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The art of the edit

The edit suite is where the story finally comes together in its polished and perfected form. In advance of EditFest London, Televisual asks five of the UK’s top editors about their creative approach

My process goes back to editing Super 8 films as a child. I work moment-for-moment so I work with my team to log as much as possible about each slate and take, so I can jump to any variance in line reading, gesture or character’s movement. It’s a lot of prep but makes the initial assembly come together in the most fluid way for me personally.

A film high on visual effects like my current project begins a year before the shoot starts, often long before the project is even green-lit by the studio. A more conventional shoot like my last film begins on day one of shooting. I like both routes as my enjoyment of the process is based upon the story and the talent around me rather than whether there are any visual effects involved.  Also, I think every crew member thrives on the need for something new and different in a new job.  Every film brings new creative, logistical, political and social opportunities.

Taking direction
Some directors will sit with you through dailies and give specific notes each day. Others will give more generic notes and wait to see what you put together.  Either way has its merits and either way brings that variety that keeps us all fresh. Some directors like to sit through every scene, shot by shot while others like to give notes at the beginning of the day and return the next morning.  I wouldn’t say that editing is part of the directing process but it is definitely an extension of the writing process.  I often find I get on really well with writers. The producer of my current project, Steve Kloves who wrote most of the Harry Potter screenplays and wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys has become a very good friend.  We share the same passions but we’re included at opposite ends of the process.

The essential skills
If you can tell a good story then you have a head start. Beyond that I think the greatest asset any crew member can have is to respect the roles of all those around you. There are many directors who believe they are auteurs but the truth is filmmaking is a collaboration. Part of being a good editor is understanding what all the other departments do and plugging Editorial into that machine.

There are no rules to a good edit. For me it is simply the moment when the transition between one cut and the next takes life within the scene. The excitement of the work comes from stringing these individual moments of life together into something cohesive.

Each story requires a set of different stylistic choices. Some of the greatest single edits of all time are the most obvious ones. But just because they are obvious doesn’t mean they are any less powerful.

I never follow the same method for some reason. It always depends completely on the material. I try to submerge myself in the story and make every edit for that. Sometimes I’ll start with the moment I think is the heart of the scene and then build the rest from there. Sometimes I’ll just start at the first shot and keep cutting till I reach the end of the sequence. It kind of depends completely on what’s happening in the scene.

I organise the rushes as simply as possible. Like a kind of ‘Fisher Price’ approach, with visual key frames for each setup. Then I separate each take with a little red dot so I can see where each one begins! After that I make select rolls for key moments. I want them to be immediately findable because wasting time looking for anything is taking away time and energy from the film.

Come on board
It’s always different but usually it’s best to be involved at script stage. Producers want suggestions about cutting scenes before the shoot begins because they’re desperate to save money. It’s amazing how editors can help with that! I’ve worked with very ‘hands on’ directors as well as ones who have no patience for the cutting room and have given me total control. I think the best directors are ones who give the editor space to experiment while paying attention to the big picture. The director is most effective when he/she can judge things from a bit of a distance. Sometimes it’s hard to see the grand scheme when you’re chipping away at the details. The last thing you need is a director who is obsessed with a two frame edit.

When it works
The edit is the final stage of the writing process. The main reason I’ve had the confidence to move into directing myself is that I’ve learned so much in the cutting room. Ideally the editor and director are very tuned into each other. Some directors don’t have the patience for detail in the cutting room so it’s the editors job to make thousands of decisions on their behalf. Sometimes it’s easier for the editor to make these decisions because they weren’t on the set and have an essential and unbiased clarity on what is good and what isn’t.

You need patience, compassion, empathy, a love of music, an obsession with stories and storytelling, determination, good taste, a thick skin as well as extreme sensitivity (which is very hard) and above all, a sense of humour.
Most of the time editing is best when it’s invisible. However, there are times when a cut can be effective when it jumps out at you but only when it’s completely tuned into the story. For me there has to be a strong narrative reason for a noticeable cut.

The beautiful thing about an edit is you can’t irrevocably break something. The material and the performances are all in there somewhere, it’s just about interpreting it. Filming is expensive, editing can be done quite cheaply so you get a lot of freedom.

Get on board
If it’s been done well and the DoP’s fantastic, the script and the cast is good, what you’re presented with is already part way to being what it’s going to be anyway. The camera style will dictate the editing style to a degree and the rhythms in the script also. There’s such a creative momentum already when the editor steps in, if you’re perceptive you can dovetail into what’s trying to be achieved without going against the grain of that. It becomes a natural progression.

