We Asked a Filmmaker to Rank the MTV VMA ‘Best Editing’ Nominees

Objectively speaking, does the Weeknd tell a smoother visual story than, say, Chainsmokers?

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Aug 2 2017, 2:45pm

Foto: Anthony Quintano vía Flickr

Someone on the Noisey UK desk who will remain anonymous has been known to try and silence Britney Spears naysayers at parties by pulling up Spears' 2000 VMAs performance on their phone because it "shows her at her absolute peak". No, it's not the snake one. Instead, it's from the year before, when Brit came out in a velcro-tear-off black suit that hid from view a pale skin-colored, diamante-studded two-piece. She covered Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" before sliding into a remixed version of "(Oops) I Did It Again," complete with hip thrusting and hair flicks, her signature vocal fry just about audible over a very very loud backing track vocal.

All of which is to say that MTV's VMAs once pumped lifeblood into pop culture and left us with moments that people return to almost 15 years later. Last week the nominations were announced, as well as news that Katy Perry would be hosting (lol) and, it's made me think about: A) how weird it is that artists pick up the awards when the people behind the scenes are often the ones nominated and; B) what someone who didn't actually work in music or wasn't a voting fan would make of those on the ballot.

Take Chainsmokers' "Closer", for example, which features Halsey in what may be her biggest career mistake (or peak, if you're that way inclined) to date. The track spent 4 weeks at number 1 in the UK charts in the summer of last year, spending 47 long weeks in the charts overall, and a record-breaking 32 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100.

In short: people like this one, and at this year's MTA VMAs it's up for both Best Collaboration and Best Editing. But much like the song itself, the video is kinda bland?? It's basically a house party with some poolside shots and a run-of-the-mill love story, matching the saccharine toothache of the track's pop-house to its bog-standard visuals. That, at least, is a commendable feat. But hey, I'm just sitting here as a journalist who's never had to make a video to spec myself. And so, I hassled filmmaker, editor and director Danny Cooke and asked him about what makes a video "well edited" and to rate this year's five Best Editing nominations. To start off with, here are this year's noms in full:

Future – "Mask Off"; Editor: Vinnie Hobbs of VHPost
Young Thug – "Wyclef Jean"; Editors: Ryan Staake, Eric Degliomini
Lorde – "Green Light"; Editor: Nate Gross of Exile Edit
The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – "Closer"; Editor: Jennifer Kennedy
The Weeknd – "Reminder"; Editor: Red Barbaza

Noisey: Hi Danny! Not to be rude here, but could you please lay out your credentials a bit?
Danny Cooke: I'm a freelance filmmaker working across multiple disciplines from corporate, to short commercial film, to documentaries. I've worked for channels such as BBC and CBS and also big brands like eBay and luxury brands like Land Rover and De beers, to name a few.

What got you into editing or made you want to work in the film industry?
Ever since I was young, I've been into watching films. I wanted to go further and discover the process of producing a film. In my teens I experimented with what's known as "Machinima," a cross between videogames and cinema. That's how I learned the fundamentals of editing and shot composition.

Would you say music videos differ editorially from other types of film production, such as the commercials or documentaries that you have worked on?
There are no written rules for how a music video has to be edited. All different genres of film—whether they are factual or fiction, short or feature length—can borrow edit styles from each other. Like all filmmaking, especially commercials, it's harder to tell a story and develop character arcs in a shorter space of time. This is no different with music videos.

How would you measure something that seems as subjective as "good" editing?
Editing is much like a language. The order of shots can really change the way we perceive a story. Good editing is invisible editing. When a cut works you should only be aware of the narrative. A bad cut can detach you from your viewing experience. It is also the job of the editor to keep the narrative flowing smoothly whilst also highlighting the best performance of the protagonists.

With that in mind, could you please rank these videos from worst to best, in terms of "good" editing, thank you very much.

The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – "Closer"

Talk me through this. What makes it the weakest, in your opinion?
"Closer" plays with multiple timelines in a cross-cutting technique. The viewer is presented with a raunchy love affair scene and the editor cuts around this in what seems to be the past and future. In this scenario there isn't much originality that the editor can provide outside the development of the narrative other than to cut to the beat. Watching this made me feel fairly confused. But I suppose isn't that what a lot of relationships can lead to?!

Lorde – "Green Light"

I'm surprised to see this ranked so low, tbh.
In "Green Light," the editor mimics the slow build of Lorde's track. We start off with long, drawn-out shots that the viewer can take a moment to breathe between cuts. But as the track heightens, so does the pace of cutting and towards the end we are treated with a satisfying crescendo.

Future – "Mask Off"

What makes this one pretty strong?
Quite often music videos create multiple juxtapositions in which the protagonist performs. This is no exception: if you break it down, this film has several juxtapositions that are centered on Future driving his chromed-up car. You have the robbery gone wrong happening as he passes, the performance of him on the rooftop and his flashbacks, and not to forget him behind the wheel. With all this, you have a lot going on in a short space of time. The editor has plenty of material to play with and does just that. They use quick cutting between all these scenarios to unsettle the viewer and this technique works extremely well.

The Weeknd – "Reminder"

Now you've got me thinking about the cuts, within the first seven seconds of this alone, we've had like three fade-in transitions and then straight cuts. What do you make of it?
"Reminder", for me, had a very similar feel to "Mask Off", but much closer to my preferred editorial pace. Again this video focuses around multiple juxtapositions. The editor slowly cuts between each scenario and allows the viewer plenty of time to breathe between each cut. For me this film has the slight edge over all the others; its combination of beautiful cinematography and editing tick all the boxes.

Young Thug – "Wyclef Jean"

Okay, so Thugger tops your list. Why?
This is a fun video and you can really see the editor is also having fun. The viewer is directly acknowledged in this film and makes you feel a part of the creative process. I really like this concept and in this video, it is taken advantage to the fullest! It is a strong satire of what music videos have become today. [Editor's note: Enjoy this fun behind-the-scenes footage from when VICELAND were on set at this shoot].

Thanks, Danny.