The Perfect Match for the Perfect Cut – 8 September 2010



OzDox – The Australian Documentary Forum and The Australian Directors Guild in association with the Australian Screen Editors Guild and Sydney AFTRS Presents:

The Perfect Match for the Perfect Cut

Couples management for editors and directors

With a distinguished panel of documentary editors:
James Bradley ASE, Ruth Cullen, Andrea Lang ASE

Editors Directors Producers

WHEN: Wednesday, 8 September 2010, 6.00pm arrival for 6.30pm start
Wine, nibbles and conversation from 6:00pm

WHERE: AFTRS Theatre, Fox Studios, Entertainment Quarter, 130 Bent St,
Moore Park NSW.



RSVP not required, but be early to ensure your seat.
This event is open to the public. Parking fees discounted after 6pm, or with validated ticket from AFTRS.

What happens in the dark between the editor and the director – the GOOD, the BAD and the truly UGLY – rarely sees the light of day, but now OzDox and the Australian Screen Editors Guild (ASE) will lift the veil of secrecy in this special workshop on how to get the best from your editing process. The session will feature a lively panel of expert editors, contributions from the floor, and confidential tales of intrigue, salvation and magic read out by actors in order to preserve anonymity. These true adventures in editing, never before revealed in public, have been solicited from some of Australia’s most distinguished documentarians. Both experienced and beginning editors/filmmakers are encouraged to attend and put forward your questions and experiences.

The workshop will address the following:

  • For the director: How to choose an editor
  • For the editor: How to choose a director (plus rejection without tears).
  • For the director: What a great editor can do for your film and what you need to provide them with at the start
  • For the editor: the care and feeding of the director – ten dos and don’ts
  • For the Happy Couple:
    • how to decide what your film is about and move forward together into bliss
    • protocol in the editing room – coming on strong vs the waiting game
    • ten fatal mistakes that can wreck a marriage
    • turning creative differences into a brand new baby
    • healthy parenting – the mix and the grade
  • The Sweet Smell of Success: the domineering partner – learning to speak up – giving credit where credit’s due


James Bradley ASE

James studied filmmaking in the late 1970s under the inspirational Surrealist painter and filmmaker Dusan Marek. After making several grant-funded dramas, he began his career as an editor on TV series, music videos, corporate films, documentaries and short dramas. James subsequently become known for his work with indigenous filmmakers and has edited a large number of highly awarded documentaries, many on indigenous subjects. Notably, he has cut over 70 music videos for some of Australia’s best-loved artists. In 2005 James won the AFI Award for Best Non-Feature Editing and later that year was awarded Australian Screen Editors Guild accreditation. James has also worked as a director and producer.

Ruth Cullen

Ruth initially entered the film industry as an editor, and has worked in that capacity on some remarkable award-winning documentaries. She is experienced as an edit doctor in both the US and Australia. As a filmmaker, Ruth has produced and/or directed one-off and series documentaries – specialising in magical tales about unusual lives – and these have been shown around the world.  Ruth has also worked as an Executive Producer in Arts, Entertainment and Comedy for the ABC, and is currently the Head of Documentary at The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). She serves on the Board of the Australian Directors Guild and is a committee member of Ozdox..

Andrea Lang ASE

After working for some years at SBS, editing documentaries, news and current affairs, in 1998 Andrea gained a Masters Degree in drama editing at AFTRS. Since then she has been applying her drama skills to documentary with notable results. As well as working on television series, hour-long and half hour documentaries, Andrea has edited a number of feature documentaries which have been highly acclaimed around the world. Within Australia, the films she has edited have consistently won “Best Documentary” awards, as well as several nominations for “Best Editing”.

The session organizers are Gwen Sputore for the ASE and Martha Ansara, chairing the session for Ozdox. If you have an anonymous story you wish to contribute, please contact or by Sept.5, 2010.

things that go wrong in the dark – and sometimes right….

The following stories were sent into Ozdox by editors, directors and producers and read out by actors at the seminar A PERFECT MATCH FOR A PERFECT CUT on 8 September,2010. The seminar was  organised in cooperation with the Australian Screen Editors guild and evoked considerable recognition and discussion.  Our panel consisted of James Bradley ASE, Ruth Cullen, and Andrea Lang ASE. There were also comments from the audience. The audio recording of the proceedings will be available shortly and the Australian Screen Editors guild will be posting a tape.