You never get the opportunity again to see the material for the first time. It’s vitally important you’re not distracted then. You’re trying to be with the actors as much as you possibly can when watching those rushes or you’ll miss that golden thing which is your first reaction. I’m very reactive to performance and levels of performance, anything that rings particularly true or is idiosyncratic and interesting in a human way, I’ll mark up and try to get into the scene at some point.

I feel myself to be a frustrated actor. If the actor is upset you need to feel as upset as they feel. If a joke is funny you need to be there with them to find it funny. Soul and perception of humanity is the greatest tool. To be able to pick out seemingly innocuous idiosyncratic behaviour is essential. Anyone with enough time can work out how to make edits on an Avid, but it really is about the communication of emotions.

Big screen, small screen
Whether it’s TV shows or features it’s essentially the same thing. Instinctively when you sit down in front of an Avid and you start pulling material together it just feels exactly the same. I’ve bounced between the two. I’ve just done a TV pilot and from shoot to lock it was four weeks and yet on Suffragette we were close to nine months editing. You look at these two scenarios and think how on Earth did we take that long on the movie and how on Earth did we lock that show in four weeks? But in terms of trying to figure out the differences I find it very hard. I approach every job with exactly the same determination, dedication and passion. When you hit the material it’s the same job.

  I’m often sent a late draft of the script to see if I have thoughts and notes but generally I tend to avoid that. It will have gone through so many clever people before me it’s better for me to come to it as fresh as possible. My job is to be the viewer at home, the guy who’s sat on the sofa watching it. The less I know about pre-production and production the better.

I’ve had scenes where the director says ‘I wouldn’t look at the stuff we shot past 6pm, it’s not so good.’ But when you look at that stuff it’s fantastic. When you chat to them you realise that day it was raining, the food was terrible, they’d gone into overtime the day before and everyone was tired. That might have influenced the way they feel about it.

Get it together
I tend to make my assemblies as tight as possible. If you have them loose you’ll end up having to take time out of them anyway. I tend to not worry too much about the visuals at that stage; I radio edit what the best takes are. If there’s some clunky visual editing then I can worry about that down the line. It’s whatever’s funniest, but I did the same thing on Doctor Who? – does it work? Are you getting the ups and downs and flows in conversation and the building towards suspense? If you close your eyes does it still make sense? That’s what I’m really worried about when I’m doing assemblies.

Once the director’s in there’s always something that doesn’t work – a joke that doesn’t land, a scene that feels superfluous, setting up exposition that’s unnecessary, so you start taking things out. You’re then on a mission to make it as much like a finished TV programme as possible. You’ll watch an assembly but you see 100 things that need fixing, you become obsessed with getting these things fixed. It becomes like a DIY project.

Room to breathe
Knowing what’s funny is really good, but if it makes you laugh it’s funny and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. It doesn’t really get more complicated than that. What does help is an understanding of how much clarity you need when it comes to story. Every good sitcom has a good story underneath the jokes but if that story gets so complicated you have to take jokes out to make time for it then there’s something wrong. It’s about how few words you can use to tell the story to leave room for as many jokes as possible.


You meet the director to see if you’re going to be able to work together. Then you talk to them and they start telling you their ideas about the story. But if you’re working with the right sort of director who trusts you he wants you to bring something of yourself to it. What’s the point of just being a pair of hands and doing just what someone tells you to do, you’d just be a robot. You need to give him what he wants but give him something of yourself. You may find something in the material he never thought of. That’s the way I worked.

I will talk to the director while they’re shooting and find out what they want on the scene and I will bear that in mind once I start working on it. With Joel Schumacher on The Phantom of the Opera he said to me ‘I want you to edit the film. I’m directing and you’re editing and when you’ve finished it, show it to me and if there are things we don’t like we’ll work on them together but if it works okay we’ll leave it alone.’ That gives you confidence. Some wanted to put their fingers in the pie all the time but I never had that very much. I find directors are easy to work with if they trust you, that’s half the battle, that they know you’re working to make their film the best you possibly can.

No rough stuff
The terminology I cannot stand is rough cut. There is no such thing as a rough cut. The thing you do first if the most thoughtful cut you make. It may not work completely because it may have come out too long or one of the characters didn’t work and you need to develop it a different way. All those things happen afterwards but it’s never a rough cut. You spend a great deal of time getting the best cut you possibly can to show to your director and the investors, that’s the one everybody sees first. Once you’ve done that you can see then where it doesn’t quite work and that’s where you work on it together. When you get down to it together you can say ‘this is far too long it doesn’t work’, or ‘we’re outstaying our welcome in this particular scene’ and he either agrees with you or doesn’t and when he doesn’t you get a film that doesn’t quite work.

