By Charlene Short
I think its safe to say the majority of assistants get in to Post Production to eventually edit. Its true not all do, there are career assistants and its likely a very long, very rewarding career, if that’s what makes you happy. But for the rest of us, what do you do when you’re ready to cut? There’s no clear path, there’s no qualifying test, no bar to pass, no exam and no finite amount of time before you can progress. There are a few obvious factors that come in to play, you have to be able to use the equipment, be good, be ready and get lucky. So how do you get to that point? And if you do get to that point: what then? I spoke to Editors who have successfully made the leap from Assistant and no two paths are the same. Of the five I spoke to the combined assisting years were 31 with the average being 6 years however this can vary wildly. Ultimately it depends on the opportunities that arise and how you engage with those opportunities.
“I had begun to realise in the last few years of Assisting that you have to actually TELL people you want to edit. This may seem obvious but there can be a presumption that Assistants are happy being Assistants (many are and have a successful and rewarding career as one) but I wanted to edit” - Danielle Palmer
The Assistant role today can be disconnected from the creative process, separate room, DIT responsibilities, watching the progress bar instead of watching playouts in real time, several Editors instead of one on one, all this combined makes understanding the creative decisions and the road to those decisions that much more difficult to learn. So its important to keep proactive even more now than ever before.
“The breaks come when you’re working on a show and the people you work with trust you enough to assemble, its all very well cutting a scene but if no one sees it or knows you did it, it won’t get you a break. It’s all about relationships and you need to be proactive in creating and developing those relationships.” - Simon Brasse
Its also important to practice wherever possible, not only to have a body of work behind you should an opportunity arise but also to build your confidence.
"There was always someone calling to say they wanted something cut and they had no budget so it was very easy to build up a portfolio. In the end that stuff never really got me the job but it prepped me, I knew how I liked to edit at that point so it gave me confidence." - Katie Weiland
“During my time as an Assistant I had cut a micro-budget feature and a number of short films. I generally cut those shorts unpaid and outside of my day job as an Assistant. It's something that I would recommend to any aspiring Editor as it allows you to build up a reel, it gives you the experience of working with Directors and, crucially, it allows you the experience of making mistakes, both creatively and politically. I'm a much better Editor now because of the effort expended during those years.” Stephen Haren
Give Me a Break!
If you reach a point where you need to edit but you still can’t find a break how do you approach that? Is there a strategy to creating one? We are editors after all surely we can just sculpt the path we want?
“I had assisted on mostly big one off dramas, then I worked with Tom Hooper for several years and I knew I would never get a break. So at 30 I made the decision to stop working on the bigger jobs and find the sort of job where I thought I would get a break. That is when I worked on Skins and ended up editing a block. If I could do it again I would’ve proactively looked to work on smaller shows to get that break earlier.” SB
If the relationships you have forged are based on your abilities as an assistant do you have to quit that role and project yourself in the role you want to inhabit? This can be extremely difficult financially; according to expatisan.com (May, 2016) London is the 3rd most expensive city to live in in the world and if you do get a break this is no guarantee of the next editing job.
“Most Editor's will agree that getting the 2nd job is actually harder than the first. There was a lean period but I managed to pick up just enough to get by in that first year although it was quite tough.” DP
So is it worth investing in someone fighting your corner? To sign with an agency is a question a lot of assistants raise but would it necessarily make a difference in the early stages of your editing career/ late stages of your assisting career. Many agencies expect at least one broadcast credit before they take you on and even that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find work.
“In my view, there's a mistaken belief amongst Editors that you need an agent in order to find work. Maybe that's true for other departments/disciplines, but in my experience 90% of my jobs have come through recommendation. Having an agent does not guarantee you work, and I have had to continue grafting during my entire time as an Editor, trying to find out about upcoming projects. As I have become comparatively more established, it's true that my agent has managed to get me more meetings, but of course I haven't got every job that I've gone up for. An agent is most useful for fielding offers on those occasions when there are choices to be made, and they can be a great sounding board for you when you need to discuss the road ahead.” SH
Right Place, Right Time
However with that little bit of luck I mentioned you can be in the right place at the right time and great opportunities can happen.
“I had cut The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, Luther and was editing Silent Witness when I signed with my agent, Chris Smith at Independent, so I was already cutting some big shows via relationships I had established. Even at that stage in my career only one agent was interested in taking me on, everyone else said no! Luckily enough the very first meeting Chris got me was for Game of Thrones. It can be sparse in the first few years but when the stars align properly it can be very beneficial. Stick with it” KW
Many of us seek out the best and most engaging work we can find and certainly with the UK Film and UK High end TV tax relief it means more larger budget co productions are being based in the UK than ever before.
“If I could do it again, the only thing I would change is my choice of first project as Editor, it is important to get the best break you can initially as pigeon-holing dogs our career progression at every stage in the industry. In hindsight another year assisting could have yielded a much higher profile project to launch my editing career and short handed some of the groundwork in becoming established.” Iain Erskine
Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ and it is certainly important to carve a path that suits you, circumstances and chances are different for every person. The best we can do is keep working hard, keep your eyes and ears open and most of all keep your relationships sacred.
“There is no right way or wrong way to make the leap, there are as many different paths to success in the industry as there are people in it, believe in yourself and always do the best job you can no matter what the project is, you will be surprised how good karma from previous jobs will help you in the future.” IE
“Get in that room and absorb the dynamics of an editing session. Try to work with people whose style of editing you like and are involved in the work you’d like to be doing and assemble for them” KW
“Don't presume that you are going to be handed your first break as an Editor. Build up your reel where you can, build up your working relationships, and when it's the right time you will find the right project.” SH
“Be Proactive, get on with people, figure out the politics, work on shows where you feel like there will be an opportunity. Be persistent. Every relationship is meaningful. Definitely cut as much as you can and build a body of work so when you do work in a professional environment you are not starting at the beginning. A huge part of editing is confidence in your decision-making.” SB
“This is such a small community Editors are you friends and stepping stones. They are your confidants and your support not your rivals. To borrow a quote from the Baz Lurman sunscreen song that gets me through many an edit day as well as bus rage and general life anxiety 'The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself'” DP
In the coming months we will be publishing these interviews in full. Next month will be advice from Emmy award winning Game of Thrones Editor Katie Weiland.