“Ron Delesner Presents”: A journey into the legendary concert promoter’s career, edited using Adobe Premiere Pro

Image source: Tribeca Film Festival

While documentaries about music history legends tend to focus on artists themselves, “Ron Delsener Presents”, which is set to premiere at Tribeca Film Festival this year, takes a different approach by shining a spotlight on the influential concert promoter, Ron Delsener. Throughout his remarkable career spanning decades, Delsener collaborated with some of the biggest names in the music industry. This documentary features a star-studded lineup such as Cher, Gene Simmons, Roger Daltrey, and Simon and Garfunkel, and serves as a comprehensive career retrospective.

Editors James Codoyannis and Paul Greenhouse used Adobe Premiere Pro to cut the film. Both found the Speech to Text tool in Premiere Pro “unquestionably vital” when it came to editing on-the-fly interviews. Greenhouse states that “being able to go back and search for keywords in the transcripts was helpful to navigate the material.” Read on below to hear their valuable tips and their approach to the editing process.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

Greenhouse: In high school, I got access to the edit room at the local cable channel and edited skateboarding videos I made with my friends.

Codoyannis: I suppose I learned how to edit in the 6th grade when my friends & I would shoot silly comedy sketches — usually an 11 year old’s riff on Weekend Update or 60 Minutes — and I’d hook up the camera to the VCR and painstakingly piece together our footage by pressing play/pause & record/stop, etc. Actual NLE editing software came into play in high school when my friends & I stepped up our game and turned Julius Caesar into a 1940s-set film noir starring a bunch of 14 year olds. We messed around shooting silly shorts a lot as teenagers, and this fundamentally taught me some valuable lessons about coverage and shot economy on a rudimentary level.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

Greenhouse: Every project is different, but there’s a standard set of bins- dailies (by date), group clips, interview transcripts, character bins, music, gfx, titles and lower thirds, sequences, etc.

Codoyannis: It varies each project, but in the case of documentaries I feel very similarly to fellow Ron Delsener Presents editor Paul Greenhouse — we both like a standard set of bins that include dailies (by date), group or multicam clips, interview transcripts, character bins, music, gfx, titles and lower thirds, sequences, etc. For this particular film, we had a whole litany of ‘selects sequences’ organized according to themes/events/concert venues/story points etc. The logic behind these selects are very specific to the film’s content, and can get quite malleable.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

Greenhouse: My favorite is the Simon and Garfunkel Central Park sequence — this was built by editor James Codoyannis and director Jake Sumner before I came onto the project. It’s a unique story about an iconic performance and piece of New York history told in the first person.

Codoyannis: I’m a fan of every verite scene in the film, from Ron in his office at Live Nation to Ron overseeing a Jimmy Buffet concert at Jones Beach Theater to Ron in his basement — or as he describes it, his “house of crap.” Ron’s oddball cartoon personality really springs to life when he’s on his feet, moving through spaces, yelling into a phone, cracking dumb jokes, and reminiscing on the fly. Every sequence went through millions of iterations, but I am so pleased with how Paul put together Ron’s seemingly decades-old routine of sifting through his wardrobe in his apartment, going to a comedy show & afterparty at the Carlyle Hotel, going to yet another show at Irving Plaza, having a late dinner at the Blue Note, and then ending up at the Beacon theater to cover another show — all narrated by his daughter Samantha and his wife Ellen.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

Greenhouse: I was brought onto the project after they’d already completed a roughcut but were continuing to shoot. It’s become increasingly common for documentary projects to be edited in stages as financing and material come together. I inherited a lot of wonderful work already done by James that we augmented with new material. There was quite a bit of footage and Nick Evans, the AE on this project (along with other roles) was the key problem solver and organizer. Whenever I needed to locate something, I’d go to Nick.

