Talking Head: Carl Austin as an editor on set
Our very own Creative Director at Exit 6 Film Festival, Carl Austin, gives us an insight into how his role in filmmaking as an Editor has evolved from the suite to the set.
I’m an Editor by trade but over the last few years I have found my role has developed.
In 2014, I helped produce a crowdfunded short film called TEA FOR TWO, which I would also edit. As part of the producing team I also very much wanted to be on set during the shoot, and as money was tight, as with all independent films, decided I could take on a role that would be far more useful than just an extra pair of hands. I would get a head start on the edit by logging both mine and the Director’s favourite takes, ingesting and backing up the footage, and making a rough cut as the shoot progressed. For the first time I was let out of the edit suite and into the wide world of location filming.
On a large scale production this role would be carried out by a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) who would work alongside the Director of Photography to achieve the highest image quality. In this instance, however, we had me – and as an editor it would prove to be a valuable experience.
We shot 'Tea for Two' in 3 days in late November, set inside a real tea shop with a glass window shop front. The main problem we encountered was daylight, as unlike the summer months, it starts getting dark at 5pm in November. Therefore, any scenes that required a window had to be prioritised and shot first in the day. This meant we had to split the entire shot list in two – window and non-window scenes.
My role evolved to include making sure that the scenes matched up both continuity wise and performance wise – replaying the previous takes for both the Director and the DOP and showing them what would and wouldn’t work.
It turned out that since I was working on the footage alongside the shoot, I was very well placed to determine what decisions should be made in terms of scheduling the rest of the shoot as we went along – to get the most out of the time limitations. I knew what footage we had and how it could be cut together with footage we still had to shoot when time was running out.
After each days filming, I sat down with the Director, DOP and 1st AD to decide how we could still shoot what we wanted within our time limit without compromising the story, its tone or its characters. We decided to lose some individual set ups and instead use longer takes, relying on blocking and the experience of our seasoned actors. The result was surprisingly good, and really added to the short.
I recall one particular long-take where a crucial judgment call had to be made. The dilemma was that the Director was pleased with the performance of a take but the actor had slipped up and partially revealed a twist. We were running behind at this point and doing another take would put us back further – even if we were to get it perfect on the next take. I knew that with some decent After Effects work it was achievable, so I made the call that it could be edited in post, so we had what we needed and could move on.
Had I not been on set and working with the footage throughout the shoot, the decision to reshoot this scene would have almost definitely been made, which would have had a negative impact on the schedule, not to mention the budget.
So, despite always considering myself an editor, this shoot really taught me that the editor role can begin a lot sooner than post-production. Being familiar with the footage throughout the shoot can make all the difference to scheduling and contingency planning when you know where that footage is going to end up in your edit.
Another positive that I drew from being actively involved with the shoot meant that when it came to editing the film together, a lot of the time-consuming work had already been done. Everything had been ingested and organised into a project and the best takes and their alternatives had been logged and I even had a rough cut to work with! So it’s a process I would recommend editors to consider in future. It also gets you out of the edit suite/house a bit.
Of course, the traditional method of receiving the footage without prior involvement has its benefits too. A project that I feel benefitted from me having a distance from the production and crew was a short film called LADY IN THE PARK.
I received the footage the week after production ended and from the initial rough cut I could see there were a few things that could be done to enhance the film. Initially it was going to be bookended by two scenes with the main part of the story told as a flash back. Although the bookend scenes themselves were great they took the audience away from the crux of the story and so I suggested cutting them completely. This decision lead to the ending of the film sparking more of an emotional response from the audience.
Had I been on set during the production my relationship with the crew and cast may have hindered my judgement and therefore it was much more beneficial to the overall project that I stay impartial and unattached. I was also able to draw out things the Director had not anticipated such as re-ordering the scenes slightly to reinforce the lead characters’ emotional arc, using close ups of reactions from one scene on a completely different one to add more impact to those scenes.
I think that with short independent films, the DIT role is often overlooked and this is likely to be due to limited resources and money. However, I think this is a role that any project will benefit from including, and can be absorbed by a hands-on editor who is willing to take part in the journey. This streamlines so many processes that are time-consuming for the Director and Editor and could save a lot of hassle.
Some might argue that an editor should be more distant from the production than how I found myself on ‘Tea for Two’. However, I believe that it worked out for the best for that particular project, especially when time was tight and budgets low. It would be interesting to see how other editors and directors feel about when an editor should get involved with a project...
You can follow Carl on Twitter: @CarlJamm
We want to know what you think! Does it help to have an Editor involved in the production process? Is it crucial that an Editor keeps their distance from production?
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