1. Now know what to look for

I cut an hour long documentary for one director who could never stay long enough in the editing room to discuss a sequence in any concrete way.  Even if you could get her to show up, she would find a reason to leave again – make cups of tea, develop a headache, rush off to unexpected meetings, etc.  With a little research, I discovered that she was an ideas person, a great talker. Very personable – at least on the surface. But she had few actual filmmaking skills — certainly she had no comprehension of the editing process. And didn’t want to learn. For her, being a filmmaker consisted of coming up with the subject for a film, talking about it persuasively enough to hook a producer and a great crew, charming the film’s subjects, letting her crew do the filming, and then queening about with the film once it was finished. Practical filmmaking chores were not something she wanted to know about

This might have been tolerable if the director ever gave credit to any of the people she worked with, but her ego was so fragile and her anxiety about her ignorance so great that, of course, she claimed the whole thing as her own work. She was also very difficult if I, as her editor, didn’t come up with what she wanted even though she was unable to discuss possible solutions for problem footage.

I was drawn into the project through a producer with whom I had worked several times before. Neither this producer nor I nor anyone else, as far as I know, has ever worked with this director twice.  I now know what to look for.

2. A black comedy

The Film: one of Australia’s first personal documentaries.

The Tone: black, comic — very comic, very very black.

A highly regarded and experienced documentary editor is employed by the producer to work with the director. This editor, a mature and kind person, empathises with all the characters, and — because the story involves the suicide of the director’s father — treats this family story as a tragedy.

The editor’s objective: to reconcile the conflicts among the characters in the film and promote accord.

The director’s objective: to explore his ambivalent and unreconciled relationship with a complex and contradictory parent through an entertaining and – wherever possible – comic film.

After a week of awkward communication and failed connection, the editor finds the task too onerous and resigns.  The director – inexperienced at documentary – is blamed for this by both producer and funding body who threaten to remove him from the project.

The director then uses his intuition to select a new editor — one who is relatively inexperienced but every bit as black and twisted as the director. They overcome the opposition of the funding body, and are allowed to proceed. During the editing process the director becomes increasingly amazed that the editor understands the film’s objective PERFECTLY and EXACTLY! There are a lot of arguments and even out-and-out fights – all on creative editing issues – most of which are resolved to the film’s benefit.

Nevertheless, the funding body’s project officer finds their rough cut puzzling, irreverent and distasteful, and this time the editor as well as the director is threatened with removal. However, the ABC views the same rough cut and offers to buy the film, thus triggering completion finance.

The finished film receives multiple national and international awards and is screened theatrically. The director is inundated with letters from all over the world – of appreciation, dismay, and general reactions of controversy. Over the following years, personal documentaries with a black comic twist become more common.

3. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A senior editor and a more junior editor were given a brief for a complex, feature documentary. The director was still shooting and there was a time-critical deadline. Together the editors worked out a pathway to deal with multiple types of footage and this pathway was okay-ed by both producer and director. During the five weeks of the shoot, the editors worked happily. The director had scheduled time off from shooting when he was supposed to come into the cutting room to look for holes in the narrative that needed pick-ups and to keep an eye on the direction of the edit.  As material from the shoot came in, the editors sent back DVDs of the interviews for the director to view.

During the first week, this procedure seemed to be working. After that, the director rarely kept his appointments with the editors. Despite repeated requests to the producer for transcripts and logging sheets, these never appeared and the editors had to trawl through all the footage in order to assemble the film according to the script.. (Of course, this well-financed film had no editing assistants.)

For the first week after the shoot, the editors worked hard with the director to get a cut ready to screen for the broadcaster and funding bodies. Their feedback was that the film was well on track. At the screening, the director heaped lavish praise on the editors – proclaiming them the best editors he had ever worked with. Everyone was happy.

