EVENT REPORT: The art of cutting crime

DATELINE:  Wednesday 21st August 2013
THE MAIN EVENT: The Art of Cutting Crime
VENUE: Swinburne University of Technology, VIC

The Art of Cutting Crime event presented by the Victorian branch of the ASE brought together three editors with a wealth of experience working in the crime genre. Before an audience at Swinburne University of Technology Steve Evans, Nathan Wild and Wayne Hyett A.S.E. talked about their experiences working on a variety of Australian crime shows.

Steve Evans, whose credits include Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, The Dr Blake Murder Mysteries and the series Underbelly: Badness started proceedings talking about his current role as editor on the second series of Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. He talked about the formula for the show, which starts with a murder and then goes into the titles. Five or Six suspects are introduced, some look more obvious than others but you edit to point away from the eventual murderer early on.

Wayne Hyett talked about the similarities he faced working on The Dr Blake Murder Mysteries. Dr Blake is similar to Miss Fisher in that they are fictional period based series that also share a similar structure – start with a murder, cut to the opening credits, introduce your suspects and go on what Wayne described as “the clue trail”.

Nathan Wild has worked on Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries as well as Mr & Mrs Murder and Killing Time. He is currently working on the series Fat Tony set during Melbourne’s underworld war in the mid to late 1990’s and charts the rise and fall of Melbourne crime boss Tony Mokbel. He talked about the difference working with a real (non fiction) story and how with the outcome known to the audience more time could be afforded to story and character. A point Steve continued on when he showed the opening scene from Underbelly: Badness. The original idea was to have a flashy montage cut to music but they instead started with a one on one interview between the protagonists. This interview was slow paced and featured silences between the main characters. Steve talked about the pleasure in seeing the reactions (and the great performances by the leads). He talked about how for real stories it is not so much a case of whodunit but a case of the process of getting the bad guys.

Wayne spoke about the “clue trail” which a show like Dr Blake uses to take both the investigator and the audience through the plot. He talked about how Dr Blake’s formula revolved around a lot of internalising and that Dr Blake often accuses the wrong person before withdrawing inwards and heavily drinking. He showed us clips from the first season of Dr Blake to demonstrate this.

Nathan talked about tricks of the genre – like having one character report on proceeding to another to fill the audience in on what’s happening. Another trick for exposition is the use of a whiteboard in the detective’s office/police station showing the links between characters. He showed us a clip from Killing Time that used both these techniques.

The conversation then turned to process and doing the first assembly edits. Steve talked about how he liked to bring music and effects into the process early. Wayne mentioned that now due to the magic of effects they can use any shot in a period drama – even when modern objects and building accidentally come into shot they can now be easily painted out.

The question was asked as to what each of them edited on. AVID was the unanimous reply. As Nathan put it – it was more about the level of familiarity and for all of them using an AVID meant they didn’t have to think about mechanics of editing whereas using another application meant converting what they would do on an AVID to whatever they were using.

The three editors moved onto talking about how they deal with the daily rushes from a shoot. Nathan preferred to watch all the go takes while Steve liked to cut shorter scenes first. He also based his first cut on the best performance, which he put on video layer one. He then used subsequent vision layers for interesting shots and effects (like slow motion shots).

All three editors used a variety of paper work from the set to help them deal with rushes and make the first assembly. These included the marked up script, continuity scripts, camera logs and the DRR (daily rushes report).

Nathan was asked a question about editing the series Mr and Mrs Murder, which works over both the crime and comedy genres. He talked about the difficulty in cutting a scene for laughs while adhering to the formula of the crime genre.

The three editors were then asked about their influences in the genre. Wayne liked British crime dramas where there was a lot of internalisation and what’s not said is just as important as what is said. He likes shows that remove dialogue and exposition but thought unfortunately Australian networks didn’t operate that way. Both Wayne and Steve occasionally watched programs with the volume turned down to concentrate on the rhythm of the cutting. Steve talked about how he watched a lot of early Hitchcock before working on Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries and is also a fan of documentaries (making special mention of a new release called The Art Of Killing). Nathan was a fan of the British series Sherlock as well as enjoying American cable shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire (which was also a favourite of Wayne.)

Finally the editors were asked about their personal philosophies on editing. Steve spoke about trying to see the material from an audience perspective. He thinks about the audience who is going to see it and re-assesses the material and his edits accordingly. The question “why am I watching this?” always front and centre in his mind. For Nathan it all starts with the performance he sees on the screen. He deliberately doesn’t go to the set, doesn’t want to know the geography of the set and ignores what happens on the shoot. He does this to bring objective eyes to the material. Wayne talked about how he liked to be alone in the edit suite. For him the main thing is performance – he looks for the best performance. He tries to find the actors natural rhythm and honour their performance. He also talked about trusting your first response and instincts on viewing the material.

Overall it was an extremely informative and entertaining evening that provided a wealth of knowledge about cutting for the crime genre. From the steady stream of questions coming from the audience you could see that it engaged both young editors entering the profession as well as older editors who hadn’t worked in the genre before. The discussion was lively and the three editors engaged with each other as well as the audience. The event was organised and moderated by Belinda Fithie who, with her background as post-production supervisor on the Underbelly series, kept the discussion moving along with insightful questions to the panel. Finally the ASE would like to thank Jill Holt at Swinburne University for the use of the facilities there and her support on the night.

- Shan Jayaweera

 

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