Editor Cheryl Potter in conversation with Adrian Pennington.
A lot has changed, or jumped forward, in the last few years, including the physical location of the core craft of editing. If nothing else, the enforced arms-length workflows during the pandemic proved the viability of the technology for remote editorial. Although no longer a necessity – but with increasing pressures on budgets for travel productions seem open to adopting a remote-from-home workflow where it makes sense.
Cheryl Potter (Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Hanna, Snow-piercer) notes the question comes up regularly now when she interviews for a show.
“Where do you like to work? We don’t have a preference, but we want to know where you stand.”
“It’s part of the conversation. The question would be framed as, ‘Where do you like to work? We don’t have a preference, but we want to know where you stand.”
This question could be tricky for some editors to answer. Most times the producer will be genuinely keen to offer choice and ensure the best possible solution is found for their team. But editors can be forgiven for being sensitive to responding in any way that might impact their chances of landing the job.
“Honestly, how it works will depend on the show and those working with you on it,” says Potter. “If the showrunner communicates best in person, then their preference is going to be for the editor to be in the room so for the editor it’s going to be very important to make sure that that is at least part of how you’re going to work.
“Some creatives don’t come into the cutting room that much anyway. They might prefer to watch dailies on their own or they want you to send them cuts to watch and send feedback.
“Some creatives don’t come into the cutting room that much anyway. They might prefer to watch dailies on their own or they want you to send them cuts to watch and send feedback. Perhaps they are travelling or busy prepping another show and they’ll insist on remote reviews and feedback sessions. I worked on shows that way long before the pandemic.”
Potter was in an editorial on the first season of HBO science-fiction drama The Nevers in 2020 in London when Covid brought production to a halt. Her experience will chime with many who were working in this period.
“We were cutting out of the studios where they were shooting when the first wave of Covid hit,” she recalls. “They tried to reschedule certain scenes with fewer people but eventually we were forced to lockdown. Fortunately, all my episodes were in the can, and I could continue for several months in my spare room, with my Avid and ClearView Flex.
With her episodes finished, Potter – a native Australian – was on a plane to New Zealand to join the team making The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. When she arrived, she spent two weeks in quarantine, but since New Zealand had managed to lockdown fast enough to contain any outbreaks early on, she found the production itself to be pretty normal. Later, that changed as outbreaks required weeks of remote working once again.
“post-Covid, it really does feel like a lot of productions are happy for you to work remote during the shoot.”
“Pre-Covid, my experience was that creatives usually wanted editorial close so that your showrunner or director can easily pop in just to check or discuss. You’re going to have to spin up a cutting room somewhere so why not spin it up next to set? That was the norm. But now, post-Covid, it really does feel like a lot of productions are happy for you to work remote during the shoot.”
In fact, Potter has worked on entire shows where her output has been sent out, notes received back, then notes acted on and resent; all accomplished without the lead creative ever having been in the cutting room.
And even though some editors like to be close to set and directors may want their editor close, there are times a production may look to save cost by not flying editorial out to location by setting up a central facility for cutting, in London Soho, for example. It’s in those cases, Potter notes, that it should be down to personal preference. “There will be some people who prefer the convenience of working from home. If you’re not going to be visited in person by producers, then there’s no benefit to going into town when you can just as easily do your job at home.”
It’s important to note, there’s a creative debit too from loss of interpersonal communication. Many editors and directors/show-runners feel inspiration can only be sparked in the same room together.
“Playing back a sequence to someone so you to get the mood of the room is not something you can do remotely,”
“Playing back a sequence to someone so you to get the mood of the room is not something you can do remotely,” says Potter. “You don’t get that gut feedback. Even if they’re not saying anything, you can feel if someone is enjoying it or if it’s dragging and needs to be paced faster. That is a very visceral feeling, something that you can’t quite put your finger on.”
She adds, “Being able to get anywhere close to that working remotely comes down to good communication. It requires someone who can watch sequences on their own and then communicate those things to you that you would have got by sitting next to them.”
“If a production deems it very important for me to work from home, I hope they’d support me with the right gear just the same way as if I were working in a cutting room. Solid communications technology is a minimum requirement of remote working,” she adds.
“Solid communications technology is a minimum requirement of remote working,”
If remote from home does becomes the rule rather than the exception the industry must surely be concerned with how this impacts the next generation of talent.
Potter is passionate about understanding and enabling how the next generation of editors will be brought into the craft. “You have to wonder how the up-and-coming assistant editors are going to learn to do their jobs if they are at home on a computer and not gaining that invaluable experience of being next to the editor in the cutting room,” says Potter. “The pathway to becoming an editor begins as an assistant first, where you watch the editor run the room and interact with the other creatives. Being present in the room, where the decisions are made and interpersonal relationships are built over eating lunch together and being around each other simply can’t be replicated remotely. This is something that won’t become apparent for a few years but it certainly should be addressed now.”
The need and desire for the editor’s physical presence on set, in a cutting room or remotely, will continue to evolve. Flexibility, knowledge of the production’s expectations, and accessible technology is needed to lock in the best possible experience. Properly nurturing and educating the next generation of editors is a critical part of how the future unfolds.