Focus On – Mark Atkin ASE on “Mrs Biggs”
Mrs Biggs was edited in the UK and Australia. How did you keep a cohesive style?
Ben Lester, the English editor, began the edit in the UK as the shoot started there. When the crew relocated to Australia Ben sent to me the cut scenes to watch and they were tight and supported by extensive temp music tracks. That gave me a clear idea of the approach Ben and director, Paul Whittington, wanted to take. I met with Paul during pre-production in Melbourne and he explained that the plan was to use more hand-held camera and more urgent and jarring cutting. This shift in style was intended to reflect the changes in location and emotional state of the characters. Paul encouraged me to follow my instincts and he was keen for me to use temp tracks – both score and a selection of songs that Charmian Biggs had provided. When the shooting was finished, Ben and Paul finalised the edit in the UK.
What was the biggest challenge on this series?
It was probably the logistics of shooting and editing in two countries. For Ben and I it was an unusual situation so it was important that we communicated about the creative approaches and technical issues. For example, Ben didn’t want to have the two camera setups “linked – or grouped” in the rushes as he preferred to view each camera slate as a separate set up. So it was about making sure those details don’t fall through the cracks.
The story tension in Ep 3 focuses mainly on Charmain’s struggle. How did you balance the personal and the story beats that needed to be hit?
Episode three completes the UK story and moves to Australia. Jeff Pope’s script was very strong and beautifully structured so the balance of elements was clearly suggested. The edit was more about finding the right emphasis to support those elements. It’s a big sweeping story, while also an intimate one about a family trying to live an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. The centre of that is Charmian and how she struggles to keep it together. So she is key reference point emotionally and our job, as editors, was to keep that in focus. When you have brilliant actors like Sheridan Smith and Daniel Mays hitting the emotional beats while still doing the technical stuff (i.e. continuity) so well you have lots of workable options to play with.
Describe a day in the edit suite
Nothing out of the ordinary for a drama show. Assistant editor Ryan Howard, would usually be syncing the previous days rushes when I’d arrive in the morning. I’d edit any scenes remaining from the previous day then start on the new set of rushes that Ryan had completed. Sometimes there would queries from the producers about scene timings. I kept a log of timings to compare with the continuity timings so that we could monitor the overall length of the episodes. As the edit progressed and I had sets of scenes flowing one to the other, I would review and fine tune, add music and attend to Paul’s notes on the first scene assemblies.
What is your favourite experience?
I honestly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s my first job on an international production working with local and overseas producers. Director Paul Whittington was a pleasure to talk to – clear, confident and generous. He made me feel that my contribution was valued and appreciated. But if I have to give one experience that stands out it was talking to Sheridan Smith and Daniel Mays on set. They were keen to have some feedback on how it was coming together and I really enjoyed the chance to discuss it with them. Often, as an editor, you feel like a shag on a rock visiting set. But that was one occasion when I felt I’d been helpful. And I got a lovely hug from Sheridan!