Unsung Heroes - the film editor: Adam Epstein, Saturday Night Live

Adam Epstein is a 2016 Emmy nominee for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series for Saturday Night Live.

The Drum's 'Unsung Heroes' series is a celebration of the people in the industry who slog hard behind the limelight for their companies, brands and clients. As they are seldom in the spotlight for their contribution to the success of campaigns, this is their time to shine.

A 2016 Emmy nominee for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series for Saturday Night Live, some of Adam Epstein's best known works include the show's Justin Bieber's Calvin Klein parody ads, starring Kate McKinnon. Commercially, he has edited campaigns for brands like Google, AT&T, and Motorola at PS 260.

When he is not being irritated (blame it on the lack of sleep) that editing is often mistaken as just 'taking out the bad parts', Epstein either works on a extremely tight deadline for SNL or ensure that a commercial is on track to be released.

Why is your job important?

Important, eh? Hmmm. The Earth is gonna be swallowed by the sun at some point, so…yeah. That aside, editing has been referred to as the 'final re-write' and I’ve always liked that description.

Whether it’s a commercial at PS260, a short film at Saturday Night Live, or a long form project, it’s my job to use timing, sound and image to deliver a final product everyone is happy with.

What is the hardest and stressful part of your job?

At SNL, the compressed timeline is always the most challenging aspect of the job. Nearly all of our pieces are shot the day before they air. I am trying to make sure that all the great work done by the cast and production team comes together in a way that elevates their talents. But it would be nice to have another day or two to refine things even more.

When I’m working on a commercial at PS260 or on a show or movie where the timeline is less intense, the stress is more spread out on maintaining a focus that pleases the client/director/studio by getting the project to the best place possible.

Knowing how to deal with people and personalities is just as important as having a good set of keyboard shortcuts.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Being able to work with like-minded creative people who are working towards a common goal.

First thing that comes to people’s minds when you tell them your job?

A lot of people think that editing is just 'taking out the bad parts' and leaving the rest. Sure.

How would you correct/explain to them what you do then?

To me, editorial is closely related to sculpture. You are constantly refining and plussing things to arrive at an end product that ideally feels like it always was that way. It’s taking hundreds of little details and decisions and making them a unified whole that feels right.

Then I’d start talking about different video codecs and export settings and color theory, and eyes would glaze over and the room would clear out. We have fun.

Is there anything you want to change in your job?

It would be nice if the pace of final deliveries or the expectations when it comes to changes or revisions allowed a little more time for purposeful thought and reflection.

Being able to make multiple changes very quickly is great, but there’s something to being more deliberate about the decision making process that fosters more unique ideas.

Which was the campaign that you worked on, that you are most proud of?

At SNL, every finished piece is a minor victory, though some of my favorites would probably be our Wes Anderson Horror Movie parody from a few years back, Farewell Mr. Bunting, and more recently, Kellywise with Kate McKinnon.

On the commercial front, I like the recent round of spots we worked on at PS260 for Amazon Alexa with Johannes Leonardo.

Who is someone you want to emulate in your industry?

I have always looked at Eric Zumbrunnen, who tragically passed away recently, as someone who struck the perfect balance when it came to working on forward-thinking, artistic commercials while also being a part of great feature film work and outside projects.

His career is an inspiration and even more importantly, he seemed like a kind, genuine person.

If you weren’t an editor, what would you be?

Less sleep deprived.

If you think of someone who deserves to be part of this series, please get in touch with Shawn Lim and nominate them. You can read the previous feature on the the the user experience researcher, here.

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