a visual album she was helping edit for the singer-songwriter Natalita. She talks about what it was like to find community in these other creative female voices later in the interview.
Nitzan also talks with Miniflix about film school culture in Israel, why documentary film is an editor’s best friend and the very unique editing process behind 6: An Unbirth.
Miniflix Interviewer: When did you decide that you wanted to be an editor? Did you try your hand at any other type of filmmaking positions?
Nitzan Saar: Growing up in Israel, I had to take a few years off [after high school] to go to the army and travel. But when I finished all that and decided to go to school, I definitely went straight to film school. I already knew I wanted to be an editor, so I tried to edit as much as I could in film school [Minshar School of Art, Tel Aviv]. I did try some other things, such as doing documentaries as a director, and also tried my hand at fiction. But overall, I think I was always better at editing. When I finished school, I knew that’s what I was going to do.
Miniflix: How did you grow most as an editor while at film school?
Nitzan: It’s funny, in film school you see everyone’s mistakes, including your own. When you see each other’s mistakes, you try your best to fix them. There’s something about the intensity of film school, the fact that you have to perform all of the roles: directing, producing, editing and so on. I think it’s a good way to gain the skills better and re-understand how to approach problems.
Later on, you get to real life and start dealing with directors and clients…it’s a whole different thing. But there’s something about the intensity of a film program making you try everything that’s very important for filmmakers.
M: What was your first paid editing job and how did you get it?
N: I can’t exactly remember…but I feel like I had two career transitions. I had one after film school, which was in Tel Aviv, Israel. The second one was when I moved to Los Angeles. As for the first transition, I always went straight for the editing projects. I felt confident as an assistant editor, but I never felt that my skills were really on display, or shining, in that position.
By the time I’d moved to Los Angeles, my previous professional work didn’t really interest anyone here and not having higher education in the U.S. was seen as a problem for some. So I still stuck with the path of editing, mostly short films and music videos. Later on, I worked [and still am working] on features and documentaries.
M: You edit for many different mediums and types of projects (films, music videos, art installations). Does each one require a different way of thinking, or do you approach them all in the same way?
N: It’s definitely very, very different each time. But it is true that whatever I’m learning in a documentary project definitely applies to other areas, like commercials. But it’s always a different process. I always need to find a new workflow; it’s never the same. I wish it was in a way, but I just want to approach each project in the best way I can. It could be partly due to the fact that the projects I take on are always so different from one another. But even going from one documentary to another, there’s just so many different ways to arrange the footage and attack the story. The process is always dependant on the project.
No matter what you’re working on, it’s always good to have your own time with the arrangement of footage, despite the work of the assistant editor. I feel that I always need to find a new path, new workflow that will transfer the project to be my playground. It’s just the way it is for me; I’ve finally started to accept that now.
M: You have edited for both narrative films and documentary films. What’s one major difference between the two when it comes to your strategy?
N: In many ways, the difference doesn’t matter. But it is true that you have many more options and opportunities as an editor of documentaries. You have so much more freedom to create new small stories out of the larger narrative. You usually have more footage in which to look for those details to support the story.
I have a much bigger effect on the script in documentary than in fiction film. With documentaries, they’re always shooting while you edit. I’ve never had a documentary project where they weren’t shooting in the middle of editing. Editors get into those projects much earlier than fiction films. In fiction, there’s less overall sessions with the director because it’s more about re-creating the script that already exists. An editing project in documentary becomes a lot like creative writing in a way.
Otherwise, the larger goal is the same: get the best out of the footage you have in order to tell the story.
M: What was the genesis of 6: An Ubirth? How did it go from idea to screen?
N: That was a very unique workflow. It was a visual album, but part of the project already existed before I got on board. Then only afterward did Natalita [singer-songwriter-musician of 6: An Unbirth] and Riley Teahan, the project’s director, decide to make it a visual album. They started shooting it at an artist’s retreat. The whole thing really began in creative improvisation. And the collaboration between people was so big that everyone involved in the project was really able to bring themselves and their personality to the shoot.
I got involved not too long after the start of the first shoot. I’d already worked with Natalita before this, so when they told me about the new project, I was obviously very excited. I ended up coming down to New Orleans and editing four of the final six videos in the album.
The way that we started, because we didn’t have a lot of time, was by striking on three videos all at the same time. Now, that’s a lot. Here’s what the first editing session looked like. Myself, Natalita and Riley all opened up our own versions of Premiere at the same time and started to work on a different video. Any moment we ever got stuck, even for a little bit, we would all switch computers and continue where the other stopped.
So I was editing as they were shooting, and slowly putting together the narrative and the plot of the overall visual album. Eventually, I would take all the footage with me back to Los Angeles, edit the videos shot so far according to the script we had decided on, and give the project its meat, blood and spirit.
M: Wow. Sounds like a very unique process.
N: This was also my first project working with almost exclusively women. I’d never worked on something before where the DP, the director, and so on were all female. That was very exciting for me and has since changed much about how I work today.
M: In what ways has that experience changed you?
N: Ever since this project, I feel more comfortable in sharing my opinion. I also feel more powerful and more free to do my real work. After seeing how the kind of collaboration that happened in Unbirth really brought the best out of everybody, I try to bring that into my new projects.
M: That’s great. It is so true that the more confident and empowered you feel in a certain project, the better the results of your work will be in the end. Daring to be bold and creative, without fear of shame or judgement, is such a key part of any female artist’s journey.
N: It’s interesting you say that, because beforehand I always felt like people around me didn’t believe in my technical abilities. I felt that many men in my chosen career, in particular, were putting me down for that perception they had of me. In Unbirth, none of this was even a question. After all, the technical stuff just comes down to tools. I do believe in my technical skills now, but in Unbirth, I never felt any lack of confidence in my ability to edit, not even for a minute. That was very empowering.
M: What is the short film culture like in Israel? How is it both different and the same as the United States?
N: I feel that short films are big in Israel, and I think there’s a couple of reasons for it. First, Israel is a tiny place and we have fourteen film schools. This naturally creates a lot of short films. Second, in Israel it’s extremely hard to get a budget for your film. This is because most film budgets are government-funded and the competition is huge. There are so many talented filmmakers in Israel, but there’s only so much money to go around. So, for many features that get made, especially any coming from young directors, they start as a short film. Short films are quite a big industry in Israel. Even if you’re a well-known filmmaker, it’s common to still have to create short films to sell your feature project.
Short films are a great way to show your plot, show your narrative and show that you can execute your idea in a larger project.
M: Anything else you’d like to share about editing and short films in general?
N: Yes, I’d say that sometimes editing short films is harder than editing features. In so many ways you are limited. The time is so short, so you have to say so much in one frame, one shot. You have to speak so many languages. I hope I can continue editing short films through my career. It’s really great exercise for my own personal workflow.
You can find more of Nitzan‘s editing at: http://www.nitzansaar.com/