All about conversation

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Simon Price picks up a badminton racket and fires a shuttlecock towards the back row of the audience during his Big Screen Symposium address. For a moment we wonder if we’re about to enjoy another eccentric performance such as the one Christopher Doyle gave.

But Price is more conventional than Doyle. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that while he enjoys talking, Price wants this to be a conversation rather than a lecture. “There is only one rule for the session – the person now holding the shuttlecock must ask a question before the end.”

He observes that editing is an enigmatic art, halfway between being a short-order cook and a brain surgeon, an art in which he tries to remain as invisible as possible.

Rather than discuss the technological aspects and the craft of editing Price, like Doyle, is more interested in exploring the philosophy behind his process. He enjoys words, and shares his delight over the discovery of the collective noun for a group of editors: an ‘erudition of editors’.

The word comes from the notion of rubbing out the root and smoothing out the edges, a description of editing he is happy with. But one can’t properly get to the point of doing the job well without developing a common language with the director, one that continues throughout the edit. “To have a great conversation is hard – you really have to listen – and listening is really hard!”

Jake Mahaffy's Free in Deed

Jake Mahaffy’s Free in Deed

Price hates being on set, where it takes so long to achieve anything and there is so much waiting around, and considers it a form of warfare: attrition, presumably. In the edit suite, by contrast, you are instantly and always involved, and there’s the opportunity to have fun, to play. You can relax…

The first question in the conversation has to be: What’s the film about?

“If the director can give you a one word answer, then you know you’re halfway there! But if the answer is a waffly ‘Well, it’s about this man/woman, and they are in this place…’ then it’s going to be a difficult job.”

Price illustrates how easy it is to develop a common language, asserting, “Once you have it, you can play, you can sing and dance.”

That common language helps keeps the focus on the heart of the story you are trying to tell.

One often difficult time is when the director comes in to see the first assembly – and it’s ugly, it’s horrible! The director can be in despair. It’s then up to the editor to encourage and support the director, to build a new conversation. “You end up being a pop-psychologist. Directors always talk about their Mum at some stage…”

Continuing the dialogue theme, Price speaks of seeking out a series of key words or phrases – one for each of the characters, one for the overall arc of the story, and one for the ending which reveals the theme. The task is to reveal what the characters want and why they want it to help navigate through the sometimes hundreds of hours of footage.

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