Editing is a true passion for Dominick Nero. As a contributor to such powerhouses as Super Deluxe and A.V. Club, it’s only natural that he understands its power. Because of that very fact, his work has seen enormous success and respect. While many artists approach the internet with intense cynicism, Nero embraces its stage wholeheartedly. His editing has become just another way for him to express his drives. He’s someone who sees the potential in social media, using it every step of the way as a tool for development. A master of comic timing and editing techniques, Nero has his finger resoundingly on the pulse.
This interview, which evolved into more of a conversation in its latter stages, couldn’t have come at a better time. After all, editing has been a focus of my writing for the past fortnight. First I discussed its negative impacts on British comedy, implying it to be a constraint. Next, I wrote a feature on Super Deluxe in general to offer a flipside to those assertions. Being one of Super Deluxe‘s key, and most talented, contributors, Nero seemed all too perfect of a subject to expand on that.
In the end, he truly didn’t disappoint. As a genuine fan of his output, ranging back to his founding works with Magnalux Pictures, it was incredibly humbling to get to speak to him like this. I found his friendly and down-to-earth nature only bolstered his heaps of insight. With much to say on pop culture, editing in general and the impact of the internet, Nero really makes for a compelling listen. Here’s the recording of our discussion in full:
See below for transcripts, and to watch all mentioned videos.
On editing as art and how it reflects society and politics:
As an editor, how do you feel about the poeticism of the medium?
Personally, I think editing is definitely an art-form. These days, more than ever, video editing has become a pretty significant craft. Especially because everyone can do it, ever since [things like] iMovie. If we’re talking about comedy videos, I think a lot of what people share these days is video editing. There are those videos of high-school kids jumping around, and falling down, that will be unedited but, more often than not, in this meme culture – and especially with all this political stuff going on in America – there seems to be a premium on crafty video editing; which is exciting!
Is editing, at times, about accentuating the ridiculousness of society?
Yeah, I think so. That’s the interesting thing about what I do, I think. Some of my videos have been seen by a few million; most get somewhere between the ten-thousand to one-hundred-thousand range right now. So, I do kinda feel like I have some sort of responsibility to not cut out the truth, if that makes sense.
Do you consider some of your work, especially for Super Deluxe, to have a strong political agenda?
I’ll be honest, i’m not a journalist and that’s definitely something I’ve had to grapple with as I’ve done this for the past two years or so. It’s not really my responsibility to inform people of the news. I think it’s clear which side of the spectrum i’m on in my videos and I don’t find find any reason to hide that. Just because of that fact, they do take on a political agenda. So, I don’t sit down at my computer at the beginning of the day and say “I wanna push socialism or something”.
On Super Deluxe, Al Rokémon Go and the influence of video games:
What was behind the creation of Al Rokémon Go?
That video was one of the first ones I did for Super Deluxe, and was a ton of fun. Talking about Super Deluxe, i’m sure you guys have addressed Vic Berger’s work, right? He’s kinda been a mentor figure to me throughout all this. Since him and I have been doing stuff in the same realm of pop culture, there’s only so many ways you can manipulate footage. Vic really owns that brand, and he’s the best. .. I just recently decided to start doing this mash-up style stuff.
The challenge for me was: how can I assert myself into this landscape without infringing on Vic, without copying him of course, and without people thinking that i’m derivative of him? How can I find a place in the landscape that really feels like it’s my thing?
The Al Rokémon edit was an example of my knack for 90’s era video game stuff. I’m not a huge video game nerd, I don’t really consider myself a gamer, but I just, like a lot of people in my generation, have such an affinity for these games from the 90’s and early 2000’s. I think they’re so funny. So that was, originally, my way into Super Deluxe – realising “oh, I have this affinity for video games” and Al Roker, in some magical way, not only does his last name fit into “pokémon” but somehow he fits into the Pokémon landscape. For months I started crafting these edits that I just called “video game mash-ups”, which were very silly but they were my place and my voice in the landscape; to offer my opinion on these figures of pop-culture and politics.
