Notes and Quotes from EditFest London

Yesterday - Saturday 29th June, was the first ever EditFest in London. The EditFest is a day's worth of talks organised by the American Cinema Editors - and has previously been held in Los Angeles and New York.

I took some notes and made some very ropey audio recordings, and would like to share some of the quotes from the day here. Each session was 90 minutes long, so what's below is only a very very small fraction of the insights shared during the day by the guests - and doesn't at all represent the more personal discussions that attendees were able to have with the panellists between sessions and during drinks afterwards.  

Overall it was an absolutely amazing day, and I hope they come back next year (as has been hinted).


DISCLAIMER - While I have tried my absolute best to preserve the context and intention of the quotes given, they may not be wholly accurate. Some words and sentences have been removed or paraphrased for clarity, interest, brevity, or because I can't make out what what was said from the recording.


Small Screen, Big Picture – Panel with Television Editors

 Moderated by Gordon A. Burkell founder of Art of the Guillotine


On viewing rushes:

KH - To me, performance is through the eyes, I respond to what I feel when I'm watching it and I'll make a note of that. And then it's the overall feel of the scene. And I'll look in the script and I'll say where's the value of this scene, how am I going to shape this scene?
OO - My editing room needs a sofa, because once I look at the rushes I need to have a lie down [to think]. It's about finding the nugget. You try and get the best out of that material. It's story, story, story - and then, if you can shape the drama around the story.
FP - I do love watching the rushes, I always watch everything, which is getting more and more difficult with the ratios now. I worked out last season that they are now shooting at 60:1. It used to be that drama was shot at 15:1. But I still do try, though I have to admit that now I sometimes skim. You do have to discard things a little earlier than I would like to. If you're looking at a dialogue scene, I always watch everything. And I make notes, extensive notes, on the script. By reading the rushes you read what the intention is of the director and the actors, and I try to be quite faithful to that, I think it's disrespectful to try to work against it at that stage, even if you're not entirely in agreement with it. And then it's just a question of honing it down. I often assemble quickly and then leave it, because I think you can overwork things and you lose the point of it. And when you come back and look at it and you say "ah, that's the real point of the scene" - it may not be what you thought from watching the rushes. But actually the focus is right there, and you can then make everything work towards that point. And then of course, it all changes: it grows, it subtracts, as you go along - and once you add other scenes you need to change the whole thing again. So it's a very fluid thing.
KE - I'm most interested in telling the story as simply as possible. and hopefully one bit of story at a time rather than a lot of inter-cutting.  With dialogue, I tend to imagine I'm in the theatre looking at the stage at a play or something, and which character I would be looking at, who I would be most interested in.
On building the suspense when cutting a horror film:

KH - I tend to just follow the script. I started cutting horror films because I'd cut dialogue and period dramas for over 10 years, and I was offered a horror film after Girl With a Pearl Earring, and it seemed like it would be a change, it would be nice to cut an action movie rather than a dialogue movie. Sound is absolutely essential, but that's the sound designer's job. But it's always a lovely surprise when I see it dubbed.
On working with actors' performances:

KH - Sometimes you have to throw away what may be the most amazing part because it's just too much [emotion].
OO - You have to know what the story is saying in that scene, and find the moment that impacts that scene.




From Dailies to Delivery – Editing Features
Moderated by Mick Audsley – Harry Potter and the Goblet Fire, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


On the move into digital, and the impact on editing and screenings:

