Editing – Cutting a Path
I’ve been an editor for 17 years – and the majority of that is in the documentary space. For those that don’t know me, I am also a wheelchair user – the result of an accident 22 years ago. That hasn’t burdened my career at all. In fact, as a wheelchair user, you have to become a problem solver and think outside the box – a handy skill when you’re trying to connect a scene or thought in a timeline.
Tuning Your Skills
My career began after the 2004 Athens Paralympics. I competed in Wheelchair Rugby, and after returning home with the shiny medal, I received a letter that allowed me financial help to study anything I wanted. I opted to complete a post-grad in film and television. Upon completing my course, I was lucky enough to step into an edit assist role at Attitude Pictures. Initially, my role was ingesting analogue tapes and shot listing. After about 6 months, I had started rough cutting some of the short stories that used to make up the magazine style programming – each roughly 5-6 minutes. The short length meant you had to get creative in transitioning from scenes and joining movement. Here I got to start online editing too. This really fine tunes your eye to any irregularities in shot.
After 3-4 years of cutting presenter led storytelling – the progression to longer form editing began. Here is where you start to think about story flow and what I like to call ‘riding the waves’ – taking the audience on a ride of emotions. This skill set isn’t something easily developed, and it takes time to know your craft and how to get the best out of the audio and vision. When doing jobs like this, it’s important to talk to your director or producer early on that you need time to work through the scenes. It gets quicker over time, but you need time to try things initially. There’s nothing wrong with kicking people out of the booth to try things on your own.
I feel you really start to trust your instincts by year 10. Again this comes back to how much leeway you’ve been given to tune your skills. It’s equally important to have snowballed all the skills from edit-assist to onlining to editing, so you understand the process and how best to do your job – and not make others’ difficult. You’ll get more work if you’re not costing producers extra $$$ after you’re finished.
In terms of software – I use it all. There’s no point limiting your potential work by being solely Avid or Premiere. Heck, I even edit in Davinci if I have to (great freeware, BTW).
My best advice is to be open to change and challenge yourself to do it differently.
About Jai Waite
Jai is an award-winning editor with an extensive background in documentary and factual projects, with a particular strength in storytelling. His accolades include two Apollo Awards for Best Editing in a Documentary/Factual film (2014 and 2016) and two Asian Academy Creative Awards for Best Editing (Australia/New Zealand 2018 and 2019). He currently works as a freelance editor and has a production company, Sweet Productions, with fellow member and long-term collaborator, Robyn Paterson.
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 email@example.com if you’re a member and would like to share your story.
Last updated on 16 February 2023