To what degree are video games an influence on your whole output?
Again, I don’t sit down in the morning and think “my passion is to take pop-culture and mash it up until it resembles a video game” but, in the vast landscape of internet memes and video editors out there, I found that that was a unique way to express my opinions. So I just ran with it. I figured, “I’m gonna make that my brand. I’ll do Mario 64 next, i’ll do [Mortal] Kombat. I’ll do all these things I used to play as a kid,” because it seems like other people – other viewers – see that and connect with the commentary that i’m trying to make; the same way that i’m connecting with what i’m making.
On passion for silent film, Louie and surprises in the process:
Silent comedy seems to be a theme throughout your work, is it something you have a passion for?
Well, I didn’t go to film school but, halfway through college at this state school in New Jersey I was at, I discovered this love for cinema. I just started diving into the classics myself, which eventually led me to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
I think a lot of film nerds, in my community… we used to talk about the idea that great cinema should work in black and white; without sound.
Recently, I think it was two years ago, director Steven Soderbergh released an edit of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white, and silent. It was just on his website to show that that is like a perfect work of cinema.
Do you think these things are conscious or simply inherent in the process?
For Louis [CK], after looking at all the seasons of material that he’s made, I don’t know if it’s conscious or not but I can certainly say that, inherently in his work since he’s such an incredible filmmaker, it just comes through. Hopefully my edit works as a tribute to show that this guy isn’t just a silly comic. He’s making, to me, some of the most important cinema or screen expression of our time.
Having never seen Louie, I was amazed by how your silent edit still evoked the feeling and comedy of the piece.
That’s funny for me because I had the same reaction as an editor. I mean, I have a hunch that something’s going to work and, many times, it feels like magic – working with footage [where] you’re not sure what you’re gonna get. Stuff just starts presenting itself to you in the edit. Talking about how poetic video editing is, and how it’s an artform, it’s like when you’re an actor on a stage, trying to stay present in the scene, expressing yourself and being open to all these surprises and moments that people present to you. I think people don’t realise that editing is the same way.
If you’re really in tune with the footage, and you’re really present and open to what’s going on in your timeline, things will present themselves to you in a way that does really feel like magic.
On comparisons to YouTube Poop and the use of framing devices:
How do you feel about comparisons between your work and the more trashy world of YouTube Poop?
When I first got into this, people would always recommend I watch YouTube Poops! I make a lot of stuff for the internet, so I made the conscious choice – around two years ago – to kind of extract myself from freelance film-making and focus on this internet stuff.
At that time I knew that a lot of the stuff on the internet is trash. I will probably be contributing to the large pile of trash at some point but, to be honest, I think people should have high and low tastes.
I definitely do. I think Mario 64 is great. I think that Michelangelo Antonioni films are great! I only say that because I don’t want to come off as someone who’s like “you should never watch YouTube Poops! You should only watch fine cinema!”. I’m aware that my stuff is, y’know, expendable and that’s fine by me, to be honest.
This is my bread and butter. This is how I make my living – contributing to websites with videos. That was something that presented itself to me early on.
From guys like Vic Berger, and the people I work with at Super Deluxe and sites like Cafe.com, I have learned that it’s usually not enough just to chop up footage of somebody and zoom in on their mouth or add sound effects. That’s really funny for me but, to get published and for websites to take you seriously, you have to have a special take on it and a framing device is usually a really good start.
Like the framing device for [Seinfeld’s Holes] was kinda like a Carl Sagan, or Neil deGrasse Tyson science video. Injecting Seinfeld into that seems to be thought-provoking and fun and, for me, something I am able to to sell to a website and continue to pay my rent here!
On the evolution of pop culture and internet comments:
Your SNL: Art of the Opening Credits video, among others, seem to show an obsession with the evolution of pop culture. Is that something that interests you?
