To be an editor

I've recently started an acting class (more on that soon), and as it's a beginners class the attendees generally aren't in the industry. One or two would like to write or direct, but generally people are within other careers.

I've been honest and told them what I do. Here's a conversation I had last week after class with a small group:


Them: so what do you edit?
Me: Animation, mostly, at the moment. I have a short film or two coming up on the side.
Them: So where do you go after that? What is it you want to be?
Me: An editor.
Them: No, I mean, would you like to direct?
Me: Nope. I love editing.
Them: But... you already edit. What do you do next?
Me: Edit more. Edit better.


I'm not denying that there are editors out there who have always had their hearts set on directing. After enough sets of bad dailies I have sometimes wanted to make a film under the impression I at least knew a lot of what not to do.... perhaps that's why I'm doing well in animation editing where I have input over the way the framing works, the timing of lines, and the way we actively expect lines to be re-recorded to change performance.

Perhaps it's the lack of perceived credit/ glamour in the eyes of the public that puts the job down? I'd imagine most people on the street would find it very difficult to name any editor. Ask them about directors, and the job becomes much easier. It's true, our sector of the industry does seem to get marginalised (I remember commenting on Twitter one time when I noticed the editorial department credits of a feature film listed below on-set catering) and ACE and MPEG are actively campaigning for greater festival recognition of editors (see for more information). Editors are traditionally seen as the quiet workers behind the scenes, and that's how a lot like it. But the lack of recognition for the job as a craft, and to want to always learn how to do your job better, does sometimes grate.

Business cards - a personal odyssey

I got my first business cards when I was 20. At the time, I considered it pretentious - and I'm sure that was also the view of my peers when they happened to notice, but the fact was that I was starting to be asked for my phone number and email address by people who may want to pay me money for work. They were very formal based on a template at the company I ordered from, and were basically what I thought a business card should look like; if slightly different from the black text on white card "business" business cards. I didn't have a website, and just a single personal email address through which all of my email went. I still have a stack of them somewhere, gathering dust.

Time passed, and as I prepared to move on from film school back into the world, I got my own website and domain - and therefore new cards. This time I went with a style which has usually been described as funky. Again, they were based on a website template with custom colours, but they were significantly less formal; whilst still standing apart from the black on white formality.

These are currently the cards which I give out to the places where I work, and at certain other times - usually for people who already know me but don't yet have the full set of contact details. They fit neatly into existing systems for card indexing, they're reasonably distinctive amongst many cards, and all of the information is on the front with a plain white back (for additional notes). What they lack is any aspect of me - after all, they're once again based on a template at the site I used.

So what I now have are these half-sized cards from (they also do full-size, postcards, stickers....)

Utterly generic front (top left) with all of the relevant information, but on the back I was able to select photos to upload. I selected images from 3 different projects to match different areas of expertise:

  • Pirates(bottom right) - on which I was VFX Editor, and certainly the film which I'm most likely to mention to people at networking events. By giving them this card, they can associate that conversation with my information.
  • Cherry on the Cake (bottom left) - an animation graduation film from the NFTS, representing my interest in animation editing. 
  • Brixton 85 (top right) - a short film at the NFTS, and one of the most successful from my time there. The director Tom Green went on to direct episodes of Misfits, and is currently working on a BBC drama. This card therefore represents my interest in drama editing, and from my showreel it's usually the clip that people most remember when I'm meeting up with them to discuss work.

I carry these cards around with me at all times in their nifty custom case, and by far collectively they're currently my most-used. Certainly in networking contexts, being able to hand someone my card and show them the image from the film most relevant to the type of opportunity I may be offered, and then talk a little about it - it's a great visual aid, and hopefully something which will inspire them to check out my website to find out more. Next time I order them, I'll probably get different sets with different job titles - these were a trial on a special order, and they'd only accept one 'front' - but they've proven to be pretty popular.

Then, of course, there's the issue of social networking. I have a large number of links (LinkedIn, Twitter, various UK job site profies) on the top right of every page of my website - do they belong on a card? Increasingly so, it seems. And since I know that I've instantly followed (or at least looked up) someone on Twitter when they've included their username in a presentation, it seems increasingly relevant. At least until the next big thing comes along?

Sheffield Doc/Fest review

The graduating editors of the NFTS got to spend the weekend at this year's Doc/Fest - delegates pass, hotel and travel expenses paid by the school. So off we trotted up the M1... traffic accidents and randomly somehow getting lost in Coventry notwithstanding, it was great to spend some time with the others who went away from the edit suite. And see some films, of course. Here are some thoughts on some of the films I saw.

