Our editing trainees talk us through their online training week
In April 2021, the very first Grierson DocLab In Focus: Editing scheme kicked off on Zoom with the online training week. Find out how they got on...
Editing online training week
Select a day to read more...
I was unable to attend the very first meeting where all of the trainees met each other, but I watched the Zoom recording so had heard everyone’s introductions – but nobody had met me yet! We had a little coffee introduction before them main session started. It was a bit awkward with people talking over each other on Zoom. Everyone was so polite saying ‘no you go first.’
Once we had gone through the introductions, including with the Grierson team, the trainer, Claire and one of the guest speakers, Dennish Mabry, Claire Ferguson gave an introduction to being and editor. We first discussed Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer where Claire talked about editing with Nick Broomfield, styles of editing and working with a director. It also brought up questions about ethics and your responsibility as an editor to represent people fairly. We then went on to discuss Guilty Pleasures a documentary about Mills and Boons fans. Claire talked about how she approached editing different genres and gave us some fantastic tips and advice.
It was amazing to listen to Claire talk about her experience as an editor and her career path as well as practical tips and anecdotes to help us to understand the role and how to navigate your career. Claire also asked all of the trainees what they would like to get out of the week and every trainee expressed common themes like conflict resolution, navigating the industry as a woman and unconscious bias.
After lunch, Dennis gave a talk about what is expected of an edit assistant and gave some insight and perspective into the role. He explained that your role is to make the editor and the directors’ life easier by ensuring that the edits runs smoothly, as this allows the people working on the production more time to be creative. Dennis then gave some tips and examples about how to do this. As edit assistants, we need to communicate effectively across post production because any mistakes can cost the production time, money and reputation.
Dennis also gave a practical workshop which included a demonstration of how to create sync maps. We all asked questions and contributed and it was inspiring to hear from someone who has assisted on some amazing productions and has had a great career that has enabled him to move up to editor.
The end of the day consisted of Claire talking through our editing assignment which was to edit a 10-minute piece using the rushes and transcripts from a Netflix documentary.
It was a long day and so much information to pack in, but we were all excited about the next few days.
At our morning virtual coffee I was still recovering from the intensity of the first day – and I don’t think I was the only one. If every day was as packed as that I wasn’t sure what state I’d be in by the end of the week! But there was so much excitement in the room for what was to come, and after knowing the group for about 24 hours through a screen, we were already gelling and expectant for one of the highlights of the week – hearing from editor Chloe Lambourne.
Looking back at my notes for the week, Chloe’s session was the only one I wrote nothing for. From the offset I was so engrossed in her journey of editing For Sama and all she had to share that I didn’t touch my pen. I was fully immersed in her story, sitting there with her in the leaking church as she worked through material more harrowing than a person would ever want to see.
Chloe covered so many aspects of the editing process; how half a day consulting became a year and a half re-edit; the pressure to complete when a film is long-past deadline; working with two directors and her role as a mediator. But it’s the editing of traumatic material and the long-term effects that lingers in my mind as I think about how I will progress in my own career as an editor. I have always been drawn to difficult subjects, in what I watch and the productions I like to work on, and I expect that to continue. But how do you look after yourself when you are fully immersing yourself in a difficult story and need to know the rushes better than perhaps anyone else? As visual storytellers, how do we reckon with the images etched in our memories long after the film is complete? And what do I need to put in place in my own practice to protect myself from secondary trauma or burnout?
I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions, but as I engage with more editors and documentarians, I’m keen to understand more of their boundaries and self-care rituals, in order to keep going for the long-haul on the kind of productions I’d love to work on. Day two was intense for sure, there’s so much to reflect on, and so much more still to come.
When I was about to join our Zoom call on Wednesday morning, I found myself thinking it would be hard to beat the amazing Chloe Lambourne’s talk from the day before. That had already been the highlight of my week. Little did I know.... Wednesday would clearly deliver us an interesting, jam-packed day where the theme was “Telling a story”.
The Zoom call started with us meeting the current chairman of The Grierson Trust, Lorraine Heggessey, and listening to her words of encouragement to the group. Lorraine shared that she learned more about filmmaking from sitting in the edit than in any other location and she shared how much she regarded editors as the linchpin in the documentary process. After hearing Lorraine’s inspirational take on editing, the group was more than ready to start the day.
At 10am, Claire Ferguson took us on a personal journey through genres and her own case studies. We dived into genres such as thriller, investigation, romcom, observational and so many others. We discussed the importance of beats, how to deliver a story, how to shape that story, what type of experience we wanted to give the audience, the importance of character and so many other topics. At one point, I remember looking at our gallery view and we were all scribbling down on our pieces of paper - because Claire was clearly giving us such valuable lessons. We all felt so privileged to be able to share that moment with Claire.
After lunch we met Johnny Taylor from Netflix who spoke about his and Netflix’s views on “which stories do we want?”. Johnny guided us through some of Netflix documentaries to illustrate key factors on each of them and what made those stories unique. He talked about what makes stories worth telling and discussed indispensable elements such as plot, character, the storyteller’s view, angle and execution. It was an amazing afternoon where we could feel the love of storytelling from everybody in the room.
