He came from somewhere up in the Valley aka Talent Spotting

TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine)  Winter 2011


A short film. A labour of love. Getting it up and shot has been an immense task for the young director – I reckon 40k has haemorrhaged from his bank account and it isn’t finished. His mates from film school came along for the ride… dead weight in the scheme of things – beaks at the end of the nest – there were 30 of them and only 5 working professionals. Enough said. The film got shot – we’ll leave it at that.

Self funded and the director is cutting it himself – but reason up and left the edit suite some time back and he’s struggling to get an edge on the knife… then in walks the guy from up the way, an Iconic player in the Film and TV business, a Master Editor of no nonsense reputation who calls it what it is.

He’s been known to walk to town. A recent injury makes him swagger but don’t read too much into it. A brave man would think he’s anything other than quietly confident – possibly arrogant? You’d be wise to keep your thoughts to yourself – ‘enlightened selfishness’ was a description a colleague once used. Whatever, you’re left in no doubt about the immediate.

We get down to work. Quietly at first, nothing to scare the horses. Suddenly the room is abuzz! Heaving and bucking – he barks orders from the back then leans forward stabbing his workers fingers at the screen, ‘take 20 frames off the incoming and swap shot three for five and take seven frames off the tail’. It’s coming alive before our eyes – the characters are not actors anymore, suddenly we have a movie morphing before us. The energy pours from the big man and he breaks out in a sweat, then falls back spent. We take a breather.

We talk through the reasons and where this thing is going and what they will think? “and don’t you forget it?” he might have used his finger to point though I couldn’t be sure.

We did two sessions. We let the cut sit over night so we come back with a modicum of fresh eyes. This is story telling at the greater end of the scale – the character’s now have purpose and a reason to be – nothing predictable, nothing by the book – this is dangerous stuff! The director is back at the controls – he tries to slip in a bit of ‘editing by the rules’ – BARP! – wrong! – ‘Leave that crap at the door sonny’. We make it shorter, we make it sing, it gets better and even shorter.

During the location mentoring I thought it had festival potential, though I worried especially about one of the story beats. I was insistent but not insistent enough; we didn’t shoot it – ‘OK, it’s his movie’ – no time anyway, and like most New Zealand movies we shoot the schedule and get out of there. I’m normally pretty good at being able to tell between good and the ordinary film making, but now sitting in the room is the ‘Top Man’ of New Zealand film editing. Respect! – what if he says its crap? So far so good. Yet I see some missing coverage coming up and now we’ve reached the hole – it hurts to put this one through the wringer – its not working and suddenly it is and in a flash we solve the unsolvable. Genius at work. The big man smiles and says ‘yep’ – I’d forgotten how good this gets. Correct process? – to hell with that! Hack the shit out of it, show it who’s boss! We kick it about the walls. Job done!

Meanwhile the SS Escalator shudders away from the jetty in that ‘youth know everything and wisdom is not required’ fashion – secretly a grown up checks the bung. Up on the helm Capt Talent strikes a pose, while in the engine room a few old hands keep the fires stoked knowing full well the life rafts will be launched when the money is all gone – none for them though – above the ever hopeful grunts, who dutifully supplied their trucks and shoe leather, will still be broke at the end of it and looking for TV commercials to pay the mortgage – the Administrators in Wellington take their regular weekly wage.

Then a late night phone call… something’s happened. The director and his mates have shot a few pickup. He’s re-cut that scene… that pivotal scene near the end, the hard won solution to the void. The Icon has watched and walked out citing ‘they don’t need him anymore’. The director is distraught – not being able to tell the good from the bad was mentioned as the Icon left – the ultimate disrespect for the edit was muttered – the kids intervened on protocol and the old fella’s having nothing of it.

Film making at its best and worst and being able to tell is the key. 40 weeks at film school then – HELL! the best lesson yet. Two days in the edit suite watching the master at work and then the swift kick in the gonads – nothing pretty. I had warned him; I feel sick for the kid… but then its all about picking yourself up isn’t it?

They’ve now put it back to nearly how it was… and you know what? that pickup actually works… they ask my opinion of the cut and just for good measure I take 8 frames off the incoming and ‘get that bastard out of there’ – shorter – fade to black – fade up and we’re into the dust settling slow curtain. It’s very good work – I can tell it is.