JW -  I've edited quite a lot of films on celluloid, and quite a lot on computers. I'll be controversial here, I don't miss handling film, really. The only thing that rewinding Steenbecks etc gave you was thinking time, and that's something we don't get enough of.
MA - I favoured the Moviola, because everyone was terrified of this thing. And only two of us could look down the barrel at the image, so really only a director and an editor could look. What it meant was there was a very clear distinction between cutting privately, and then the theatre was the only way that that work was ever assessed. and it was an event, it was exciting event, and people concentrated on it because they had to come physically to watch your movie. And it was thrilling. Of course, nowadays what we all experience is you go into a room and there's dozens of screens. The concentration, the event, the closeless has gone. People wander in and out. It's not special.
CD - I find that you lose your train of thought when too many people come. When you had to cut film you really had to think it through first. 
MA - you'd have to construct a scene in your head, and then physically do it. You couldn't start without any idea and then think "oh, I've gone up the wrong road" - because that was half a day gone.
JW - in the days of cutting on Steenbecks you had the luxury of usually one strand of sound. Now it's gone the other way, we are expected to hand over virtually a fully dubbed movie.
MA - The schedules are getting shorter and shorter. And "Lock Picture" means nothing. We were talking about a "soft lock" - what the hell is a soft lock? Suddenly you've got to hit these deadlines. 9 times out of 10 you get to the week before the dub and somebody else starts phoning you with a whole load of changes. 
EH - [On "X-Men: First Class"] I cut previz for about 2 months before the film started shooting. And then it was 9 months from the start of the shoot til when the film came out. It was myself and another editor. And the film was shooting for 7 months. With breaks. We locked the edit 9 days after the end of the shoot. It's insane, because they have a release date. They greenlight the film pretty late, knowing that they can effectively throw money at visual effects companies around the world to make sure that the visual effects are done. And people were seeing cuts the day after the stuff was shot, and making visual effects decisions, because you have a shot that costs maybe $200,000 - crazy numbers. And people are making decisions about whether they should write a new scene, or build this set, or strike this set, based on stuff you've done. And so that's just a fact of life when you're working on those big movies. You have to cut stuff quickly, and you have to be pretty confident that it's an accurate representation of what's there.
Are scripts important?

EH - I love reading scripts. I tell all my friends who are writers to send me scripts. I feel like the more scripts you read, the better you get at reading scripts. I listen to my gut feelings about scripts because I trust my instincts so strongly that I feel that if there's an issue in the script that if it's not addressed before the shoot that will bite us in the arse in the cutting room, which they always will, then I try my hardest to point them out and say "this is a big problem in the script, you should seriously consider fixing this". In terms of choosing jobs, I mean, let's be honest there's a lot of unemployed people in the industry and I don't get huge numbers of job offers. Occasionally I may happen to get a choice of two films at a certain time of the year and I'll choose one or the other. So you're lucky to be employed, and sometimes you may have a hunch that a film is only going to be average and it's a shame, but you need to pay the bills - and you engage whole-heartedly with the film in order to try and breathe as much life into it as you can. If a great script comes up, then fantastic, but they're not that frequent. I mean, how many great films do we actually see each year? Three? So the odds of working on a truly great film are pretty small. 
TG - The intended audience for a script and a film are very different. The script has many uses, both for actors and producers. Because in order for it to work on paper it has to be long.. you need more information to tell the story on paper. And certainly dialogue scenes have to be longer for the actors to get a real feeling for the characters. As an editor reading a script I always have instinctual feelings for what may feel repetitive later on, or on what could possibly go. I keep those to thoughts to myself. But if something isn't working, not clear enough, or I see something that might cause a huge problem later, I always make my thoughts known to the director. If there is a problem on the page; it will be on the screen. Script has to work.*
EH - I read the script before the film, and if I'm cutting a scene where I don't know what comes before then I will read the page that comes before that. But effectively I don't read the script after the first day of the shoot. It doesn't matter what's in the script - if they haven't shot it then it can't be in the film. I actually just look at the footage and the strengths and weaknesses in the footage because that's all that matters.
On how to avoid becoming overly-familiar with the material:

CD - I suppose the environment you watch it in is key. For me it goes back to the script, if you like it then you have a connection to the material, that allows you to watch it more and carry on editing. A very physical way of doing it is take it somewhere else - watch it at home, in a screening room. I try to watch it through someone else's eyes. I try to but it's almost impossible because the minute you start getting too used to something is the minute you can't see it. When people give you notes, I try not to dismiss any notes. Some of the notes that you have a really strong reaction to, albeit negative, are the... it's a good thing. Your negative reaction may because you're far too used to the scene. I don't dismiss anything. If people are too closed to new ideas, the film is almost never a success. 
JW - it takes me 5 years to watch a movie I've cut to really see the effect.