EditFest Part 2 – Dailies to Delivery: Editing Features

The panel on editing features was the one I was most looking forward to in the day. Even though I’m hugely excited by the possibilities of web series and short-form series like we make at Twist & Shout, features are still where the prestige is – they’re an epic challenge from a storytelling standpoint and I hoped to hear what it was like from a craft and technique viewpoint. Too often it’s easy to talk more about the technology and the workflow than the really interesting part; creating moments that people remember.

The panel was moderated by Mick Audsley, and featured Chris Dickens, A.C.E. (Les Miserables, Slumdog Millionaire), Tracy Granger, A.C.E. (Still Life, Frank), John Wilson, A.C.E. (Day of the Flowers, Billy Elliot), and Eddie Hamilton, A.C.E. (X-Men: First Class, Kick Ass 2)

One of the biggest insights from this panel really echoed the first session of the day; the lack of time to be with the edit and analyse your own work. Eddie offered the example that the cut of X-Men First Class was locked 9 days after the end of shooting. Admittedly he was cutting during the shoot as well, but I found that a staggeringly short time to live with a complete cut of the whole film. According to the panel, this seems to stem from no longer working on film (by that I mean cutting film rather than shooting on film). Tracy and Chris noted that they missed the physicality of cutting film, and the knowledge of the material that it afforded you. John argued that he didn’t miss the “hassle” of film, but he does miss the “thinking time” that as an editor you don’t seem to get anymore.

The thinking time strand of conversation yielded some great insights from the panel. Mike noted that screening a rough cut isn’t an “event” as it used to be, since anyone can just walk into the suite and see what you’re working on. Chris expanded on the point of needing to have some privacy during the process of editing, so that you have “an opportunity to get things wrong” and try things out. To that end, he gave a wonderful little tip, that it’s good to have “One or two finished sequences” to show people when they demand to see how it’s going. And as Tracy said, “The first cut of everything is terrible” but that “Cutting rooms have become like kitchens, where everybody comes to hang out”.

In an effort to try to replicate the experience of a screening, Eddie told us how he sets up a projector and surround sound system in his suite. He tries to do as much audio as he can in the suite, even though it’s going to be replaced at a later stage, to give a sense of the finished scene as early in the process as possible. (To see more about what Eddie does in the suite to show a more fully realised rough cut, check out his episode on the Avid Rough Cut Podcast)

The biggest thing to come out of the panel was the squeeze on time that has come from the transition to digital workflows. The ability to see an edit and really experience it as an audience would is becoming more and more difficult. Screening the film for someone who hasn’t seen it before, be it in the suite or as a kind of rough cut screening event are incredibly important, because you as an editor experience the film differently with someone else in the room, you see it through their eyes.

I’ll be writing some more thoughts from the final panel of the day featuring Anne Coates and Tom Rolf later this week, but in the meantime, another good write-up you might want to check out is this Top 10 Tips from EditFest by Jonny Elwyn on PremiumBeat here

Stray observations;
– Eddie on finding work; “Every job is by word of mouth”
– On “Billy Eliot”, the “Town Called Malice” sequence tap dancing was re-dubbed by Jamie Bell himself. In one take.
– The general consensus was that the first assembly edit should more accurately be called the writer’s cut rather than the editor’s cut, because most often in the first instance you’re putting together everything that was shot as the script suggests, you’re not handing over your preferred cut of the movie.
– John said it takes him five years after he’s finished working on a film to really see the effect of what he’s done with fresh eyes.
– Eddie wore a “Save Ferris” t-shirt, which was wonderful.