1) How did you become a Film Editor? What made you want to become one?Accidentally. At 18 I went to my local careers office and there was a card that said ‘Trainee Film Maker’. This little Mancunian outfit made films for industry and I went along and got the job. Faced with all the toys most people want to grab the camera but my first passion was sound recording - I was trying to be a musician at the time - and through that I discovered sound effects editing and mixing and then on to editing pictures. It all felt organically related to me.
2) You’ve worked on some of the biggest films to come out of Hollywood and have won an Oscar for your work. How could a freelance editor build their career in a similar manner?I grew up in Manchester which isn’t exactly recognised as the Hollywood of the UK. But there was television at Granada and the BBC. I worked on local news shows as a freelance and moved on to current affairs and documentary, lots of music shows and then into drama. Along the way I formed relationships with people I still work with today. There has to be a talent for the job but there’s always an element of luck. Right place, right time. Getting to assist a good editor is a start. Most trainees come to us through Skillset and I’d recommend any budding film technician, in any department, to get in touch with them.
3) Who were your mentors as you were developing as an Editor and did you take inspiration from any particular Editors?All TV guys. Super fast news editors, brilliant story tellers in documentaries and current affairs. I was offered a comedy show and jumped at it. Right place, right time.
4) Editing can be a hugely creative part of the film making process - saving scenes which directors thought were lost and finding new things others haven’t seen before. Do you think editing is an under appreciated art form by new film makers?I've found over the past few years, and increasingly since we went digital that, with computers, younger film makers are highly competent up to a certain level. But there’s no substitute for experience.
5) Films are now edited using computers rather than more traditional cutting of actual celluloid. Have you worked with both and do you have a preference? do you think it’s important for Editors to learn both skills still?I started work in 1978 with 16mm reversal stock straight out of the lab and on the telly within minutes using a steenbeck, cellotape, a chinagraph pencil and a white glove. We’ll never go back to editing on film so new editors needn’t worry about the old stuff. I like digital for its efficiency but I miss having to get out of my chair to find a bit of film occasionally!
6) You must be presented with a lot of material when you start working on a film, how do you make the hours upon hours worth of footage seem less daunting?It’s always daunting and it’s irrelevant how many miles of it there are. Often it’s the smaller, more intimate scenes that are the hardest to get right. So many nuances. Action is generally easier to put together because it tends to be choreographed. The only way I know how is to quickly eliminate what isn’t good enough - at least in my opinion at the time, the director will have a view later - bin it and concentrate on the good stuff. If it’s an action sequence you might want to keep some shaky bits. If it’s an intense dialogue scene performance must always come first. Every editor works differently. We find our own techniques and develop them over the years. Later, going back through the material to find other ways of cutting the scene, switching the emphasis or adjusting tone is all part of the process. It’s never really finished.
7) Which has been your favourite film to work on and why? Is this the film you’re also most proud of?It’s difficult to answer that. I try to achieve a level of artistic and technical excellence every day I go to work. My earlier film making experiences are among some of the fondest memories I have.
8) Do you have a particular favourite type of film to edit?No. But if there’s a car chase or a fight scene it should be about character or story and preferably both.
9) What is the best and the worst thing about your job?Tough question. You’ll be asking what my favourite colour is next! The worst thing is a combination of the time I’m actually at work and the effects of that on the body as I get older. I’m trying to change that though. The best? There are so many great things. Collaboration’s a big one for me. Working with a group of people equally committed to creating a finished movie to the highest possible standards.
10) You’ve worked on many Hollywood films. Is this where you now spend most of your time or does the beauty of editing mean you can do it wherever you like?I haven’t worked in America for ten years. Many Hollywood pictures are shot in the UK and elsewhere in Europe these days. Depending on the director’s residential status, some will head back to LA or NYC for post production. We get to finish the rest here. The technology exists for me to work at home but it’s not practical - or as much fun - to work anywhere other than a recognised studio or post facility.
11) Do you have any advice for budding Editors?Keep knocking on doors. Make as many contacts as you can. Join any training scheme you can get on. Say ‘yes’ to every offer.
12) How important do you think film festivals are in establishing future talent in both the UK and abroad?Essential. Festivals are where talent gets spotted. They’re like a shop window for producers.
13) Finally, as was mentioned previously, you won an Oscar for Chicago in 2003 - where do you keep it?!I’m too proud of it to hide it in the toilet. It’s on a sideboard in the living room. I do remove it if I’ve got a builder coming round though. I reckon it doubles the quote.