London-born film and television editor Colin Goudie has just finished working on the independent British sci-fi film MONSTERS, and we caught up with him to discuss the differences between cutting for the big and small screens.
While studying at Bournemouth Film School, Colin Goudie had every intention of becoming a director. “I wanted to be a director, but I always found that I had these very high expectations of what I was going to achieve. As you were filming, your expectations of what you were trying to achieve got lower. I found that being a director was not a creative process, it was a compromise process, and being an editor was a creative process. You are starting off with something that is unwatchable and in the end you are making a film that is watchable. By the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be an editor.”
The day after Goudie graduated he got an interview at the BBC and was accepted out of thousands of applicants for a place as a trainee assistant editor. “The ones that were competent, the editor would spend time talking to and showing their skills. Also, sitting in the back of the cutting room, you’re learning the director-editor relationship by observation. The very first thing I worked on was a TV film called An Englishman Abroad, with Alan Bates, which was directed by John Schlesinger and won the BAFTA for the best TV film. For me it was like nirvana. I’d literally go off to screenings to watch the prints and things on my own with John Schlesinger.”
Working at the BBC has given Goudie a wide range of experience, but he found there were significant differences between editing for broadcast and for cinema. “The biggest difference between TV and features is the duration. If you’re making a one-hour TV episode of a show, your film has to be 59 minutes long. It cannot be 57 minutes. It cannot be one hour and one minute. They will give you a leeway of 15 seconds. My first actual show as an editor was Spender, with Jimmy Nail. My first assembly on that first episode came in at 75 minutes, for what, in those days, was a 50-minute slot, which meant you’re taking out and throwing away a third of the story. When you read the script, it made sense. Every one of those scenes was important and was needed. When you’re in the edit and it comes in at 75 minutes, you’ve got to throw away a third and it’s still got to make sense.
I found that being a director was not a creative process, it was a compromise process, and being an editor was a creative process.
“Obviously, with a feature there is no set duration,” Goudie continues. “On Monsters, my first assembly was four-and-a-quarter hours. You could argue that you could watch that version of the film, and some films out there, such as Avatar, are pushing three hours. You do not have to get your film down to 90 minutes; the distributors prefer it if you do, because the shorter your film is for the cinema the more screenings they get in a day and the more box-office they get. However, it’s a director’s vision, and you’re working for the director. I always have a little caption, so when I work with Gareth [Edwards, the director] on Monsters, there’s a little frame on the computer screen that says, ‘A Gareth Edwards Film’. Whenever we are having a debate about the film or the structure I will always say, ‘This is what I think. This is what I would do, but…’ I click on the little icon so it fills the screen, and I say, ‘It’s your film, what do you want to do?’”
Digital has changed the way movies are shot and the way editors work. Film was always inhibited by the cost, especially for television, but shooting digital video means the shooting ratio has greatly increased. “When you are watching 200 hours of footage in real time, it takes you four or five weeks just to watch, let alone to take notes and edit it down,” Goudie explains. “The other thing is the amount of time you have to cut something for cinema as opposed to television. When I’m working on a TV drama, I will usually be editing on location, and I will be one day behind the shoot; I would typically have my first assembly to show the director after the shoot. [Then] I would typically have one week to do a director’s cut before the producer comes in, one week for the producer’s cut, then it would go to the network and you would have two days to recut for the network. On a feature, you have much longer schedules. For a start, the director has six weeks from the end of filming until they have to show the producers their first cut. What that means is, there is a lot more time to consider the film you are making with the director before you get involved in a producer’s cut. The pressure isn’t on to keep up to date with rushes. I usually try and do that anyway, because if I’m editing a scene and I think I could do with a close-up of this to explain the plot a bit clearer, or I’m a bit worried about an actor’s performance and I’d like a reshoot, they’re still in the same location, they’ve still got the same sets built, and it’s very easy and cheap to get in and do it.”
Whether it is cutting for cinema or TV it is about getting the best out of the material. “Even doing little tweaks, you’re tinkering with frames that nobody else would even notice,” Goudie concludes. “It’s a weird thing because it’s like you’re polishing a diamond, and at a certain level people will look at it and all they see is a sparkling diamond, and yet you know the diamond cutter will want to get to absolute perfection.” ♦