Just Not Cutting It

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Just over four years ago a group of senior editors were sitting around on a Sunday afternoon in Auckland lamenting the fact that standards just weren’t like they used to be. They questioned each other as to why that was. The answer they came up with was that in the old days, i.e. the days of film, assistant editors worked in the cutting room like apprentices, learning their craft under the tutelage of the cutting editor.
In this way they were learning the technical aspects of their work and:

  • observing the editor at work,
  • getting the chance to cut on the project and have their work critiqued by the editor,
  • and being part of the conversations between the editor and the director, producer, funding body, broadcaster, etc.

All the while they were on the project for essentially the full length of the edit.

With the advent of digital editing, the role of the assistant editor quickly morphed into dealing much more with the technical preparation of material for editing, often on opposite shifts from the editor. This was usually done in a cost-saving exercise by the producer so that one edit setup could be used across 24 hours, rather than having to hire two to work in parallel. Additionally, the assistant editor’s time working on the project was reduced, because producers could see that once the technical work was finished there was a way to further lower costs.

All this meant that the chance to observe, cut and receive critique was often curtailed unless the editor made a considered effort to ensure their assistant got the opportunities. For the editor it meant working unsupported through post, dealing with the increased digital complexities of an edit on top of doing their job.

The impact this became obvious when senior editors were being brought onto projects to ‘fix’ them because less experienced editors were being held responsible for not delivering a satisfactory cut.

At the same time, the technical nature of the work was becoming more complex and assistant editors were often required to figure it all out by themselves without significant guidance from the editor who was too busy doing what they were hired to do.

With the financial support of the NZ Film Commission, DEGNZ began to offer Assistant Editor Workshops in late 2018 to seek to formalise and standardise the technical aspects of the assistant editor’s role in a two-level training programme, which also recognises the Technical Assistant Editor as a career path in itself.

DEGNZ, again with NZFC support, introduced Feature Film Editing Attachments, so that junior editors seeking to work in features could get back into the room with the editor for the creative aspects they are often missing out on.

A third issue arising from digital editing and productions is digital workflow. Again, many are being left to figure it out for themselves with the result that a digital mess is being delivered to professional post production houses who have to waste precious time and resources sorting it out. This of course costs money that could be used to better effect on the creative side of post-production.

DEGNZ approached the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) with the issue. As a result, inaugural Post Production Workflow Workshops will be run by SPADA with DEGNZ in Auckland and Wellington next week, primarily targeted at producers who are the ones most likely to suffer when post doesn’t go well.

A bigger picture issue that DEGNZ is currently working on with a number of post houses nationally is to develop Best Practice Standards for post-production. We hope that the initiatives we have put in place and others we want to introduce over time will deliver greater creative outcomes and make the technical side more efficient and cost effective for everyone.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director