I have been editing a wide range of film and video projects, both documentary and drama, for two-and-a-half decades. I started at the Winnipeg Film Group, cutting on Steenbeck 16mm flatbeds, adopted Avid in 1995, and have used FinalCut Pro quite extensively over the past ten years. Projects I have worked on have screened – and won awards – at festivals around the world.
I continue to edit documentaries (most recently one about the early punk scene in Winnipeg in the late 1970s and early ’80s), and directed my own first documentary in 2012 about the history of Winnipeg movie theatres. I’ll be working on my second documentary as director early in 2014.
Although born in England, I have lived in Canada since 1966, and my love of film began at a very early age. Since my earliest memories of movies – watching Stanley Baker in Zulu or Dana Andrews in Crack In the World, seeing Omar Sharif as Ghengis Khan and Ursula Andress as She in the early ’60s at the Odeon or Regent Cinema in Chelmsford, Essex, or catching King Kong and Quatermass 2 on a small black and white television in our living room in White Roding – what has engaged me, and still engages me, is story and the techniques of storytelling. Even in my documentary work, the concern is always with how to shape the material into a compelling narrative.
My first experience in the business was a five month job at age 18 with a small company in Winnipeg which made industrial films for the likes of Manitoba Hydro and TV commercials for K-Tel. Although I was taken on as a trainee assistant editor, it turned out that I was really there to haul equipment and keep the rooms tidy. After the training grant I was hired under ran out, I moved on to other things – odd jobs like unloading freight trucks and working on highway maintenance crews – while pursuing an interest in writing, eventually accumulating the proverbial drawerful of unpublished stories and novels and unproduced film scripts.
When I went back to school at the University of Winnipeg in 1977, I started hanging out at the student newspaper office, becoming the weekly film reviewer in my second year – an excellent gig because it meant I got to see a lot of movies for free. No doubt that experience helped when I fortuitously got an opportunity to go to Los Angeles and interview David Lynch and many of his collaborators about the production of Eraserhead for an article for the magazine Cinefantastique. That article in turn landed me a job on the production of Lynch’s Dune, a remarkable six months in Mexico helping to document on video the day-to-day details of production on what at that time was one of the most expensive movies ever made.
Eventually returning to Winnipeg, I wrote fairly regularly about film and other matters for Border Crossings, an arts quarterly. Then, in 1989, I joined the Winnipeg Film Group and set about making my own first film, a 9-minute comedy in the form of a dubious documentary called Incident at Pickerel Fillet. I chose the form because it would accommodate all manner of technical errors without necessarily ending up an embarrassment – and, in fact, it was quite successful, with a number of festival screenings and sales to television in Canada and Australia. This was followed by a short piece in a collaborative project called The Exquisite Corpse, and then a more ambitious comedy parodying old-style sci-fi movie serials, called The Adventures of Stella Starr of the Galaxy Rangers in the 23rd Century. By that point, I had begun to get requests to edit other people’s short films at the WFG, opportunities which I almost always took because editing was the part of the entire process which I most enjoyed.
While in England over the Winter of 1994-5, I took an excellent workshop at Pinewood Studios on the use of Avid. This wasn’t because I was particularly attracted to digital editing – at that time, I loved the tactile process of cutting actual film – but it was obvious by then that the new technology was going to be very important for the industry. As it turned out, that workshop was the best investment I’ve ever made. Back in Winnipeg in the Summer of 1995, I was asked by the producer of a half-hour television drama being directed-for-hire by Guy Maddin if I would be willing to cut it for a nominal fee – they wanted to use Avid but had a very limited budget. I jumped at the chance and gained confidence in my abilities with the computer.
Around that time, the Winnipeg office of the National Film Board had recently acquired their own Avid system and I visited them to check it out. By coincidence, they were just embarking on the first production which would use this technology and they needed an assistant to digitize the material which had started to come in. I was hired. Two weeks later, the editor on the project got an offer to cut a movie-of-the-week and left. The director pitched himself as editor – he just needed someone to “push the buttons”. And so suddenly (shades of my Dune adventure), I found myself editing a one-hour NFB documentary with very little experience behind me. I quickly discovered that I loved working with the Avid (though I would still cut an occasional short film on a Steenbeck) and managed to gain a firm foothold at the NFB. Immediately on completion of that first project, I was introduced by the producer to filmmaker John Paskievich who was just starting his latest documentary, and whose usual editor was making the move to directing. We hit it off and I was hired to edit The Gypsies of Svinia in collaboration with John (a very necessary collaboration because much of the film was in Slovak, a language of which I had absolutely no knowledge).
Immediately after completing Gypsies, I was accepted into the Canadian Film Centre’s editing program. Although the Centre had been around for a while, this was only the second year they had taken editors to go along with the writer, producer and director residents and, unfortunately from the editors’ point of view, the Centre had not yet actually developed a program for us. For the most part, we were there to provide in-house editing for the directors. Luckily, I met many talented people in the other programs and enjoyed working with them.
On my return to Winnipeg after a year in Toronto (which included cutting a half-hour TV documentary for White Pine Pictures), I worked again with John Paskievich on what I consider to be his best film, My Mother’s Village, an examination of the personal impact of displacement on the children of post-WW2 refugees from Ukraine. This was followed immediately by another NFB project, The Pacifist Who Went to War, about two Mennonite brothers from Southern Manitoba, one of whom had spent the Second World War as a conscientious objector while the other flew as a navigator for Bomber Command. While I had been an active collaborator on the writing of the narration for John’s films, this was the first time I actually wrote the narration myself as I edited. It was while completing that project that I began work on Jeff Erbach’s debut feature, The Nature of Nicholas, working on Pacifist during the day, then spending evenings assembling Jeff’s film as shooting progressed.
There followed two years editing The Sharing Circle, a documentary TV series dealing with Aboriginal issues, and a number of dramatic and documentary shorts, followed by my most difficult editing task yet – John Paskievich’s Unspeakable, an examination of his own history as a stutterer and the nature of stuttering itself. Of all the work I’ve done, this film is the one in which I’m most acutely aware of what had to be left out: the material was incredibly rich in its detailing of the amount of pain and courage experienced in the lives of John’s interview subjects, in a way giving me a crash PhD course in the nature of stuttering, much of which could only be hinted at in 90 minutes.
This was followed by a project in which I was involved from the very start, A Place Between, the personal story of Aboriginal director Curtis Kaltenbaugh’s adoption by a middle class Lutheran couple from Pennsylvania. I worked closely with Curtis on development and production, ultimately shooting extensive sections of the film myself.
The following year I cut a one-hour documentary about the proposed MacKenzie Valley gas pipeline for Rivard Productions and began work on what would be the last project programmed by the Winnipeg office of the National Film Board before it was shut down in the Spring of 2010, a project about the experiences of a young Aboriginal man from the Reserve trying to find an identity for himself in the city, which as yet remains unfinished and in limbo. (Update)
In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to be hired as assistant editor for the initial stages of post-production on the international co-production Faces In the Crowd, being shot in Winnipeg and edited in France – although I had never actually worked as an assistant before. This was my first experience on a big commercial feature and I spent six amazing weeks in Paris, managing the rushes as they came in, and getting to closely observe a skillful feature editor at work.
Over the years, I have also sporadically continued writing – several scripts, plus a brief history of the Winnipeg Film Group for Cinema Scope, and most recently a chapter on filmmaker John Kozak for Place, the WFG’s anthology about Winnipeg directors.