But the next day, as the editors started working towards a more detailed cut, it became obvious that the director had not viewed the DVDs which the editors had sent to him, and without logs and transcripts, he was finding it hard to get across the extensive and detailed interviews. By the end of that day, the director was clearly floundering. He was becoming a dark, brooding cloud, watching DVDs in a corner of the senior editor’s editing suite. By the end of the second day, this gloom was relieved by the director’s sudden sorties into the junior editor’s editing suite where he would burst out with aggressive demands and complaints,. Among his accusations were that the junior editor had ignored a scripting brief that had, in fact, never appeared in the edit room.  Soon after that, the director called in the producer (with whom he was having a relationship) and the producer also stormed into the junior editor’s room to have go at her. This tirade was so loud that the senior editor – a person with considerable prestige in the industry –  emerged from his room to intervene in the bullying. This did not improve the situation and, for the rest of the week, the director continued to hover in the senior editor’s suite trying to catch up on the footage while periodically popping next door to abuse the junior editor for every frustration he was experiencing.

The director’s emotional outbursts were by now upsetting others working in the facility, but the film was making progress and another week passed in the same gruesome manner. The following Monday, the junior editor arrived at work to find the director watching her DVDs in her room rather than that of the senior editor. This time, when the director started shouting because he couldn’t locate some footage he was looking for, the junior editor walked out. As the senior editor had continued to rebuff the director’s attempts to drive a wedge between him and the junior editor, it was a foregone conclusion that the edit was doomed.

The next day, without warning, the senior editor was sacked. Another editor was brought in, logging sheets and transcripts were supplied, and the director was finally across the material. He was at last ready to be in an edit suite with an editor and the film was finished by the deadline. It was later discovered by the original editors that this pattern of behaviour had occurred before, including the sacking of experienced editors. Almost no editor or producer had worked with this director twice, but none of the previous survivors revealed anything to the two editors involved in this project until after the whole thing was over.

4. Pushing the boundaries

I once started cutting a documentary which was supposed to be a kind of an intellectual thesis “pushing the boundaries of filmmaking”, with a mix of talking heads and re-dramtised events. One day the director came into the edit room and gave me a “paper” he had written on editing. He then told me to study it and suggested I try and stick as close as possible to the guidelines he was suggesting — things like “turn all the sound off and cut the whole thing to a piece of music”.  Instead of a script (which for weeks he claimed to be writing) he eventually presented me with a storyboard of images he had drawn and told me to cut to that, when I asked him for a bit more detail and perhaps even to select a few pieces of interview and to put them into some kind of order, he went berserk, attacked my credibility as an editor and questioned my integrity and commitment to the project. After doing a bit of research on him I realized he was a total nutcase so I QUIT!!!

5. Taking the Blame

Editor and director work furiously putting together a feature documentary that because of funding hold ups has started late but still has same delivery deadline.

Research and rough script that was promised have not been done. (due to a family drama that the researcher has had).

Editor and director work late for 3 weeks but are having a great time working with some fabulous material, great interviews, archive footage and photographs. We are both happy with a good rough cut that has a good emotional arc and weaves the stories to a satisfying conclusion.

Screening goes well with producer who has some good suggestions which are included the next day before a quicktime of cut is made.

Cut is then FTP’d to client.

Three days later the editor is fired as the client believes the film is not up to the stage it should be.!!!!!  (The producer offered no response to this opinion.)

Loyalty is a really important component in film making because we all need to take responsibility for all the factors that are involved. Blaming an experienced editor is really disappointing.

PS The final version that went to air was not that different but it still hurts.

6. Family relations

People somehow assume a woman editor is particularly sensitive to emotionally charged relationships and perhaps this is why I’ve been asked to work on several projects where the director has made a film about a close family member. Almost invariably, however, the time comes when I find myself caught in the middle between the director and their loved one — the subject of the documentary — and it’s not a comfortable place to be.

On one project we’re about to head off to the studio to record the father’s final narration – which to my surprise is the first time Dad has seen what Sonny Boy has written. The director “innocently” hands his father the final script and, of course, after a few minutes an argument breaks out “I’m not going to say that!” etc. There is a sullen silence on the drive to the studio, and I know it’s my job to somehow smooth things over and get the narration recorded – which we …..manage to do.

