That's a wrap - remote water series

“It's a wrap, folks. We can go home now.” Since the 1920s, filmmakers have been using this phrase when principal photography on a film set is concluded and the film is ready to go into post-production.

A year of filming along a stretch of the river Thames north of Oxford and around Merton College has almost finished. What lies ahead is a process that I love - editing or to quote the film editor Walter Murch “film construction”. Film editing is the most wonderful process. It requires disciplines at all levels and some hard truths. I first started filmmaking during my foundation year at Central St. Martins School of Art using a clockwork Bolex 16mm camera. I still have it. I had approximately 35 seconds of filming before the camera needed to be re-wound. A 100ft day light loading roll of film would allow me 2.5 minutes of filming. The exposed negative would then be sent for processing. I would take the exposed negative to a processing laboratory with companies such as Deluxe, Metrocolor and Technicolor. The processed negative, and a print of the negative, could then be collected a day or so later, thus the term ‘rushes’ or ‘dailies’. I would collect it, race back, open the film cans, take in the smell of newly developed film, and sit at a film editor in the dark and watch my endeavours. The first film I made was called the Wayward Bus and I edited it at the London Filmmakers’ Co-op in London.

Much has changed since then. I haven’t shot with film for several years now. What hasn’t changed though is the excitement of returning to review what you have shot. I see the actual filming as a process that provides the opportunities to be seized later during the edit. Editing now, at least for me, is no longer a hands-on mechanical process requiring a Catozzo film splicer, splicing tape, trim bins and most importantly a Steenbeck flatbed film editor. Some lament the passing of this process. But its legacy still exists. If you take a closer look within a digital non-linear editor, you will still find those original film terms associated with manual cut and splice editing.

My days of hands-on linear editing using a film splicer were short lived. I shot my graduation film on film but edited it digitally using Avid - then the leading industry digital non-linear (NLE) editor. There were and still are many routes through postproduction. Every film is different and so has different demands and needs. It can be a complex and expensive process and the advent of digital has not necessarily changed either. But now I can post produce a film to the point of delivery completely independently without necessarily engaging a third party. A familiar postproduction route at the time of my graduation film involved having your film negative optically scanned and transferred to a digital tape format. During this process, a colour grade would also have been applied. Today most cinema cameras are digital so there are no longer these intermediary stages to make the media ready for editing. My camera shoots a digital negative that is directly ingested into my non-linear editor. I no longer have film cans or tapes on my shelf, instead I have hard drives, lots of hard drives. I presently use Blackmagic’s Davinci Resolve as my non-linear editor. It’s a system that allows simultaneous access to several image processes that ordinarily used to be sequential. This allows me to determine a shots full potential early on as I can apply a colour grade, add visual effects, engineer audio, and edit all at the same time. I can now adjust an edit right up to the point of delivery. This is very different from the process of having to sign off the various sequential stages of post-production before proceeding.

The challenge of editing is determining what it is you want to say and striking a balance between opinion and neutrality. One of your obligations as an editor is to immerse yourself in the sensibility of the film to the point where you are both aware of the film’s smallest details and the film’s most important themes. When beginning an edit, I try not to be too smart too early and I try to develop the films overall arc - the ambition being to find visual and thematic harmonies within the whole jigsaw. There is a process of metering out the right amount of generative impulse and modulating that with the right amount of critical impulse and knowing when to say I’m not going to touch that right now, I’ll wait until I know more. It’s a process of orchestration - organising the images and sounds in a way that is interesting. Mysterious when it needs to be mysterious, and understandable when it needs to be understandable. I try at times to find ways to forge alliances between unlikely things, striking juxtapositions but I am always mindful that at the point of transition between one shot to another it’s important to know where the audience’s eye is looking. It’s important to carry the focus of the audience across the cuts as opposed to making them search for them. It’s important to sustain the illusion.*

Film is not like reading a book. The film only lasts as long as it takes to project it. What I hope to achieve in a film is to provoke an audience’s participation by requiring the audience to complete the ideas. I see the viewer as a creative participant. How each moment gets completed depends on the individual. What I find exciting is that each person sees their own version on the screen.

The assemblage editing of Remote Water has already begun with early experiments of sequencing and juxtaposition. There is still some filming to be done and only when that is complete will I start editing for real. I can’t wait to start and I very much look forward to returning to Merton and sharing the completed film. The film will be called Marginalia.

*See Michael Ondaatje book The Conversations