There was a time not so long ago that if you had asked me to go on a shoot, I would have replied with a hard no! Editors are not supposed to leave the cave, it's bright out there, there are the creepiest of crawlies, very early morning calls, dust, extreme heat then cold dark nights and not to mention other people, argh ! I'm kidding, okay maybe I’m not.
But over the last few years I've started venturing more and more into the light, and I think I like it, I like it a whole lot. Living in the world of frame rates, vectors, rhythm and pace, you start to see the world a certain way. And that is not always a bad thing, you have a rectangular perspective. I can only see and hear what the footage says to me, people think I’m nuts when I say a certain scene is speaking to me, but it truly does, it does actually speak to me and other times it can be frustratingly silent. When I'm presented with hundreds of hours of footage and I need to start sorting it, I get ridiculously excited. This is my magical time. The first time I see the footage, it's all neatly packaged on its little shoot drives, ready to be unpacked and sorted. It's all shiny and new, full of all the fantastical prospects. The excitement is very real. Ready for the incredible adventure we are about to go on together. Music starts to peek out from all the crevices in my subconscious, every film and series I watch becomes a possible scratch soundtrack.
But, then I went on a shoot and that seemed to change things for me, a-lot. I kinda loved it, the cameras, the tech, the shot composition, the early mornings, the creepiest of crawlies, bigger scarier animals, the smell of the trees, dew glistening on tall grass stems, shot possibilities in every direction I looked, the overstimulation of my senses, the long hard days into the late nights, all of it.
I found myself in a conundrum of the where to from here pep talk. Are editors allowed to even want that? I thought we were supposed to not seek out the light, enjoying headphones and our own company, hissing as people try to make contact regarding lunch, poking us with a stick at times afraid to break us out of our epic music finding zones. Although let’s be honest here, get one of us chatting around a water cooler re a new software update and BAM you've lost forty seven minutes of your life you can never get back but you’ve gained experience you never knew you needed and don’t even get me going about backup, yikes love me a back up chinwag.
I digress, stepping into the light and dancing with the light are two very different things. I don’t want to hold a camera, I think that is an incredible skill set and best left to those who have both the passion and know-how. I want to tell stories being a co-author. This is where I find my real joy. So is there a place in this world for the Preditor? Can an editor leave the cave and venture onto shoot and still hold onto the perspective required to not see outside the frame? There was a time that I believed that to be the hard facts, I didn't go on shoot because then I can't fall in love with a moment. I only see what is within the walls of my frame.
I have what no one else on the crew has - objectivity. But now I’m unsure if this rule is still applicable to me. I find that I can be objective now because I now possess something else - experience. Do these two things need to be mutually exclusive? Can they be in a casual relationship or is it a monogamous marriage where you need to choose?
The last few months I’ve been working on a feature documentary filmed over five years. When I sat down and started going through the six hundred and fifty hours of rushes I realised that this was a multi faceted story and in my opinion needed to be an interview driven narrative. There was action in spades - check, there were brilliant characters - check but what we needed was emotion. so I pitched a formal interview structure. Since I knew the footage and story best, I made the logical choice to direct the interviews. Cue involuntary vomit. I was a wreck. This is a big deal film. Not only with who was involved and the subject matter, but the story. I needed to do right by the characters. They matter. This was a massive opportunity and sleep was overrated anyway.
When I sit in my edit chair, I am calm, I know my system, I belong there, it’s my safe place. I feel like I can create and go down any path. Try this and that. If it works and I nail it then fantastic, if it doesn’t I try something else. It's a fluid malleable process. Directing is not. Everyone looks toward you, constantly, as they should. Things go wrong pretty much the entire time.
Here's an example; when we arrived to set up for the first set of interviews I was prepared. Probably over prepared but prepared. Being an editor and being accustomed to technical failures I could adapt but nothing will prepare you for being out there. We had decided to film the interviews in situ (out where they do their work). Also its so great when you come up with amazing ideas for introducing characters in the comfort of your air-conditioned cutting room and when you’re out there in the searing sun you realise that your extensive and meticulously blocked out shot list hadn’t accounted for your own heat exhaustion and you are in fact not David Fincher, your subject is a professional and not an accomplished actor being paid for their time, does not care for your calling action nor do they want to do the same action five times just so that you have “cutting points” or as you keep repeating “ having options” in edit. Their faces are smiling, their words say “no problem it’s for the film after all” but his eyes say something very different. Being the body language expert that you are, an editor first and foremost, this too is not lost on you but you forge forward. Probably harder than is appropriate, this is your interview directorial debut after all doing what needs to be done correctly and with methodical proficiency.
Spoiler: It went well but not according to plan.
On day three we were running out of light, we had accounted for just about everything. I had managed to get the final interviewee to meet us at a lodge, his schedule was tricky to manage, being a busy professional doing busy wildlife saving work. We needed to be accommodating, what I hadn’t accommodated for was the honeymooning couple that arrived and decided to frolic pool side just out of our shot. It was a two camera set up and had taken two hours to set up to get the perfect shadow castings, the succulents in the shallow depth of field were going to be perfection. That was until we had the said honeymooners have zero regard to our presence and that in fact sound does indeed travel via sound waves and that our boom could pick up every single splash. My nerves were shot, the crew looked at me to do something, I found myself mid interview and I needed to hold it together. I didn’t really have much choice. I just kept going among daiquiri orders and splashing. The interview was over and we got what we needed, even with added non natural water sounds. I was beyond relieved, of course extremely grateful that we had lapel mics knowing they would be our saving grace. Yikes, what a stress!
Was it worth it? Hell yes! Would I jump at the chance again? Yes! Did I stick close to the camera team when walking deep into the think bush when one of the interviewees leaned down and proclaimed, “oh look male lion tracks, and how sweet a gennet track inside, and it's so great they’re so fresh” of course all I heard, was "fresh" and "lion". Now don't get me wrong, I love the outdoors, I am the president of nature's fan club but on foot with nothing but my note book, pen and a whole lot of mud on my sneakers. I felt a little uneasy. I also felt that I belonged there, being the only woman I needed to gain a little street cred and prove that I was not afraid of what lurked behind every corner and certainly not own shadow. It was exhilarating, the smells, the wind on my cheeks, the long hot days, it was all extraordinary! But you know what was also amazing...coming back and reviewing the footage in my cutting room too!
A few Takeaways:
Until next time!
xx The PrEditor
When an editor produces and directs there is a fun term we are known as, the PrEditor (an obvious play on the word Predator). The first time I was called this, I was both shocked and insulted. Being a lean into the slide kind of person and of course living well within the wildlife genre, I now love this term, regardless of how it was originally meant. Enter me, the "Preditor". This blog is a place I hope to create a journal space for my ideas, thoughts and stories of the cutting room as well as out in the natural world.