ART OF THE CUT with editor Nick Emerson, of “Emma”

Nick Emerson has edited TV, like The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby, and feature films, including Starred Up, The Hallow, Lady Macbeth, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Greta.

He has also edited documentaries, including Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang.

In this interview, we discuss his editing of the film Emma.

This interview is available as a podcast.

(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about the “With Whom Will You Dance” scene. I thought that had some interesting coverage and I wanted to talk about why you chose to go to your close-ups at certain times. Why you chose to be on certain people at certain times — some of those decisions.

EMERSON: It’s a scene that we had actually tried a number of different ways. One way was actually to start the scene in those tighter shots because Autumn is a director who does not like to shoot huge amounts of coverage; though certain scenes we did. But that scene, we had a two-shot from behind that sort of pushed into the actors, and then we had those very, very big close-ups.

At one point we had decided to start on the closeups and then go out, but it kind of blew this beautiful shot which we liked, which had this sort of tension pushing into the actors and we wanted to hold that as long as was possible.

At one point we had started it on the close up of Emma because we wanted to get a sense of being in her point of view from the get-go. But we decided that ultimately it was more useful to be in a more neutral point of view for that scene because it’s at a point where actually both of those characters are beginning to change. He is beginning to realize that he can’t just fly off the handle and be a very patronizing man towards her. He’s seen something in her and has realized that he can’t be that way all the time so he’s growing at the same time that she has realized that she has made yet another mistake.

We wanted to be inside both of their heads because it’s kind of a turning point of sorts in the film.

HULLFISH: That makes me think that the decision to start in the closeups happened when you were cutting the scenes by themselves, but then when you learned the context of the whole story and saw the arc of the story play out, then you switched it to the neutral representation.

EMERSON: I think it the assembly, I did start in the two-shot, but we did experiment with getting greater access to her at the beginning of the scene. There’s also a little bit of dialogue cut from that scene as well.

Emma director Autumn de Wilde
Director Autumn de Wilde from EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Dustin Stefansic

I think in the assembly I had started off that way because I was so impressed with that shot. It’s a scene that you’re not going to be able to make too many cuts in because we only had those two singles and as you can see, they’re very close. They’re quite aggressive when you do cut to them. We did have to sort of pick our moments for those. And also because there’s another character that enters.

It stayed like that for a while and then we decided, “Oh God! Are we missing a little bit of access to her at this moment?” So we decided let’s try with the close-ups and where we ended up, I think is good.

HULLFISH: The other thing I was thinking of with that shot — the way you used it — when you are looking through dailies it’s kind of a special shot that you say, “Oh, I gotta use this.” This is obviously the way that the director maybe wants me to get into the scene.

EMERSON: Yeah. Absolutely. Although I try — certainly during the assembly stage or during the production stages — I try not to second-guess.

I started off in documentary film and that has really informed how I approach scripted narrative. I very much watch everything and respond to the material as it comes in almost like a documentary.

I build little palettes of the most interesting parts of the scene and then I construct a scene around that. But that was definitely one that is an establishing shot. You can see that they’ve moved to a different location. But it’s also that thing of seeing their full bodies in those costumes and in the frame together was very exciting.

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) as “Emma Woodhouse” and Johnny Flynn (right) as “‘George Knightley” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

I don’t want to misquote Hitchcock but I think he had always said that if you’re making a love scene or a romantic scene you need to see the characters in the same frame at the same moment. There is definitely a sense in those single shots that they’re separate because they’re not in the frame together, so it’s always useful I think in those sorts of scenes to see them in the frame together.

HULLFISH: Seeing some of the geography of where people are in relationship to each other and the location around them?

EMERSON: Yeah. Also, just the tension between them and their physical relationship to one another, because especially in that time period that was so important in terms of what they were allowed and what they were not allowed to do.

Not often would young men and women be allowed to stand alone like that. So it does have that sort of sense of high school kids having a private conversation.

HULLFISH: You needed to respect the sense of the era and the sense of the culture at that moment. How much was that a part of your conversation with the director? Talk to me a little bit about any kind of conversation you had with the director.

EMERSON: Certainly for an audience, you have to train your ear to hear that kind of speaking because it can be quite wordy. I am pleased with the way the script was written. It was quite faithful in terms of the dialogue to the Jane Austen text.

Bill Nighy stars as “Mr. Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

There’s always a temptation to simplify that dialogue and pull a lot of dialogue out and to make it cleaner and more understandable. But what you soon begin to realize is that for the audience, so much is being told through the visuals and is contained within the actors’ performances that if somebody doesn’t pick up on every single nuance of the language — whilst many people are familiar with the text will do — they’re going to understand the scene from a dramatic point of view and what is going on.

That was one thing we definitely discussed: not trying to oversimplify that language and try to water that down. There were times when we had to do that, but we tried to maintain that complexity.

In terms of the visuals there were definitely lots of things that Autumn, the director, and the cinematographer did in terms of the framing and in terms of how people existed together in those places and the etiquette and how they moved.

The actors were very much skilled in terms of how they moved. One thing that you might be interested in is in terms of the sound design: none of the shoes that the women were wearing would have made any noise. The temptation is — as I’m sure you know — is for sound to add a lot of Foley, and they did add some things but it was just very soft fabric because the women glided everywhere and they were in this soft fabric so there weren’t that many footsteps that were added to those moments, apart from the men.

The man, at times, did wear almost slippers inside as well, so all that stuff was kind of muted down. There were definitely conversations about that.

