Cutting Loose

I have had more than one occasion lately to discuss a number of issues over what some regard the plights of editors and others the realities.

A number of senior editors convened recently over a drink and lamented the lack of an assistant editor in the cutting room, more particularly with one-off dramas and feature films. Essentially, on an increasing number of productions only one Avid is available to do both the data management and the cutting. What this means is that the assistant editor has to work opposite shifts to the editor to prep the material for the cut. The problem with this is threefold:

  1. The editor is not passing on the knowledge and experience of how they cut drama to the assistant.
  2. The assistant is not able to relay what they have seen when prepping the material.
  3. The editor has absolutely no back up for handling emergencies in normal hours – outputting scenes for set, chasing missing files, dealing with post house requests or the myriad other tasks that put demands on their time.

General consensus is that with budgets under pressure, producers are not allowing for two machines so that the editor and assistant can work side by side. The benefits of two edit systems are many:

  1. It’s the most cost effective use of budget.
  2. The assistant increases their knowledge for the next project.
  3. The editor is completely focused on the edit and can keep to schedule.
  4. Relationships remain intact and production runs smoothly.
  5. There’s another pair of relatively fresh eyes on tap for the editor.

In such a scenario the assistant works under the watchful eye of the editor, can benefit from discussions with the editor around sequences the assistant puts together, gets to see the editor at work, and is there to take in the director/producer/editor interaction around the cut, which is an important dynamic to get a handle on—These are all highly important professional development elements.

A further budgeting issue is the lack of time producers allocate to the narrative cut. Editors are coming under increased pressure to deliver quality outcomes with shorter editing times while dealing with masses of footage. There are three key issues with this:

  1. The editor can run out of time to get the best edit before they have to move on, most likely because they have another job they have to go to.
  2. The cut isn’t as good as it could be.
  3. And the budget goes into overdrive.

To deal with these, another editor often has to be brought in, requiring communication from the first editor to the second so that the institutional knowledge is relayed—another inefficiency. And this brings up a further issue that has become topical particularly in regard to feature film: the proliferation of multiple editors working on a single project. In addition to the lack of allocated edit time, this can come about in a number of ways.

Some filmmakers have gone through multiskilling film and TV educations and work environments and think they can edit their own feature films, not realizing none of that prepares them for the sheer mass of footage they’re faced with, the technical gobbledygook wonderland they now move in, or the psychological pressure a big budget brings to bear.

Then there’s the director or producer who goes into a debut feature with their short film-only experienced editor with them. It can be tough for everyone concerned when the cut doesn’t pass muster and an experienced drama editor has to be brought in to get the best for the film.

Or the situation where the director and or producer feels the need to have multiple goes at cutting a film, each with a different editor because they don’t see eye to eye with each other and or the editor involved.

Each one of these scenarios will result in a blowout of the editing budget—which usually wasn’t enough in the first place—to fix up the problems.

There also seem to be less director – editor partnerships the likes of Martin Scorsese with Thelma Schoonmaker or our very own Niki Caro with David Coulson. One director and one editor, who respect each other, know how the other works, and elevates the other’s work.

Editing is a highly skilled and creative occupation that can often be undervalued. Projects suffer when that is the case. It’s important to remember in the ego-filled world that we work in, true collaboration can bring about the greatest works of art, whether it’s with one or many.

As four time Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin said of her work with her creative and life partner, director Baz Luhrmann, “For me as a creative person, I feel I have a genuine voice in the process… Baz has the ability to be a great conductor, a great leader, but to actually engage you creatively and to make you feel like your contribution is meaningful.”

There are many approaches that can be taken to get the best result, with some for and against the idea of multiple editors working on a single project. In the end, it’s the contribution that counts and should be appreciated.

DEGNZ is working on ways and means to ensure that editors get the opportunities and environments they need to develop their skills appropriately and deliver their best work.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director