Finely Sliced: Matt Osborne’s Emotive Editing

Originally from:

Born in Tasmania, Australian native Matt spent his teenage years cutting skate videos with 2 VHS decks and made his commercial editorial debut back in 2006, since he has been editing campaigns for brands and agencies across his homeland as well as throughout Asia and Europe. 

He has cut campaigns for a variety of clientele including Nike, Adidas, Porsche, Cathay Pacific, Sony, Reebok, and many more. Osborne’s editing style is emotive and authentic with human storytelling at the heart of his work.

Matt’s work has won numerous awards including a Cannes GOLD Film Lion, GRAND Prix, One Show, MAD STARS, and Australian Screen Editors Guild Award for editing. His music video, “Medicine,” with director Salomon Ligthelm, won GOLD at the Cannes YDA and was nominated at Shots Awards and UKMVA for music video of the year. He was awarded a Clio Bronze for his editing work on Chevrolet’s “The Hunt Alone” with Lloyd Lee Choi, and 2 short films he edited “Them” and “Dear Enemy” received awards at the 2019 Berlin Commercial and nominations at the 2019 Kinsale Shark Awards, directed by Adrien Landre and Arne Totz respectively.

Matt is currently based in Singapore and is represented exclusively by Heckler in SEA.

LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?

Matt> I like to be as organised as possible before making the first cut. With the amount of material these days, it can be overwhelming to be staring at 2,5,20 hours of footage on the timeline, so I’ll break everything down into manageable chunks based on setups or shots. I find this is also a great way to get my head around the material that’s been shot and already start percolating sub consciously how I might approach the edit. From there I’ll start making selects, I do this mostly by instinct and just pulling anything that sticks out to me emotionally, rhythmically, aesthetically and I try not to think too much at this stage. Then I’ll whittle down those selects to a stage where I think I’m in a good place to actually start editing.


LBB> Non-editors often think of editing just in technical terms but it’s integral to the emotion and mood of a film. How did you develop that side of your craft?

Matt> Yes it can be frustrating at times that the craft of editing is not given the same recognition as some of the more obvious crafts like Cinematography, colour grading, or music, but good editing is absolutely not just a technical process. Personally I think good editing is predominantly about good taste which is something very difficult to teach or learn if it doesn’t come naturally, but I like to absorb as much as I can through film, TV series and other commercial work from directors or editors that I admire or aspire to, and hopefully that results in further development of taste. Earlier in my career I did spend a lot of time in my editing software playing around with films and commercials I liked and deconstructing them and figuring out how and why they worked.


LBB> How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?

Matt> It’s crucially important. Even for a commercial with absolutely no narrative I still strive to add a sense of “story” through tone, mood or some sense of an emotional arc to the film.


LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing (even when it’s a film without actual music) – how do you think about the rhythm side of editing, how do you feel out the beats of a scene or a spot? And do you like to cut to music?

Matt> Rhythm is essential to a good edit and a good sense of rhythm is essential for a good editor. Again I feel like this is something difficult to learn if it doesn’t come naturally. There is the rhythm from shot to shot, and across the whole film, but there is also the rhythm within the beats of the shot, the movement of characters, of the camera or other elements in the shot all contribute to this rhythm. As for feeling this out I try not to think about it too logically and rely on my instinct and taste to guide the rhythm. I may be a little abnormal but I actually like to cut with no music or sound at all for as long as possible. Music and sound can have such a profound influence on the tone and rhythm of a film that I find if I cut “to” music I’ll naturally fall into that rhythm as opposed to the rhythm that the shots and the film dictate. Music and sound can also be a bandaid for bad or mediocre editing and can lull you into a false sense of security that the edit is working when it actually isn’t. So I like to get the edit working first and then find the music that enhances the edit rather than the other way around. There’s nothing more satisfying than working on something mute and then dropping in a piece of music and it just works perfectly, even better if several pieces of music work perfectly then I know the edit is good.


LBB> Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.