Johnny Flynn (left) as “‘George Knightley” and Amber Anderson (right) as “Jane Fairfax” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

The other aspect was how much of the world do you want to explain in terms of the etiquette for an audience and what they need to understand. We kind of took the view that people will come to the film with a certain degree of knowledge about that system of class that existed in England at that time.

They understand that there were people who had wealth and they didn’t have much to do to get that wealth. It was just inherited and that was the way it was and if you were fortunate enough to be born into it like Emma is, you had very little to trouble you.

At the beginning of the film, there’s a quote from Austen that says, “She had lived twenty-one years with very little to distress or vex her.” And that’s the way she went about her life. She basically starts to meddle in things because she’s bored.

HULLFISH: Did you read the book before you either edited it or were hired?

EMERSON: No I didn’t. And I do that deliberately. I read it at school years ago but I didn’t reread it because I think that it’s very easy to get tied up in the novel — and at the end of the day you’re making a film.

I like to respond to things as they appear because if the scene is working and it’s telling the story then that’s a fresh reaction to that. Having the prejudice of the book sort of whispering in your ear or being afraid to cut a line of dialogue because it’s a famous line in the book…

You gotta focus on telling the story for the movie.

Johnny Flynn stars as “‘George Knightley” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

HULLFISH: That sounds like it goes along with your idea of coming from documentary and just saying, “Hey. I got the footage that I have to work with.”

EMERSON: Absolutely. You want to make sure that the fans of Jane Austen would not necessarily be disappointed, but you can’t be a slave to those things.

HULLFISH: I just interviewed the Call of the Wild editors last week. That’s another adaptation and they are similar to you. Call of the Wild in the United States is required reading in high school, so they read it in high school but not since then.

Is there any other way that you tried to steep yourself in the world? How did you deal with music? Were you listening to music of the era?

EMERSON: Yes. When I’m editing a film — at the assembly stage or during production — I try to leave music away from the film until as late as possible because I find that I can prejudice your cutting — as I’m sure you know — it can be used as a crutch to support something that isn’t quite working.

But in this instance — because the way the film was was photographed — and Autumn was very keen for this sort of clockwork choreography to take place in the film — so it lent itself to this sort of musicality.

I was adding music earlier than I usually might. But we were definitely listening to a lot of music of the period ahead and a lot of music actually that Jane Austen herself would have listened to which was very inspiring as well.

Mia Goth (left) as “Harriet Smith” and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

We also spoke about wanting to do something original — but not to go down the route of using contemporary, modern-day music. We did a little bit of that in terms of using folk tunes, but our reason for using folk tunes was that they were actually English folk music. It’s genetics started off in that period when Jane Austen was living so there is a sort of a lineage that goes through to the storytelling and the kind of vibe of those folk songs, so that sort of gave us permission that we thought we could use them in the film even though they’re not necessarily period accurate.

I immerse myself in the rushes of the film as it’s presented because the way I always feel about these things is that during the production period you’re scrambling around trying to control the mass of material and try to you know basically assess and see what’s going on and make sure that everybody is happy with what’s coming through.

But then at a certain point — after the shoot — I think the film starts to basically control you and tells you what it needs to be and it soon starts to reject things that are not right and through that process — and again, that comes very much from a documentary background — is trying to control all this material but then you start to expose the film and expose the story by cutting all this mass of material.

HULLFISH: A lot of people say that the film starts telling you what it needs to be.

EMERSON: Yeah. Absolutely. Sometimes I think that’s not necessarily in a very overt way. Sometimes it’s just a subconscious thing. It’s getting under your skin and follow your nose.

HULLFISH: You mentioned the clockwork choreography of the blocking. How did that affect the editing? Make it harder? Easier?

EMERSON: It makes it easier in some instances and then also it can box you into a corner. Maybe if you have to change the intention of a scene for whatever reason, sometimes that proves difficult. Other times it’s just this joy that you have these actors swimming through this scene in this wonderfully choreographed way. That old-school approach of designing a scene and designing the choreography and designing the blocking so that there aren’t a million different ways of cutting it.

HULLFISH: Were there some other scenes that you wanted to talk about?

EMERSON: We can talk about the carriage scene. That’s one of the first scenes that they actually shot on day one. And it’s a very key scene because Emma Taylor Joy’s character has realized that she has made a huge mistake. She has been trying to make this match between Mr. Elton and her friend but suddenly it has become apparent that he is interested in her. And so it’s this key moment where she realizes she’s made a huge mistake and her friend is going to be upset.

It’s a really good example of a very long dialogue scene where your choices about where you might decide to play something are key and we have this incredibly wonderful performance from Josh O’Connor who plays Mr. Elton, and he a lot of dialogue. He has more dialogue than her in that scene.

The temptation is just to look at him delivering this great performance but you have to ask: where does the drama lie in the scene? The drama lies within the scene and her realization that she has screwed up. I’m always asking myself where the drama lies and where does the story lie and that’s the story — her realization that she’s messed up.

You have to ultimately play a lot of it on her reactions and much of film editing is about watching characters receive information as opposed to seeing them speak. It’s always a fine balance because you want to see him speak as well but more often than not it’s more interesting to watch your protagonist absorb some key piece of information because it informs how the character is going to behave in the subsequent scenes.

It was actually shot on a sound stage. That scene was quite noisy with snow machines and things for the background. You have to put those things aside and not think there’s a problem just because you’re tired of listening to this background noise that has yet to be cleaned up properly. It takes a bit of practice to be able to put that away and not to think about those things.