The good:

Even though it's been released theatrically, I still hadn't seen Man on Wire (dir. James Marsh) before going to the festival. But I'm so glad that I got to see it on a cinema screen. The scale of the stills and archive footage of the event itself and those leading up to it could never be fully appreciated on a home television. And the documentary itself is fantastic - it's mostly led by interviews of those involved, chiefly the wire-walker himself (Philippe Petit) - who is just as charismatic as you'd expect of the person who dreamed up the stunt before the towers had even been built. What's more, it helped turned the Twin Towers back into the things of beauty and achievement that it's been difficult to see them as since 2001.

Japan: A Story of Love And Hate (dir. Sean McAllister) is also worth a mention. It's a film of juxtapositions - English filmmaker in Japan, Japanese worker with anti-establishment leanings, previous and present situations for its lead character Naoki... everything about it seemed to enhance the story of Naoki and a side of Japan not often seen in the Western World.

The interesting:

A work-in-progress Manic Street Preachers documentary 'No Manifesto' was screened at the festival, largely attended by fans of the band. At times it read a little like a PR piece for the band, at others confused about what it was trying to do when it tried to seamlessly blend input from the band members on certain events with speculation from the fans about the happenings (as if they wanted the band to say something specific but just filled it in with the nearest available source if it wasn't there).... which was at least partially explained when the director Q&A revealed that she made it because she was a fan of the band, and had got the band on board after compiling a reel of fan interviews and archive footage. This also explained the level of detail wherein we saw extended scenes of band members making their breakfast or talking about their compost heaps. I've certainly been so much a fan of something that I've wanted to know everything possible on the topic. And with that in mind, I'm sure it will sell well to the MSP fans out there. But within the context of the festival it fell short, somehow.

The downright hilarious:

We Are Wizards - a documentary about the growth of 'wizard rock' bands in the US. Admittedly, a certain degree of knowledge of the Harry Potter books will help massively here. But seeing the boys of 'Harry and the Potters' happily decide that they've come out on top over the high school kid who won class president over one of them because they're in a documentary and he's not, or listening to the 'Draco and the Malfoys' lyrics of "My dad's rich and your dad's dead".... Fantastic stuff.

BFI 52nd London Film Festival

As a student, I got free access to the press and industry screenings at this year's London Film Festival. I could also attend daytime (before 5pm) screenings so long as they hadn't sold out. It's a pretty good deal, and one that I'll be sorry to see go once I leave the NFTS.

Student delegate pass for the London Film Festival 2008 Student delegate pass for the London Film Festival 2008

I managed to get to four films in total, all press screenings.

Frost/Nixon was screened at the Odeon in Leicester Square (where a large number of UK/ world premieres are held), and drew quite a large crowd. Having recently taken quite an interest in film adaptations of theatrical pieces (since noticing a dialogue scene in a restaurant in David Hare's My Zinc Bed SCREAM OUT that it was timed for live performance of a certain genre - even though it leant itself well to the discomfort of the on-screen situation), the adaptation of this was superb - notably so since both leads had of course been playing the roles for some time, and would have had to overcome differences within the adaptation. Similarly, the setting didn't seem too 'sceney' - the flow of locations and discussions and character encounters were precise and correct. And whilst I know just about nothing about the historical relevancies and accuracies of the story, enough information was given as was necessary for the plot and genre whilst not labouring it out. Fantastic film, brillliantly structured.

One of the criticisms that student films here often get is that the motivation of characters is missing, or their actions are unbelievable. By the time this point is raised to a significant level, we're usually within the final stages of the edit and the "do we need to reshoot or can we fix it?" question is whispered amongst the significant production crew members.  Of course by that point we're usually so far into the process that either the budget's disappeared in its entirety (along with the contingency and any 'extra funding' occasionally raised on the sly), or we're so far into the woods on a crammed schedule that we can't see the trees for the caterpillars on the leaves. So it's useful to be able to spot it and other common flaws in the work of others, as a known easy pitfall. And I certainly recognised the signs in 1234, a low budget British first feature. Their press release focusses massively on the looks, cast and music... which for a film about a band are all clearly major points and probably the things that a target box office audience would care most about after all (and the music backing/ references are certainly all in place). And it certainly functions as a story - the first half concerning the build-up of the band is great, and the audience at the screening were all along for the ride. But then during the gradual break-up of the band, the film seemed to come apart too. Things which seemed inevitable were treated as surprises, significant actions came either completely out of the blue or after a massive delay during which the pace of the film seemed to slow.... still, it makes it clear just how much I've learnt from making the mistakes that I've made whilst cutting myself.

Director/ Editor Antonio Campos on Afterschool:
I made a short film in 2004 called Buy it now, which was about a teenage girl who sells her virginity on eBay [...] But there was so much rapid cutting and too much music on the soundtrack; it took away from the experience because it felt so cluttered. I decided to make a film about teenagers and do everything in the opposite manner. As opposed to a lot of cutting and a heavy score to try to communicate the sense of adolesence, I decided to watch a confused adolescent in a room, watch two kids talk, observe a conversation between a mother and daughter uninterrupted. And I liked it. I liked watching people.