The eyes have it
For a good cut you’ve got to get beneath the surface of the subject and understand the characters. I loved The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. It’s a story about these sad people and you feel for them and that’s how you get beneath the surface of the subject. It’s got to be instinctive, you cut where it feels right. That’s why I love dialogue scenes. All the time I’m looking at the character’s eyes. It’s like when you’re talking to people you look in their eyes and you know whether they’re getting pissed off with what you’re saying or you’ve got them on your wavelength. It’s the same when cutting a film, you’re looking at these people’s eyes and one movement of the eyes says a page of dialogue.

The editors featured in this article will be speaking at ACE’s EditFest London 
on June 20, sponsored by Televisual –

Posted 17 June 2015 by Jon Creamer

Clangers: behind the scenes

The team behind the new Clangers series had to bring the show up to date without losing its classic charm. Jon Creamer reports

For such tiny moon mice, the Clangers have had a very big impact on the nation’s consciousness.

The series, created by writer, animator and narrator Oliver Postgate and modelmaker and illustrator Peter Firmin, ran for just 26 episodes (and a special) on the BBC between 1969 and 1972, but it remains one of the best loved British children’s animations of all time.

Reviving it for the modern age then is a tough call. How do you update a classic without losing its original magic?

The team behind its reincarnation reckon they’ve cracked it although “we were nervous,” says Zoe Bamsey, Coolabi director of development and production. “You’d seen things like Bill and Ben and Andy Pandy come back and they hadn’t resonated.”

The key to making it work was involving, and getting the blessing of, the original creators. Postgate died in 2008, but Coolabi exec producer Dan Maddicott who had been a long time friend of Postgate and Firmin, began discussions with Firmin and Oliver’s son Dan about what the new incarnation should be. “Once the possibility of doing it came up, we got talking in detail to Dan Postgate who inherited the catalogue and Peter and after a very long time of chatting and discussing we agreed it could only be done if it was done absolutely ‘right.’”

Factory, the Altrincham based animators behind Fifi and the Flowertots, Strange Hill High and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion among others were then brought on board to help build the show and brought Firmin into that process.

And he brought some original source material. Firmin crucially still owned three of the original Clanger characters as well as the Soup Dragon, Iron Chicken and other props and crucially, one of Major Clanger’s armatures “At the time they produced that themselves in the workshop using bits of Meccano and filed wood,” says Factory’s md, Phil Chalk. ”It’s surprising the amount of dexterity you can get from that original armature. The range of movement was extraordinary given the low fi materials they had back in the day. We just brought that up to date with a modern armature from MacKinnon and Saunders, we’ve replicated those movements but made them more repeatable.”

But says Maddicott, “although the technology has moved on, we’re still using absolutely traditional stop frame characters.” After all, it’s pointless making it too slick. “With stop frame you don’t want to disguise the fact that it’s stop frame otherwise it begs the question, why do it?” says Chalk. “We want to maintain the integrity of the original.” So the characters and their costumes are all hand knitted. “We have a full time knitter in the studio to make sure the puppets are pristine in front of the HD cameras,” he says. The Clangers are all reskinned every two or three months to ensure matching colours and that “the integrity of the knit is maintained throughout.”

What has changed is the speed of the process though. Postgate and Firmin would produce much more animation in a day back in the DIY days of the 60s. “Back in the day Oliver, with Peter supporting him, would animate everything himself and would produce five minutes of animation a day in the shed. Now we’re producing just over a minute a day with six animators and full support crew in studio.”

The speed of production also comes from a desire to keep the feel and texture of the original. “We’re trying to be as faithful to the original as possible so we’re shooting as much as is humanly possible in camera,” says Chalk. The push is to eschew cg and use traditional animation rigging for movement, keeping backdrops in camera to a large extent too. “This is one of the most ambitious animations in terms of the scale of the backdrops and sets the company’s ever done,” says Chalk.

The ‘Living Cave’ measures 16 feet across, 12 feet deep and eight feet high “and that’s compared to traditional stop frame shows that take place on an 8 by 4ft tabletop set. In cg sometimes there’s a disconnect between the physical and the digital” aspects so “we’ve tried to ensure we’re capturing all the textures and strata of the various surfaces within the Clanger planet. You can only really do that by creating them physically.”

