Award-Winning Editor Valerio Bonelli Opens the Door to his Cutting Room

By in The A-List, Video Editing

Editor Valerio Bonelli has worked on top Hollywood productions and independent projects with some of the biggest names in the industry. While studying at the NFTS in the UK he started assisting Oscar-winning editor Pietro Scalia on Ridley Scott’s films (Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down) and later worked on Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.

He has just finished Stephen Frears’ film The Program on the rise and fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, and is about to start another project with Frears. “Every project has something special, but I must say that working with Stephen Frears these last 2 years, has been a very nice experience for me. I loved cutting Philomena, and the Lance Armstrong film is the most challenging project I have cut so far.”

Director Cosima Spender and editor Valerio Bonelli at the Tribeca Film Festival

Valerio Bonelli won Best Documentary Editing Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his work on the documentary ‘Palio’, a film about the famous ancient horse race in Siena, Italy, and was one of the most difficult projects to cut, according to Valerio. “This movie did not have a script, and was ‘written’ during the editing process. The Palio is possibly the only race in the world where in order to win you have to spend a lot of money in bribes. The story is about a young jockey that challenges his old master, who has monopolized the game for the last 16 years and won it 13 times. We realized that the only way to keep this story cinematic and entertaining, was to explain all of the facts within the main narrative arc of our characters. The film is also entirely narrated by its own characters, without imposing a written narrating voice. Director Cosima Spender uses this technique in most of her documentaries, creating a unique and cinematic feeling.”

“The close and intimate relationship with the director is what I love about editing. In particular the realization that films are made in the cutting room still excites me.”

—Valerio Bonelli

“At the start of my career my mentor was editor Pietro Scalia. I assisted him for 7 years on several Ridley Scott films and we cut Hannibal Rising together. He helped me take my first steps in the industry and since then I have worked with other great ‘masters’ like Bernardo Bertolucci and Stephen Frears. When I was a young assistant, I always looked for experiences where I would learn something and not just assisting to make a living.”

Editor Valerio Bonelli with first assistant editor Karenjit Sahota on 'The Program'

“As an editor today, I look for assistants who are interested in the overall process of film editing while being technically savvy and organized. One of the most important things in the editing process is to stay organized. Otherwise it will be quite difficult to find the right material to tell the story in the best possible way.

I ask my assistants to create a bin for each scene, and to build sequences inside that bin that contain all rushes. That bin is always in Frame Mode with a frame that is representative for each shot. For complicated dialogue scenes, I ask them to build a sequence for each line of dialogue, using all takes, so I can easily bring up all versions of that specific line. With complicated action scenes, where a lot of material has been shot, they will create sequences with all kinds of reaction shots, so that I can find them at any point during the edit.”

Valerio explains how the process of cutting films has changed a lot over the last decades. “When cutting on celluloid, the assistant editors would often witness the creative process, and learn about editing and storytelling. Nowadays it’s more an individual process or a double act between the director and editor. A simple command like Match Frame inside Avid has replaced the brilliant work that assistants used to do: looking for shots and using their own sensibility to help and contribute to the narrative of the film. On the other hand, technology has helped speed up cutting and re-cutting a film, though I must admit, I’m not really sure that has improved the craft of film editing.”

“I often open the door to my cutting room for other opinions. This is fundamental for me because it’s the only way to ‘refresh’ my eyes and have a clearer vision.”

When he was an assistant editor, Valerio used to keep track of the latest features and versions of Media Composer. But since he has shifted his attention to narrative filmmaking rather than technology, he trusts his assistants and Avid engineers to keep him up-to-date with the latest technological developments.

“I spend a lot of time in Trim Mode. I love the way I can trim picture and sound separately on multiples tracks. In Media Composer you can create extremely complicated sound overlaps in just a few steps. As for my favorite shortcuts, I mapped the Red Lift and Yellow Extract keys to F1 and F2 on my keyboard.

I’m also a big fan of Animatte. I use it for anything; from compositing shots together, to creating customized transitions. I also keep a toolbox, a bin, with all my favorite picture and sound FX that I carry from project to project.”

Timeline of ‘The Program’, directed by Stephen Frears

“Sometimes I feel the urge to tell a story and sit in the director’s chair myself. I have done some Second Unit work on several films where we had to shoot inserts and pick-ups. Unfortunately, what I don’t like about directing is the number of people you have to deal with on a set. So in the end, I’ve realized that I rather be in my edit suite.

Then there is my other passion in life: cooking. A few years ago I spent a long time waiting for my next project to come along, so I learnt a lot about Japanese cuisine. Now I know how to make tempura and sushi, and I have learnt another way of ‘cutting’; the art of preparing raw fish.”

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I'm Social Media Manager for Avid and editor-in-chief of Avid Blogs. You can find me on Twitter at @editorbelga.