I had read that before watching the film, and it did help to explain a lot of the decisions... which were often well-judged (a section where the principal of the school is leading a service for the two dead girls is framed for him - and remains so when the mostly much shorter school children go up to deliver their tributes), but did sometimes feel like something he was stubbornly trying to do past the usefulness of the shot. The tribute video which the main character co-shoots and edits is a lesson in editing appropriately for the purpose, though!

Last up was Slumdog Millionaire - Danny Boyle's latest film, set in India and investigating the life of a child from the slums in India who is one question away from winning the top prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And it was fantastic. Gritty, emotional, harrowing, beautiful, funny, human. The overall effect was outstanding. It's not out til next year, and does mark a massive change of pace and scene for its director, but I'd recommend it even above Frost/Nixon for the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the story.

The Eight Stages of the Edit

... as copied from a printout on the wall at the place where I digitise. Origin unknown. Argue on the precise ordering/ repetition amongst yourselves.

  1. Optimism - "This could be really good."

  2. Confidence - "This is great!"

  3. Doubt - "This is what they want, right?"

  4. Resolve - "Fuck 'em! We can do this!"

  5. Despair - "Fuck, we can't do this!"

  6. Siege Mentality - "Fuck everyone, what the fuck do they know?"

  7. Insane Euphoria - "Hahahahahaha! Who gives a fuck? Let's edit with our toes like Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Let's voice it ourselves. On helium. Let's fashion part three from brie or jam or Old Spice or bits of dog."

  8. Relief - "Pub?"

Film-making in hazardous situations

This email was forwarded to everyone at my Film School, and I wanted to share it further afield.

It's from the INDEPENDENT FILM & TELEVISON COLLEGE in Baghdad, and details some of their most recent news, tragedies, and their achievements in the face of it all.

Remarkable, really. Makes you think that little bit longer before complaining about any lack of freedom you may have experienced in shooting/ cutting your most recent project.

Hello, wordpress

I've just migrated my blog from movable type to wordpress. Whilst I do enjoy learning new programming languages (ish) and being able to customise to my heart's content, movable type was just a little too advanced for me and most of the time I had no idea what had gone wrong whenever something didn't appear right, or hadn't logged in correctly. There are some features I miss, and I haven't had a proper play yet... but ease of use is a pretty big thing for me, and wordpress just slid right on. Links should have been redirected, new RSS feed.

So here's the new blog, which I can also update from school - which may be slightly dangerous. In any case, I'm currently officially half-way through my winter fiction edit (last fiction before the graduation films) - though only just past the first cut stage because of spending the first week waiting for the year above's grad films to play out on the HDCAM deck I needed,  then sorting through the rushes once I'd digitised them. But it's now resembling a film, however lumpy.

I've now teamed up for my graduation animation film. I'm working with Hye Bin Lee, who I'm really happy to be working with again after an excercise last year, and Michelle 'BAFTA nominated' Eastwood. As some called her at the time. We're getting our documentary pitches later this week, then fiction after our Easter break. Presumably once we've finished editing the current project and the directors have had time to properly think about their films.

Oh, and Walter Murch visited the school for a day. Weird guy, but great. Covered a lot of the stuff that's in In the Blink of an Eye, but also had some very entertaining images and techniques. And my fellow editors at school no longer see me as hyper-organised, relatively speaking (though they still mock my colour scheming). But he's very careful to stress that these things are what works for him - different people may find different styles. Just because he likes to wear the same jumper when sound-mixing, and take photos of the buildings where he's edited (with his window circled) he's not suggesting that we all do!

Except you should always stand up - he’s quite clear on that. Good old Walter.

First Post

I always find myself fascinated by people who don't keep a diary. Maybe I'm absent-minded, maybe I just have too damn much going on in my life and don't necessarily know what I'll be doing in 6 hours' time let alone next week, maybe they all just have some higher filing system set up.... but my life would fall apart without knowing who I've signed each specific hour away to on any given day, and then being able to look back several months later to check up on invoices and schedules and the like.

Well today I upgraded. Surprisingly not technologically - I can't be fussed with all of that PDA stuff - charging it up, spending even more of my life gazing at an LCD screen, being laughed at by the Blackberry brigade... no, I've gone for the good old fashioned filofax. Last seen in the 1980s. So it must be coming round again soon, right?

I'll attribute my excessive joy at looking through it and buying it accessories already as a mix of the girly need for stationery at the start of a new school year, plus sheer utter boredom and a need for life to restart again soon. For now, my NFTS dissertation's about as close as it gets. And let's face it - watching endless Red Dwarf reruns on Dave is more interesting than that.