To tie up the day we had the most thrilling conversation with Amanda Baxter. Amanda, an accomplished editor in the industry shared some of her own case studies and how she approached storytelling in each project as well as its challenges. We approached topics such as how to portray contributors (even those that seem unlikable at first), how to retell a known story a different way, how to deal with the lack of material as well as how to treat the archive and make it connect with the audience in the now.
I couldn’t believe how much the Grierson DocLab In Focus: Editing scheme delivered that day. I was completely inspired to carry on my editing exercise and couldn’t wait to see what our next day would bring.
My Wednesday morning started on Tuesday night. Archives and interviews, begging to be included in assembly edit that we had to finish that day, filled up my room. There was simply nowhere to go to sleep.
Before the virtual coffee, I went to walk my dog, Asbo. While he was trying to untangle himself from his leash that entrapped him into the jasmine bush, I realised that I need to start my assembly edit from the very beginning as nothing works.
A couple of hours later, Claire was talking about genres in documentary filmmaking and how they affect storytelling techniques. Asbo made an attempt to lay down next to me on the sofa but he soon left as he needed his space. I thought that space is important and that I want my edit to be about space that women didn't have in the 70s: space to tell their stories, to enjoy their bodies and just to live their lives safely and be respected. "What sort of experience are you trying to create for the audience?" Claire asked rhetorically. I wanted my audience to feel unsettled, the kind of unsettled when you open the box of candies and there are just dozens of wrappers inside. My experience of observing the UK in the 70s had that exact aftertaste. I decided to express it with a kind of "Twin Peaks" feel and the Fassbinder-like cruelty in the end. The assembly edit was ready without me even starting Avid.
That's when we meet Jonny Taylor who told us about a kind of documentaries Netflix is interested in and I really enjoyed that there was no simple answer on that. It felt very friendly and welcoming. It was informative in a way you don't notice immediately but then wake up the next day remembering questions you didn't ask.
While Amanda Baxter was telling us her editing secrets, I thought that it's incredible how much I'm capable of learning in one day and with nearly no sleep. Before Amanda said bye, she had advised us to trust our first instincts when watching rushes. A couple of hours later, after another walk with Asbo, I turned my laptop on relying solely on my instincts and my assembly edit was ready before dark.
I fell on my bed with the feeling of deep appreciation of how challenging that day was and excitement about all days, and then weeks and then years of editing ahead. It was a great day which I wish happened more often.
Just as I was processing how amazing the week had already been, Thursday came along with three inspiring speakers, a mini Netflix meet and greet and a rough cut deadline for our editing exercise.
In the morning, we were introduced to the post-production team at Netflix (Julie Sangan, George Randerson and Will Simpson) and it was really lovely to meet them and hear about their excitement for the scheme, in helping bridge a widening gap between assisting and editing in the industry.
Afterwards, we had a brilliant masterclass with Sam Santana who spoke about his journey into editing and the variety of documentaries he has worked on. In line with the theme of the day, troubleshooting, he spoke about the importance of knowing your material to make you better at solving problems in the edit. And he gave us the best advice for being an assistant; be hard-working, enthusiastic and organised, don’t be afraid to ask questions and watch different versions of cuts to learn from each one. It was honestly so inspiring hearing about his experiences and the amount that he taught us in just two hours would be too many words for this blog!
We then had a two-hour working lunch to continue editing our sequences, which initially consisted of me pacing around my living room in a tiny panic that I wouldn't get it done in time, before finally sitting down to continue cutting… and stressing inside…
Kicking off the afternoon was a fantastic session with Mdhamiri Á Nkemi who was one of the editors the 2020 film, Life in a Day. I was blown away by the amount of user-generated content they received for the project (324,000!) so it was great to hear about the reviewing and rating process they had in place to tackle and categorise all that footage! We learned about how the videos were sorted into themes and how each theme progressed to build emotion and tell a story despite being a concoction of so many different ones. He recommended the book, Into The Woods by John Yorke, to learn more about storytelling which I am very excited to read. It was an amazing and informative session, and it was so lovely to see such a young editor already so successful in his career.
To wrap up the day, we had a session with Christopher Bird who talked to us about editing for rig shows. I loved learning about the possibilities and difficulties that come with rig documentaries; authentic footage that captures life as it is, but also a story potentially being missed if the streams aren’t capturing it. He told us about how he slowly discovered an interesting story by watching many hours of footage and explained that with rigs, you can choose the story depending on which angle you choose to focus on. It was so great learning about a different documentary format with so many great clips to illustrate and help us understand the process!
In the evening, we had to finish the first cut of our sequence so I felt a little bit stressed but I managed to send my first assembly/rough cut just before midnight, relax and get an early-ish night. It was a brilliantly jam-packed day and I was really excited about Friday whilst also feeling sad that we were now already over halfway through the best week!
