Mastering Film Editing -- With the Kindest Cuts

Try out that cliché – “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – on Wafá Jaffal, 2019 grad in Filmmaking. She’ll likely tell you that the art also lies in culling, arranging and connecting the parts.

Just as some students have a knack for coding or architectural drawing, you could make the case that Wafá comes by filmmaking naturally. “Film was one of those things that I was automatically drawn to,” she says. “It’s like seeing a particular painting in a museum and it’s the only one that catches your eye and sticks with you. Choosing filmmaking as a career was the only path I wanted.”

While film students tend to gravitate to one sub-discipline or another, Wafá kept her eye on a specific prize: editing. “I decided to pursue editing when I took a class at Woodbury,” Wafá recalls. “It was pretty much my favorite course because it was the true creative, most freeing outlet for me.”

Which doesn’t mean film editing isn’t collegial.  Interacting with the rest of the crew is how magic happens on the screen. “Without an editor, you don’t have a movie,” she says. “Editors are a necessity to directors, producers, executives, etc. We constantly have ‘higher-ups’ come into the editors’ bay for notes, what they like, what they don’t, how they want to reorganize an episode, to make it a clearer story for the viewer. It’s very collaborative. 

“Editors shape the writing in the cuts the episodes go through,” she says. “There is an editor’s cut, director’s cut, producer’s cut, then network cut.  It’s all about how finely the crew can sculpt an episode.”

In a town packed with filmmakers and film programs, Woodbury stood out the old fashioned way: through word of mouth. “My high school best friend suggested Woodbury and recommended that I get a campus tour,” she says. “When I arrived, I fell in love and immediately submitted an application. This very hands-on film program is what truly hooked me.”

Surprisingly enough, her on-campus muses proved to be psychology professors. “I have a minor in psych and taking their classes — more specifically Viken Yacoubian’s classes — were amazing,” she says. “Movies and TV shows manipulate our emotions all the time, and taking those classes really made me feel like I can reach an audience.”

Among off-campus muses, Wafá is inspired by the work of Chris Lebenzon, editor of “one of my favorite films of all time” — Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  “I love editing to music myself and that movie is a musical, so I learned a lot about pacing and beats and moments from the editor’s work,” she says.

Wafá secured an internship with a YouTube channel and quickly went to town. “The guy who ran the channel posted a video one day saying that he needed an editor, so I immediately sent him an audition of my work,” she recalls. “When I got hired my boss was very much like, ‘Do whatever, use this internship as a creative space.’” Turned out that one of the videos she edited was among the most viewed on the channel.  “Felt pretty validated,” she says.  Wafá is currently working in post production on the HBO series, Westworld.  “Interacting with the editors and watching each cut as we get closer and closer to the final project is thrilling,” she says.

Validation didn’t stop there. Woodbury recognized Wafá for the “Strongest Overall Work from the Class of 2019” – an accolade she still can’t quite believe.  “That’s pretty crazy huh?” she says.  “Since I was a freshman I worked on senior theses, did an American Film Institute shoot. I did a lot. Sophomore year, I was already a 1st assistant director on a thesis shoot. When it was time for my senior thesis, I felt so ready.  I was the first to shoot, got all the permits done, found locations, we did so much. Getting the award in front of my family made it wrap up college in a pretty bow, ya know?”

Next up, she’s doing what she can to get in the union and start cutting TV shows. “Long term, cut features,” Wafá says. “Who knows? Maybe even direct one day.”

Learn more about the Filmmaking program