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The Accidental Editor

It was 2009 and I’m working at Unity Books in Auckland, my specialty – children’s picture books and classics of literature. It’s been 2 years since I quit my career as an art director in advertising with no intention to ever step back into that world. I loved selling books and I still work at Unity from time to time, but in 2009 I was hoping to find a new path.

A friend mentioned a job going at TVNZ. They were looking for creative producers with an advertising background. A ‘creative producer’ makes 30-60 second promo videos for movies and shows; you write a script, edit the footage, direct the voice over talent, select music, SFX etc.

My only film editing experience was that once, I made a joke video on iMovie to amuse a friend, but I brazenly applied all the same.

To this day I’m still not quite sure how I was hired, it was a total accident, didn’t ask for it, fell on my lap. Perhaps a mix of luck and fate. TVNZ sent me on a two-day crash course to learn Avid Media Composer. The next day I started working. It was incredibly hard, I felt like a senior citizen learning computer skills, and back then there were no YouTube tutorials. The first few months I’d work late nights, I’d work weekends and study other people’s work, frame by frame. Why does one cut on a particular frame? What makes an elegant edit?

One day, my Creative Director pulled me aside and told me that he thought I had the right sense of timing to be a good editor. This encouragement drove me to want to be the best at TVNZ and I continued working late nights and weekends. The work projects became more complex and I was trusted to cut important campaigns, brand montages. I won international awards. In 2015 I became a freelancer. I worked for Sky TV and edited commercials with the ultimate goal in mind – to edit movies!

Sometime in 2016, I bumped into an old friend – director Florian Habicht. He’d recently returned from living overseas and told me he’d noticed my work. “One day we’ll work together,” he said. That comment encouraged me enormously. I was determined to make that happen, I just didn’t know how to make the switch from TV to film.

Editor Anastasia Doniants photographed by director Lula Cucchiara / Photo: Supplied

A personal connection helped. A friend of mine, director Jessica Sanderson, asked me to edit her NZFC funded short film, Ways to See. Again, luck was on my side, Annie Collins – the greatest editor in New Zealand – agreed to mentor me through this project. My fate was set there and then. Annie taught me everything about long-form: the workflow, the protocols, how to log, the assembly process. Annie also suggested that I trust my instinct, and this is something that can’t be taught, it must be in you as a person. Ways to See and my second short film, Ani by Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, travelled the world with much success. This gave me confidence to continue to edit.

Educational institutes are not the only paths to knowledge, nowadays. I’m sure going to film school would have been of great help and, personally, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to follow my path. What helped me is that I was a movie mad kid. Movies and books took up most of my imagination growing up. My advice to young people – your hours of watching films are not wasted. Be curious. Be generous with your time as you’re investing in your future, if it means working for free – do it.

Most importantly, you have to love the magic and spectacle of film or else you’re in the wrong industry.

“Astonish me,” Sergei Diaghilev used to say to his dancers. “Astonish me,” I say to every person involved in the process of movie making.

 


About Anastasia Doniants

Anastasia is an award-winning editor based in Auckland. In the last few years, she has edited feature film documentary Fiona Clark: Unafraid, co-edited documentary James & Isey; as well as short films, documentaries and music videos.

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.

Factual content makes up a great deal of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Screen Industry — stories framed by real people, places, and events. What does it take for an editor to work on anything from a large scale factual series to a one off documentary?

Join us to hear from an experienced panel of factual editors. In this session, moderated by editor and composer Chris Anderton (NZ Wars, Georgie Girl, Salam Rugby), editors Huhana Ruri-Panapa, Phil Holt and Anthea Ede Smith will discuss their careers and the many aspects of their work.

It will be packed full of nuggets of wisdom,  sure to be useful for you, whether you’re an established editor or embarking on your own journey and looking to get a foot in the door.

