Ian McLaughlin writes about the unique and emotional freedom of cutting promos.

Ian has spent the last 12 years at Chief cutting commercials, music promos and documentaries. He has an impressive portfolio of chart topping music videos for numerous renowned artists including:  Sam Smith, Snow Patrol, Elbow, Bloc Party, Chvrches, Stereophonics and Placebo. Plus longer form live concert films and documentaries for Courteeners and Blossoms: Back to Stockport…so you could say he knows an awful lot!

What makes editing a music video different from, say, a commercial or a short film? 

Cutting a music video offers me more creative freedom than a TV commercial does. Commercials are tightly storyboarded and limited in duration, whereas music video treatments are always open to add your own vision as an editor. They provide an opportunity to interpret the lyrics, emotion, and energy of a track, where commercial ideas are mostly created by an agency. You get a more varied mix of edit styles to explore, from narrative, band performance, graphics and VFX, to sound design, so it’s more fun and challenging to mix it up with different techniques for each brief.  

Technically I will approach them differently, I’ll always create multi clips when cutting band performance. I’ll multi clip each band member and edit a full film of the drummer, lead singer, guitarist etc. before weaving them together, that way I can easily switch angles and have every available option to hand to experiment with and quickly deal with label comments. It’s a good way to explore all of the coverage and handy when the artist doesn’t like their chin! 

To what extent should the tempo and rhythm of the edit match the music – or not? 

While certain sections call for a precise sync for example where the cuts mirror the music; there are always instances where contrasting or adding unexpected edit points will enhance the emotional impact and add intrigue.

When cutting to the beat, something clients always comment on and expect you to do; you have to be careful because it can easily become quite hard visually and predictable. I tend to fold cuts in following the lyrics instead to soften the flow and then punctuate cuts on the beat as a final pass.

Editing is all about rhythm and feeling, that one epic shot on the right part of the track amplifies your emotions and that is what makes the moment. 

How are trends in music video editing changing?

Since covid, we see a lot more remote working, and so less attended sessions. That’s easier now with remote editing software for screening and feedback, so it has become the norm. 

We’re seeing productions using more Virtual Production Screens, meaning real-time VFX and a more seamless look. New cameras coming in, FPV drones and 360 cameras are cool, they get you high quality, unique footage. Right now, I’m working on Courteeners Live at Heaton Park, recorded this summer, and we have a custom FPV drone on stage, flying around the band. You just can’t achieve these dynamic angles with a traditional camera, couple that with the 360 camera in the crowd, and there’s two really fresh and interesting angles that you just wanna hold on.

What sort of interesting conversations crop up between editor, director and artist? 

The Director or artist will often push you to try things that you may not try alone. There have been occasions where naturally I think someone’s idea wouldn’t work, I try it, and it surprises me. We need that input and collaboration to make a better film.

Having the band involved in the editing sessions can be incredibly beneficial. It’s their creation first. That firsthand experience of recording the song, their energy, and their personal insights all enhance the editing process. 

For Blossoms: Back To Stockport it was invaluable to have the whole band’s input, with it being so personal, we were all in it together and we had a really good laugh. 

We also worked closely with The Maccabees on their trilogy: Marks To Prove It. The drummer, Sam would make sure every cut was on the exact transient. As the films developed, Orlando and the lads would come up with ideas, collaborating and honing cuts and shot selection as we went, so the finished production was quite different from the original brief. The band’s creativity and musical knowledge helped guide Director Joe Connor and I to make a piece everyone was super happy with.

It’s amazing to have everyone involved. That said, some of my favourite videos have come from being given total free rain i.e. here’s the footage and a rough idea, I’ll leave you alone with it. Truth be told, for me, those are the pieces that often turn out best. 

His thoughts have been included in an LBB article here.