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How I Work: Jeff Bell, Lead Editor

Position: Lead Editor

One word that best describes how you work: Organized

Current mobile device: iPhone 6

Current computer: Custom built PC running Windows 10 (surprisingly it’s good)

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

3DS Max, Celtx, and Spotify are the three biggest. I’ve been actively using 3DSMax (an industry standard 3D modeling program) for close to 20 years now and it’s an amazing piece of software. I’m not the type of 3D modeler to build funny looking characters or recreate a hyper-realistic version of Walter White’s face from “Breaking Bad”. Instead I’ll accurately model your living room, right down to the two month old magazines sitting on your coffee table. Recreating a real world space in 3D with close attention to details, is strangely relaxing to me.

Celtx has been my go-to software for writing the screenplays to any of the short films or audio dramas I’ve created over the years. While it’s a little clunky in spots, it’s still a fairly well versatile piece of software that makes writing scripts a breeze. It takes next to no time to create a new script and start writing, which is a must when you have an idea that can leave your head at any moment.

Spotify feels pretty self-explanatory. I’m one of those guys that likes to have music playing while I work. It helps me concentrate on the task at hand and sort of block out the rest of the world. If I need to write, it’s movie scores and instrumental tracks. If I need to do 3D modeling, it’s the latest from a string of Orchestral Rock bands. If I need to relax after a long week, it’s smooth jazz. I’ve been using it for years now and I won’t lie, the $10 a month for unlimited playback and no-ads is hands down the best monthly charge I have (Dear Spotify, this was not a paid advertisement BUT if you like what you see, contact me, I’ll gladly do more for you in exchange for free monthly Premium).

What’s your workspace setup like?

I’m very organized when it comes to how things are set up. I’m one of those people that has a place for everything and when it’s not there, it’s weird to me. My desk is one of those that you can sit or stand at (for those days where I’m antsy and pacing is necessary for me to finish an edit). Two monitors, one 4k and the other old school 1920×1080, and a 4k TV on the wall for client edits. The best feature are my high quality speakers which allow me to hear every conceivable sound while doing sound design for the occasional projects. Behind me sits a couch and two desks for when clients come in. We like them to feel comfortable, almost like they’re at a movie theater. Other than that, there are two floor lamps but those are only for decoration as you shall not have lights on while the editor is editing! (No seriously, I don’t like overhead lights on. I’m kind of a vampire like that.)

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

Honestly, the shortcuts I’ve created in my editing software for tasks I do repeatedly all day long. I know, ACTUAL shortcuts are my best time-saving shortcuts. I’ll elaborate a bit more: during any given edit, there’s a ton of cutting, trimming, sliding footage around, disabling clips, etc that get done. These tasks, if you were to manually click the corresponding buttons, drastically slows the editing process. Now I’m not talking saving hours and hours of time a day by creating the shortcuts, but whatever it takes to keep the groove and flow of the editing process going, I’m all for.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

As tech savvy as I am, I’m very old school when it comes to this. I’m a post-it’s and whiteboard guy. At any given time, I’ll have a row of post-it notes attached to the bottom of my monitors that breakdown notes/comments/thoughts/info about each project I’m currently working on. When the project is done, the post-it’s get junked. Simple as that. The whiteboard is for everyone else to know where I’m at with any given project. It shows what’s on the schedule and the varying levels of completion that they’re at. Simple, to the point, and I don’t have to manually remember (because who likes to actually remember things these days, amirite?)

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My Amazon FireTV box at home. All of the media I consume goes through that. I have a personal server of content I’ve acquired over the years, as well as my Netflix/Amazon Video/Hulu/Spotify accounts that all pull through it. It’s my media server, source of entertainment, and educational tool all in one (YouTube man…teaches you amazing things sometimes…)

Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?