WHEN: Wed 20 April, 7pm – 8:30pm. The panel will kick-off at 7:15pm
WHERE: Horse & Trap – Loft, 3 Enfield St, Mount Eden, Auckland

Cash bar

Face masks are required to be worn indoors by all attendees. We may shift the event to Zoom at the same date and time if COVID-19 cases are a concern and will notify all registrants.

Parking: Horse & Trap customer carpark and free on-street parking nearby.

DEGANZ members – Free
Non-members – $10
Please register below

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Panellists:

Huhana Ruri-Panapa has a long list of credits from feature documentary, television and short films, with short film Waiting screening at TIFF in 2017. Recently she has edited Waiata Anthems, The Walkers and Toa Hunter Gatherer.

Phil Holt has been editing for 20+ years and has edited a diverse range of shows from Motorway Patrol to MasterChef. Most recently, he has edited Moving Houses, hosted by Clarke Gayford, and the relaunch of Grand Designs with new host Tom Webster for TV1.

Anthea Ede Smith has worked in Television in various roles for over 20 years, primarily in post-production. She had the honour of working at Maori Television on staff for its first 6 years, before leaving to freelance as an editor. Recently she has edited First Responders and Lap of Luxury, which she worked on, in part or entirely, from home.

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DEGNZ

Brendon Chan has been selected as the attachment to editor Peter Roberts on feature film Juniper as part of the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ’s ongoing Drama Editor Attachment Scheme.

Brendon ChanBrendon entered post production in 2010 as an assistant editor, where he worked on feature films, such as Born to Dance, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Black Christmas.

He made the leap to editing full time in 2017, working across a broad range of television, web and film content. His work includes Associate Editor on Turbo Kid, Additional Editor on 6 Days and Assembly Editor on Do No Harm.

I’m really stoked about being selected for the drama attachment. I’m looking forward to closely examining the feature film editing process from assembly to locked cut, particularly the creative collaborations that take place between Editors, Directors and Producers,” said Brendon. “I’m also excited to observe Peter’s very genuine approach to storytelling and collaboration up close.”

Brendon begins his attachment in February.

The DEGNZ Drama Editor Attachment Scheme was initiated to give emerging drama editors the opportunity to advance their craft through shadowing and mentoring from an experienced drama editor. Recipients learn through attendance during editing and later, at director, producer and/or funding body screenings, about the critique and response process so vital to the successful creative collaboration required of the feature film editor. The scheme is made possible thanks to funding from the New Zealand Film Commission.

Juniper is directed by Matthew Saville, produced by Desray Armstrong and Angela Littlejohn and edited by Peter Roberts. On returning home from boarding school, a self-destructive teenager discovers his gin-soaked grandmother has moved in. A battle of wills ensues which enables him to embrace life again, and her to face her own mortality.

DEGNZ is excited to be able to offer a third member of the Guild a Drama Editor Attachment on a New Zealand feature-length film. Previous attachment recipients are Rotorua-based editor Lea McLean who is currently completing her attachment to Annie Collins on Coming Home in the Dark, and Anastasia Doniants to editor Paul Sutorius on telefeature A War Story.

Young Creators: Get Your Foot In the Door

With a million paths to choose, it’s easy to feel lost when you’re starting out in the screen industry. 
How do you get your foot in the door? What does that even mean?

At this Q&A, four emerging directors and editors will discuss breaking into the industry and the different ways they did it. We’re pumped to announce our panelists are directors Hanelle Harris and James Solomon; and editors Brendon Chan and Dione Chard!

Thu 8 March  //  Talk kicks off 7 – 8:30pm
Join us for a drink before & after!

VENUE CHANGE: Horse and Trap, 3 Enfield Street, Mt Eden, Auckland

Door Entry: 
DEGNZ members – Free 
Non-members – $5 koha appreciated

DEGNZ Young Creators is a programme of events with a mission to inform and inspire younger or emerging directors and editors to build successful, sustainable careers in the screen industry.

Join the Event