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Opinion and Insight

Cutting Across the Atlantic

LBB Editorial , 2 years, 4 months ago

We talk to editors from Whitehouse Post, Cut & Run, The Quarry and Final Cut who explain why editing in North America and Europe are very different beasts

Cutting Across the Atlantic

How much could editing possibly differ between markets? Get a bunch of rushes, cut them to pieces, stick them back together – job done, right? Well, not quite. Over the years, different business models have evolved to cater for different market pressures and conditions. In Europe, editing is a highly collaborative affair between the director and the editor. In markets like London, where the industry is geographically closer together, relationships are closer too. The flip side is that London has seen budgets and timescales strangled. In North America, on the other hand, the money’s healthier but the editor tends to be employed by the agency and close collaboration with directors is far rarer. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Adam Rudd from Final Cut, Eve Ashwell from Cut & Run, Matthew Wood from Whitehouse Post and Ted Guard from The Quarry to get their takes on the transatlantic divide.


Matthew Wood, Partner & Editor at Whitehouse Post Chicago


LBB> Where are you from originally and where are you based now?

MW> I am originally from London. I worked at the Whitehouse in London before moving to the Los Angeles office in 2003 and the Whitehouse Chicago office in 2005.  

 LBB> Why did you make the move?

MW> The Whitehouse merged with The Lookinglass Company in 2001 and it soon became clear that there was a lot of demand for English editors in the States. Over the next couple of years I was increasingly asked to cut commercials in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. I enjoyed the control that editors have in the US and the freedom to drive the project forward. The ‘can do’ spirit in America was also something that was really refreshing; there is a genuine support for businesses to succeed.  It made sense to me and felt like my future was to move here. 

LBB> How have you found the transition to the your new market? What sort of skills or different approaches did you have to learn when you made the move and how long did it take you to get your head round it?

MW> I think it took about eighteen months to be fully comfortable in the market. In England, you mainly work with the director one on one and the agency doesn’t tend to stay in the room. Normally they react and tend to leave you alone to make any changes. In the US I had to get accustomed to a slower process where there are more layers in an agency to navigate before getting an approved cut. Projects in general need more time here so I had to adjust to the change in pace. There are also many more cities to work in here, compared to England where there is mostly just London.

LBB> What do you think the industry back home could learn from the way things work in your new home? And vice versa?

MW> I think that it is really hard for editorial to make money in London, which does not make for a happy industry. It saddens me that there is an ever-decreasing amount of money paid to editors in the UK. There is such a disparity in budgets between working in Europe and the States. 

There also needs to be more respect to the craft of film editing in general. In regards to what the US could learn from the UK, I think that the agencies should give editors more space to explore and create alternatives. Sometimes it seems like projects here become bogged down by minutia and are less reliant on gut feelings than they are in England.

LBB> In the States, editors tend to take over control of a TV spot once its shot and tend to work for the agency rather than the production company whereas in the UK and Europe there’s more of a collaboration between the director and the editor. What do you think are the pros and cons of each approach?

MW> Well I don’t think it is quite as simple as that. I certainly include the director of any commercial I cut so that they can have a voice in the process. In fact, at Whitehouse here in the US, it is almost an unwritten rule that we work with the director first. I prefer working that way and although we are employed by the agency I think it is necessary for the directors vision to be fully included. I think that this ‘US way’ has its benefits as editors are good at being impartial to the project. They see only what is in front of them rather than the political debates that happened in preproduction or on the shoot. For me, the optimum way of working is to be hired by the agency but to work and include the director from the outset.


Eve Ashwell, Cut+Run


LBB> Where are you from originally and where are you based now?

EA> Originally I’m from London, though I spent a lot of time in LA growing up, as my dad moved there when I was four. Right now I’m based in London where I live with my husband (and our dog) although I travel a lot for work and spend quite a bit of time editing in our LA office. I’m just back from there after a two-month stint, working on a couple of really nice jobs.

LBB> How do you find it travelling back and forth between the States and the UK?

EA> I’m very happy travelling. My husband is a director, so he also travels a lot and we try to work our schedules out so I can go with him on shoots (I edit for him too, so that’s quite helpful). Or if I have a long stint in LA for instance he’ll come over too, if not for all of it, then for some of it. We stay in our family home and have a lot of friends out there too, so it’s nice for him. He can do treatments and calls from anywhere in the world, so it works well.

