I was born in Jersey, no not as a tax exile, and received an excellent education which included an extra-curricular “cinema course” on the making of films like ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Birds’ , ‘Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday’ and ‘Repulsion’. Before this I had just watched films as entertainment and not thought too much about them, but I was immediately fascinated by the equation of filmmaking; how script, performance, photography, sound, music and, of course, editing all work together to tell a story and make a complete film.
This lead me to take 50% of my degree in film studies at UEA, just about the only university offering such a course at the time. After graduating I spent a mad couple of years simultaneously freelancing in arts journalism, local radio, local theatre and no budget filmmaking and used that experience to get onto the prestigious post graduate film course at Bristol University, following in the cine-footsteps of course alumni John Boorman, Alex Cox, Michael Winterbottom and Peter Webber.
Road To Success: Ups and Downs
After film school I blagged some assistant editing work in TV documentary and also set up a small production company where I got to learn a lot by directing and editing extremely low budget “pop promos”, commercials and some comedy shorts for the BBC. Since then I have spent over 25 years in the UK film and TV industry as, variously, a writer, director, producer, series producer and editor. But I love being hands on with the images and the soundtrack and editing has always been the backbone of my experience, from my earliest, painful days cutting “dog-rough” music videos on VHS and U-matic machines, through simple non-linear systems, like Quantel’s D-Vision to over 20 years experience on Avid.
As a longterm freelance editor I have tended to take whatever work has come along and so have a broad experience that covers commercials, music videos, corporates, broadcast TV obs docs and factual series as well as drama in the shape of short films and low budget features.
In terms of “ups and downs” there have inevitably been projects that are more enjoyable than others, but what I recall as the “down” moments centre on the edit suites themselves. Not everyone can offer you gourmet lunches and hot and cold runners in luxurious, but dimmed, surroundings. I have edited in a corridor! (A surprisingly handy way of meeting people and making friends) and in the mouldy bowels of a ship anchored on the Thames where I battled against the sound of passing propellers and wondered about the damp smell of dead seamen (of all spellings).
I’m not sure all this has been “a road to success”, but it has been a road to a solid, unflappable store of experience.
In terms of industry “awards” I cut two series of ‘Meerkat Manor’ for Animal Planet and the BBC, including a key episode in which the famous matriarch, Flower, died. The executive kindly informed me it was “probably the most important episode they had ever shot”. Thanks! No pressure. But happily the episode went on to be nominated for an Emmy and cleaned up a load of other prizes, including beating the ‘Sopranos’ in one category.
One of the things I am most proud of was when I was left alone for two days with a pile of rushes and managed to change the entire conception of a show. The film was called ‘Raw Spice’ and was built on the guerrilla grabbed footage a media student had taken of a local gobby girl group as they formed. That group became ‘The Spice Girls’ and the plan was to have a load of clips introduced in a studio by someone like Cilla Black. I managed to go through every frame and find a compelling narrative of music industry manipulation and betrayal. ITV ran it as a one hour obs doc and it got 9.1 million viewers!
I also recently got the chance to work on ‘Bad TV’ – the 70s, for production company North One. Along with my usual editing tasks I had the chance to collaborate on “gags” for the script. This was a particular delight and I managed to get a load of “bits” into the show, building on my love of comedy and experience in writing comedy fringe plays for the London stage and some development work for ‘Big Talk’, ‘Hattrick’ and ‘Baby Cow’.
Biggest lessons in life and work
To be generous and empathetic and not to be too passionate for politics. As a bit of a production “all rounder” (and no, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily a bit crap at everything) I have many opinions about many, many things. But I have learned that not everyone wants to “have the benefit” of them all the time. As an editor you have to be adaptable and to choose your moments to comment and “offer advice”. I now know there is great merit in being able to subtly and diplomatically (!) insinuate ideas into the process and there is sometimes great merit in shutting up and getting the bloody thing out of the door.
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