Parts of the Process — Editor Fouad Gaber on creating GIF-inspired grooves for Chaka Khan’s hit track Like Sugar

Posted 23 January 2019 Interview by Laura Snoad

Often the work of a good editor is invisible, amping up emotion and honing pace without you even noticing. But this wasn’t so for the retro-tinged video for Like Sugar by icon Chaka Khan – her first release after an 11-year break. Here creative editing was the entire concept, with editor Fouad Gaber of London-based studio Trim working closely with star director Kim Gehrig to cut the dancers’ hottest moves into mesmerising, GIF-like loops. The pair’s obsessive craft paid off – Like Sugar won the UK Music Video Awards coveted Best Editing prize for 2018.

Client

Island Records

Duration

Two weeks

Team

Fouad Gaber, editor (Trim Editing)
Kim Gehrig, director
James Waters, producer (Somesuch)
Saskia Whinney, executive producer
Maddy Perkins, production manager
Liz Rufai, production assistant 
Olivier Casamayou, choreographer
Deepa Keshvala, DOP
Francesca Di Mottola, production designer
Vanessa Coyle, costumer designer
I Could Never Be A Dancer, choreographer 
Josh King, post-producer (Framestore)
Simon Bourne, colourist (Framestore)
Kim Fenton, location manager
Ailsa Robertson, commissioner 

Brief

To transform raw footage shot on location by director Kim Gehrig into a 4-minute GIF-inspired music video for Queen of Funk Chaka Khan. 

Background

We've got a good relationship with Kim Gehrig – she’s a friend. Kim’s part of the roster of directors at Somesuch, who we also know well, and quite a few of them cut their films here. 

Kim directed the John Lewis Christmas campaign in 2015, and off the back of that she was commissioned for a Christmas charity campaign for Age UK. I assisted her editor, Tom Lindsay, and sat in on all of her edits to try to learn a few things. When Tom went on to another job, I spent the last week finishing the edit with Kim and the agency, and we built up a good relationship. So when she came to work on the Like Sugar video, she requested me. I was like, “Are you sure?” It was Chaka Khan! I was gassed.

Kim Gehrig for John Lewis, 2015

Special Treatment

Usually, directors pitch on a job and pencil in the editors that they want to work with, even before they've won it. Sometimes you can get really excited about a job, and then find out you didn’t win it two weeks later. For Like Sugar, Kim was already on board and sent over the treatment when she requested me.

A director will use a treatment to pitch the concept to the artist or the label, showing the rough concept, styling and tone. The new way of doing treatments is to make them pretty interactive. They play GIFs and videos when you scroll down, and you’ll put the track in the background. It feels much fresher than just a PDF of words and stills; you get a much better feel for the project. I had heard the song, and knew this project would be a GIF-style loop video with dancing, but I didn't know much more than that.

Editor on Set

I was quite lucky because I was on set for the shoot. An editor might be on set for commercials with a tight turnaround (someone might go on set just to start loading stuff to get ahead). Some of my director friends will ask me to come on set, as it can be good to get an editor's eye on things, but it’s quite unusual for music videos.

I was on holiday the week before this project, so I landed on Friday and went straight to set on Saturday morning. I was thrown straight in without knowing too much about the shoot. I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I ended up doing a bit of looping on the computer, but I was mainly involved in the creative. When I saw the dancers, I started to understand Kim’s vision. Kim's very collaborative and even though I'm not as experienced as the people she normally cuts with on bigger jobs, she was very open to asking my opinion.

“Kim hadn't done a music video for ages, so she was really excited about it.”

My job on set was testing loops and showing Kim what worked and what didn’t. We needed to see whether a loop with a certain camera move worked. Together we also worked out whether we needed to get plates of the location. A plate is just a clean shot in case we want to cut people out later. 

It was really fun being part of that process. Kim hadn't done a music video for ages, so she was really excited about it. It was a long day, 8.00am until midnight, but there were good vibes. Everyone was happy afterwards.

Still from the video

Looping in the video

Selecting Key Shots

After shoot day, I got a copy of the rushes (the name for raw footage) to take home with me. Normally, the process is to have a day or so to get the rushes into your computer and start doing long selects, which is chopping out the crap to condense the footage down. That’s an important part. Then you get what’s called a first pass. You sync it all up and try to get your rushes down to a couple of hours. And then you’d normally do a select pass of favourite moments, either by yourself or with the director.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re looking for. It’s cool moments, really nice shots, the gold. If there’s no lip syncing, you’ll end up with 10 minutes of chunky shots and then you work from that. At this point, you’ll also put sequential scenes in order. I like doing this part with a director. It’s an open conversation and very collaborative.

Teaser for the video

Creating Loops

One of the producers Kim works with was getting married. After she shot the video she was away for the first five days, so I was kind of alone. Kim and I had a conversation on the phone and we were texting a lot, both really pumped, but I was a bit nervous.

We thought the best way to approach the video was just to start looping stuff. That’s why this project was so different to a normal edit, because every moment of a three to four minute dance routine could be looped to run for 10 seconds to more. For example, if a dancer lifts their arm up in a cool way, you could loop that. There were so many moments to pick from. 