HULLFISH: I’m sure the actors gave you great emotional moments and beats to play off of in your editing — like the example of the reaction shots you got in the carriage scene — but back in that period and culture it seems like they held their emotions closer. Did that make a difference in how you were trying to find performances?

EMERSON: There’s definitely a containment that was going on within the performances but at key moments they do have bigger bursts. The thing for me about actors is that so much of what’s going on is in the eyes. You know what I mean. That’s mainly what audiences are looking at. If the actor is just transmitting that thought and the camera is looking at them the audience will know — if they’re engaged in the story and everybody’s doing their jobs right. They will project onto that.

HULLFISH: Did you guys have discussions about tone and how to control it?

EMERSON: She wanted to almost have elements of screwball comedy in the film that harks back to the earlier films of the 50s and the 60s. With any film that you’re editing you just have to be careful the more humorous moments don’t overtake the story that you’re trying to tell and it’s very easy to be seduced by those things and think, “Oh this is a funny moment it must be in the film.” It’s about filtering out when it’s too much. Is the style or the tone of the film overtaking the drama of the moment? Is it trampling something key that we need to communicate?

I always follow the actors as well. I let them be my guide in terms of the tone. If they’re reading something into it that they think that it needs to be something, I’ll definitely explore that for the time being. It’s only when you look at the film as a whole and then you realize — those odd left turns or things that are tonally just not quite right — for me they always jump and I think, OK, we’re going to have to dial this down a little bit here or turn it up or it’s not funny enough.

You go with the rhythms of the film in that instance.

Josh O’Connor (left) as “Mr. Elton” and Tanya Reynolds (right) as “Mrs. Elton” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

HULLFISH: But those are things that you have to wait for, right? You can’t be making those determinations while you’re cutting dailies. You’ve got to be waiting to decide those things with the director when you’ve got an assembly at least.

EMERSON: Absolutely. You definitely have to keep your eyes open for everything when you’re just doing assembly. I tend to just do one version of it and see how that plays. Generally, they obviously do have too much to everything and you just can’t possibly tell at that moment whether it’s right or not. It’s only till you see that the whole film in context.

And there was a lot of that in this film of dialing things down and turning them up at certain points and just being aware of trying to get a tonal balance that is acceptable to the audience. But at the same time, you don’t want to iron those things out. There is that temptation to iron things out and make everything flat. That’s something you have to be very wary.

We wanted to make something light and fun as well. So don’t want to iron all those bits out in service of the drama or the story.

HULLFISH: Can you think of specifics that you and the director talked about when you were watching some early version of the film where you realized that the tone needed a lift or needed to be darkened?

(L to R) Bill Nighy as “Mr. Woodhouse”, Miranda Hart as “Miss Bates” and Myra McFadyen as “Mrs. Bates” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

EMERSON: There were some moments at the beginning of the film — there was a church scene. It’s this classic thing at the beginning of the film of trying to get everybody grounded and establish who everybody is and what their dynamics are. And that scene was one where we definitely had to tone down some of the humor because there was a conversation between Emma and her father establishing another character — Mr. Frank Churchill — and it was very important that this information came across and we realized that there was an awful lot of other humorous bits going on in the church between other characters and other interjections that we just had to slightly dial down because in the first 15 minutes of the film you’re being bombarded with so many names, characters, and introductions that we really had to focus

it. That was definitely a moment where we had to turn down some of the more screwball comedy elements and just keep the narrative going and the storytelling being told so that those other moments didn’t become distracting.

In the carriage scene, we had a choice to make in terms of how aggressively Mr. Elton would respond to this sort of humiliation of being rejected by Emma. We had an immense range from Josh O’Connor in terms of how big or angry he went. We pared back some of the angry moments and just let him build to being angry as opposed to making it all one emotional level. We could have turned it up even further. That’s with all scenes. You’ve got to find a balance of what’s right.

HULLFISH: How long was that first assembly?

Anya Taylor-Joy stars as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

EMERSON: I think it was just over three hours, believe it or not. We ended up taking maybe an hour of the film out, or something like that. There were a few scenes that we took out, but a lot of it was taking dialogue out and tightening within the scenes that existed.

The film tells you what scenes ultimately need to go. They just start to feel redundant or aren’t advancing the story. It’s gotta be a story that flows and engages people.

HULLFISH: Sometimes it’s the great scenes that have to go.

EMERSON: There’s a David Fincher quote that you’re not finished with your film until you’ve cut your favorite shot out of it.

HULLFISH: Exactly.

EMERSON: It is so true. I try not to fall in love with scenes. I do fall in love with moments. Sam O’Steen, the editor, has a book called “Cut to the Chase.” He spoke about a hierarchy — film first, scene second, moment third. You’ve got to sacrifice the moment to save the scene and then you have to sacrifice the scene to make the film work.

That really stuck with me as a really useful thing to go by. Ultimately you gotta cut stuff out. I’m quite ruthless and sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I enjoy that. At a certain point — and I wouldn’t recommend doing this at the start of the process — sometimes it’s good to take something out and see what it does. It’s the only way that you’ll know if it needs to go back in or if a moment needs to go back in because it will scream to be let back in if it needs to be there.

Anya Taylor-Joy stars as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

I don’t recommend doing that at the start of the process because you can damage a film quite quickly. My process is always — when you’re sitting there with that very long assembly — for the first couple of weeks anyway, is just to nibble at it. Try and uncover the film and expose it and see what’s there as opposed to going in very ruthlessly and taking things out.