I enjoy being in LA a lot. Growing up there it was always a ‘holiday’ destination. We live on the beach where my brother and I would spend whole summers in the ocean and at Disneyland... When I started to work there at around 25, it opened a whole new viewpoint for me. I saw it as much more of a business town and it was fun to discover a side to a place I thought of as a second home but realised I didn’t really know that well. I very much enjoy being there now, as I can spend the weekdays at work and then retreat to the beach side on the weekends and be with family and friends.

LBB> How have you found the transition between the markets? What sort of skills or different approaches did you have to learn when you made the move and how long did it take you to get your head round it?

EA> I learnt the market in London, and that was very much my comfort zone initially. All of my family are in advertising (one of the reasons my dad moved to LA many years ago) so it was something I grew up with and absorbed by osmosis. When I started to work in the US (we also have offices in NY, SF and Austin, so I’ve spent time there too) it was quite a shock to the system. The editor’s role (and just the industry as a whole) is very different there compared with London. 

It took me at least a couple of years to be able to fully immerse myself into the US system and if I’ve spent a while away from it, it can be a bit of a bump coming back. On those jobs, I rely a lot on my American assistant and producer, as they’re already ingrained into that system, so can support me and remind me of the things that I may have forgotten to do because I’m not used to it. I soon remember though and then it’s pretty easy to adjust again. 

As an editor in the US you are much more alone to begin with, as the director’s involvement once the shoot’s wrapped is pretty minimal. That’s a hard thing to adjust to when you’re used to sitting with a director, and definitely requires a different approach to the edit. You have to be more self-disciplined and try to not get too locked into any one route without exploring others too. Without having that person right at the start to bounce ideas off can feel a bit isolating. I tend to ask fellow editors opinions more in the US than I would in London, just because it’s so helpful for me to get a second pair of eyes on things.

So from an editing point of view, it’s the fact that you have little director involvement. And from an editing company point of view, it’s how involved you are in the post. You are very much the pivotal point of contact for everything after the shoot - arranging and scheduling the grade, online and sound and then liaising between the post house, production company and agency.  

LBB> What do you think the industry back home could learn from the way things work in your new home? And vice versa?

EA> I think the US process would benefit from allowing the director to have more time and involvement in the edit. It’s never made sense to me that you would take such an important person out of the mix at that crucial stage. You’ve hired them (and paid them a large amount of money) to portray their vision of your idea onto film. To then not really include their input in how that story is put together seems counter productive to me.

Of course I understand there can be the ‘too many chefs’ problem, which is something I think US agencies are wary of. But handled the right way, nine times out of 10 a director’s involvement in the edit is only going to elevate the spot. A director’s priority is to make as good a film as possible; yes of course they want to please the agency and tick the boxes they’ve been asked to tick. But ultimately they want the nicest piece possible for their show reel. 

I’m not saying creatives don’t want the same thing, but there can sometimes be internal politics within an agency that can come out to play in an edit, and that can cloud creative judgement whether people are aware of it not. A director simply doesn’t have those same constraints and can bring a fresh viewpoint into an edit that I think is most often of benefit.

I think London would benefit from the US’s budgets! 

But mostly I think we still get very good schedules for the edit in the US, which has really suffered on the whole in London. It’s not unusual to have two weeks to edit something in the US which I would have four days for in London. It doesn’t matter how great the creatives, director or editor are, if you haven’t got time to experiment in the edit you are compromising the end result. I find that very frustrating. We seem to be getting less and less time on that back end in London whereas the US seems to have a bit more respect for that process.

LBB> In the States, editors tend to take over control of a spot once it’s shot and tend to work for the agency rather than the production company whereas in the UK and Europe there’s more of a collaboration between the director and the editor. What do you think are the pros and cons of each approach?

EA> The US system is so different in terms of relationships. In London you build your relationship with the production company. In the US it’s with the agency. The industry in the US is just so huge, you can really go years without seeing someone twice, even if you’re working a lot on the same accounts. Especially as I’ve noticed people move around more in the US, and that means throughout the US too, so creatives often leave an agency in LA to go to say Portland or NY.

In London there is a smaller, more family approach. I like the fact that you build those kinds of relationships in London. Dare I say it, but it feels a little more genuine and a little less business. Of course we’re all in a business at the end of the day, but in London it feels friendlier because it’s so much smaller. 

One of the many things I enjoy about being an editor is the strong relationships I’ve built with the directors I work with continuously. We spend huge amounts of time together and through that develop a short hand in communication, which enables the edit to become a much smoother and faster process. I know intuitively what those directors are looking for, in both the footage and the overall mood and feel of the film. This makes for a very collaborative approach, which can often see me being involved at treatment and storyboard stages. That doesn’t tend to happen in the US as the relationship between editor and director isn’t given the same time to grow. There is an editor/creative relationship which could work in a similar way, but my experience is that most creatives aren’t making as many films per year as a director would, so you just don’t have the same opportunities in which to build it. 