Essentially what we were doing was taking the rushes and creating more footage from them. At that stage, I created pretty much every possible loop I could, and they became our rushes. That actually took about three days.

Single loop of a girl in the video

Looping in the video

There were so many options as each character had both single and group shots. A two second snippet could be a killer ten second shot because you could loop it. Halfway through, you could break the loop and continue the dance move. 

That was a big revelation for us. I thought, “How can we get more from a loop?” so I would cut a loop and flow into another move, and then come back and catch a loop. It was really satisfying because I could be really musical with it.

“Kim was calling it ‘effortless tech’ – it was tech, but also quite like smooth and natural.”

We didn’t want the loops to feel too goofy or too technical. Kim was calling it ‘effortless tech’ – it was tech, but also quite like smooth and natural. We were the puppeteers of the dance, controlling its direction. 

We experimented with splitting screens, isolating the best dancer from a group and picking the best moments and piecing them together. At one point, we were popping people on and off but that's where it felt a bit effects-y. It didn't feel real anymore – you could see the trick. 

Single loop body roll

Layered loop body roll

Tools of the Trade

Editing is a very creative and collaborative process, so it’s all about hospitality. A studio is a safe place for directors, in a way. They come off a big heavy shoot and then come here and just collapse on the sofa. You want people to feel welcome, especially when record labels or agencies come in. You want to look after people. It’s part of the job.

We’re one of the only studios that use Final Cut 10. The industry standard is Avid (as an offline editing system) or Premiere. Final Cut 10 is a totally new way of editing; it has new features like a magnetic timeline. So even coming from Final Cut 7, you’ve basically got to learn a whole new programme.

My advice for a monster project like this is to be clean and have your house in order. If everything’s really well organised, labeled well, you won’t have to spend time searching for things. The organisation happens all at the front end, and then you dive into the more creative stuff where you can be more free.

Single Looping

A Punishing Schedule

This job was all in the editing; Kim constantly stressed the fact that the edit needed to be right. Originally, we didn’t really have that much time to cut it, but the label kept giving us more time. It took two solid weeks, working everyday, and with no breaks for the weekend. I was working from 9:00 am to 2:00 am. 

Kim and I would finish at midnight, and then I’d go home and I’d still be buzzing. I’d just get my laptop and try new stuff. I was sending her loops over iMessage first thing in the morning and then she’d get really inspired and come into the office with more ideas. 

“By the end of it, it was so exciting that it didn't ever feel like work.”

The enthusiasm was really nice, but we kind of killed ourselves. By the end of it, we were drinking two or three Red Bulls a day, and I don’t even drink Red Bull. It was so exciting that it didn’t ever feel like work. I knew it was going to be mad from the beginning, but we didn’t know it would be this much of a monster. It took over our lives. Even after the edit was signed off, me and Kim were still tweaking. We were like, “This can be better. Can it be more musical? Oh, let’s change this shot.” We really pushed it up until the last moment.

The label understood the importance of the edit. Budgets are not that great for music videos anymore and people want things done quickly. But there’s a lot of craft in this, and that takes time. We actually got the label onboard quite early. The rough cut we showed them six days in had some gaps in it, with placeholder text. We chose to do that rather than showing them something that was weak. They really loved it and said, “Oh, we understand. It’s all in the edit. Keep going, guys!” Ideally, we could’ve had three weeks on this. That would’ve been the perfect amount of time.

Still from the video

Post-Production

There wasn’t much post-production on this video. Most of it was to do with the split screens – isolating a person in the foreground and getting rid of what’s in the background. It was mainly clean-up. 

We changed the framing quite a lot. Kim was never afraid of zooming in 70%, which you normally wouldn’t do because you lose some image quality. But if it creates something good, it doesn’t really matter. Plus there’s a slightly retro feel to it.

Worth the Late Nights

We worked really hard on this film. We knew we had something that was quite special, but it’s funny because you always have that uncertainty. It’s great in the room, but what will other people think? The label were really happy. We’re actually doing the next Chaka Khan video, which Thomas Grove Carter (another Trim editor) is cutting, together with director Sam Pilling at Pulse Films. It looks cool. It’s a totally different thing.

Kim was very involved in the edit, which I love about her. You spend so much time together, you become really close. It was so fun working together. Kim knows a lot about editing and she’s good conceptually. She’s always pushing things in the edit to get the best out of the footage.

I’ve had quite a lot of good feedback on this. Even from people who don’t know about editing – it just feels edited because things are moving and it’s snappy. I’ve actually had a lot of people that aren’t really filmmakers hit me up saying, “Oh, the edit on that’s so good.” I think people loved it so much because it’s got that millennial feel. It’s jumpy, GIF-y, energetic. 

The final video

Posted 23 January 2019 Interview by Laura Snoad
Collection: Parts of the Process
Disciplines: Film
Mentions: Fouad Gaber, Chaka Khan, Kim Gehrig

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