Skip to main content

Questions for the Editor

In my 25 years as an emerging filmmaker, I've worked with many film editors - some experienced, some not so. Some newbies who would rather be directing and others born with a burning desire to cut film. One thing is for sure - all editors approach editing differently.

As a director, I think it's polite to ask how a person likes to work - whether they have a tried and true process or not. "How do you like to work?" I ask. In many cases, the question is met with a blank or even perplexed stare. "I usually get the footage and start cutting," comes the (often embarrassingly predictable) reply. "What other way is there?"

Obvious? ... Maybe. But we directors have to listen carefully to our creative accomplices, which often means learning to read between the lines.

Here are a few other responses an editor might give you.

1. Process? Just give me the script and the original footage.

This always works well with very experienced editors. Hand the script and the footage over.

I once had the opportunity of working with Tim Wellburn - an Australian feature film editor with over 40 years of feature films to his credit. He knew how to read scripts and get to the core of the character via editing. As a general rule, it's always polite to leave the experienced editors to do their thing. There's no need to look over his/her shoulder.

You might get the same reply from an inexperienced editor. Perhaps let them have a go at it and see what they come up with. But make sure they know that you will, ultimately, want final say and that it may have to be done again ... and again ... and again (and in my case ... again).

2. Give me the footage. I don't need the script.

Okay. For me - this answer rings alarm bells. The story (providing the Director has captured it on film) should be in the script. It's the blueprint. It's what attracted the actor/money in the first place. Something there has already worked - especially if you are in production.

Respect the script!

Having said that - many beginner editors have shown me new and interesting things when I've left them to it. I try not to hover. In most cases, we eventually come back to the screenplay. If you have an iconoclastic editor on your hands, it might be a nice idea to see what they come up with. Sometimes the Director's intentions weren't manifest on the day and throwing things up in the air like this may be a good way to solve coverage problems.

3. I dunno. What do you want?

Good. Here is an editor willing to open lines of communication. Or - they might be tired or suspicious because they've heard this question before - hearing it as I'd like you to do it my way. And there's nothing more annoying for an editor than a director looking over your shoulder while you make - every - single - cut!

Be sensitive, Directors. Or - choose an editor who (you think) is better than you are at editing in the first place.

In other words, Directors, find a way to trust your editor. Editors should be adding something to a work - maybe even fixing director's mistakes!

4. I have no idea what I'm looking at. I need your script, notes, camera sheets etc.

The admirable answer. This editor knows that his time will be cut in half if he gets inside the director's head. In most cases, directors don't know what they want. Giving the editor as much information as possible cuts time and frees up the editor. You want your editor involved! Although this answer will mean more work for the director.

5. Let's have a cup of coffee.

Another good answer. But beware. It could be another alarm bell.

Getting along with your editor doesn't guarantee great work. Even though an afternoon coffee may turn into an all night pub-crawl and finding your new best friend, it doesn't mean that you are both on the same page. The first rough cut will tell you that.

Make sure, if you do have coffee and biscuits with your editor, that you talk about the film. Don't talk too much about life and philosophy. The person you are talking to may not be a good listener - or what you are hearing makes sense in a different way to what your editor intends.

You really need to get into the cutting room after the editor has had a go at the film.

Whoever said that a director's job finishes at "It's a wrap"?

NB: The knife cuts both ways. An editor might ask the director how he/she likes to work. Each and every film - whether drama or documentary comes with its own cutting-room challenges. Ask the right questions, be nice to people and don't treat your editor like a splicing machine.


Zane Dickens said…
Wow interesting perspective. I am (although a student filmmaker) both an editor and a director, my abilities and interest seem to see-saw between the two.

This is definitely a worthwhile approach to take. I have been the editor that has the director sitting on my back and vice versa. I really agree with "find an editor that you think is better than you", I often over direct in the edit because I don't trust them with my 'baby'.

I'm not sure if it would be much use to you but check out my site/blog it is also about filmmaking, tips, tricks and articles.

Would it be okay for me to re-publish this on my site with a link back to your home page? "Article written by".

Thanks Z.

Popular posts from this blog

The Drug That Killed River Phoenix

This article was going to be about a new drug I'm on called Duomine, but as I knew very little about River Phoenix (aka the vegan Jimmy Dean) I thought I'd swat up on what's really going on behind that brain-worm ditty. I'll talk about Duomine another time.The song line I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix is from Aussie alternative band TISM's tasteless 1995 single (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River - and it's a bit cheap, frankly. The single's cover shows a mock-up of River's tombstone and was released shortly after his death. TISM were well-known for criticisin Imperial Hollywood and US pop culture, but they were masters when it came to borrowed interest marketing. More about these guys later.River Bottom's Awkward LifeIn 1944, River's mother Arlyn was born to a Jewish family living in the Bronx. When she finished school, she married a computer programmer but quickly grew bored of her secretarial life. In 1968, at 24, Arlyn dr…

The Three by Five Card Index System

Here's another approach to writing your screenplay. The screenwriter's friend. Introducing the infamous Three by Five Card Index System.

Wow! How can I get one?

In my case - I made it. What it amounts to is this: Three 90cm x 40cm sheets of chipboard hinged together so that the whole thing stands like a concertina on a table or floor.

Every 5cm or so down, I have drawing-pinned small cardboard hinges (triangles if you will) made from old file dividers. These become placeholders for your cards.

A couple of bunches of 3 inch by 5 inch index cards (available in packs of 100 at any newsagency) and there you have it. A sure fire way to make your screenplay bubble to the top of the pile . . . Not. But it's a tool and writers need their tools.

Cool. How does it work?

As you can see - each act has three mini-acts in it (fitting in with Australian script theorist Linda Heys' Second Act Story). Or rather - going one step further and suggesting that all three acts have a beginning, …

Script development on a budget

Most people abhor criticism and nobody likes to open their wallet. If you are either, don’t - whatever you do - write a feature film screenplay. I almost guarantee that nobody will read it without being paid.

More importantly never go into production on a script that hasn’t been very heavily criticised, rewritten, analysed, rewritten gain, ripped apart, gutted and finally ... rewritten. I'm sure you can name a thousand movies with huge plot holes or character problems. Problems which could have easily been patched up with just a few bucks investment. Criticism is not the same as rejection.
While Mum will happily read your screenplay, getting constructive feedback from industry professionals costs money. Constructive criticism is the key to morphing an ailing screenplay into a great feature film. Nothing else will do this. Unfortunately, getting anyone who’s not your mother to read your screenplay (or read beyond your synopsis and director's notes) costs money. Even if you don&#…