Assistant to Editor – Katie Weiland
Interview by Charlene Short
• How long were you an assistant editor?
I started out in a commercials company. I was assisting for four very valuable and educational years, but I was finding it hard to get promoted. If you are a good assistant you may well experience this too. After some petitioning I was made a Junior Editor (which in terms of long form editing equates to an assembly editor). That was fantastic but I’d still need to work my way up, to establish myself. I did a few freebie jobs, even some paid, but it was potentially still a long road ahead to be seen as an editor over an assistant in the commercials world.
As luck would have it the drama world came calling. The editor I’d been assisting, Lisa Gunning was approached by Anthony Minghella to cut his new film and she asked me to go with her. We had a close working relationship and this project came with the chance of assembling some scenes so though it was still an assisting role I recognized it as an opportunity to develop skills and meet other filmmakers. I went for it.
This was a completely new challenge for both of us, nerve-wrecking but so exciting one just couldn’t say no. Fortunately for me if you are super nervous and double check everything three times over, well, nothing goes wrong. Some things which terrify you are just opportunities to prove yourself, to yourself.
So my transition was made by a stroke of luck: with an editor whom I had a great relationship with, who had confidence in my abilities and gave me that chance to show them off in front of the right people. She always made sure I received the credit for my work. I entered into the drama world with experience but at assembly editor level and perhaps because of this I found the transition to being considered a fully-fledged editor was accelerated compared to how I think it could have been in commercials. I was doing everything that everyone else had being doing up to that point, cutting films for free, staying behind to edit after hours; I was ready for it just like everyone else.
• When and how do you consider you got your first break?
Working with Anthony and subsequently his film company Mirage was the big break, the catalyst that brought me into drama and meant my first editing credit. Interestingly after that point there was a very quiet period. I’d edited a BBC/ HBO show and then nothing! It was quite disheartening. Fortunately I was able to pick up a few commercial jobs. I tried to get a drama agent but there was no interest. It was 2008 a very uncertain time for the economy and many agencies were not taking on new clients.
I was in touch with the producer who I’d worked with at Mirage, Tim Bricknell, and he hired me to edit a couple of short films for SKY. That’s how I reconnected with a brilliant director called Sam Miller. These short films were a success and Sam brought me in on a new TV show he was involved with, Luther. Lucky break number two. After Luther I was able to get an agent and the BBC work started flooding in.
• Did you continue to work as an editor or did you have to go back to assisting at any point?
In the early days when times were quiet on the drama editing front I did briefly go back to assisting at a friend’s commercial company. I was able to pay my bills and that’s all I wanted. I had a taste for editing and I didn’t want to go back to being employed. I was freelance and I wanted to stay that way. Cultivating your reputation as an editor is a hard task and for those who have to take an assisting job in the interim. I still think that’s better than giving up on editing completely. It’s going to be like that for the majority of people at first you just have to get through that initial period and still be in the game when that lucky break presents itself.
• Did you have a body of work before becoming an editor?
Yes all of the above, short films, a lot of commercials, a few music videos and A LOT of contacts through the commercials company.
• How often did you get the opportunity to cut as an assistant?
It was there whenever you wanted it, 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. Taking on these sorts of jobs can connect you with somebody who can pull you through. If you are without an agent its usually a producer or director who gets you into a meeting for a job. I know a few line producers and post supervisors can get you interviews too. People are loyal, they want to take you with them. Sometimes it can be quite tricky because if your bright new star of a director wants to bring you in on a show that is big budget, the studio or production company can consider it risky to take on two newbies!
• Do you have an agent and if so at what point did you join?
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 editing 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.
• Have you found any of the relationships you made as an assistant have been useful as an editor?
Yes. Lisa Gunning was my editor when I was first assisting and she continues to be a guiding light for me. She showed me what being an editor is all about. She’s an incredible role model to any aspiring editors and Tim Bricknell who I met at Mirage has been a constant friend and collaborator to this day, for which I’m very grateful too.
• Would you do anything differently if you could do it again?
No, I don’t think so. Even the long period spent as an assistant in commercials brought one benefit that I’ve never seen in drama; I was based in the cutting room not next door. I could see how my editor worked and interacted with clients. That was invaluable. I appreciate assistant roles now are so much busier, with little time to be in the edit. With assistants I work with I ask them to cut a scene that I’ve also edited then we compare and discuss our different versions. Or we discuss what its like to be in the room with the directors and producers and how I deal with a set of notes.
• What advice would you give to an assistant looking to step up?
Try to 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. Making sure you carve out time to do that assembling so editors see your abilities and the minute an opening comes up for assembly editor they will think of you.