Clangers is a brand new version of the classic children’s stop frame series that first broadcast between 1969 and 1972. It was made by Smallfilms, the company created by Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator). The new show is produced by rights holder Coolabi and animation house Factory

Narrator Michael Palin
Executive producer and design consultant Peter Firmin
Executive producers Zoe Bamsey, Daniel Postgate
CBeebies executive Jackie Edwards
Series producer Dan Maddicott
Directors Mole Hill, Chris Tichborne
Head writer Dave Ingham
Factory producer Phil Chalk
Head of production Laura Duncalf
Animators John Ashton, Jo Chalkley, Sue Guy, Will Hodge, Julia McLean, Kevin Walton, Fabrice Pieton
DoP Richard Dando
Production designer Andy Farago
Puppets Mackinnon and Saunders
Music John Du Prez

Posted 15 June 2015 by Jon Creamer

Robot Wars: Humans writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley

For its new Channel 4 drama Humans, Kudos took a domestic and contemporary angle on a sci-fi staple. Jon Creamer Reports

It’s set in a contemporary Britain but the story of Kudos and Channel 4’s new eight part drama Humans starts back in 2012 in Sweden.

The original show, written by Lars Lundström, produced by Matador Films and broadcast by Sveriges Television (SVT) was a major hit in its home country, has already run a second series and has since sold to 50 territories. It posits an alternative present where the must-have gadget for every family is a synthetic human helper.

Kudos’s parent company Shine picked up the rights to make an English language version of the show and Spooks writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley were brought on board to pen it.

Channel 4 ordered the show in the UK and a co production was then signed with Xbox Entertainment Studios who planned to run the show on its network in the US. So far, all running as clockwork. But then Xbox announced that its US content arm, headed by Nancy Tellem, would be shut down as part of a wider series of job cuts. Suddenly Humans was left swinging in the wind with a co producer lost.

But not for long. The show was strong enough though to pick up a new joint partner, US network AMC, the home of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The network came on board last year to take Xbox’s place.

The idea of humanoid robots with artificial intelligence living within society is well-trodden ground in popular culture from Isaac Asimov onwards. Even in recent months movie releases have included Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie. But, says Sam Vincent, he and co writer Jonathan Brackley were confident they would have a “different rhythm and a different take on it. This is about two families ultimately – one very normal one and one very strange one. We felt excited that the issue was rising and rising and we were the only ones approaching it in this way.”

There is, in essence, “only one robot story,” says Vincent “what are they going to do to us? and all robot stories essentially ask that question.” But the trouble with a lot of sci fi takes on the subject, says fellow writer Jonathan Brackley, is that “it’s easy to get bogged down in the mythology and end up with something genre based. This gave us more scope to explore the ideas in a simpler domestic setting.”

It was the show’s “unique domestic setting” that was its main attraction,” says Vincent. “It’s a classic story but it’s doing it in a domestic setting which is what Lars had done on the original. We realised that what he’d come up with was a new way into this world” rather than the traditional sci fi thriller engine. “We realised it was a story about people and what technology does to people and how it changes us. It’s just extrapolating things that are happening now and seeing where that will take us.”

The pair have taken the idea and moved it on. The main characters “are inspired by the original,” says Brackley “but we’ve run with them and done our own thing. So they start off in a similar place to the original, but we take them on very, very different journeys.

What it does have in common with the original Swedish Version is that the sci fi element is stripped back to just the synths themselves. The world, and its technology, is resolutely 2015 Britain. “That’s one of the many things we took from the original,“ says Vincent. “They presented the idea as here it is, we’re not going to tell the back-story of how the synths got made, we’re starting in this parallel present. Lars told us when he was thinking about the original he thought about a version where you did see this preamble but then decided to dispense with that and present it as a fait accompli. That was one of the keys for developing the series and it appealed to all of us.”

The show is simply “an alternate now,” says Brackley “We weren’t trying to set it in the future, it was as if these synths had been invented say ten years ago, much in the same way something like True Blood just starts and it’s a given that vampires just are.”

And in common with the original series is the lack of any judgement on whether AI is good or bad. “From the very start we always said we were not going to take a clear authorial position on that. We were not going to present it either as a dystopia or a utopia, we wanted the audience to decide,” says Vincent.

Humans is an English language adaptation of Sveriges Television (SVT) and Matador Films’ series, Real Humans about a parallel present where the must-have gadget for every family is a ‘synth.’

Broadcaster Channel 4 and AMC
Length 8x60
Production Kudos in association with Matador Films
Writers Jonathan Brackley, Sam Vincent
Executive producers Jane Featherstone, Derek Wax
Series producer Chris Fry
Directors Sam Donovan, Daniel Nettheim, Lewis Arnold, China Moo – Young
Production manager Louisa Rawlins
Production designer  Dick Lunn
Art director Andrea Matheson
Synth movement director Dan O’Neill
Music Cristobal Tapia De Veer
DoP Ula Pontikos, Stuart Bentley, David Rom, Simon Archer
Editors Daniel Greenway, Johnny Rayner, Ben Yeates, Dominic Strevens
Post supervisor Bea Arnold

Posted 12 June 2015 by Jon Creamer
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