By Ferg McGrath and Jen Lane of The Cutting Room Consultancy
The rise of the edit consultant is a relatively recent, but significant change in the world of premium documentary making. They are hired by broadcasters and streamers or by production companies. On the US documentary-scene they are relatively commonplace. Slowly in the UK editors are taking consulting roles on films.
They often work discreetly behind the scenes and in some cases are uncredited. The edit consultant’s job is to bring clarity to the complex and provide guidance to structure the film in a way that will entertain audiences. As well as providing feedback on rough cuts, edit consultants may also be involved in helping production teams develop their concept and story during the pre-production phase.
“Sean Mackenzie consulted on Nureyev, a feature documentary directed by me and my brother, David. With Nureyev we knew we had a great film in there somewhere, but it just wasn’t shining as brightly as it should have been. Thanks to Sean’s unparalleled skill, we now have what Jason Solomons describes as a ‘beautiful, brooding, genius documentary’.”
Jacqui Morris, Co-director Nureyev.
The myth of a director as a solitary genius has been dispelled and there’s a realisation that superior films are the result of team-effort. With increased expectations for premium documentaries come pressures on the editing process.
The demand for high quality documentaries from the streamers has led to a surge in the number of independent filmmakers and production companies working in the documentary space. This has meant intense competition between production companies for the top talent to work on their films, with demand outstripping supply. The Hollywood Reporter quoted that “finding good editors has become a blood sport.” Edit consultants help bridge that gap.
There are lots of situations where you might want to bring in an edit consultant. It could be a scenario where you’d like to hire a younger or less experienced editor or director and therefore having a more seasoned editor checking in and advising throughout can help to mitigate any associated risk and support the team. Or an edit may be going through a difficult phase and an extra pair of eyes may perceive a new solution. Usually, there’s a need to elevate what promises to be a good film to one that zings. We’re never hired to replace an editor and it’s always for focused periods of input. We toyed with calling the consultancy ‘Wasabi’, because a little goes a long way.
Dominique Walker, a consultant executive producer in her own right, has her own take on edit consulting:
“The emerging role of the consultant isn’t just confined to the editing stage. Commissioners facing increasing workloads are bringing on creative consultants – be that A list editors or consultant exec producers – much earlier in the production process to address the key editorial challenges, as a way to avoid problems further down the line.”
Dominque Walker, consultant executive producer
Commissioning editors will tell you that they often find themselves giving similar feedback notes. As consultants, we all have different strengths, but we’ve learnt universal approaches to help things work in the edit. That means avoiding the common pitfalls and planning for success. It stems from the experience of having presented so many films to executives and commissioning editors over the years. The goal is always to pass on this hard-won experience to add value to the work.
“Ferg McGrath’s input as consultant editor was invaluable to our Channel 4 documentary. He was able to share his considerable skills and expertise with our less experienced director and editor team, absolutely transforming the project editorially and stylistically.”
Louise Bray at Little Bird Films
Edit consultants bring their years of experience of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the edit suite and can provide a fresh, non-biased eye, giving insight, support and discreet problem-solving skills. Things get solved cooperatively rather than competitively. Cohesive and compelling storytelling often requires simplifying the narrative, which is difficult and takes time, but is often the edit consultants’ most highly developed skill. While outcomes can’t be guaranteed, one of our core principles is to provide constructive support in any given situation.
There are two very practical reasons edit consultants are called upon: time and money. When so much money has been invested in a project, to be able to cost-effectively enlist help to smooth things out in the edit is attractive. The commissioner or senior exec can save time by engaging an edit consultant in their place working for their agreed outcome. Consulting is usually in the form of notes, or it entails spending time guiding the edit team face-to-face. From a purely financial viewpoint, the value added by the consultant’s input tends to far outweigh any alternatives.
The timing of the business isn’t accidental. With the heated nature of the documentary marketplace and longer edit schedules, there aren’t enough good editors to go around. We offer clients the chance to officially ‘attach’ a consultant to a film or series for a credited role. The services are bespoke and on a project-by-project basis. Consultants are frequently hired discreetly to quietly take a look at a film or series and provide advice.
Edit consultants are either hired directly by broadcasters and streamers or by production companies. The calibre of our consultants is reflected in the range of work and the impressive number of Emmys, Griersons and BAFTAs that they share between them.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jen Lane and Ferg Mcgrath have just set up The Cutting Room Consulting service
Ferg McGrath BFE is the founder of The Cutting Room editing, a documentary offline editing company in Holborn and in Angel. He is co-vice chair of British Film Editors. He actively drove BFE’s re-branding (from GBFTE) to become a more outward-looking and diverse organisation which has grown, in a few years, from under 100 to over 700 members. His editing work includes Drive to Survive, Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist and The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins.
Jen Lane, MD of The Cutting Room Consulting, is a multi-disciplinary producer and business leader with a background spanning documentaries, channel branding, commercials and post production. She headed up the global ITV corporate and cross-channel re-brand, led teams and change management at BBC Studios and founded the creative agency Littlehawk. Lane and McGrath first met in 2005 when she was producing the Eddie Izzard feature documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard story.
ABOUT THE CUTTING ROOM CONSULTING / THE EDIT WHISPERERS
The Cutting Room Consulting (TCR Consulting) now offers US-style premium-documentary making rigour in the UK to elevate broadcast and theatrical Documentaries. The new service is in response to an industry-shift to provide access to elite UK editors for targeted input.
TCR Consulting offers the exclusive consulting services of elite editors Anna Price BFE, Kate Spankie, Sean Mackenzie BFE, Simon Barker BFE, Zoe Davis BFE and Ferg McGrath BFE. Between them they have been responsible for some of the most important and popular documentaries in recent years.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Edit consultants are either hired directly by broadcasters and streamers or by production companies. The calibre of the consultants is reflected in the range of work and the impressive number of Emmys, Griersons and BAFTAs that they share between them.
The Cutting Room Consulting offers their clients the chance to officially ‘attach’ a consultant to a film or series for a credited role. The services are bespoke to requirements on a project-by-project basis. Consultants are frequently hired on a more discreet basis to quietly take a look at a film or series and provide advice.
The Edit Consultants
Kate Spankie, 30+ years’ experience. She edited The Hunt For Gaddafi’s Billions, has a Sports Emmy and won her second Grierson Award for Salt By Selina Thompson
Simon Barker BFE – with 30+ years’ experience including American Murder: The Family Next Door winner of Televisual Bulldog and BAFTA Awards for Best Documentary and. Bellingcat: Truth in a Post Truth World Emmy Award for Best International Documentary.
Zoe Davis BFE – with 20+ years’ experience (Alien Worlds, Limitless) cutting award-winning films for Netflix, BBC, Channel 4, CNN and National Geographic. Recently worked alongside the legendary editor Walter Murch on the award-winning feature documentary COUP 53.
Sean Mackenzie BFE, with 30+ years’ experience, two-time BAFTA winner for Best Factual Editing (Arena: The Many Lives of Richard Attenborough, Amish: A Secret Life) and over thirty international awards.
Anna Price BFE – 25+ years’ experience (Once Upon a Time in Iraq, The Trial of Radko Mladic) with multiple awards including three BAFTA nominations for Best Factual Editing.
Ferg McGrath BFE – with 25+ years’ experience cutting award-winning films for all the main networks and streamers. Work ranges from The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins for the BBC to Dian Fossey:Secrets In The Mist for Nat Geo, to Captive and Drive to Survive for Netflix.
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