The Art of Editing: Chris Wyatt

Chris Wyatt is a BAFTA- and BIFA-Nominated Film Editor whose work includes God’s Own Country and This is England. Ahead of the anticipated masterclass at ASFF 2019, The Art of Editing, Wyatt explores the multifaceted role of the editor in an evolving cinematic landscape.

ASFF: The role of the editor is multifaceted. What are the key elements involved in the role?
The essence of film editing is to try to realise someone else’s – the director’s – vision: this is predominantly achieved by making a series of intellectual and emotional connections to allow the audience to navigate a path through a narrative and connect with and feel for the characters in the film.

In addition, there is also the practical side of the process too: the knowledge and ability to work with the technical format of the project. It’s less likely these days to be film orientated, in terms of editing, and more likely to be computer based – so having command of the software is paramount. Whereby Avid is still the market leader and my favourite, there are also others and it’s useful to have at least an overview of how all the major technical players function.

Additional knowledge of other software applications, such as After Effects, can be useful. As an ‘old school’ editor I prefer to leave colour grading, visual effects and sound to those particular experts. I also prefer to leave the canvas as bare as possible for them to apply their expertise.  Of course, there are circumstances where a little of each may be necessary during the editing process, but there’s always the danger of a director becoming far too attached to how something was ‘in the edit’:  Post production is a constant, evolving process and after the picture is locked there are still many other disciplines to incorporate and draw richness from.

ASFF: Your credits include award-winning films such as God’s Own Country and This is England. How do you collaborate with directors to bring their vision to life?
I have been very fortunate to work with some wonderful filmmakers and the first ingredient is to be able to get along! You will be spending a lot of time together and will have to circumnavigate some difficult times and tensions, so the bond and trust you have in each other is of paramount importance.

It’s also key to try and ‘fit into their world’: I believe that you are always looking for an equilibrium when working with a director, to find that common ground where the ideas behind the film coalesce. I’ve always believed that when working with a director – no matter how far their vision is removed from ‘the norm’ – that there is a part of them in all of us. To some degree this is why we go and watch their films. You are looking for that point where you crossover and find points of connection, in order to understand them and enable a way to help realise their vision.

Still from This is England.

ASFF: What advice would you give to aspiring editors?
It’s always difficult to give advice to aspiring editors in what is a very different landscape from when I started out. My own route just does not exist anymore, however, the principal remains the same: just try to get your foot in the door and once it’s there, keep it there. It’s much easier now to access the tools to edit with and there is a multitude of media and easy ways to generate media to play with, but nothing is better than ‘real world’ experience. Try to get to edit short films and align yourself with someone you consider to be an interesting director and go on that journey together

Don’t be in a rush! Editing is also about the experience of life and what emotional experiences can bring to understanding a character’s development, so the longer you live the broader your emotional landscape. I’m not suggesting you can’t edit at 25, but you will be a better and more rounded editor at 35, 45 etc.

ASFF: We live in an increasingly digital landscape. What does the future of editing look like?
We will ultimately probably be replaced by an algorithm. We are forever given notes and suggestions of what an ‘audience’ likes and so I’m sure at some point there will be a way for AI to assess the emotional make up of material and assemble it in a ‘middle-on-the-road accessible to all’ package and remove the need for creativity.

If it doesn’t end up being that negative, I’m sure the tools that we use will evolve and undergo a radical transformation. I’ve been very grateful that the transition from physical film based editing into computer based editing has still retained the ‘essence’ of what it’s like to edit on film. The process and thought patterns through to physical application remain very similar, you load the shot in here, you mark it here and here and you splice it onto that. I’m sure editors of future generations will move on to a more ‘fluid’ way of working but I’m happy that I might not have to embrace that change!

ASFF: What projects are you currently working on?
I am just finishing working with Francis Lee for the second time on his new film Ammonite and about to start Supernova with writer/director Harry Macqueen.

ASFF: What are you most looking forward to attending at this year’s ASFF?
As much as I can!

The Art of Editing: Assembling a Story takes place 9 November at York St John University. Find out more and book here.

ASFF 2019 runs 6-10 November. View the full programme.

Lead image: God’s Own Country.