7. Voice of the dead

Endings of films are often difficult. One of the most difficult for me happened with a dramatized documentary based on the life of a long-deceased historical personage. Money had been tight and the shooting schedule had come to an abrupt and premature end, and now a couple of scenes — including the last –are posing difficulties. These problems, thankfully, are not insurmountable, but the director begins panicking. A couple of days of torment, and one morning he bounces radiantly into the editing room, declaring that all our problems have been solved: the long-deceased subject of the film has come to him in a dream and explained exactly how to edit the last scene. It doesn’t make sense to me, but my arguments aren’t in the same league as those of a genuine dream personage, so I just bite my tongue, follow the instructions from beyond the grave, and we finish the film. A few months later, I hear from the director that they’ve cut a new ending (and re-onlined and mixed) because audiences don’t like the original ending. Of course, there is no recognition that I’d argued for this exact same ending during the edit, and I don’t bother to make the point: I had long ago resolved that I would not be working with THAT director again!

8. Turn, turn, turn

After years of rejections and self-funding a film following a technological wizard with controversial ideas, we finally got to the edit room at X Company. The editor was a great story-teller who could be left alone with a script outline and notes while the technical writer and I dealt with the rest of the film. Within a few weeks, we had a rough-cut that Film Australia’s EP supported with enthusiasm. That was the post-production’s high point — everything from then on went south.

The broadcaster’s EP said, “This isn’t what I commissioned—focus on the technology — forget about the people”, At which point our X Company EP did a 180, “Don’t worry …. the guys will fix it”. This was my first self-initiated film and I sat there dumbfounded and intimidated as the EPs and the producer made their decisions. In hindsight, this was a door that led to years of bitterness and depression.

Our editor was very pregnant at the time and with all the other delays, we decided to take a break while the writer and I tried to refocus the story. The problem was that the more we tried, the more complex the technological issues got and the more was taken away from the human story.

A few weeks later our editor came back holding her baby. A special room was set up where the baby could stay under the care of the editor’s mother. While we were having coffee breaks, the editor would be breast feeding. At times, she would cut with the baby in her arms. It was a great atmosphere, though we did get the occasional complaint about the crying from nearby editing rooms

On seeing the next rough-cut, X Company’s EP said that they were considering taking the film away from me – the film to which I had devoted years of heart, soul and money. The rest is a little blurry but the anger on both sides eventually passed and it became clear that having the technology story as the main backbone wasn’t particularly interesting. Being a less experienced filmmaker, I was also too attached to some scenes, wanting to tell the bigger story, so the editor kindly pointed out that it was time to “kill the babies”, a disturbing comment coming from someone who was breast feeding at the time. She suggested we show the story to her husband, who was a filmmaker himself, and we took on many of his suggestions, building the story up rather than cutting it down. The following cut returned the film towards the human story which the EP from the broadcaster then said was what he wanted all along, I didn’t try to understand where the turn-a-round came from, I was just grateful that the film was no longer a purely technological story and that everyone had fallen into line.

The film went on to do well at festivals and when I talked one US judge who had awarded it a prestigious prize, he said that it won because it captured the human face of technology.

9. Editing with a bully

Bully: “This is how we do it, I need the structure in place by 3pm.
I don’t need to discuss this; this isn’t some wanky feature documentary…”

Ed: (taken aback but keeping the peace) “But, as the editor, I will need to look at the footage to see if the structure will work?”

Bully: “Do it however you need to, but we’re on a tight schedule and I need the outline of the cut by mid afternoon, so I can start on the narration”.

Ed: “ But …”

Bully: “No Buts.”

3pm. A rough assembly of main grabs is in place with black holes left for narration.

Bully “Good, now you can start colouring it in..”
(his term for editing)

Two days later a reasonable rough cut is in place. Bully writes an appalling emotional narration that interrupts and takes over the character’s story. Editor can’t help it and rewrites worst narration grabs. Bully comes and looks at the cut,

Bully: “Yes something like that. See, it’s not so hard to be collaborative is it !!!?”

Ed. “No it’s not.”.

