Looking at technology over the last 40 years what's your favourite bit of kit?
Each year that I've worked in I've had some favourite pieces of kit so for instance when I first started out editing on 16mm in colour I was like oh my god. I really thought I’d arrived in the film industry. I do remember between leaving Bournemouth and going to work at the BBC I worked at Ridley Scott's advertising agency The Film Editors for a week. A friend worked there as a runner, I was on holiday day and she got me the job to cover for her, and I remember they were working on Movieolas and that was the first time I've ever used one.
In the Vault at the time they used to have all the the deleted scenes from Alien, and of an evening when all the editors had gone home I’d get the deleted scenes out and run them on the Movieola, coolest thing ever! This was before the days of Blu-ray extra features, I just remember that sound the sound of the Movieola. That clacky clacky clacky sound was both terrifying but also strangely like a potter's wheel, it made you feel like you were part of the film, I loved that.
What about with Non-linear?
When I first went on to Lightworks I thought that was incredible, and I do remember a director that I worked with a lot once saying of that the way that I work that Lightworks it was like watching a concert pianist. The way that you play that keyboard, which I've never felt I managed to achieve on an Avid, that one to one with the instrument. My non-linear weapon of choice was always Lightworks. Lightworks for drama but I did prefer Avid for documentaries because of the way you could move blocks around the timeline back then.
One of the big changes in recent years is the cost of drives coming down so much so now obviously when go working on a big production I'll have an Avid Isis and I'll have terabytes of storage, but that stuff has plummeted so much that I can now do that at home. I can have 25 terabytes in a Drobo and it's a little tiny box and I carry it around, and it means that even on a low budget film I can be working to the same resolution with the same amount of backups, the same amount of material that I would on a huge budget studio system.
It's honestly not quite as technically robust but it gets the job done, and those things are really helpful and it means you don't have to change your mindset in your workflow when you're working on a low budget film the way you used to. On the last job I worked on I bought a 65-inch 4K TV for less than £1,000, so the director would sit and look at a client monitor that actually resembled a bit more what a cinema screen is going to look like rather than the normal 21 inch client monitor.
Colin with Rogue One director Gareth Edwards
What changes have you seen on the camera side?
For me in the finished production overall the biggest change was when we started getting digital video cameras that could shoot and look like film cameras. So that you were watching something and it looked like it had been shot on 35mm. I remember working on a production where I turned to the director after we screened a digital cut of the film and I said ‘swear to me will never load a 35mm mag ever again.’ When we did Rogue One we actually tested multiple formats, and at the time we went into that process the consensus had been that we were going to shoot on 35mm, which episode 7 had done. When we looked at a lot of the cameras I was one of the people pleading that we shoot digitally on that film, which is what we ended up doing.
I felt that because almost every single shot of the movie was going to be a VFX shot - even if it was a simple set extension - that shooting on 35mm it seemed to me to make more sense. Especially shooting in a low-level light environment where the sensitivity of the digital camera was greater than the sensitivity of 35mm neg. It made more sense to shoot digitally and then we could add grain and film weave to the finished digital copy, which is what we did.
Who's been your biggest influence as an editor?
I have some people who really influenced me in the past. The first person who influenced me is an editor was Richard Marks who cut Apocalypse Now, and then after that I would say that it was the huge team that included people like Pietro who edited JFK. I remember watching JFK in the cinema and my brain really struggling to compute how they managed to cut that movie on film because there are such quick cuts. To even review that sort of stuff, and obviously they use the combination of things like film and other things at the time, they were using technology to some degree.
My big influence at the BBC was an editor called Jim Latham who edited a film called Life Story which was about Watson and Crick. Jim's editing was incredible, he would cut so fast, and this was in the days before Michael Bay, and I feel that now maybe Michael Bay takes it a bit too far. There is a time for really fast editing, but it's not all the time and Jim had it absolutely nailed to perfection, how fast you would cut but still maintain a sense of the drama, a sense of the performance and geography.
I love the way that Joss Whedon’s editor, Lisa Lassek cuts. I remember looking at episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and thinking how well edited they were and then checking out her credit, and she did Serenity which I think is a masterclass in pacing And of course she is now a huge editor and cut Avengers Assemble and all sorts of things. It was her TV work that first influenced me and I think it's really interesting that editors that I really like tended to have started off in the world of TV, and they tended to have done their apprenticeship. They didn't just work as assistants and kind of leapfrog up on huge big budget movies. They actually put their graft in and worked on telly smashing edits out and in certain (numbers of) days.
What’s your cinema going experience been like?
I think what's really interesting is the only cinema screening experience that I absolutely trust is going to is IMAX. I think the reason behind that is at the end of each IMAX film there's an email address that you can write to and complain, and I know that there is a guy at IMAX whose job it is to sit there and read every single email that comes in every day and rectify any faults. Their QC at IMAX is exemplary and with a single complaint they will get that thing fixed. Anywhere else I go, maybe 8 times out of 10, I get a relatively good cinematic experience. When I'm looking at cinema experience that is woefully lacking usually it's sound, but quite often the screens are too dark, especially 3D screening. I don't go to any 3D screening that's not an IMAX because they haven't improved the brightness of their projectors or their screens sufficiently, so the pictures are just too dark to see in a 3D environment, but even in a non 3D environment.
I went to screening in the other day and the screen had a really weird shimmering reflectivity. I went to another screening in the same multiplex and that screen was perfect. I say I'm sorry, but I just want to see this film and when I pay money but it's not as good as I can watch it at home that shouldn’t be the case. As an industry if we are trying to persuade people to leave their home, to leave behind their 65-inch TVs or their projectors, 4K streaming, HD or 4K discs, and get into a car or get on a tube and travel to the cinema, then sit through 30 minutes of adverts and a movie and travel home, then that experience better be superior to the one that people getting are getting at home. And if it's not as good then that is shocking, because people pretty soon going to stop bothering going to the cinema. That’s a shame because the best thing to do is to go and see a movie on a huge screen with brilliant production and brilliant sound and a bunch of other people who are experiencing that movie and screaming and laughing in all the right places with you.