I started the day feeling a little tired, having spent the previous evening working on the editing exercise that was assigned to us. Once I’d been given a chance to edit something, it was hard to tear myself away from it!
After a caffeine hit, I was ready to start the day and was looking forward to a jam-packed day of learning from three speakers. The first of which was editor, Samuel Santana. Sam began by describing how after leaving film school he had the sudden realisation that: no he was not going to suddenly become a Hollywood Editor. I think we could all relate to that. This is what has been great about the week so far, to hear first-hand from editors who have persevered to forge a career and to learn that this process is a marathon rather than a sprint.
The theme for the day was ‘making it work’. Sam described how in Katie: My Beautiful Face he made use of the smallest lines of dialogue and ‘leftover’ rushes to construct a powerful scene. He also took us on a fascinating look at House of Assad and Moon Landing Live where he used archive creatively, in a way that went beyond just illustrating a scene. Alongside this deep dive into editing techniques, it was great to also gain some practical advice on self-care whilst editing and he stressed the importance of looking after your mental health.
After lunch we had a talk with one of the Life in a Day 2020 editors: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi. I think everybody’s first question for him was: how on earth did you start editing a film where you had received 324,000 clips? He took us on a detailed look at his process and we got a peek at some photos from the edit to see how it was organised. On the creative side, he talked about intuition in the cuts and knowing when material is pushing you to follow a certain path. For me, starting a career in editing is especially daunting because so much of the process seems to happen internally and based on instinct. So where do you start trying to learn that? Therefore, it was an invaluable chance to hear Mdhamiri describe his thought processes, and break down the decisions he made in the edit.
The last speaker of the day was editor Christopher Bird, who gave us a masterclass in rig editing. This session opened my eyes to the variety of possibilities in the edit. As Christopher put it: “different routes to the maze." During one of his case studies, Inside Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital, he showed us clips taken from various stages of the edit. From the uncut rushes stage right through to forming a cut. Throughout he pointed out where he could have taken the story down a different path, and where he discovered a story where at first there did not appear to be one.
We finished the day a little over schedule, as we often had been doing this week. We had so many questions to ask the speakers! And it was easy to lose track of time when engaged in such great discussions. I was keen to already apply the knowledge that I had learnt in the day. So that evening, in my own time, I worked a bit more on my cut in preparation for a first viewing the following day (eek!).
Day five of six - I’m tired but wish it wasn’t the second to last day, there’s still so much to learn!
First is another session with Dennis Mabry. He’s so knowledgable and very patient answering our questions - of which there are many! He has lots of good links and documents for us to check out as he talks us through the post-edit process. A week ago I had no idea about any of this and now I understand all about mix downs and layouts, I can see how far I’ve come.
After a break from screen time, we watch some of our editing activity cuts of the Netflix documentary footage - including mine! We’ve been working on them in the evening and we are at a mix of first assembly and rough cut stages. It’s nerve wracking showing your work to other people, but we are all in the same boat. We’ve learnt how important the feedback process is and everyone is so supportive, so it wasn’t so bad in the end!
After lunch we meet Rupert Houseman, a very experienced editor and he has lots of great stories and tips for us. We watch some clips and he is really open with us about his process and how he works. It seems everybody works differently, and there is something about his process that feels similar to my own and he talks with such energy that I come away from his session feeling really invigorated and enthusiastic. Which is perfect - because I’m off to get on with my fine cut!
We jumped right in on Saturday morning, screening the rest of group’s films from the edit task. Mine was showing today and I was quietly freaking out, I felt vulnerable showing my edit in front of everyone… but it felt so validating once I did. The group was incredibly supportive and it felt like a safe environment to be honest with each other, give constructive criticism and words of encouragement. What a fabulous thing to be able to talk about films, edits and story arch for hours. I was so inspired by everyone else’s edits, how we all produced completely different narratives whilst using the same material. It affirmed to me why we were all there, all our individual experiences imprinting on the work we create and the possibilities of where that can drive a story.
We then got to meet the wonderful Ursula Macfarlane, director of Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein. She gave us a detailed breakdown of the director/editor relationship and how it is just as much about having a human connection, where you trust one another, as it is a creative one. It was also really insightful to hear from a woman in the industry and the unique struggles that comes with, but conversely how those experiences and perspective can be utilised in the cutting room.
We ended the day with the amazing Audrey and Alison from Netflix popping in to introduce themselves. They were wonderfully supportive of the initiative and the group as a whole, excited about what was next and affirmed the validity of the future role which we were stepping into. Today, yet again, people from the industry were welcoming us with open arms and willing to nurture our growth. I felt so invested in the whole week and this was the cherry on top.
We finished up by going round to share our final thoughts - even now I feel emotional thinking about it, the week had been overwhelming in the best way possible. We were all just so grateful and honoured to be there. It felt like we had made it, found our edit family and it was actually happening. I know some of us feared it never would… I'd have never of guessed the group would've bonded so much over Zoom in a week but we have all shared such a special experience that we will never forget and we’ll share that for life!
BIG love to the Grierson family, you’re magic!!
Published: 9 May 2021