My name is Shaun Martin; I’m the editor for Dishonoured.
Here’s the best thing about being a film editor; you get to see the finished film before anyone else. Well, I say the finished film, but really, it’s more the editor’s cut. Because, believe me, once you ship the editor’s cut to the director and the producer, that’s not the end of it. More of that later.
What is an editor? Well, when a film is shot, it’s not shot in sequence. People don’t just turn up on day one and film the first scene and work their way through the screenplay page by page until it’s finished. It’s not done like that.
Take the other day at the shoot. We shot the final scene and one of the opening scenes on the same day. The editor takes all of the shots and puts them together to make the final film. Of course, each shot may well have two, three, four, five takes, so together with the Director, the Producer, and the Director of Photography, he/she (take that as read from here on in) puts together the best takes to make the film. If you’ve been on the set of Dishonoured, you might’ve noticed me. I don’t really do much on set. I stand there with a clipboard, usually close to the Script Supervisor, Jamie, and I watch what goes on.
The Director, Lewis, will sometimes talk to me, tell me how he wants particular shots to run (he’ll also talk to Jamie in the same way, which is all good, because when I’m not on set, Jamie is the main conduit between the director and the editor). Generally, as editor, I don’t have any creative input on the day at all; that’s not my job. If I’m on set, I might point out potential continuity issues, but there are countless other people on set whose job it is to do that as well. I chat with Lucinda and Matt, the sound guys, over potential sound issues (I also hassle them to produce “wild tracks” – background audio tracks – for me to use during editing). I chat with Cara, the clapper loader, to make sure that I’m correctly noting down the roll, scene and take for each shot. I basically chat to a lot of people on the set, but not many people notice me, or know what I’m doing.
Then I get back to the editing suite and that’s when it all (hopefully) comes together. I have lots of notes from the day. Notes I’ve made (if I’m on set), notes Jamie has made (he also logs dialogue changes made on the day), messages from Laura (the First Assistant Director), and messages from Lewis, Mark (our DoP) and Steph (the Producer and ultimate boss). And then I start work on the edit.
First thing I have to do is sync the video and the audio. Our audio – like every single Hollywood film – is recorded separately, and it has to match the video, otherwise, well, it just doesn’t look right. Think about all those poorly dubbed Kung Fu films you watched as a kid! Now, for a lot of scenes, my software will automatically sync the two. Mostly, on Dishonoured, that’s been the case. It makes it easy, but it’s still time consuming because each take has to be automatically synced (which takes three or four seconds) and then checked for quality (did the software sync it properly?) But there are occasions when it has to manually synced.
That’s one of the reasons we have a clapper-board and a clapper loader. There is the “clap” as the clapper closes, and I can match that with the precise moment the two pieces of the clapperboard hit one another, which means that when people talk on the film, their voices are synchronized with the video. And, of course, I can see which roll, scene and take I’m working on, which can help me to find an audio file which has gone astray.
Once all the video and audio files are synced, I can start to splice the whole thing together.
I work on a single scene at a time, and I’m probably a few scenes behind the actual shoot. I use the notes we’ve all made to put the right shots and takes together in a very rough first cut. And sometimes, it just doesn’t look right, so I’ll have to juggle things around, find footage from an unused take. It can take a day to shoot two or three pages of script – that’s the general rule of thumb for a feature or even a short (though the Dishonoured cast and crew are being more efficient, and are banging through five or six pages on each shoot) – and it can take twice as long to put together an editor’s cut.
And as previously mentioned, the editor’s cut isn’t the end of it. In fact, it’s rare that the editor’s cut is ever seen by anyone other than the heads of production. Ideally, the editor sits down with the heads of production, listens to them rip his edit to pieces, and then makes the changes they suggest. Ha ha; that probably makes it sound like being an editor is soul-destroying, but truly, it’s not. The directors and producers need to see what the film looks like before they can make their final decisions. They need something to work from, and that, initially, is the editor’s job.
Of course, the editor has other things to do as well. There are the visual effects – VFX.
Now, in the trailer, Mark, our Director of Photography, put together the visual effects over my initial edit, and he did a fantastic job. I think we all agree that our teaser trailer looks awesome. But the editor on a film (in this case, me) will also be putting in muzzle flashes and gun shell cases for firearms scenes; helping to make the fight sequences look scary and dynamic. There are also sound effects – stuff as simple as background music, but also Foley effects (footsteps, doors etc), the sounds of punches, gunshots, broken glass, all of the things which help the scene realistic by combining the viewer’s audio and visual senses. We’re fortunate on Dishonoured because we have people who can make guns look like they’re shooting (me), make bloody things look real (Theo) and make everything look filmic, dynamic and intense (Mark).
In a way, an editor has to be a perfectionist, but occasionally he loses the creative edge, because he’s looking for that perfect cut – a person starts to raise their hand in one shot and when you cut to a different angle, they finish raising their hand. But when we lose our creative edge, that’s when the directors step in and suggest changes.
What I will say is this; when I’ve edited films before, I’ve had discussions – heated ones even – with the production heads. They’ve wanted something doing a certain way, and I’ve had to explain why, with the footage I’ve got, it just isn’t possible. Sometimes, I’ve had to compromise, allow fluid continuity to fall by the wayside, because the boss wants it to be done another way. The key thing is this; if the audience doesn’t notice the compromise, then we’ve all done our jobs properly.
On Dishonoured, I generally meet up with Lewis, Mark and Steph every week for a soft drink and a discussion about the previous Sunday’s shoot. This is also where I collect the footage and the audio. The three of them will tell me about potential issues, about great takes, and from that I’ll have some kind of idea how to throw together the initial edit.
The crew on Dishonoured are all professionals. They know what they want from each shoot. They know that even before they turn up for the shoot. And all of us who are on location when a scene is being shot, watch in amazement at how meticulously the shot is set up, the preparation that goes into it, all for 20 or 30 seconds of dialogue. We see the same scene shot from many different angles. And yes, it seems repetitive. But in doing that, the production team are covering all bases, giving me ideal material to work with in the editing suite. Of course, sometimes in the editing suite I still mutter to myself, because they produce so much good stuff that I’m spoilt for choice – I want to use that great reaction shot from Steph, but the other person delivering their dialogue has also put in a great visual performance. Oh, the problems of being an editor.
But then I think back to what I mentioned right at the start of this – I get to see the finished film first. Nothing can top that. Well, apart from working with a great family of professional people on the set of Dishonoured.