I’ve found over the years that the directors I’ve worked with have very much pushed me on as an editor. Those relationships have made me better and the trust that’s developed has allowed me to be more experimental in the way I approach an edit, whilst opening my eyes to the different ideas that each director has about how to construct a narrative and mood. I’ve learnt from every director I’ve worked closely with and feel quite positive that had I learnt my skills in the US I wouldn’t be as confident as I am today. 

Another benefit of being employed by a Production Company over an agency is the exposure you then have to the whole roster at that company. I’ve built a lot of relationships with several directors at the same company as one recommends you onto another. 

In the US, being employed by the agency has the benefit of being asked back to cut several films over time on the same account. There is something nice about getting to know a brand and the development of it’s advertising, which you don’t really get in London because most directors won’t often do more than 1 or 2 films for the same client. Becoming more involved at the agency level means becoming more involved at the heart and starting seed of a project, which I find quite exciting.

Ultimately, for me it’s all about creative collaboration and pushing myself on each job I work on to help make the best possible story.

That can happen in either continent as long as the rest of the people involved are after the same goal.


Adam Rudd, Final Cut


LBB> Where are you from originally and where are you based now?

AR> I'm originally from Grimsby, and now I'm in LA via London.

LBB> Why did you make the move?

AR> There’s something very appealing to waking up every day in the sunshine.

LBB> How have you found the transition to the LA market? What sort of skills or different approaches did you have to learn when you made the move and how long did it take you to get your head round it?

AR> You quickly realize it’s probably going to be you presenting and selling the edit, and if you’re lucky you’ll have had some time with the director in person prior to that moment. That’s very different from most of the jobs I did in the UK. Lead times can be really short, as the agency often wants to be in the edit immediately after the shoot, so I’ve found cutting on set can really help when it’s an option. It gives me a little extra time with the director, and it’s also a good way to connect with the agency early on in the process. 

LBB> What do you think the industry back home could learn from the way things work in your new home? And vice versa?

AR> The cooks at Black Island Studios could learn a lot from craft services in America.

LBB> In the States, editors tend to take over control of a TV spot once its shot and tend to work for the agency rather than the production company whereas in the UK and Europe there’s more of a collaboration between the director and the editor. What do you think are the pros and cons of each approach?

AR> At the end of the day everyone wants the best spot, so I think both approaches are actually quite similar, there's just a different person paying the bills and a slightly different hierarchy. The level of involvement from the director and production company after the shoot varies in the US. I've done jobs with the director in the room right on through to final approval, and I've done jobs where all we've had was a five-minute phone conversation after the shoot. 

I think somewhere in the middle is the best ground, it allows for the most creative end product.


Ted Guard, The Quarry and Rock, Paper, Scissors

LBB> Where are you from originally and where are you based now?

TG> I was at The Quarry in London, and now based in New York with the sister company, Rock Paper Scissors. I have been over there for nearly five years.

LBB> Why did you make the move?

TG> There was a great opportunity with The Quarry and Rock Paper Scissors in New York and I felt it opened a door to a wider band of Directors and types of work. Plus my family felt like having an adventure.

LBB> How have you found the transition to the States? What sort of skills or different approaches did you have to learn when you made the move and how long did it take you to get your head round it?

TG> The biggest shift has been the deeper relationship with the agency. There are a vast number of media channels across the US, so therefore the need for multiple broadcast masters is far more prominent than in the UK. That means that the agency has to assume greater control of masters and versioning, so we have more of a creative and production role to play.

LBB> What do you think the industry back home could learn from the way things work in your new home? And vice versa?

TG> I think that overall everyone is striving to do the best creative job they can. If anything stands out from America it’s that the Editor’s involvement throughout the Editorial and Post Production is a bit more critical, and that helps in both management of the process and also keeps the flexibility fo adjusting the project / edit as the spot progresses. Editors are like the right hand man to the Director, so if the Director isn’t able to be around then having a continuing creative voice from the Editor can only be a good thing.

LBB> What do you think are the pros and cons of each approach?

TG> The sensibility is still very much that you’re trying to do a great creative job for everyone. The director is often less involved further down the line in the US, as you say, but as an editor in the US we are trying to keep their original vision true whilst making sure that the agency has their final media needs looked after. If everyone is on-board and has a shared plan from the outset it’s actually a good place for the editor to be because we are the creative glue between director and agency throughout the whole process.