Matt> A short documentary film for Nike I cut recently presented some challenges as the interview that formed the basis for the film was all in Japanese. Thankfully we had full transcripts of the interview and the director Mackenzie Sheppard speaks fluent Japanese so we were able to work closely together to craft the structure of the film. The real life story is about a buddhist monk named Yukai and how he incorporates running into his life. It’s a story I could closely relate to (the running part, not the monk part), so I felt really honoured and passionate to tell this story.  The second challenge was the amount of beautiful material, I think my first assembly was roughly 14 minutes with the aim for the final film to be under 5 mins but I think we were really successful in narrowing down the most important beats for the story while still keeping our intention of using longer takes to really immerse the viewer in the environment and mind of Yukai. The film was recently shortlisted for editing craft at Ciclope Asia, which was very satisfying for a film with long shots and no “flashy” editing that are usually rewarded at award shows.

LBB> How important is your relationship with the director and how do you approach difficult conversations when there is a creative difference of opinion?

Matt>My favourite part of the process is working with directors so having a good relationship is imperative, not just for the work, but also chatting about everything other than the project you’re working on (whether that be film/TV, music, sport) that helps me understand who they are as a person and ultimately will lead to a better understanding of the film they’re trying to make. That’s why while I love working remotely and the opportunities that it provides, there’s something special about sitting in a room together for a few days so hopefully some of that will come back post-Covid. As for creative differences of opinion that’s always bound to happen in such a subjective craft as filmmaking, and while the director has the ultimate say, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t give my honest opinion so I’ll always push for something that I think is right for the film. Sometimes the best solution is somewhere in between what we both think is “right” so those creative differences can often lead to something better that neither of us would have thought of individually.


LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough? (And why?)

Matt> Both. Definitely not enough material can make things very difficult, especially in the client stage when you get notes that can’t be addressed purely because you don’t have the material for it. On the other hand there seems to be a trend of just rolling the camera and seeing what you get, so while options are wonderful to have, sometimes endless options are not. I think ultimately it comes down to the director, you can have very little material or loads of material, if the direction is good then both approaches can result in a good film.


LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?

Matt> I’m really proud of my recent film for an Adidas and Kawasaki collaboration, directed by Xavier Tera. I love films that sell a feeling not a product and this definitely fits that bill. It was also a challenge to tell the story of a young girl across three different ages in the 90s but I think we achieved that while still keeping it an engaging but also a coherent story, and playing with time and memories in film is always exciting. I was honoured that the film recently won a silver for Editing Craft at MAD STARS.

LBB> There are so many different platforms for film content now, and even in advertising something can last anything from a few seconds to a couple of hours. As an editor, are you seeing a change in the kind of projects you’re getting from brands and agencies?

Matt> A little bit. It used to just be a 60’ with a 30’ and 15’ cutdown, or maybe even just a 30’ and 15’, but now there’s the possibility of much longer films and also much shorter films as 15’s and 6’s become sometimes the most important deliverable for clients. 


LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?

Matt> Joe Walker has cut most of Denis Villeneuve’s recent films including Sicario, Arrival, and more recently Dune, his precision control of mood, pace, rhythm and time is impeccable and done with such economy that there’s never a wasted shot or frame. Commercially I’ve always really looked up to Jack Hutchings and Stewart Reeves for similar reasons, they edit with such economy and control. Also Rich Orrick who cut most of the late Ringan Ledwidge’s work is an incredible editor and someone I’ve always aspired to be like.


LBB> How does editing in the commercial world differ from the film world and TV world?

Matt> I don’t have a lot of experience in the film/TV world (although it is something I’d like to do more of). I think just the luxury of time you have on films is the biggest difference, yes a 2hr film is a much larger endeavour than a 60s commercial, but I’ve heard of features having 50-100 hours of material and cutting for a year. I’ve had that much for a commercial and cut for a couple of weeks.


LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years?

Matt> There have definitely been a lot of trends come and go in my 17 years as a commercial editor, most of which if I’m honest I haven’t been a big fan of. Four or five years ago it was glitches, and more recently mixed media/formats. If it serves the story or has a motivated purpose for being there I’m all for it but the majority is just purely for aesthetic reasons or following the trend which can become very dated very quickly. Whereas the most iconic spots of all time are generally just good films with no bells or whistles, just good storytelling that stand the test of time.