Film in Motion | 4 – Editor Simon McGuire Looks at the Role of Post-Production in Short Film Making

Film in Motion is a series of articles and interviews which look at the different roles needed to produce the visual medium of film. This week we talk to editor, Simon McGuire.

Simon McGuire is a Professional Senior Audio Video Engineer with extensive experience in Post-Production. Simon has worked as Assistant Editor on popular TV series ‘Killinaskully’ and ‘Mattie’ and has recently worked on a number of award winning short films including ‘Play It Again Son!’ Winner of the Best Acting award at Limerick Film Festival 2015 and ‘The Suffering Kind’ Winner of the Spirit of IndieCork Award at IndieCork Film Festival 2014.

Editor Simon McGuire -
Editor Simon McGuire – Image credit Tarmo Tulit

How would you define the role of editor and what they do?

From my point of view, I consider myself the director’s second pair of eyes before the audience sees it. The director has so much vested interest in a film, that when they are on set it is very hard to switch off from the set. An editor is not on set; the editor goes in with pure impartiality, and we try to see the different sides of the coin. We try our best to make sure that first of all the story is told. Regardless of the quality of footage, that the story is there. It’s all about storytelling and after that it’s about trying to tell the story in the best possible way we can both audio wise and visually.

What was it that drew you to editing?

I was fourteen years of age in CBS Sexton St and a teacher there, Mr. Matt Kelly, had received some little funding and convinced the principal to get a camera and a broadcast edit suite into the school. This had never been done in any other school in the country. We would go down to the hall where he had this set up every day after school and I would be there till 9pm. Learning the edit suite, how to rig it up, take it apart, edit, fix problems, I mean everything. I was hooked!

How did you get started in the industry?

When I finished secondary school I started working with independent guys around Limerick. There wasn’t many, but I did get some freelance work doing the odd bits, you know holding the boom pole on location. I think I did UTV News one time and we were out in Shannon for the start of the peace talks around ’94 or ’95. You’re talking pre-Good Friday Agreement, it was the initial talks and it happened in Limerick and I was there just holding the boom at these conferences. I think from there I realised that if I did a good job on these little jobs, and made an impression then hopefully they’d call me back. Sure enough they did and I moved very quickly into editing because obviously that was where I wanted to specialise. I was working with RLO TV in the late 90’s, when we were setting up a local TV channel, when TV3 caught me and pulled me up to Dublin. It all just expanded from there.

What training or experience did you find most helpful?

You can go through Third Level training but I think on the job training is worth its weight in gold. You can learn a lot from the web and a lot of people use the web as a big resource and I applaud them for that, because I didn’t have it back in the day. I think from my point of view you learn so much in the edit suite. Just from working on different projects, not just films but TV projects, adverts, corporate videos, right down to wedding videos. You learn the different dynamics of each one and you realise that you can’t edit the same way for each job. I think you don’t experience that in a classroom, or a textbook or even the web. You certainly need to get stuck in and I think the only way anybody can follow that advice is to practice.

What do you cut on and why?

I’ve gone through the evolution of editing, I was a linear editor so it was machine to machine. When computer editing came in it was always Avid – an avid machine because of Walter Merch winning the Oscar for The English Patient. It was the first motion picture to win an Oscar cut on the Avid system. It really did catch on, I mean the whole world just realised that nonlinear editing on a computer is now a realistic thing to use. This is where technology is going and that editors need to evolve as well. So Avid is my first choice for broadcast and film.

What approach do you take on an edit?

First word is organisation. There is no point in going in blind. You need to read the script backwards a 100 times, visualise all the scenes. You must sit down and set up your edit suite, have all your bins and your folders already named, from say Scene 1 to Scene 31 etc.  As soon as you get the footage automatically do a backup archive, just in case your machine explodes; it can happen. Go through every shot with fine detail and have a notebook beside you to jot down ideas or to take note of any problems, so you can come up solutions.

What is the best part of your job?

I’d love to say it’s a collaborative of every part. I mean I love when the footage first comes in because it’s like unwrapping a present. You don’t know what you’re going to get. You’ve read the script a 100 times and you have your own imagining of what it’s going to look like and the when you see it come in, it’s never what you imagined it would be. For me, I think it’s the moment you click with a director. It’s the realisation that the director gets you and you get the director. That you start to nearly read his or her thoughts, you know that they’re going to ask ‘Can you take 6 frames off the…’ and you’re already doing it before they even ask you. I think, any director will tell that when you build up such a great relationship that you’re nearly finishing each other’s sentences, nearly giving each other advice and the like, the atmosphere in the edit suite changes. Yeah, that’s definitely my favourite part.

What have been some of the greater challenges in your work?

There’s always challenges. You always have equipment failure and this and that and you have to deal with those on the spot. I tend not to stress too much about it because if it happens, it happens and you have to deal with it. I think the biggest challenge for me as an editor in the west of Ireland is trying to get work. I mean Dublin is the hub, it always has been and it probably always will be. The major problem is trying to get the work because the minute you take your foot off the gas or jump out of the industry for more than 6 months you feel rusty when you get behind the machine again.

One thing that I did to counteract that was to create my own edit suite in my house. It isn’t something that I took out a massive loan for and built straight away, it’s something I have been building up for many years. And I have an edit suite now that can edit film as well as TV. I do a lot of broadcast projects on it for TV3 and RTÉ. It’s a god send.  I kind of feel that because I’m in the west of Ireland you have to keep yourself busy until those great opportunities come along.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished the Film Limerick shorts. There are three short films from a concept created by Ronan Cassidy the project manager of Film Limerick. It was an unusual job, in that I was actually training three separate people in as assistant editors at the same time. There’s a feature length documentary that I’m looking at on rugby at the moment, coincidently with the world cup, I can’t go into details but I’m just looking at that. Also working with certain other directors about a possible feature film next year, which will be my first full feature film. I’m looking forward to that.

What advice do you have for someone looking to become an editor?

There’s three things. One I mentioned already which is practice. You must keep practicing. If you have access to an edit suite in college or in school you must try and look up the web and keep refreshing the skills. Get as many little gigs as you can, even if there unpaid gigs. Keep practicing. The second one is patience. This is not an overnight success game. Having patience and a bit of humility goes a long way. So the third one, and main one, is passion. I think if you don’t love it and find it daunting, and you’re frustrated the whole time and you just don’t like certain aspects of it, then I think you need to take a step back and re-evaluate.


Check out the rest of our Film In Motion Series below:

Part 1 – interview with director Peter McNamara

Part 2 – Interview with actress Maeve McGrath

Part 3 – Interview with producer Keith Bogue

Featured graphic credit: Phil Shanahan

Image credit: Tarmo Tulit