That sensibility is something that I picked up along the way of doing this stuff. For a little while I was contributing videos to the A.V. Club, and that was an A.V. Club project. Great site, and it was like a dream to be able to work for them in that time. Along the way of producing stuff for them, I started delving into the comments section and getting a sense of what people are taking away from my work.
Considering how hateful comments sections can often be, how frightening is that as a prospect?
It’s never been something that I really dread. Because these are videos made for the internet, I know there’s gonna be a degree of people just trolling. [There are] a lot of people who disagree, because they don’t really give the video the time of day or they just actually disagree.
To be honest, those comments usually make me laugh more than make me reconsider myself.
I only mentioned the comments section because I started to see that people were picking up on this idea that, if you take something and look at it under a microscope, sometimes the little details seem to elaborate on the whole. I had a class in school, it was called “Close Reading of Cinema”, and we’d watch a Hitchcock film maybe, like, three times. Then [we’d] watch it scene-by-scene and talk about [it] shot-by-shot, and look at its smallest micro-form to then infer the macro of the piece.
On musicianship, and the similarities between editing and music:
Through researching your work, I assume that you’re a musician?
I don’t play so much anymore but yeah, I come from a family of musicians and I used to study jazz trumpet. My two older brothers had a band and I was too young. I guess I never really caught the bug, at least on the trumpet! Maybe I picked the wrong instrument… My dad’s a jazz drummer. There was pressure to be a good musician, for sure, but my parents were real cool with making sure that i’m open to all sorts of expression. And, I think I kinda stunk at the trumpet to be honest! I definitely had a love for it and, from there, I started doing a lot of photography.
I guess I started feeling like the camera was my horn. Then, that led to video and really sitting in front of an editing bay. I felt like, “This is it! This is my jazz!”. I understand, y’know, the “chord structure”; I know where the “notes” are.
It really came naturally for me so i’m grateful that I found it.
As a musician, I feel that, by understanding the way music is composed, I get an insight into the way you edit videos.
I think Vic Berger studied music in college too! I wonder if that’s a thing among video editors; that they have at least a propensity toward music. To me, you can feel the cuts. You can feel it as you’re watching; you can feel the tempo. Cuts will present themselves to you in the same way that, if you’re soloing over a chord structure, you feel the music – you know what to play. I never had that feeling when I played the trumpet but, when i’m editing a video, there is a sense of “it’s there. I just have to be present”.
On editing for Fabian Almazan‘s Rhizome:
What was the process behind working with Fabian Almazan on his Rhizome project?
That was an incredible thing to get to work on. Fabian is a close family friend but he’s also a world-class pianist. He’s one of the best today, in the landscape of jazz pianists. I’ve been lucky enough to know him through my older brother. When I started getting really serious about photography I used to go to Fabian’s recording sessions and just take photos; I had an interest in jazz photography. Sometime along the way, he collaborated with this choreographer and these dancers to choreograph a piece to one of the songs on his new album – with the idea that it would be filmed and I would edit it. I ended up not being able to be part of the directing process, which was a drag. Then, I was handed this big hard-drive full of footage.
[It wasn’t] really unlike what I do today, where i’m handed this footage from a political speech, or a movie that i’m recutting. I’ve always had a knack for taking something that’s already been shot and cutting a story out of it. With his music it’s almost too easy, because it’s so great!
A lot of times in an edit you have to manufacture your own tempo and your own music. With that song, the dance was there and the music was already so incredible. All I had to do was match image to sound, which is easy for me. He kinda just gave me full reign, so I just went as far as I wanted to go and had a great time with it.
On the equality of art-forms:
Image and sound – I think an editor really needs to look at them as sort of the same thing.
How do you feel about the equality of, and similarities between, various forms of expression?
My girlfriend is an actress, and we talk all the time about how acting and editing are kinda one and the same. All these art-forms are… We’re all getting at the same thing. I think it’s an important thing to remember because some people in the film community put a premium on, say, directing or writing; as if they’re the most precious part of the process.