I think there’s a time for that later on down the line, but certainly not in the beginning.

HULLFISH: Did you guys cut any scenes out that you put back in?

EMERSON; Yeah. There was definitely a scene that stayed out for quite a while. It was a scene between Mr. Knightley and Emma at Christmas. The reason why we decided to try taking it out — and it stayed out for a while — we just worried that it might have been a repetitive beat, but then we realized it sort of made the stuff around it feel a little bit frivolous or redundant.

There was a lot of great stuff in the sequence even without that scene, but we just realized that we needed to stay with those two characters. It was a scene where they have an argument across a dinner table. We’ve just seen them bicker. Do we need to see them bicker again so soon?

We slightly changed the scene in the cutting to make it feel less of a repeat.

HULLFISH; How did you make the leap from documentary to feature? And do you go back and forth?

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) as “Emma Woodhouse” and Johnny Flynn (right) as “‘George Knightley” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

EMERSON: I have gone back. I did a film with Kevin MacDonald, a great fiction and documentary filmmaker. I went back to do a film with him because I had this opportunity. He wanted to meet and I was such an admirer of his documentary work that I couldn’t NOT take the meeting. I went back and did this film about a Chinese artist called Sky Ladder with him.

Making the transition was difficult because I was in Belfast and there was not a huge amount of narrative fiction scripted work going on, so I was very lucky that I was given an opportunity to cut a short film.

I was always interested in doing narrative films whilst I was cutting documentaries and I was given the opportunity to cut this short film and subsequently became friends with the directors: a woman called Lisa Barros D’Sa and a guy called Glenn Leyburn. Their short film did well and then they got their first feature film and then I was lucky enough to be asked to go on to that feature film.

They managed to persuade the producers to let me onto it. So I had done my first one but had to continue to do a lot of documentary work and a lot of television factual entertainment and I did another feature film and then another and then another and I was still doing documentaries up until around I guess feature film number six or something like that.

After that, I made the transition. I made a film here in London that sort of allowed me just to stay here and to continue to do feature films. It was another period film called Lady Macbeth and it did reasonably well here in terms of people enjoying that film and certainly got my editing name noticed a bit further afield than at home in Belfast and that was a big jumping point that I was able to move on with work here and actually getting an agent.

Callum Turner stars as “Frank Churchill” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

I was able to do that after I did the film Starred Up — which I co-edited with Jake Roberts — who I’m sure you know. Jake cut Hell or High water. We did Starred Up together and that was a British film that enough people saw that it enabled me to get an agent and they were actually very helpful getting me further work.

HULLFISH: Can you think of any other advantages or ways that your documentary work helped your narrative work?

EMERSON: It definitely trains you in storytelling. Often what would happen in a documentary film — you would have all this material and there would be no narrative that would be there. There would be a sense of an idea of a story that you wanted to tell but you’re drawing the narrative out of the material that is there and you’re telling a story from that material.

Obviously there’s a script with narrative, but as you know, once the script has been shot, that’s set aside and you have this lump of material that you’ve got to draw a story out of.

But also what it does is it teaches you to be a little bit more ruthless and to really interrogate it. Is this material really doing its job? And because you’re so used to doing that in documentary — where you discard so much — it gives you that ability to make a judgment and say, “It’s absolutely not necessary. It’s not working. We need to take it out of the film.” So it teaches you to be less worried about those sorts of things.

In documentary it’s very much a distillation of all these things. It’s like a fine sauce that gets reduced and reduced and reduced. That’s the way I treat scripted material as well.

Anya Taylor-Joy stars as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

HULLFISH: What is your actual approach to starting to cut a narrative scene? You gave us some broad brush strokes earlier, but what are the details of the way you work?

EMERSON: I start with the first slate. Obviously the director has their selected takes but I only refer to that at a later date. I just open up the bin. I will see the different representative frames of each setup and I just start with the first setup of the first take and I watch it. I watch all the dailies. Sometimes that takes forever because I watch every frame.

Then I mark an in and an out if I find something that’s interesting or a line that is read a certain way and I just build this string-out of all these little bits. Then I just go into it.

For me, it’s almost like when you’re studying for an exam. You write things down and it helps you somehow remember them. From my work in documentary I’ve had this ability to be able to recall material, so if there’s a look that is interesting — because I’ve watched it and I’ve put it into this sequence of selects — it’ll come to the surface later on down the line. It’ll prod at me that there was something there.

So basically I build these selects — and sometimes they can be very long — and then from that, I’ll start to cut the scene. The two questions I will ask myself are: “What is the point of the scene?” and “Where does the drama lie?” I basically just start from that point and also point-of-view. Whose scene is it?

I’ll just start from there and then cut the scene. I’ll try not to revisit it too many times. The only time I revisit it is when I get a scene that’s maybe butting up against it. A scene that comes in and the join won’t quite work. I just build it scene by scene and sequence by sequence.

(L to R) Actor Amber Anderson, actor Tanya Reynolds, actor Josh O’Connor, director Autumn de Wilde, and actor Johnny Flynn on the set of EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Liam Daniel / Focus Features

HULLFISH: Are you cutting the scene from your selects reel directly?

