Alison Carter-Goulden and Erline O’ Donovan recently job-shared as assistant editors on the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. Along with editor Jonathan Morris and line producer Eimhear McMahon, they talk about their experiences. To read the full interviews, please visit Raising Films
Erline O’ Donovan: This was the first time I’d job shared. I got put in contact with Alison through a friend I’d worked with on a previous project. I knew that I was about to work on another project that didn’t pay that well, so my friend thought it would be useful for me to have another job.
Alison Carter-Goulden: I’d job shared before, with someone I knew a bit socially, so I knew from that it worked quite easily as long as there’s good communication. Right now, I’m working part time for a commercials edit house called Trim Editing, as an Organisational Development Consultant, helping them run the business internally – but it was for them that I first job-shared, as a producer, and they have two producers that job-share their role. I was a bit anxious about doing it on I, Daniel Blake with someone I didn’t know, but got a recommendation from someone I trusted. It turned out that we had a similar working methodology, which as an assistant editor is quite easy.
Erline: We met before we started working together – and we could have said then, "I’m not feeling this." I made it clear that I wanted to adapt to her way of working as she had got the job and I was added on. That helped: it wasn’t both of us who got the job and wanted to do it our own way; there was no clash.
Jonathan Morris: I wasn’t at all sure about the job share at first, when it was suggested to me by Eimhear McMahon, our line producer, but I thought I should be more open-minded. It was the first fiction feature film I’d done with Ken Loach where we were editing on AVID – so I wasn’t at all sure about having these two new experiences at the same time. But as it turned out, it was absolutely terrific: it couldn’t have worked any better, quite frankly and I’m rather surprised. It helped that Alison and Erline were both terrific assistants and very nice people to boot. I didn't know anything about how they made it work, it was just job done and handed over: that’s how good they were. I didn’t have to think about anything much other than what I was doing. They handled it themselves and it just worked really well. They were diligent and keen and not competitive with each other or trying to prove themselves as better than the other one. Women are better like that, aren’t they? I think it worked well for them as well.
Eimhear McMahon: From the moment we met Alison and started talking, her competency and efficiency convinced me that a job-share could work well. Her and Erline's relationship with Jonathan was the most important thing and that worked perfectly. Alison and Erline set out very plainly how they saw it working – and once they introduced us to the idea, it was an absolute no-brainer. As long as they were confident in each other’s ability, it was the smoothest transition. You wouldn’t have known it was two people each working one half of the week.
Alison: One of the main advantages was that two heads are better than one; Erline and I had slightly different experience (I have more experience with 35mm) so we were able to help each other figure things out. I don’t like working totally by myself, I like having someone else to work things out with. It was a small film that only needed one assistant, which was unusual in itself as there are usually a few, so I would have been thinking of friends to ring to help me figure out any problems that came up.
Erline: I definitely learned a lot from Alison, because this was shot on film and I’d only done that once a long time ago; it was the digital workflow that I was more used to. I hadn’t thought about job sharing before, I thought it was only for people who had kids – but for me, it was because I had a job that wasn’t paying at the time.
Shared email address
Alison: I think the key is to have a shared email address – we set up a new email address, and then we could both see all of the communications, including the sent emails: no-one had to remember to copy us both in. On the days that you’re not working, then, you can keep an eye on things; if I saw an email that Erline didn’t have the answer to but I did, I could jump in.
Erline: The joint email address was the most important element, so we could keep track of everything that happening during the week, instead of my coming in on Wednesday and having a whole load of new information to take in. The face-to-face crossover hour was really useful as well: it was great to have Alison there to tell me what had happened in the first half of the week, and what needed to be done.
Alison: We would do a handover on a Wednesday lunchtime: we’d have an hour together. Anything that came out of a conversation or a phone call, we’d make a note in a big page-per-day diary, and then when we did the handover we’d go through that diary. We had one big document with our workflow for shooting and rushes, and we both added notes to it, revising backwards and forwards. We put it on Google Docs, it’s such an easy way to share work. We sat down together at the beginning and worked out our workflow and then we kept extensive notes all the way through.
Eimhear: I was talking to an editor I know who has just got pregnant, and she was wondering about how it’s going to work. I’d never have considered that job sharing was a possibility before, but now I could tell her about it, and she said, “Of course!" But then she didn't think many people would support it. So it is about making it happen, changing attitudes, and meeting the right people who believe it’s possible. You can’t even see why there would be a problem, people just need to get on board. It’s really about getting people used to the idea of employing more women – and men, of course – who also want to look after their kids. Job sharing is one way to address the problem the industry has with people who are doing caring. It’s complex for carers: people have to work very hard to put in place measures where they can have the hours to work and look after their children, or can afford to do both.
Erline: The difficulty is that not all production companies are open to doing anything differently. Sixteen Films were really open, we didn’t have to fight.
Jonathan: Ken and I are very much creatures of habit. We work 9-5, we pop out for a sandwich from Pret or Marks or wherever at lunch, and then later we have a cup of tea and a biscuit, but otherwise we're working on it. If you do that, there’s no reason you can’t do a day’s work in a day’s hours, whatever you’re doing.
Alison: Sixteen saw I was experienced and they wanted me to do the job, but they saw I had a young child and had to think about how to approach it. They cared about it and so were supportive. They’re also not a company that forces anyone to work long hours anyway – that meant I could get home and see Felix before he went to bed, which was very important to me. Jonathan and Ken work 9-5.30 every day. They’ve worked together for years and know what they want – also Ken is 80 and although he has boundless energy, it’s tiring work.
Erline: They must have seen over the years that if you work until 5.30, you still get things done. Everything gets done, the long hours aren’t necessary.
Alison: And they’re not like the internet generation, mooching about and looking at things online. They come in, have their coffee, go out for a sandwich at lunch, and otherwise they’re on it. They put in a solid day’s work.
Erline: It was great to see there was a possibility of not working six day weeks and horrendous hours, another way – not just because you’re pregnant or have kids. I’m editing pre-vis on a studio film with lots of visual effects. It’s totally different! But there’s two pre-vis supervisors on the film, so one was able to go home early because something happened with their kid, because there’s two people in that role.
Alison: As a BECTU committee member, I want to get it all on the table: to have working rights for women and increased diversity in the workforce, and for all carers, we need to find ways for them to work and continue working, in the industry.
Erline: We should be talking about encouraging job shares for fathers because that would enable women to return to work as well. I’ve heard from several women who want to job share, but I haven’t heard the same coming from men. I worked with a VFX editor on Tarzan who had a kid, and he and his wife had a system where one of them would work on a film, and the other would stay at home, and then vice versa – but job-sharing might work better for both of them.
Alison: Some of it is a mindset of being willing to share, rather than to compete – where people are happy to share skills, develop and learn from each other. It’s the same with joining BECTU – people shouldn’t be thinking “What can BECTU do for me?” but what can we do together? If we all stand and support each other over minimum rates, overtime and all the things we’re negotiating, we’ve got power to support each other.
Erline: I’ve been persuaded of that. I wasn’t a member, but when Alison joined the committee she posted on Facebook asking if we had any questions. After seeing some of the answers, I joined.
Alison: Post and editing have never been very unionised here in the UK – whereas in the US, it’s the norm. It’s depressing when we work on a big studio film because our US counterparts get overtime and union rates. The main thing for me is to improve working conditions for people – there’s an old image of the union as just complaining and being angry; but that’s not how it is at all. It’s about working out how to make things better and negotiating these changes with PACT and the production companies.