Editing in reality television requires always racing against the clock. You're constantly trying to make deadlines, set up narratives, and bring characters to the forefront.

Now, imagine doing all of that, and trying to edit dance numbers as well.

That's what they have to do on Dancing With the Stars.

We sat down with editors Ben Bulatao, ACE and Laurens Van Charante to chat about editing the huge TV show, breaking into the industry, and much more.

Check it out below.

Charli D’Amelio & Mark Ballas Finale Performance | Dancing with the Starswww.youtube.com

Editor's note: the following interview is edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: How did you both get started as editors?

Ben: Growing up with parents from the Philippines, I was always told that the only way to make money is to choose a profession in the medical field. I went to University of California, Irvine and graduated with a degree in Biological Sciences in hopes of becoming a dentist. After I graduated, I couldn’t get myself to go to dental school. Instead, I took a UCLA Extension Class in Apprentice Film Editing. I applied for a job as a digitizer for a production company that made informercials.

At that time, non-linear editing was novice. I didn’t know how to work Avid Media Composer at the time, but told the editor I was willing to work for free if he taught me how to digitize in Avid. He agreed and three months later after working the graveyard shift, they hired me full time. I met my future boss there who took me wherever she went, and the rest is history.

Laurens: That’s really funny, both my parents are dentists (retired) and I had no desire to follow into their footsteps. I’m a transplant as well. I grew up in a small town in The Netherlands and I simply loved film and television. As a teenager, I took more to editing than filmmaking. I’d hook up two VHS recorders and cut montages from my favorite movies like Star Wars, Die Hard, and most definitely Robocop to tunes from Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe.

I ended up going to film school at Syracuse University and afterwards started working as a PA at a motion graphic design company in NYC. They needed someone to edit promo pieces for some Playstation games. My boss saw my work and went “hey that’s pretty good”. After I moved to LA, I did some odd jobs before landing a gig working alongside Ben actually.

NFS: nWhat is the collaboration process like on Dancing with the Stars or unscripted shows in general?

Ben: For unscripted shows, it’s definitely all hands on deck as we try to figure out what the stories are from the hundred of hours of footage that are shot.

Laurens: Collaboration on a show like Dancing with the Stars is key. We work closely with our story producing team. As the shooting schedules for our packages revolve around a very tight rehearsal schedule with the celebrities and their pro dancing partners, we start the edit without all the footage we may need. We will get started with what we have and upgrade within the short edit period of a week to create the package.

As editors, we may work on a package, but during the notes process, if things get crazy (and they can), another available editor may do those. The key is to get the packages locked for air after a 5 day edit schedule, which does mean it’s all hands on deck. It’s humbling for editors as we can’t get precious about certain things. We just need to trust each other to get these packages done and dusted.

NFS: What was the initial inspiration for the tribute to Len Goodman?

Laurens: Len Goodman was an icon. The perfect judge for Dancing with the Stars and a better human being when the cameras weren’t rolling. We did a retirement package the season before to mark the end of an era.

When Len unexpectedly passed, we knew we needed to craft him a package to define that era. Our executive producer Conrad Green and co-executive producer Alex Cross came up with the idea of interviewing the dance pros who used to be on the show. These dancers knew Len best, both from being judged by him on the show to behind the scenes where they shared a bond and a friendship. I mean some of them knew Len from when they were kids! Their memories of him really made this piece special and even more so as the package led into a live tribute dance in honor of Len. Together, they made for an unforgettable moment in television which made us all tear up.

NFS: Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories from the editing room during this project?

Ben: What was so cool was to actually go back to work in person at the CBS Television City where the show is shot. Since the pandemic, I’ve worked remotely from home for about three years. This was a hybrid schedule where I worked from home Thursday and Friday. I was working at the studio Saturday to Monday. On my breaks, I would walk down to the studio which was one floor below post, and I would be able to watch the pro dancers and their celebrity partners rehearse while the directors/producers were blocking their performance, framing shots for the cameras. This was definitely a lot more fun than just working from home in my pajamas.

Laurens: Working on the tribute was quite emotional and the first screening of the package with the executive producers is one I won't forget. Afterwards, everyone was in tears and it felt like we had nailed the piece. The cut ended up being longer than we were allowed by our stage team, but Conrad, bless him, agreed that the tribute needed to come in longer. It just felt right to give Len that respect and honesty as thanks for making the show as popular as it is today.

NFS: How long did the entire editing process take from start to finish?

Laurens: Since we’re a weekly show, we basically get five days to edit a package. I start a day after the main team since I work on show days when the other editors are off. This is in case a package needs a last minute change. For Len’s tribute, I actually had four days so I’m glad Ben got the head start. Deadlines certainly are tight, but it does force you to take decisions quicker.

NFS: How do you handle the emotional weight of working on this tribute for Len Goodman?

Ben: I’ve been a fan of Len Goodman from the very beginning in Season one. When Len suddenly left the show at the end of Season 31, I was really sad, but when he passed not too long after he left, I was devastated. Len to me felt like the main judge with the most experience on the judges panel. I felt that the executive producers and DWTS team would make sure we’d do Len’s tribute justice. Everyone from the professional dancers to DWTS team universally loved Len. I’m so proud of how the tribute turned out.

Laurens: It was quite an honor being asked to work on this tribute and by no means was it an easy edit. I got quite emotional every edit session, but I always figured that if I’m crying than the most likely the audience will too. I just focused on creating the best piece we could. The most important thing was to give Len a tribute he deserved and I’m proud to say that the entire DWTS team pulled together and made that happen.

NFS: What did you learn from this project that you will take into future editing projects?

Ben: Working on Dancing with the Stars’ tight schedule forced me to edit more efficiently. We had five days to cut the packages that went into the live tapings every Tuesday. We had to go through 4 rounds of notes leading to the day before the live show and I had to make quick and final decisions to move on to the next note.

Laurens: As Ben said, with the deadlines, we have to be a fast as we can while we retain quality and overall vision. Leaning on our producers and fellow editors is key to the process. Also working closely with the various music libraries, such as Extreme Music, Fine Tune Music and Pink Shark Music, has been a joy on this show and frankly invaluable. We have points of contact for each and being able to request specific music styles, tempos, arrangements, et cetera is a real blessing.

NFS: What do each of you have coming up next?

Ben: I’m not sure what my next project is yet. It’s been really slow in the entertainment industry because of the ongoing negotiations with the various unions. I really hope to return to Dancing with the Stars. It was the most fun project I’ve worked on in a while.

Laurens: I’m currently in Fiji on Love Island USA Season 6 as supervising editor, a show I’ve done every season of. After that I go back to Dancing with the Stars Season 33.