EMERSON: Yeah pretty much. I generally find the key moment of the scene and sort of start around there and I will build it around that and work out from there. Then if there is something that I’m not sure about, I will dive into the continuity notes and look at the selects and see what the director thought of a given moment which can be exciting. It’s nice when the director’s surprised. Like, “This is not how I intended the scene to be cut at all.” Sometimes that can be quite shocking but sometimes they really love that because it means they can see the scene very fresh and different from how they imagined.

There are also times when you look at a scene or you look at a bin and you see an elaborate shot that was designed to set up the scene and more often than not, you go for that. You don’t go for an antagonistic approach of just throwing it all up in the air for the sake of it.

HULLFISH: You talked about how sometimes when you juxtapose the two scenes together they don’t quite work or you need to find a different transition shot. How soon do you put any scenes together? As soon as you can?

EMERSON: As soon as I can. Absolutely. Because I like to be able to see how the sequences are building in terms of those transitions and especially during the production period because if I feel that there’s not enough connective tissue being shot that can help join these sequences together, that’s a surefire way of uncovering a problem.

Actor Johnny Flynn (left) and director Autumn de Wilde (right) on the set of EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Liam Daniel / Focus Features

You start to put these scenes together and then you start to realize that there aren’t enough walking shots or “shoe leather” as they say in the business. More often than not, that gets cut out. But it’s important to realize when you might need some of this because it provides space for the rhythm of the storytelling.

So I put them together as quickly as I get two scenes together because during that production period you can feedback. Or there might be a strange continuity error or weather error or something that nobody has really been aware of it until you put the scenes together. Suddenly something doesn’t quite work or you have a thought like you notice that you need to see the exterior of a location and you notice that it’s not scripted to be shot. That’s when you pick up the phone and say, “I think it might be useful to get this character walking into this building.” It’s often stuff that gets cut out, but it can be vitally important to notice at that stage that it’s missing. You don’t want to have to get a pick-up shot later on down. It’s always better if you can have your actor in that space.

Putting those scenes together is useful to help with those joins, whether it’s a spatial awareness thing, but also emotionally as well. If something isn’t quite clicking and you can feel that there’s an emotional story beat that you can identify that’s not quite there, then that’s a conversation that you can have with the director and think well you know something’s a lot about this. Is this going to cause those issues later on when we’re trying to get the story to work?

HULLFISH: Thank you so much for sharing with everybody.

EMERSON: Thank you very much. I’ve been listening to your podcasts for some time so it’s great to be here.

Art of the Cut book cover
Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors

HULLFISH: Oh thank you very much. And now you’re part of the team.

To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish or on imdb.

The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.

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Covid-19 continues to impact our industry; the world.

According to Deadline, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have both tested positive for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Australia on production for Baz Luhrman’s Elvis Presley film.

Here is the statement directly from Tom Hanks himself:

“Hello, folks. Rita and I are down here in Australia. We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches. Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive.

Well, now. What to do next? The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?

We’ll keep the world posted and updated.

Take care of yourselves!”

We wish the Hanks’ the best and hope they both have a speedy recovery. We will continue to update as we learn more.

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COVID19 Prompts CPH:DOX To Move Its Upcoming 2020 Edition Online

CPH:DOX, the boundary-busting Copenhagen non-fiction film festival that takes place each March, announced today that its upcoming 2020 edition will be a digital one. With indoor events of over 100 people banned by the Danish government, the festival is quickly scrambling to present a portion of its program online. Here’s the press release: In the light of the global crisis related to COVID19, and following the latest announcement from the Danish Government on March 11, 8.30PM further restricting public gatherings, CPH:DOX has decided to roll out its 2020 edition in a digital version. Sadly, this means that the planned +700 […]

Film Simulation vs Actual Film: Fuji ACROS Comparison

The recent release of the Fujifilm XPro3 camera coincided with me getting some recently re-released Fujifilm ACROS 100II film. Given my love of Fujifilm digital cameras, film photography, and ACROS film, I desperately wanted to shoot and compare the new XPro3 alongside a rangefinder film camera.

Fortunately, the good people at Fujifilm Australia were kind enough to send me a XPro3 to use for a couple of weeks to satiate my desire.

For the film setup, I dusted off a Yashica Electro 35 GSN with a 45mm f/1.7 lens, placed a red filter on the lens. and loaded in some Fujifilm ACROS 100II 35mm film. On the digital side, since the XPro3 is a crop-sensor camera, I attached a 27mm (41mm full-frame equivalent) f/2.8 lens and dialed in the ACROS-R film simulation.

The -R is the ACROS simulation with a simulated red filter, so in theory, I had two rangefinders with very similar specs.

I threw both cameras in my car and carried them around for the 2 weeks, pulling them out to take identical photos around my home on Phillip Island, Australia. Once 36 exposures were taken, I used a stand developing method with a 1:100 Rodinal solution to develop the film and scanned the images on an Epson V550 scanner.

Here’s the big reveal – image comparisons. The top or left image is the 35mm ACROS 100II image and the bottom or right image is the ACROS -R JPG digital image (click for higher resolution):

These shots look pretty similar to me. I think Fujfilm did a great job on the ACROS digital film simulation. I was surprised the shots were similar in look and feel; however, they do exemplify the differences between digital and film. From these images I have a much greater appreciation for the way film preserves and manages highlights. They look superb. Of course the digital sensor excels at shadow recovery, even in a jpg file.

As for the XPro3, I like the rangefinder feel especially when using the optical viewfinder. It does help to recreate a film shooting aesthetic. I probably would not use this camera out shooting landscapes or as a serious wildlife/sports camera, as I found the rear LCD cumbersome when flipped down as I changed camera orientation, and it did not have the same balance and feel as my X-T3 when I attached a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6.