Films are made by editors. There would be no film, no assemblage, if not for an editor.
If you have films that are really edited, rather than just, like, assembled… I think a good example of that is a lot of the work of Martin Scorsese. [It’s] so great! His editing is so robust and dynamic. Something that I’ve been surprised by in my years as a freelance editor [is], sometimes filmmakers will hand you footage and the soundtrack has not been chosen yet, so you have to edit to a temp track (or to no soundtrack at all). [You have to] just imagine what the final music might sound like.
That must be like having a hand tied behind your back?
Yeah! For me, maybe since I didn’t go to film school [or] really learn how to be an editor, it just doesn’t make sense to me. The music is such an essential part of the edit, and I don’t think that’s a precious thing to be saying – “I need my sound right before I start cutting!”. You can’t really imagine what an edit is going to feel like, unless you have that soundtrack in place.
On The Sopranos, and the validity of editing pre-existing footage:
What was the thinking behind The Finnerty Family Reunion?
That has been something that’s been sitting on my hard-drive for months; maybe a year, now. I’ve been bugging writers across the internet to help me get it out there [and] compose a piece. If you take out all the interstitial scenes in that sequence, that dream sequence itself becomes like a really, really interesting short film. [It] feels at times like David Lynch. [It] feels at times like Mad Men, because it’s kind of detached from the mobster stuff. To me, it feels like an alternate dimension Sopranos show.
It’s similar to the project I did with Louie working as a silent film. Taking an element of the show, and presenting it in full, shows viewers just the level of craftsmanship of the show as a whole.
While some might question the validity of making such an edit, I personally see it as its own expression.
The way I look at it is, it’s film criticism – or TV; whatever you’re looking at. If you’re looking at a piece of art, rather than a politician giving speech, and you find something interesting in there, you can write about it, you can do a podcast about it or you could make a video of it. To me, it’s no different.
Great filmmakers and great artists pack so much into their work, consciously and unconsciously. If they’re great craftsmen and great artists, it’s all in there waiting for us to unpack. So, the way I prefer to unpack it is in a video edit.
On the internet beginning the blur the lines of different art-forms, and how it should be used to its fullest:
Do you feel like, rather than rigid mediums like “Film”, “TV” and “Music”, the lines of creativity are becoming increasingly blurred?
A lot of times, if i’m at a party or something, people ask me what I do. To be honest, i’m kind of bashful about it. I don’t really know exactly how to explain it. One time I was at a party, for example, in a hip neighbourhood in Brooklyn.
Somebody asked me what I do and I said, “well, I wake up in the morning, I look at news footage and then I re-cut it, re-contextualise it, mash it up and then sell it to a website”. They said, “So, does that, like, make you wanna kill yourself?”.
People are so cynical about social media, even though we all use it. Even though social media is really just people. When you say that you hate Facebook, what you’re saying is that you hate people, from my point of view. [It’s just] people being people. I mean, there’s corporations on there and you can hate that! That makes sense to me. I’m not cynical about social media. I’ve always loved it. I guess i’m uniquely situated to enjoy it. I like chaos! I like the pissing contest. I acknowledge that most of what happens on the internet is, kind of, a competition for – i don’t know – popularity maybe? Also, it’s fun. To me it’s like this whirlwind of fun. It’s like a circus to me.
I often feel like our generation themselves aren’t fully sure of where things are moving towards; we’re just exploring our own creativity.
I’ve had this argument with filmmakers in my community, and artists in general. Originally I was working in video production, at a company, doing the corporate video producer route. I started making these edits on the side, for fun. Then, I saw that they were taking off and, eventually, sites such as Cafe.com, The Daily Beast and Super Deluxe started offering me money for these edits. So, I got to a point where I felt that I could just quit my job and do this. When I told people that, they would say, “so you’re just gonna do stuff like silly bullshit for the internet?”. In a way, that is what i’m doing but, to me, why wouldn’t you make stuff for the web? It’s the biggest audience that a filmmaker is ever going to get, at this level.