10. The director loves editing

Starting the edit on a complex feature documentary that has been in development for many years, my heart sinks when the director enthuses ‘I just love editing’. I know this is dangerous – the director is approaching the edit as if suddenly all his dreams are going to magically fall into place and his vision will be realised, while I know it’s going to be a difficult job that needs to be approached with logic and discipline, not just unbridled enthusiasm. So we spend the first week trying to get the opening scenes working, going over and over them, at his insistence polishing them as if we were fine cutting. There will be no room in the cut for most of this back-story, but I can’t convince the director to move on. When he has to go away shooting for a couple of weeks, he asks “What are you going to do while I’m away?” and I reply “I’m going to edit – that’s what an editor does”. “But how can you edit without me?”

Of course, the edit drags on and on, and I have to start another job way before it is finished. I don’t even get a thank-you credit.

Editor vs Line Producer

11. Very relaxing
It’s the first day working in the edit suite on the cut.

“Two secs”, the director mutters, getting up and running down the hallway to the toilet.

Before I finish playing out the changes I am working on, I hear his feet thumping back towards me.

“Show me!” the director demands, bounding through the door, slightly out of breath.

And so the days of post roll on in much the same manner, the director being so precious about not wasting a single minute that he runs to the toilet and never letting me out of his sight if he can help it.

I’ve got the feeling he expects me to run to the toilet too.

12. In the wrong hands, a basic knowledge of Final Cut Pro can be a dangerous thing

I’ve been hired to finish editing a documentary which has gone over time. I am working with a first time director, with one short film to his credit. The film is at rough cut stage. Another editor has already worked on the project attempting to bring it to fine cut, but has moved on to another commitment, when I am brought onto the project.

As an editor, I am fine about a director who sometimes shows me what he wants by cutting a few shots together. The first day on the job, however, this director parks himself territorially between me and the monitor, and I have to insinuate myself into position to begin editing.

The director is so caught up in the details of the edit that he has lost sight of the bigger picture. The producer of the film manages to communicate what the film requires and I concur. The director disagrees, although the basis of his disagreement is not at all clear. Nevertheless, between the three of us, the editing of the film proceeds – after a fashion – with the director literally leaning over my shoulder and passing comments the whole time.

We get through the first day, with reasonable results despite everything, but I go home exhausted. The next morning, I return to discover that the director has spent the night reworking my edit – re-arranging shots and changing shot lengths. The sequences that were almost working the day before are now over-long, again. And day by day, this is how the edit proceeds – the night shift reworking the efforts of the day shift — the day shift trying to restore order to the edit. But the online has been booked, and so the editing eventually comes to its somewhat compromised end.

13. No boundaries

One film that I worked on the director (who was also the producer) had their own final cut pro set up at home, I would go to her house and cut during the day and she would get on the equipment at night and recut what we had been cutting all day. Eventually after a lot of arguing and me forbidding this practise, we got to a rough cut which the ABC approved. We then took a 3 week break to get some perspective and she recut the WHOLE film in a totally different direction!! We now had three weeks to finish the film and no producer to enforce any kind of  boundaries, so I tried as best I could to recut the film back the way it was when the ABC approved it and then move it on to fine cut. I did it but the film was never as good as it could have been…

The Offer

14. A loyal editor loses the way

One of the most painful experiences I have had as a director was working on one project over a number of years. My editor was very loyal throughout the time but just when we were getting somewhere with the structure — I thought – she lost her nerve and felt the film had lost its way.

I knew afterwards that I should have put my foot down and said “No, this is the way we are going to continue to go”. But the editor had been with me since the beginning and I felt that she should be able to have a say if she felt so strongly that the structure was wrong.  She then brought a friend in and with his backing became impervious to reason — together they proceeded to demolish the film. I lost 3 weeks editing time, my confidence, and two stone in weight until, with much support from my own friend, I was able to stand up and actually dissolve the relationship – fire the committed but by now increasingly destructive editor. That has not — nor ever will — happen to me again.

I put the film back together, had a break, found another editor who thought the structure was, in fact, working as we originally had it, and we completed the film which has definitely stood the ‘test of time’. It is still being screened today, a great many years later.

15. Mad and Bad

I have worked with two mad editors. One, an Academy Award nominated editor, fled Hollywood when Reagan was elected and worked with us on the proviso that he could give three days notice in the event of impending nuclear war. He kept the radio on at all times, listening for the warning, while nervously nibbling the plastic cores used at the centre of film rolls. By the end of the edit all our cores had little bite marks out of them, right around the rims. Despite his growing paranoia, this editor did a great job. Mad didn’t mean bad; and years later when he was psychotic and living on the streets, he stayed in my spare room for a while.

