Restructuring and Moving Scenes as a Storytelling Solution: Nancy Morrison, ACE

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Nancy grew up in the film industry relocating with her studio executive father from New York to Los Angeles when she was 6 years old. While studying film at Boston University, she quickly learned that she hated production but loved editing. She started her career as a film traffic apprentice at Lorimar Television, and through contacts she made there, she became an assistant editor and quickly moved up to Editor on an HBO series called, “Dream On.” She has won a CableACE award for “Dream On,” an Eddie award for “Malcolm in the Middle” and received an Emmy nomination for “Desperate Housewives.”  She is a member of American Cinema Editors, The TV Academy and is on the Board of Directors of the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild.

StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What was one of your most favorite scenes to edit and why?

Nancy Morrison, ACE: That’s tough one. I love cutting musical numbers and really get a thrill when I get them working just right, but I have to say that I had a scene from “Henry Danger” that wasn’t really defined in the script, and I kind of needed to create the look of it on my own. A character got sucked through a time portal, and we were supposed to see the whole day played in reverse and fast motion to bring us back to the morning. I had to really figure out how I was going to do it in a short period of time and make it look and sound cool. It really worked out better than I thought it would, and I think it pretty much stayed the way I had temped it even after our visual FX guy had his way with it.

StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What were some important things you learned while editing episodes for the television series, “Almost Family”?

Nancy Morrison, ACE: That was pretty much a basic show, but we did do a lot of restructuring and moving scenes around more than I had on other shows, so I guess I learned how much it can really help to play around with the structure. Also, I hadn’t worked on a network 1-hour show in a while, and in that time, they changed the format from four acts to six acts, which meant there were two more commercial breaks. I found six acts to be really cumbersome to work in especially when you are moving scenes around and have to make sure you have good act breaks.

StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What were some of the most challenging problems solved while in post-production?

Nancy Morrison, ACE: Story problems are usually the most challenging, and that kind of refers back to the previous question. Trying to figure out… Do things need to be cut out? Do scenes need to be moved around? Maybe off-camera dialog needs to be added to make something clearer. And, as a last resort, does something additional need to be shot or reshot? We are always trying to use all the tricks we have to avoid having to go back and shoot something. Another problem might be an actor that’s not quite up to snuff. In television there really isn’t a lot of time for rehearsal and shooting, so sometimes you have to accept a performance that might not be spot on but can be manipulated in the cutting room to play a lot better. No offense to all my actor friends, but sometimes a great actor has a bad day and just can’t seem to get the lines out or, very often, they may not have gotten the script in time to really learn the lines.

StudentFilmmakers Magazine: If you could share your Top 3 “Breaking In” Tips for students, what would they be?

Nancy Morrison, ACE:

Tip #1. Volunteer to cut everything you can get your hands on. Friends’ student films, music videos, YouTube videos. You guys have such an advantage having the tools at your disposal.

Tip #2. Meet as many working editors and assistant editors as you can and make connections.

Tip #3. Learn what an assistant editor does, so if an opportunity presents itself, you can jump right in.

StudentFilmmakers Magazine: If you could share your “Top 3 TV Editing Tips” for aspiring film/video editors, what would they be?

Nancy Morrison, ACE:

Tip #1. When cutting scripted television or features, always watch all the footage (if you can). If you are just looking for the dialog you might miss some little gem of a reaction, or an interesting camera move that wasn’t intentional or some great thing the actor did after the director yelled “cut.”

Tip #2. Always, always, always make sure your sequence sounds smooth and full. Something can be beautifully cut, but if the sound bumps, then someone watching will think that something isn’t quite right, and you may spend a lot of time trying to figure what they are reacting to when it might just be fixed by adding a little dissolve to the sound edit, or a sound effect to hide a bump on the sound edit. Sometimes people react to things when they just don’t sound right. A little traffic background can do a lot to flesh out a scene. I spend a lot of time working on sound (and music) and believe me, it can really help sell a cut.

Tip #3. Never be too defensive of your cut. If the director or producer wants you to change something, do not argue, just do it. After seeing it their way, they may agree to put it back the way you had it. You can point out why you did something a certain way but with a tone that lets them know that you are more than willing to try something different. Sometimes after they make a change and are satisfied, you may still like it better your way, but you have to pick your battles. Many times, a producer might ask what you think but not really want to know what you think. It’s a skill to know when to fight for something and when to just let it go and move on. Editing is subjective and no one is “right.”


Restructuring and Moving Scenes as a Storytelling Solution: Nancy Morrison, ACE

Interview conducted by Jody Michelle Solis. Associate Publisher for StudentFilmmakers Magazine (, HD Pro Guide Magazine (, and Sports Video Tech ( Magazine. “Lifelines, not deadlines. Motion Arts. Fusion Everything.”

Jody Michelle Solis