For an independent filmmaker, video editor, musician [or] artist, why are you not putting your stuff online? Are you scared of what people are going to say about it? Are you not confident in yourself? Do you really think that people don’t want to look at your work? It’s a stage.
To me, the internet is just a big stage. Sometimes, five million people look at my edit. Why would I make a short film that’s just going to get seen by, like, twenty people in a film festival setting, at a screening, [when] I can make an edit that could be seen by hundreds of thousands of people? Cinema is really important, and you should make art for art’s sake, of course, but there’s also a level of, “I want people to see what i’m trying to say. I want my voice to be heard. I want my opinion to be shared”. Of course I do.
Are you an artist? “Yes”. Do you put your work on Facebook? “Of course not”. Why not?! I don’t understand, does it really only belong on a stage or a recording studio?
My old model was, “I’m going to make a short film that’s going to get into a festival, like Sundance, and then, from there, i’m going to gain enough exposure, recognition and funding to make a feature film. I’ll be a filmmaker.”. It’s kind of an old way to look at the landscape and everyone has a different path.
The path of creativity presents itself differently to every artist.
I make a video about Olympic butt slaps. That’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s funny, it makes people laugh, I had fun making it, I got paid for it, I can pay my rent and I can keep working on my screenplay on the side. Hopefully I get enough followers on Twitter, one day, that I can shoot and produce my screenplay. People will watch it and i’ll have a built-in audience.
Do you agree that social media allows for you to simply “bitesize” what you do?
I think that’s the important distinction. I don’t just make videos about butt slaps and expect that to be my life. I have goals and aspirations and i’m trying to contribute to the cultural landscape, on the internet, making some videos that, I will admit, could seem frivolous. That’s okay. As long as, at the end of the day, i’m still writing, performing and taking my art seriously. Even if it’s comedy.
On Tim & Eric, and finding confidence:
As my very first, I hope this interview has been more engaging than one of those corporate jobs; like all those great Tim & Eric interviews!
Clearly, i’m sure you can tell, they’re a big influence on my work. They’re such a part of my story. In high school, I found out about them and i’m sure a lot of people feel the same way. I found that they had a sense of humour that, finally, was special just to me. No-one else really found it as funny as I did, so they became a special part of my life, I think.
As I got older, I started making these videos. As I explained earlier, I started making them for fun on the side. Specifically, I made a video about Geico ads.
That was the second video I ever made; like a mash up video for the web. I tweeted it at Tim Heidecker, along with a rough cut of the Bill Cosby edit (where I took out all the laughter from his stand-up).
Those two videos, he picked up on. He gave me a call, on the phone. He gave me a call when I was at work one day, to compliment me on my video and just talk to me.
He basically said, “there are people out there who are about your work, and I just wanted to give you a call and make you aware. There are people above you who can help you, and keep doing what you’re doing. You have something”. That was so special to me. After that, I quit my job; floating on the confidence that he gave me.
From there, really, my whole life changed. It was such a sweet thing for him to do. I’m eternally grateful. Without the confidence that he put in me I don’t know if I would have quit my job and everything. Also Vic Berger too, man, he shares my work sometimes [and] gives me advice. Those guys have really guided me through a lot of this.
I think that, if I received a call from Tim Heidecker, i’d never lose confidence in my work again!
I talked to a few other guys and apparently Tim is kinda known to do that sort of thing, which I have so much admiration to him for.
I’ve heard about him feeling like he wants to give back after receiving a helping hand from Bob Odenkirk. It’s so great to hear that he offered you a helping hand. I feel you’ve offered one yourself by agreeing to this interview, so thank you deeply for such an insightful conversation.
You giving me the chance to talk about my work – that means so much to me. Like I said, this is, kind of, what it’s all about.