This experience left me with a false sense of confidence. My next editor was a notorious maddie, and an alcoholic but a wonderfully creative filmmaker. I mistakenly thought I could handle him.

Once this edtior had signed his contract, I discovered he wanted a job but hated the film. Even before the shoot, he began to mock the people in the film and became progressively more abusive towards me. The producer — a mate of the editor’s whom I had also brought onto the film — had contractual control of the project. And when my rushes weren’t great, the editor persuaded the producer that only HE could save the film and only if I was banned from the cutting room. And so my film got to rough cut entirely without my input.

At this point, the broadcaster intervened on my behalf. This didn’t disturb the editor who announced that since he used a unique method of working, it would be impossible to change anything in his edit. His method, or so he claimed, was that before he made a single cut, he looked at the material repeatedly and walked around thinking –- week after week.  When the final form of the film became clear in his mind, he conformed the celluloid to his mental vision, simultaneously laying several sound tracks and pulling only the exact shots he needed from the rolls of workprint. After that, all the film required was a bit of fine cutting.

I challenged him on this, as in the past I had seen plenty of trims hanging in his editing rooms, but he asserted that these had, in fact, been FAKE trims which merely served as a decoy to fool interfering producers.

When I heard this nonsense, I got the support of the broadcaster to get into the edit room by myself and run the cut with its several sound tracks. I also went through every roll of the workprint to see what could be changed.

Un-fortunately….. I found that the editor had lifted out each exact piece of film from the unedited rolls to be placed in his tightly constructed rough cut — just as he had said. It was all one interlocking whole, complete with split dialogue tracks, effects and music. It would be impossible for me – especially in those days of editing on film — to construct a new cut without going back to the very beginning. No matter how much I hated the editor’s version of my film, and I did, I would have to live with it. I took my name off the film which, in the end, was loved by none of us and was thus a complete waste of $300,000. This has been my only bad experience with an editor. Of course, since then I have always been my own producer.

16. In praise of editors:

It is not unusual for our talented, committed Australian editors to save the film – for which they rarely get the credit. One of my favourite editors was unwavering in his confidence, even if I brought him what I thought was hopeless footage. Optimistically and collaboratively, we always managed to pull it all together into a meaningful and even prize-winning documentary. One film which I produced with a first time director had such hopeless footage that this same editor then shot or created over half of the material of the final documentary himself. There was no film he couldn’t salvage.

17. A Great time

A supportive encouraging and creative director is a great person to have in a cutting room. The quality of work just gets better and better as you inspire each other and the cut’s mojo just starts to hum. You look forward to going to work, the coffee’s great and suddenly its 5.30 again! And what makes it truly wonderful is when the client turns and says. “This is great work, I love it, don’t change a thing except for that super with the spelling mistake.”

18. Avoiding Dissension

Some lovely editors habitually arrive in the cutting room with sweet buns for morning tea. Perhaps this has an element of self preservation — keeping the director’s blood sugar levels up to avoid dissension! Editors will do a lot to avoid dissension – which is a different thing from robust creative discussion.

19. Learning from the editor

I have learned a lot from the editors: for example, what is needed to make a sequence work and, for some films, the value of a paper edit.  For other films, I have learned to find innovative structures, the importance of variation and pauses, and ways of slowly working through the footage to find a deeper meaning for the film.   It was an editor who taught me to ask, “How long can this sequence really be in a film of only an hour?” It’s a lesson that applies to just about everything in life: “How long can this sequence really be in a film of only an hour?”

20. Magic

As for the magic of editing: I have cut a few films where there has been such a high level of competence, confidence, trust and mutual respect between the producers, director and myself that it allowed us ALL to take the film to a place where it wanted to go,. These films were a truly creative and collaborative experience for everyone involved, wouldn’t it be great if filmmaking was always like that.

21. Catastrophic thinking

The director was anxious. She had pushed a lot of limits and pulled a lot of favours to shoot an ambitious doco with dramatic re-creations. As the rushes rolled in she hovered in the cutting room, unbearably tense.