I’m always working on something. Truthfully, the last time I was without some kind of project, was probably Sophomore year of High School. Right now, I have an audio drama I’m developing, another I’m trying to develop a new episode for, updating an ongoing “encyclopedia” dedicated to the characters and stories I’ve created, a 40-minute “short” I’m co-writing with a friend, a re-edit of the 2nd and 3rd “Pirates of the Caribbean” films to make one single “good” movie, and a podcast where we watch and discuss the animated theatrically released movies by Disney (find it here!). I don’t know what it’s like to not be working on something and most times when I finish one project, I mentally check it off my list and move onto one of the others with only a moment to breath between them. It’s exhausting.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

Understanding the unspoken truths about individuals. I’ll clarify: I spent years in retail and customer service and during that time, I refined my ability to quickly read people based on their actions or tone of voice. Five minutes with a stranger and I’m able to know what I can and cannot joke about, the proper tone I need to have while talking (stern or silly), and what information needs to or shouldn’t be given out that won’t seem weird or awkward. It’s a strange thing to be good at, but it’s allowed me to work and create better content that will be enjoyed by the widest audience.

What do you listen to while you work?

This goes back to the first question, but I’ll explain a bit more here. It really depends on what I’m doing. If it’s a project where I need to write (like this one), I put on the “Soundtrack for Study” playlist on Spotify, which is a great collection of ever changing tracks from movie scores. If I’m doing VFX work or designing a movie poster, I’ll often throw on upbeat rock tracks or bust out the “Hamilton” soundtrack (yes, both discs, and yes I’ll listen to the whole thing before I finish working).

What are you currently reading?

Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson“. The book breaks down each song off all 7 of Michael Jackson’s solo albums, and discusses the making of them. It’s a very fascinating look into the creation process of all his albums.

How do you recharge? Do you ever play console games?

I have a few different ways I bounce between in order to recharge. The simplest is sitting out on my balcony at night, perhaps with Spotify playing in my ears, a glass of bourbon in my hand, and stare at the stars. It’s peaceful and I’m alone. There’s no one asking me to do something or go somewhere, no computer screen or TV begging for my attention. It’s just me. I said I always have a half dozen projects running simultaneously and dozens more running through my head. This is the time where I’m able to put all those aside and just do nothing. It’s fantastic.

If it’s too cold to do that (which trust me, I sit outside from March until November or when the snow starts), I’ll be in on my couch with Netflix playing in the background and working on some 3D model of a building or city street. Ten years ago, I would have never acquainted doing 3D modeling as a form of relaxation but lately it has become a way for me to shut off everything else in my head and focus on a single task. Focus on making this window display look like one you’d find in real life. Making this trash can look dented and used like it’s seen better days. Add a few more vents and wires to the back of the building like the construction crews kept coming back year after year redoing their work. It sounds like it’d be difficult but truthfully, it’s calming.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Ha! Sleep…that’s funny.

Oh you’re serious?

Oh…um…well, honestly I have an “unofficial official” sleep routine I try to stick to. Mainly I’m a night owl, happy to be up and awake until 2:30 in the morning and then up at 11:00 the next morning to do my stuff. Unfortunately work hours don’t allow that type of night shift schedule, so I head to bed around 11:30, lay there until 12:30, and hope to be asleep by 1:00. But that pesky, ever creating mind of mine doesn’t allow that most nights. So any sleep over 2 1/2 hours is a win in my book.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best I received was for the way I write short stories or screenplays, and it’s to not get caught up in the tiny details while writing but to just keep going until your idea is on the page. If you hesitate your train of thought to focus on a small detail, you could lose your momentum or the idea itself. Once, I had a great idea for a story and started writing it out, only to get stuck on the description of a building instead of continuing on to the the core idea that I came up with. By the time I got past the unnecessary attention to detail, I realized I couldn’t remember a particular aspect of the idea that I knew I had liked and wanted to include. This in turn sent me in a different direction than I had planned and at the end of the day, just wasn’t as happy with.

These days when I have an idea for a script, I’ll sit down and just push through the idea. “Did that line make sense?” “Should I move this scene to the docks instead of the office because it would help with production?” “Do I need this scene at all?” These sort of thoughts don’t matter to me during this stage. I just need to get my idea down and out of my head. Only then can I step back and look at it from a distance with a more critical eye. It’s this approach that I’ve started taking in other areas of work, including editing. It helps get the core of the piece down, creating a backbone almost, that I can then build off of with more ideas or condense if need be.

The way I see it, it’s easier to see the big picture when you have a sketch in front of you, as oppose to just the idea of a picture.