EditFest Part 1 – Small Screen, Big Picture

EditFest PassLast Saturday I was lucky enough to spend the day at ACE EditFest London and the AOTG Pub Night afterwards. I’d been looking forward to the event for months, and it didn’t disappoint. To say it was inspiring feels like an understatement in so many ways. I had planned to try to Tweet out some select quotes as the day went on but alas the mobile phone service in the middle of London was abysmal and I couldn’t find any wi-fi, so sadly it was not to be. But I took notes, and for anyone who is interested and couldn’t make it, I’ll do my best to sum up the panels and what I took away from each session. It won’t be a blow-by-blow account, just key points and a couple of quotes.

A note for the spoiler-phobic amongst you; the end of season 1 of Game of Thrones is discussed below… But really, where have you been that you haven’t seen it yet?

This is part 1 of (probably) 4, one each for the three sessions and one for the pub night and general roundup, to be released every few days as I write them. That’s the plan at least, don’t hate me if I don’t stick to it – I have a job, y’know?

So let’s get right to it. The first panel of the day was “Small Screen, Big Picture – Panel with Television Editors” hosted by the excellent Gordon Burkell of Art of the Guillotine (more with him in a future blog – this is called foreshadowing) and featuring;
Frances Parker, A.C.E.
Kristina Hetherington, A.C.E.
Orel Ottey and
Kate Evans, A.C.E.

The panelists seemed immediately very comfortable and candid talking about their work, their enthusiasm for the job coming through very clearly even when noting the more challenging aspects of the work (such as the ever-increasing shooting ratios and ever-decreasing schedules). On Game of Thrones, which Frances and Orel both work on, they noted that when TV dramas used to be shot on film they would have a 15:1 shooting ratio, and that is now in the region of 60:1, given that when shooting digitally the cameras will roll for longer and also they will commonly have two or more cameras covering each take. Simply watching all of those rushes is therefore a challenge. Orel told us that he needs a sofa in his edit suite because in his process “I look at the rushes and then I need a lie down” to consider them. That idea of having “thinking time” was to recur in each of the sessions through the day, usually from the angle of it being reduced and reduced.

Another interesting Game of Thrones note to come out of the session was that the editors (like many viewers of the show) haven’t read the books, so they come to the material for each episode without any preconceived notion of what will be coming later on in the story. As Frances noted, the editors are “the first audience of the material, so it’s better to be naive and un-researched”. To me that made a lot of sense, since as an editor we’re often guiding the reveal of information to an audience and they have to be able to follow the story and emotional journeys of the characters without prior knowledge.

When it comes to the selection of material, Kate had an interesting analogy that when she’s cutting dialogue scenes she imagines the scene as a play, and herself sitting at the back of the theatre. She then decides who she would be looking at at any given moment or who she’d be most interested in. I thought that was a wonderful idea and an interesting counter-point to something that Steven Spielberg said once about staying on a two-shot because it allows the audience to look at whomever in the scene they found the most interesting, which in essence makes them the editor (I’m paraphrasing of course, but you get the idea).

Each of the editors spoke about placing story above all else and finding the nub of a scene and building around that, be it thematically or selecting certain shots that are pivotal points in the scene. For example Frances showed the scene of Ned Stark’s beheading and guided us through the selective use of the shots of his daughters, to make the scene more about his relationship with his family than the crimes he was accused of. She also noted the two key shots from the scene that she built around; a shot of Ned’s exposed neck, moments before the beheading (apparently the one take where Sean Bean’s hair happened to fall that way) and a shot of the bottom of the statue from where Arya had recently departed.

An interesting note from that scene on a personal level – I’d seen it a couple of times, once when it aired and once on BluRay, and I could have sworn blind that there was a shot where you see Ned’s head fall from his body. But re-watching it on Saturday, it is apparent that my memory is unreliable and no such shot exists. I think that’s really the power of the show, and by extension the editing, that I didn’t see that with my eyes, but I certainly felt as strongly as if I had. Our memories forming new images in our minds of films we’ve seen is a point that comes up in Rob Legato’s superb TED Talk “The Art of Creating Awe“, which I highly recommend.

The panel also talked about editing from instinct; putting performances and story at the forefront of what they were doing – really understanding what the scene is about and guiding the audience on a journey. Where necessary that meant some restructuring, such as bringing the love story to be more prominent at the beginning of Birdsong and on one occasion switching a storyline to a different episode of Game of Thrones.

In honour of The AV Club, some stray observations;
– Orel mentioned that they have to mark on the Game of Thrones scripts where they’ve cut a line (or part of a line) and sometimes the showrunners insist on putting them back in. They’re very protective of the words.
– Kristina mentioned that a cut should work without sound first and it’s a “lovely surprise” when it’s funny dubbed.
– The editors all noted that the transition from shooting film to shooting digital and the resulting increase in shooting ratio had the effect of vastly reducing the amount of time they could spend with a cut.
– There was naturally a lot of talk about Game of Thrones since two of the panel edit on that particular show, but I think the audience generally appreciated the little bits of trivia, like the cold-open of season 3 being one of the last scenes shot for the season.

The TV editing panel was a great way to start the day – the panel were clearly relaxed and casual but more importantly passionate about what they do, and I’m sure everyone who was there would want to thank them for their generosity in taking the time to talk to so many of us throughout the day. I’ll try to write up some thoughts on the feature editors panel this week, so keep an eye out for that, but if you want to read more about EditFest and you just can’t wait, Judith Allen wrote a blog post with a lot more quotes from the panelists, which you can find on her website.