I wasn’t sure myself. Coverage was minimal, performances patchy, perhaps there was enough good stuff if…   but I couldn’t think straight with the director nervously pacing the room.

Finally I decided to confront the issue. I had been hearing that severe anxiety is caused by “catastrophic thinking” – letting the worst possible outcome simmer in the back of your mind. And that it can help to recognise and address it.

I told the director that her that her anxiety was making it hard for me to work – I couldn’t get a clear perspective. I said she should stop worrying and take a step back. Besides, I said, what’s the worst that can happen? The film doesn’t work, no-one wants to see it and you just bury it. Life goes on. Not that I thought this was likely, I hastened to add.

From the look on her face I guess my “worst possible outcome” was a whole lot worse than her “worst possible outcome”. It was a potential catastrophe she hadn’t thought of…  until now.

I did get some space after that. That let me find a way into the rushes, to be able to see what was strong, where performances could be held and pushed with music and sound, where they should be disrupted and shook up. Our relationship in the edit room survived and developed into a good collaboration.

In the end, the film came together fantastically. The drama and performances were strong, the composer and sound designer were excellent and the film was a great success. Many people saw it and the director was proud to own it – it was a great credit to her ambition.

But confronting someone else’s “catastrophic thinking”? It’s not something I would do again.

22. A producer speaks

I worked with two young(ish) film-makers – a director and an editor in their early 30s.   Both had several films under their belts so not first timers

The film was a first person narrative where the story-teller’s experience should be the lens through which we view bigger issues but, of course, with subjectivity, it’s often difficult to see how you come across on screen.

The edit was really painful.  Everything was one step forwards two steps back.  I’m not sure who drove who round in circles but on several occasions the editor expressed his frustration. The editor’s instincts were good but for whatever reasons he was weak with this director.

This was our advice to the editor:

1. don’t just think you are there to serve the director — your ultimate responsibility is to the producers and the film.  (Not so complicated if you are working with a single producer/director but it you are not, you may have to mediate….)

2. try to make it clear to the director that the edit suite is your space. You want to build a collaboration but you are not just an extension of the director.  The production is buying into your skills and ability as well as the collaborative strength of your thinking.

3. Always always storyboard the cut with coloured index cards up on the wall.  (our editor/director team didn’t and even when bullied into it, they didn’t really use it as their roadmap to write the story.  It meant they never really knew where they were going or why.  And so neither did the audience.)

4      Cover the walls with notes developing the story arc, motivations, character, themes etc – it isn’t just about cutting pictures it’s about writing a story

5  encourage the director to go away – to spend time away from the edit so that you can get on with things and the director can get a perspective and opportunity to think by not sitting on the editor’s shoulder at every cut.  The film needs to breathe and so does the editor!

6. an editor needs to find a gentle supportive way to be able to tell the director he or she is wrong / not making sense / has lost their way.

23. Another producer offers advice

If I had one piece of advice for younger directors or producers it is this. Don’t be obsessed with control. An obsession with control is more often than not only an expression of insecurity. As a producer you can’t direct via someone else. If you don’t support the director you are cutting your own throat. And as for directors, support your editor – you cannot control every single facet of the production or think of every good idea all by yourself. If you want to do that, write a book.,,,Filmmaking is by nature a collaborative process, which is both its blessing and its curse. Work with people who are prepared to consider and recognise a good idea wherever it came from – and be willing to do that yoursel

As a producer I have always tried to get my way via a persuasive argument rather than through control. If I could not convince a director or an editor of my point of view, then I figured either that I was not persuasive enough clearly or that I was wrong. Or that I had chosen to work with the wrong person in the first place. Any way I look at it, I have had to accept that it has been my problem not theirs.  This applies equally to the relationship of director and editor.

24. Advice from an Editor

Editing is the great reality check for the director. This is the time they are at their most vulnerable particularly if they are inexperienced or insecure. For the edit to be a success there must be mutual trust and respect. This is of course not easy in a first time working relationship and is the reason that people continue to work with those that they have a well established working relationship.

One of the great advantages of this is that it enables you to be confident in expressing opinions on what works, what doesn’t. You can be totally focused on the STORY and egos don’t get in the way or get bruised. The end result (the STORY) is of course much better.