However, it’s a super fun camera to shoot. I reckon it would excel as a street shooter and add a little interest and fun to the digital experience.

Which images do you prefer?

About the author: Dale Rogers is a Phillip Island, Australia-based photographer and co-founder of Photo Rangers. To see more of his work, visit their website or give Photo Rangers a follow on Instagram and Facebook. A longer version of this post was originally published here.

My Portrait Session with Fidel Castro

It was my younger years. I had just published work from the Sudanese Civil War, and the Editor-in-Chief of Germany’s GEO magazine, wrote that “Per-Andre risks life and limb for a good shot.” Basically, I presume he meant I was a young fool, who took on assignments very few in their clear mind would consider.

Then one day I found an airmail letter in my “snail”-mailbox: an official invitation by the Cuban government.

“What the hell,” I thought. Cuba? Really? The communist nemesis of the western world, a last bastion of Stalinist rule, and most certainly a nightmare for journalists and photographers. Naturally, I accepted the invitation.

Weeks later, I found myself inside the smoke filled cabin of a Soviet Iljushin, jetting to Havana. A cheerful delegation welcomed me with Cuban cocktails; a Salsa band played the National anthem of former Communist East Germany; Caribbean beauties waving the flag of, yes, East Germany. “Muchas gracias”, smiled Per-Andre, who was not from the communist East, but actually from the reunified capitalist West Germany.


In 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. The decade long ex-deal with communist Cuba was dissolved, and no longer could Cuba trade subsidized sugar for Soviet Oil. Cuba was in desperate need for hard currency to buy Oil on the international market. Opening communist Cuba to tourism from the Capitalist West was the hated but necessary solution.

Western Germany was the world’s most lucrative tourism market at the time (West German tourists traveled the most, stayed the longest, spent the most), and I happen to be the most widely published text and photo-author in Germany. Therefore, I was invited by the newly formed Cuban Tourism Ministry—which was controlled by the military—to promote the new Caribbean holiday destination.

Numerous articles appeared and I was invited again several times. At one point Fidel’s eldest brother Ramon and I became quite friendly and he hired me as a Media Consultant to the Government. That’s how I wound up, one day in March of 1997, conducting a photo session with his brother, the famous/infamous President Fidel Castro.

The Subject

President Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was the longest-serving, non-royal head of state of the 20th and 21st centuries, and an unquestionably polarizing figure.

From Wikipedia:

His supporters view him as a champion of socialism and anti-imperialism whose revolutionary regime advanced economic and social justice while securing Cuba’s independence from US hegemony. Critics view him as a dictator whose administration oversaw human-rights abuses, the exodus of a large number of Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country’s economy.

Whatever your opinion of Castro and his regime may be, he remains a towering historical figure. I have photographed several presidents, but this was definitely the most memorable opportunitiy of my career.

The Location

The photo session (I avoid saying “ shooting a president”) took place in the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. We photographed in a basement, near the atomic bunker, because I had requested a large area with no windows, no lights, and no wind in order to properly capture the smoke from President Castro’s cigar.

Preparation and Objective

Preparation for an effective portrait is vital. Not only do the technical aspects need to be planned to a T, but some in depth information on the person can foster a positive first impression and help create a personal connection. Given proper preparation, the situation can be left to unfold naturally—people of human calibre will usually put you at ease and make sure the flow is smooth.

But there is a risk in taking images of famous people, beautiful women, wonderful scenery, stunning sunsets, or any other fantastic motif. It’s the risk of shooting something extraordinary in an ordinary way, believing the mere awesome quality of the motif/model will automagically translate into an excellent photo.


The time has long past when viewers are thrilled by a picture of something that is merely spectacular or beautiful, unless it offers a new interpretation or viewing experience. I knew that just photographing this historic figure would not be good enough. My image had to somehow stand out from the many other excellent Fidel Castro portraits; it had to be unique or it would be nothing but merely a personal, but professionally useless, memory.

“Unique photography,” I believe, entails “seeing things differently.” Pursuing new messages, new aesthetics, elaborate techniques and exquisite lighting (must be eye catching, support the creative objective and enhance the message) and lastly, for the sake of image marketability, the awareness of the Zeitgeist—the visual language and aesthetics of your target audience. This is the cocktail I would like to consider my personal signature.

Copying other works makes no professional sense, be it on purpose or coincidentally. It pays to research existing work on a new project and subject matter. Fidel Castro’s photos were found in countless magazines and books worldwide. But I had envisioned my portrait to be different in aesthetics and message. I pursued a unique presidential portrait with all his stereotypical characteristics: distinctive profile and beard, intense stare, revolutionary cap, generals uniform, pistol and smoking cigar. It was to be, not just a moment in the life of this historic figure, but an image that could transcend time and combine the many facets of his personality into a single frame. And given the situation, it obviously had to be a portrait to the President’s liking.


In terms of gear, I used a Canon EOS-1N film SLR with a Canon FD 80-200mm f/4 lens—I was already a Canon Brand Ambassador at the time (though this term was officially introduced later). I shot the portraits at 200mm with a long cardboard lightshade (glare was a major concern), a cable release, Gitzo tripod, G2 filters, and a Leica ballhead.

How much easier would it have been, had I had my present equipment, the outstanding Canon EOS-R and its magnificent RF-lenses.


