Editor Francis Glenday: How I Got Started in the Industry

My earliest, real childhood memory is being about 3 years old. I’m sitting in front of an electric heater, one of the old fireplace-mounted ones. It has two bright orange electric resistors. In my left hand, I have a toy; a silver metal cowboy gun with white plastic handgrips. And I can remember thinking very clearly “What if I put the barrel of my gun between those two glowing bars?” As I am thinking this I am slowly inching the end of the gun barrel forward, forward toward the point of contact….. 

When I was older my mother told me that the heater basically exploded and I was thrown back across the room. What the hell was I thinking? Well, maybe it wasn’t formulated this clearly, but it was something pivotal to my creative process: What happens if I put THIS between THOSE? And to me, that’s editing; creating a story by putting things together and watching sparks fly.

As a kid, I was forever making forays into the world of narrative. I spent weekends watching countless old movies with my grandmother, I’d while away endless hours drawing and was obsessed with making comic books. In the mid 80’s my father bought an old computer and taught himself how to program in machine code. He showed me how we could reprogram letters on the keyboard into custom art, and then write programs to animate them. I was making my comic book characters move. 

By the mid 90’s I was enrolled in a painting course and painfully coming to the realisation that I just wasn’t good enough to make it as an artist. But I did really enjoy the film elective I’d taken out of curiosity. The comic book stuff, the endless old movies, the knowledge of how to use a computer as a creative tool, and the sense of timing and rhythm I got from playing music in my teens all kind of clicked together in my head.

After swapping my major to film and graduating, I moved to Auckland. I knew that being able to cut student films on Avid wasn’t the same thing as knowing how to edit, so I was going to have to start at the bottom somewhere and grind my way up. At that time TVNZ seemed like a good place to start, so I pestered the head of operations and after a few weeks of almost daily phone calls they gave me a job as a tape opp. After a year though I was restless so I handed in my notice. One of the older hands told me that a small production company was looking for an editor for a new kid’s TV show and asked if I was interested.

I did that job for 4 years, first cutting Tumeke and then the follow-up show Pūkana. Every week I made hundreds of individual edits, and all those cuts added up to a tremendous bank of knowledge. And there was a huge amount of freedom too; we made music videos, comedy skits, I introduced claymation into the mix, and one torturous night with a show a minute short of duration, 2D animation.

From ‘Social Distancing,” an animated web series Francis made during lockdown from his perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic / Photo: supplied

By the time I’d left that job, I’d really learned what being an editor actually is. I was fortunate – I got to edit comedy, music videos, history and science documentaries. I set up my own suite in Auckland in 2004 and having that facility meant I also got to make things that might not happen because of budget, happen. I got to go to Singapore and cut a big documentary there. I learned a lot about editing when working with the director on that project, about how to put disparate shots together on the basis of a similar element. Like cutting a tracking shot through an ancient stone arch in rural China to a matching tracking shot in a tunnel in the science museum in Shanghai can be a perfect edit.

Through this period I also worked on my own projects and wrote and directed a short film in the mid-2000s that screened at festivals all over the world, including Clermont Ferrand.

All those thousands, probably tens of thousands, of individual cuts add up, but a push is what’s needed to take you to the next level. Tearepa Kahi, who I’d first met during my days on Pūkana asked me in 2015 to have a go at finishing off his doco Poi E. I remember after our first screening him looking at me and saying “It’s better, but it’s still not good enough.” Together we hammered at that work, and the film became something really great. Since then I’ve worked on a bunch of exciting movies; drama and documentary, including the HBOMAX original  No I in Threesome. It was just a small film when we started, but the director and I really gave it everything we had and when it went to market, it blew up. Seeing something you’ve edited reviewed in every major publication in North America is a hell of a thing, and I’m intensely proud of it.

From ‘There is No I in Threesome’ edited by Francis

The next big push for me was working on the America’s Cup, a completely different challenge to the doco or drama I’m used to. I suddenly find myself in Barcelona with a very fun mountain to climb. When racing starts and there are helicopters and chase boats with cineflexes tearing around gathering mind-blowing shots every day, it’s hard not to feel excited. And privileged. I’ve made a lot of edits throughout my career, but I still find the work exciting, visceral and fun. After 25 years of this stuff, I feel like I’m really getting the hang of it.

The biggest thing I can say about editing is this: trust your gut rather than your brain and don’t overthink it. If you find yourself in front of a metaphoric wall heater with a cap gun in your hand wondering what will happen if you put the barrel in between those two glowing bars. Go ahead and do it. Something really exciting might happen.

About Francis Glenday

Film Editor with 25 years of experience cutting feature films for theatrical release and streaming (including an HBOMAX original), premiere documentary for international TV & loads of New Zealand and Australian documentary & factual TV, as well as a bit of drama. On top of that, tons of TVCs for some of NZ’s biggest companies (LOTTO, Vodafone, KFC, Samsung etc etc). He was lead editor for the 36th America’s Cup and is back again in 2024 for the 37 iteration of the iconic event. Francis is also experienced in animation and VFX. He created the award-winning animated web series Social Distancing during the COVID lockdown and has created VFX, animation and motion GFX for most of the feature films and a lot of the TV he’s cut.

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

Last updated on 20 June 2024