Choppy Times

Despite what the title might suggest, this won’t be an in-depth look at the recent weather conditions or the impact of recent political frivolities going on between Britain and the EU. That said, I’m sure someone will cover the latter subject and the impact it will have for film-making (anyone?).

This entry is really all a brief history about my editing experiences (for those that are remotely interested). As a film-maker, I can safely say this is the area I have had most exposure with over the years and where I feel most confident. Even when directing, I’m really piecing things together with my editor-cap on. It’s no wonder that so many editors go on to become directors.

John Glen
Here I am with Bond Editor/Director John Glen. He started as editor on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Later he became the director of five Bond movies, including For Your Eyes Only and the Timothy Dalton entries.

Editing is full of painful decisions, making sure things flow, showing the various elements of the film in it’s best possible light. It’s a delicate jigsaw where you set the pace/tone and try to get the story across in the most logical and generally efficient way possible. I am by nature a reasonably harsh editor – if it isn’t helping the scene/story – why keep it? Film audiences have a very short attention span, once you’ve lost them – game over man! Clearly my editing skills only seem to extend to film, otherwise my blog entries would be far shorter [he rambles!].

Chris Jones said at his masterclass last July “How many movies have you seen that are too long?”. Yes there are indeed lots. “How many are too short?”. Okay, point made, I have to concur (there are of course still arguably exceptions – the obvious one that jumps in my mind is the terrible incoherent editing employed in Quantum of Solace). Later on in the masterclass we were shown a short film called Foster by Jonathan Newman, which has recently been turned into a Hollywood feature.

He asked us all what we thought was wrong with the short film. The editor in me was screaming “too long, too drawn out, this scene could go”. So I plucked up courage to voice this in front of the 300+ delegates. He instantly challenged me to “what do you think should be cut then?”. The main problem I was having aside from the confusing and overlong final shot was how many scenes of the kid do we really need at the beginning? I was somewhat taken back by Chris’ response. “You can’t take that out, the kid is cute!”.  And it’s not even his film! 🙂 I agree – the kid is cute. But really, is that the only reasoning? No, I stick to my guns! Was the scene of him doing his hair (with the similar “adult” shot which follows) strictly necessary? Did it really tell us anything important that we didn’t already know about this character or progress the narrative? Do we need this scene? I’d argue no, I don’t think it harms the story if removed and it does very little to enhance it. We already get the pattern of shots, we already know that the kid is cute. Let’s keep other more significant parts of this opening and take out insignificant parts such as this and crack on! What was the earlier point about “overlong” films again? Chris, may or may not ever read this, but here was my reasoning which can be up for further discussion. It does illustrate how easy it can be to polarize people with a simple editing decision. Even small changes can have a dramatic effect on the final production (eg. Bladerunner).

I’ve just found the Foster video online, so you can now make your own decision. Disclaimer (aka. my “get out of jail” card): please be aware that I have only seen the film once, so the paragraph above was written purely based on my recollection of events several months ago! 🙂

How did I ever get into this world of pain?

It all started out editing holiday footage from our VHS-C camcorder holidays usually set to a musical track.

Then came what I will call my “Bond” years, which started circa 1995 – where my interest in editing really kicked off.

It began when I saw the Goldeneye teaser trailer (no not that terrible full trailer which gave the plot away). At the time, it blew my mind – the exciting cuts, the Parodifair rendition of the theme – it made Bond films feel fresh again.

So I decided to give one of my least favourite Bond movies a make-over and edit a trailer in exactly the same style. You should bear in mind that this was 16 years ago or so, way before absolutely everyone was knocking these things out on YouTube. I was still dealing with analogue back then! Naturally, it was completely awful – but I absolutely loved making it.

Being a fan, a few other Bond projects followed, including:

  • some musical editing replacing the Eric Serra score in the Goldeneye pre-titles with a John Barry mix (I would argue it dramatically improves the Bond feel)
  • editing various music videos, trailers and sizing other potentials out in the role. I did a trailer with Clive Owen (consisting of clips of The Hire, those wonderful BMW shorts – worth a watch if you haven’t seen already, season 2 is here). I did one with Daniel Craig, a response to the anti-Daniel Craig backlash which was happening at the time. Still rather fond of that one!
  • a one-hour version of Doctor No. Peter Hunt’s editing was completely revolutionary back in 1962. Obviously editing styles have since changed over 50 years or so. I gave the film a different identity with a much faster pace.

Then life is interupted by the arrival of children (the perfect opportunity to hone my filming/editing skills)!

Skip to 2009 when I made my first “short” and committing a well known film-maker crime:  I edit my own project. The problems with doing this have been well documented:

1. You are sick to death of seeing the same thing over and over and lose all objectivity. You can end up hating the film!
2. You are too emotionally attached to some parts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lovely shot/take or it was hell on earth to film! Is it required to make the film work?
3. Other people don’t bring the baggage but bring alternate creative ideas to the project, good ideas you haven’t considered!
4. Problem overload. If you are making a film at this level you are no doubt already taking on too many roles. It can only hurt the final production.

If I could go back in time, would I change this? Not a chance! Would I do it again? Of course not. You generally always learn more from failures than successes. One thing that came out of the process was that I also acted as the composer. I am convinced that editing and composing were made for each other. I can see why some people do both – eg. John  Ottman (Usual Suspects, X-men 2). I’m just surprised that it doesn’t happen even more often!

With Etiquette, I swore blind that I was not going to edit myself and I’d pass it over to someone with fresh eyes, unattached to the filming aspects. Last week I saw the first rough cut. Now as most film-makers are aware, the first rough cut is normally pretty dire. So I’m happy to say I enjoyed the first cut of Etiquette. Sure it has a lot of rough edges, it has sags and can be snappier (although it’s fairly nimble at 8mins without credits), I don’t agree with all the editorial choices etc. But this is all part of the fun! I will keep this version to compare with the final version once completed. Despite saying I won’t edit, I know full well the editor in me will no doubt get involved. It’s nice to be able to pass the project sideways for the most part and make some small tweaks at the end.


A few notes made during the production for Etiquette which will hopefully aid the editor when they come to sit through countless takes.

Last weekend I chatted to some other local film-makers (Ben Nicholson and Mark Brome of High Five films) who are making an emotional short-film called Family Portrait. Interesting that we are all in the same place right now, we have fallen into similar traps – in some ways it’s quite reassuring. Ben edited his first short and never wants edit his own project again. Being the “fresh pair of eyes”, they have asked me onboard to edit Family Portrait for them, as well as act as composer. Have to say I am very excited by the prospect. Hoping it will be great to work with other local film-makers and return to editing/composing. Will keep you posted! <snip!>

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2 responses to “Choppy Times

  1. Thanks for taking the time to view and discuss Foster. I take your points!
    Jonathan

  2. Pingback: The first cut isn’t the deepest! | Ferny films

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