Codoyannis: There weren’t too many post-challenges until archival material started flooding in. Archival footage of various sizes and frame rates, stills of varying size and availability, etc. — a pretty standard mountain every archival-heavy documentary team must climb day in & day out. Our wonderful AE Nick Evans and one of our fantastic producers James Smith were tasked with building an organizational vocabulary that best suited our material, and I am forever grateful for their patience and quick problem-solving skills.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

Greenhouse: I used the transcription tool (Speech to Text) quite a bit. There were extensive interviews and as we shaped and tightened stories, being able to go back and search for keywords in the transcripts was helpful to navigate the material.

Codoyannis: The transcription tool was unquestionably vital for this film. We had a ton of sit-down and on-the-fly interviews, and being able to navigate and search for specific words & phrases was so crucial — and that cannot be understated.

If you could share one tip about Premiere Pro, what would it be?

Greenhouse: Fast-speed playback with the audio scrub turned on allows you to plow quickly through material while still being able to listen to what’s being said- very handy.

Codoyannis: I really do agree that having audio scrub turned on while playing back dailies at double speed is essential for reviewing material quickly in a pinch — especially for a project that is jam packed with archival and extended verite footage. For more fine-tuning tips, I highly recommend using Trim Mode as much as possible when refining cuts frame-by-frame — it’s truly become second nature to me, even in the assembly stage.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Greenhouse: I listen to a lot of music for inspiration. I’ve found that listening to ambient music helps me find calm and focus necessary for editing. Lately I’ve been listening to Japanese composers, a personal favorite is Hiroshi Yoshimura’s “Soundscape 1: Surround”.

Codoyannis: This is a tough question because I watch a lot of movies, and I draw an enormous amount of inspiration from a wide variety of specific, idiosyncratic choices made by the filmmakers, the cast and crew, etc. So I tend to shake up my points of inspiration depending on each project. Some sources seem to remain constant over the years — I greatly admire Robert Altman’s chit-chat atmospheric vocabulary (Nashville is my all-time favorite film), and before every documentary gig I always find myself revisiting films by Pennebaker & Hegedus for their unique brand of lightly comic verite in films like “Moon Over Broadway”, “Kings of Pastry” and “The War Room”.

For “Ron Delsener Presents”, one of the biggest points of reference early on was “Public Speaking”, Martin Scorsese’s documentary feature on Fran Lebowitz. The casual, anecdotal atmosphere was definitely something our fabulous director, Jake Sumner, wanted to evoke in how Ron would tell his story — the history of the live music business through Ron’s eyes, voice and worldview. What an absolute dream it was and a real gift to have Damian Rodriguez (one of the editors on “Public Speaking” and its follow-up series “Pretend It’s A City”) on our edit team for this film.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

Greenhouse: I got stiffed on a large job I was working on just when my first child was born. That was awful. I fought to recover my wages and it took over a year and a lot of time and energy, but ultimately, I was successful. My advice is to diversify your skillset, if you’re an editor, pick up a camera and shoot something. You may not become a DP, but it will make you a better editor and filmmaker.

Codoyannis: A tough moment for me professionally was being let go from a big months-long project just days before the edit was even set to begin. The scrambling I had to do to build back my schedule was pretty humbling. On a more technical level, I often find myself paralyzed by a tinge of anxiety before learning a new piece of software, but that usually dissipates after a few days of working in that software’s headspace. For instance, I fondly remember the panic washing away into steady relief & comfort when I learned After Effects for the first time on a small job. My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to be fearless and lean into that particular brand of nervousness. The skills you learn along the way will always be worth it.

Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

Greenhouse: I don’t have a photo of my current workspace and it’s not where I cut on the Delsener project, but my favorite thing about it is the new sit / stand / sleep desk that I just got. It allows you to sit or stand and then there’s a nifty button that turns it into a sort of murphy bed for a power nap. I purchased it at Ikea and it took three days to build, but it was so worth it.

Codoyannis: The majority of “Ron Delsener Presents” was edited at an office arranged by the production. That said, I am a huge fan of a standing desk, and I keep a Casio keyboard nearby so I can mess around on the piano between renders, exports, or when I hit a wall creatively.

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