Who is Robbie Pettigrew?
I am a freelance Documentary Film and Video Editor. Originally from London, I now live by the seaside in Brighton which is the prefect antithesis to the edit dungeons of Soho. I love to tell stories – the main reason I do what I do – the integrity of real life stories above all else and having the opportunity to try and educate, amaze and hopefully entertain.
How did your career path develop?
The concept of the cutting room had always fascinated me. During a work experience placement in my teenage years, I got the opportunity to play with some old film stock. From the moment I first spliced some 8mm together and watched my cuts come to life on an old cine viewer, I had a pretty good idea of the industry that I wanted to work in.
However, the film and TV industry is a hard one to break into and I ended up going a pretty roundabout route to get to where I am. I worked for free on work experience placement after “internship”, after whatever other name they could come up with for making tea, before finally landing my first paid job as a ‘technical runner.’ I certainly underestimated the reach of the word ‘technical’ as in my first week I was asked to de-weed the front patio of the office – hopefully I gave it the same care and attention that I do my edit timelines.
As the in-house technician I was responsible for all of our camera equipment as well as the edit suites and I had the opportunity to be camera assistant on about a dozen high-end film shoots, including a once in a life-time trip to the Bornean rainforest, in the company of the one and only David Attenborough, which really was a lifelong dream come true.
The obvious question here is, if I had the opportunity to make films with David Attenborough in the middle of the jungle why the hell did I want to lock myself away in a dark room underneath Soho for the rest of my life? The answer is simple: the cutting room, in my eyes, is and always will be where the true magic happens. Especially in documentary, it is where the story is shaped, the feel of the film is defined and where the tiniest of choices can have a huge emotional impact. It is a mystical dark art, invisible much of the time but it also has the power to smack you in the face.
Once I had made my choice, I tried to get involved in as many of the company’s projects as possible, cutting a scene here, a pre-title there before finally being given the opportunity to do reversion on two of their Natural History shows. This was my first big break and gave me the credits I needed in order to launch my freelance career. It also gave my parents the chance to see my name on TV, hopefully justifying their decision to let me live at home for far longer than anyone probably should. Finally, I could call the edit suite home.
What’s your greatest achievement/s so far?
I think my greatest achievement was taking the leap of faith and breaking away as a freelancer. To be your own boss is an incredible feeling but it was also probably one of the single most terrifying things I have ever done. I was full of self doubt and there was a fair amount of watching daytime TV in my pyjamas to start with but once the ball got rolling, I have never looked back and I can’t recommend it enough.
Any projects you are most proud of and why?
Working on the Channel 4 show “Walking the Himalayas” was a fantastic experience and it is a subject matter very close to my heart, having trekked in the region multiple times with family and friends. It is an important series that reveals the wonders and mysteries of a truly magical undiscovered part of the word. It was also one of my first prime time British terrestrial television programs and was viewed by around 3 million people, and so it was also the first time my friends and family saw my name in the credits on live television which is always a pretty special moment!
Share your biggest lessons in life and work
It sounds cheesy, but I think believing in yourself is the most important thing in this industry, especially when it may seem that no one else does! Try and be confident without being arrogant and listen to the people around you – there are some truly wonderful, incredibly talented people in this industry and they have taught me everything I know.
Lastly, the bottom line is work your socks off – at the beginning I think this is what got me noticed. I remember working for 27 hours straight to finish a project once, whilst I was still in-house as a technical runner. Three years later a producer told me she decided to give me a shot on a show I was probably under-qualified for because she remembered that. Some may call this exploitation or slave labour but to be honest, sometimes this is what it takes to get ahead in the insane maniacal world of film and television that I have come to love.
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