The Quarry’s MD on his love for cutting room magic.
In every walk of life people love stories. That’s universal to humanity. And editing, whether it's in ads or feature films, is pure storytelling. Being able to manage a narrative and make something clear, fascinating and engaging really is a craft. And I’ve been in awe of those that do it well for a long time.
I actually used to write lots when I was a kid. My folks were both in advertising, so it seemed a natural path to do something related. But rather than become a copywriter I trained as an assistant editor pretty much straight out of school. That’s where my fascination with editing began. Having done that for five years I was intrigued by why footage arrived in the edit suite the way it did, so I decided to move closer to the point of origination by joining agency production life. Many years in that environment gave me a greater understanding of the creative process and why certain marketing decisions are made, but my admiration for editing and post production endured.
Commercials that tell moving stories are invariably well edited. From Guinness Surfer, where it was all about building tension and then releasing it visually and audibly – such a memorable spot for many reasons. To Channel 4’s Superhumans that has such arresting power and poise. Or a personal favourite of mine, Vodafone Time Theft, that to me seamlessly knits what could have been a complicated piece into a fluid and engaging story. They’re great ideas, directed by brilliant talents, but without expert editors they would never have had the visceral impact they did.
A good story told badly is a missed opportunity, for everyone, from director to agency to brand. Clear communication is key to our industry and anyone who thinks editing is about sticking shots together in storyboard order is much mistaken. I know editors who try not to get too wrapped up in how something was shot – better that they have an impartial viewpoint so they can judge what's in front of them and not be influenced by others' opinions.
There are a number of traits that make a good editor. As I already mentioned, objectivity is one. Not worrying about the difficult moments in drawn-out PPMs or the most testing struggles on set allows the editor to focus only on what’s best for the film without any emotional bias. Having said that, it can be invaluable to have an editor’s brain plugged into the process during pre production.
Clarity of thinking is also vital, as are people management skills. Our industry is awash with opinions, so it's key for an editor to be able to navigate what can be a minefield of viewpoints while remaining true to the original aims of the piece, as well as alert to new possibilities. He or she must navigate a route through a tangle of creative directions towards the best film possible.
I think the craft of the edit is underestimated yet sometimes feared. It’s the culmination of everything that's been discussed before. The components are being glued together and this can be a bit of a process – going through the motions to polish it off. But that should be far from the reality. Editors are manipulators of time and space in order to create memorable pieces of work whatever the type of project.
And I think it's wrongly feared. People across the industry are often very good at knowing what's been shot but sometimes lack the understanding of what the overall piece will feel like. It's a pivotal and scary moment for some. Is what they've worked towards going to work or not? And with so much riding on things these days for agencies and production companies alike it's a tense moment as words on a page, and captured images are brought to life in the cutting room.
The position of the edit in the production process has shifted over the years. Editors used to be very involved in post-production, but over the years that has diminished. Now editing houses are bringing on board elements of post production, just as we are with our VFX venture Youngster London in our new building on Tottenham Court Road. It's partly because technology is more accessible and partly because it's right that the editor, who is a more independent voice within the production, can add guidance and assistance to the process to ensure that the narrative doesn't waiver, and that all the intentions of the edit are realised in the finished piece. Likewise, as post and visual effects develop, it’s possible to respond editorially, and the whole post process can seamlessly work back and forth for the good of the overall production.
Business models will change over time and the technology and software will alter the precise skills editors need, but great editors will always be defined by the same characteristics. They breathe life into a story – following on from the months of work that have gone before, discovering the most powerful narrative possible. It’s a kind of alchemy that I will never lose respect for.
Tim Page is Managing Director at The Quarry.