I chose to shoot Kodak Ektachrome 400 daylight film, which ended up causing some problems. You see, my positive slide films of Cuba’s President were to be developed in Havana, and at that time only the KGB-trained Intelligence Agency had the technical means to process E-6 film. Their emphasis on “customer satisfaction” was… questionable at best.

I shot five rolls, nearly 180 exposures, changing only settings as I went and capturing eight shots with every single setting. Why so many? So that I would hopefully have eight perfect original slides of each setting, repeating the perfect settings on various rolls and considering the variations in the smoke. My nightmare was that some rolls might vanish, be ruined in the KGB-style film development or (most likely) both.

I also took a series, adding one light per shot, then fading out the studio lights and using only the cigar’s red glow until that faded into the darkness (see GIF).


Numerous German Photography Magazines had nicknamed me the “Magician of Light” due to my elaborate lighting style (for some National Geographic images, I used up to twenty lights). Here I had six light sources: Four Broncolor Minipuls 80 studio lights, one reflective board and—not to be neglected—the dim, available light of the red glowing cigar.

Two rim lights were positioned behind the backlit President, outside of the frame, with honeycomb filters and barn doors to avoid glare in the lens. One Broncolor light was directed from the right, straight into the President’s face, carefully positioned so that the nose shadow and catch lights would come out perfectly. The main problem was the blue-white smoke: it was lit by three main lights and was destined to be hopelessly overexposed. Vertically positioned Gradual Gray filters (Cokin G2) reduced the exposures.

The aperture had to allow depth of field throughout the face, but be as big as possible to blur the background and the separation line of the G2 filters. (The EOS-1n had a wonderful Dep1 and Dep2 feature, which allowed exact placing of depth of field between two points). A big aperture also minimized the intensity of the studio flashes the President was subjected to; it also reduced the exposure time needed to bring out the cigar’s red glow.

A fourth light with cone filter pointed at the presidential collar and shoulder flap. Behind me I positioned a white board, which reflected a hint of light onto the President’s ear and unlit side. And lastly, a longer exposure served to bring out the cigar’s glow.

All six lights had to be perfectly balanced, not easy with analog equipment and no chance to monitor the light mix. I did not shoot with the pilot lights (and 80B blue filter for color correction) for fear of overheating my lamps and the honeycomb filters. By the way, these same Broncolor lights still work perfectly after almost thirty years of rugged professional use…

The Session

The Caribbean sun had set behind the vintage skyline of Havana when a jet black Soviet Zil limousine with dark windows brought me to the Palace of the Revolution.

Everywhere, American old-timers rolled over Havana’s cobblestone streets. The city had no neon lights, no commercial glitz, just vintage facades with flickering lamps and communist propaganda. With nothing to do at home, people flocked to the Malecon Promenade to socialize, talk and hug. At the Palace, I was welcomed by a friendly Military, Cuban sweets and drinks. My Broncolor suitcase and Canon equipment vanished into the basement and was discreetly checked by the Cuban Secret Service—not in my presence, but while I was invited to view a historical photo exhibition of the “Liberation of the Ukraine by the Soviets.”

Security was so much stricter than the friendly, casual atmosphere would indicate. After all, Fidel Castro survived over 600 assassination attempts, including an explosive cigar courtesy of the CIA.

President Castro awaited me in the Palace basement with officials in black and officers in white Paratrooper uniforms. I had prepared my entrée, but all that went overboard when the President greeted me with an iron handshake and a hearty clap on the shoulder, saying, “Welcome Per-Andre. Ramon’s friend is my friend.” Fidel Castro, friendly and humble, focusing on his counterparts and not himself. “Tonight young man,” he joked “you will be the commander of El Comandante.”

We had our first rum while my assistants were setting up.

Fidel Castro was one of the most outstanding persons of the 20th century, and was well aware of it. He knew he was larger than life. But though he enjoyed having his photos taken, he hated posing: “I am the First Secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party, not the First Photo Model of Capitalist Media,” he asserted. Indeed, countless international photographers had been denied photo sessions with him. It was obvious how very privileged I was to be in this situation.

Fidel Castro loved speaking. He was interested in everything and everyone. I was focusing on my settings, listening and discussing. Castro mentioned his son Alex – a photographer, and Che Guevara (“he was also a photographer, always shooting beautiful woman”); he asked me about Western Capitalist Media, North Korea, why I used Canon and not Leica, why I loved the Philippines, and countless other topics. It was a constant dialogue, halted only for brief moments when I requested that he stop twirling his cigar, please blow smoke and remain still when I exposed.

He obliged, though he emphasized that he had in fact introduced a non-smoking-campaign and officially stopped smoking—still, he seemed to enjoy smoking two Trinidad cigars during our session.

I could not include his gun in my photo and wondered aloud why he chose not to wear it. “I am with a friend,” he replied, “and it seems my enemies have given up trying to kill me.” Occasionally, we would pause for another glass of Cuban Matusalem Rum.

One could not meet Fidel Castro (or Ramon) without being somehow mesmerized. Both exuded a preternatural, very cordial presence. Yes, the dictator had a dark side, but it was hard to resist his charisma and magical aura when you were in his presence; so easy to fall under the spell of his revolutionary ideals of freedom from oppression, social justice and the promise of a humane society in Latin America. Had it been decades earlier, I may have shut down my Broncolor lights, packed up my Canon gear, shouldered a rifle, lit up a cigar and marched with “El Jefe” into the Sierra Madre Mountains to join the Revolution.

But the revolutionary call to arms had long faded away. These were the days of the US embargo and economic deprivation, the grim reality of political oppression and the peoples daily struggles. When meeting Castro, it was obvious that his charisma was the quintessential magic that had ignited the Cuban revolution of the fifties, fueled by the sad reality that no society in Latin America could or can serve as a role model for the Cubans (unlike the East Germans, who pursued a West German style democracy).

Three hours, many glasses, conversations and photos later, our time was over. The President bid me farewell with cordial words, a hearty embrace, and another clap on the shoulder. All had gone perfectly, but then, not without serious concerns—I watched my precious Ektachromes disappear into the black jumpsuit of a Cuban Hercules who looked like he could squash each film roll with just two fingers.

Two Weeks Later

It was as I feared. The developed slides were over exposed by about 2 stops, and while the film strips were uncut as I had requested, they all had numerous scratches. Only very few slides were nearly perfect… good thing I had taken so many shots with various exposures.

One slide was duplicated on Negative Film and printed in Havana. President Castro was obviously delighted and signed a few prints by scratching his signature into the black corner with a Swiss army knife.

Looking back almost twenty five years later, the portrait evokes mixed emotions. Positive memories of the experience, the discussions, the professional execution and challenges; but ever more brokenhearted sentiments for the people of Cuba; a deep resentment for the failure to finally give these wonderful people the opportunities and life they deserve.

About the author: Per-Andre Hoffmann is a photographer of German and Norwegian descent. He grew up in Brazil, Germany, Norway, was schooled six years in the USA, three years in London (Bearwood College/ Royal Navy School) and graduated in Visual Communications and Media-Design with a German Master Degree.

In over 25 years, he has had numerous assignments and publications in some of the world’s most renowned publications – including National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Stern, GEO, Forbes, USA-Today, Paris Match, LeFigaro, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Annabelle, Vanity Fair, UsNews, Wall Street Journal, LIFE-Specials and many more. His image can also be found on an official US postage stamp.

He is the winner of international awards including two First Prizes (2018/2019) in Europe’s prestigious PR-Photo-Award, CANON Brand Ambassador and Consultant for Universities and Colleges (creating photography courses, seminars and short courses).

Hand signed and numbered Fine Art Prints by Per-Andre are available on his website or through email.

Per-Andre Hoffmann lives in Makati City, Philippines. For talks, workshops and master classes, please contact

You can follow Per-Andre on Facebook and Instagram.

The ‘One Page = One Minute’ Screenwriting Rule is Wrong (and Here’s the Data)

You’ve been told that one minute on the page equals one minute on the screen. But how accurate is that assumption?

I’m not sure where the idea that “one page equals one minute of screen time” got started, but it’s a maxim I heard all throughout film school and my professional life. I’ve even written about it for this site.

I’ve always seen it as a flexible rule. You might hear something different from producers, who generally want to keep the page count down, or from streamers like Quibi who want to keep their shows under 10 minutes, and thus scripts under 10 pages, but that’s the way it goes.

Some contracts even limit the number of pages you can deliver.

Still, I’ve never seen research to back it up.

Enter screenwriting godfather John August. He teamed up with Stephen Follows, an esteemed film educator, to do a little research.

Let’s see what they discovered.

The ‘1 Page = 1 Minute’ Screenwriting Rule is Wrong

If you want the TL;DR version, the rule is wrong. If you want to go over the data, keep scrolling.

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Creative Portraits of Humans Literally Blended Into the Surrounding Landscape

For their surreal series Eyes as Big as Plates, Finnish-Norwegian artistic duo Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen have created a thought-provoking set of portraits that literally blend humans back into the landscapes that surround them via “wearable sculptures.”

The ongoing series began in 2011 as a play on characters from Nordic folklore, but the project has since expanded into a more fundamental exploration of humans’ place as a part of nature.

“Each image in the series presents a solitary figure in a landscape, dressed in elements from surroundings that indicate neither time nor place,” explains the duo. “Nature acts as both content and context and the characters literally inhabit the landscape wearing sculptures made in collaboration with the two of us.”

In 2017, Hjorth and Ikonen crowdfunded and published their first photo book born out of this series, but that was only the beginning. Over the past four years they’ve continued to capture portraits of seniors from around the world—in South Korea, Tasmania, Outer Hebrides, Senegal, Iceland, Greenland and Norway, among others—as they prepared to create and release a Volume 2 on the project’s 10th anniversary in 2021.

Eyes as Big as Plates, Vol 2—currently being funded through Kickstarter—is a 200-page hardcover photo book that will include 60 brand new portraits, field notes, behind the scenes photos, and descriptions of their incredible decade-long photo journey. Like the original project, the new book is meant to be “a continual search for modern human’s belonging to nature.”

Scroll down to see a sample of images from this creative portrait project:

To learn more about Eyes as Big as Plates, head over to the project’s website. And if you want to pick up your own copy of the new photo book, you can do so over on Kickstarter. A first edition of Volume 2 will cost you $70, a signed first edition is just $80, or you can pick up an 8×10 print of your choice for $100.

The campaign is only running for four more days, and shipping to backers is expected to start in May 2021.

(via Colossal)

Image credits: All photos by Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen, and used with permission.

NAB 2020 in Las Vegas this April has been cancelled

From NAB: As you know, we have been carefully monitoring coronavirus developments both domestically and globally over the past few weeks. In the interest of Read more…