With a CV that includes Spaced, The IT Crowd and Peep Show, Paul Machliss (above right) has carved out a serious reputation as a funny editor. Speaking at “Creating Compelling Stories”, part of Broadcast’s Production & Post Production Forum, at BAFTA in London on 6 November, Paul discussed the secret of his craft and reveals how technology has improved his ability as a storyteller.
“Editing is like telling a joke. It’s all about rhythm. Get the rhythm wrong and no one will laugh.” This is an opinion shared by many in professional editing. For Paul—the editor responsible for cutting the feature films Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End—it has become a universal truth. “The rhythm is almost everything,” says Machliss. “And the rhythm can be slow or it can be fast. When you are visually telling a joke, and you cut to the punch line, if you are two frames early or two frames late, it can make a difference.”
Born in Melbourne, Australia, but now based in London, Machliss was first inspired to become an editor by a visit to a post production facility at just five years of age. Taken there by his advertising agency producer father, he was awestruck by the huge videotape machines of the day. Bitten hard by the technology bug, he regularly found ways to dabble in filmmaking throughout his early life, often borrowing cameras at weekends, and eventually persuading his school art teacher to let him cut video rather than sculpt clay for the Antipodean equivalent of British A-Levels. Work experience at Melbourne’s Channel 7 led him to defer a place at University – “I’m still deferring,” he jokes – and following a stint as a production runner on a sketch show, he discovered a love of comedy that would eventually lead him to London.
“The biggest thing is getting on well with people.”
But while the craft and the technology are crucial, and timing is everything, Machliss is of the opinion that there are less tangible qualities that make a great editor. “A knowledge and understanding of editing and story construction, of how shots work in relation to each other and of what the director is after, these are all important” said Paul to the gathered crowd. “But the biggest thing is getting on well with people. If you’re sitting there with a director, he’s been in charge of a crew of 100 people for several months and at the end of that it is just the two of you. You become a therapist and a psychologist. Each director is different. You have to adapt to their way of working and shift your personality to match their personality because it doesn’t work the other way around!”
When it comes to cutting comedy, being funny is also useful. “Having a silly sense of humour definitely helps,” outlines Machliss. “As a child I was willingly force fed a diet of British comedy, which was a principal reason why I wanted to come over here, because I wanted to work in comedy. You can be very serious in an edit suite. But if you can keep it light, and keep your clients entertained, it helps keep the right mood.” This approach has seen Machliss develop a strong bond with the British director Edgar Wright, who is famous for the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Machliss edited the latter to great acclaim, having previously worked with him on Channel 4’s Spacedsitcom. “Over the years I have developed an understanding of what Edgar is after, of his cinematic language and what he has set out to achieve,” says Machliss, adding that in a good director-editor relationship you can both have opinions. “You can bring ideas to a director too. Offering alternatives is really good.”
“You can now try out so many more things to help tell a story.”
Machliss has also developed a healthy relationship with the kit he uses, whether editing on location—as he did for the fight scenes on The World’s End—or in the more controlled environment of the edit suite. “It’s all fairly minimal these days,” he reveals when describing his current set-up. “I have a laptop loaded with Avid Media Composer and a Wacom graphics tablet, which I use for picture cutting. I have one monitor attached to the laptop so I can split the Avid interface over two screens and an 8TB Thunderbolt drive, because Thunderbolt is remarkable now for working with native resolutions.” Machliss believes that advances in technology have not just helped to make things quicker and easier for editors but they have also aided the story telling process. “You can now try out so many more things to help tell a story,” he explains. “Because you are working in the native HD resolution you know what the end result will look like, because you are always working on the end result, so it is possible to combine completely different takes. When the client watches it back they don’t have to know you have done anything. You know the story telling has been improved because you have been able to do some fiddly stuff to make it work.”
The perfect project for Machliss: appealing to his funny side and satisfying his hunger for technology.
Machliss recently took advantage of native playback of ProRes directly from the source media, one of many native media types Media Composer supports. He put it to use on the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner, produced by Big Talk and shot on the ARRI ALEXA in ProRes without the help of a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) or edit assistant. “The whole project was 6TB of media, all linked to the original ProRes files from the ARRI, sound ‘synced’ with A and B cameras running as a group, and we did 6 x 30-minutes, all running off a MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt cable. We didn’t have one single problem.”
Next up for Machliss is a multi-camera sitcom for Comedy Central called Brotherhood, directed by Dominic Brigstocke. Working 100% digitally from acquisition to delivery, it is the perfect project for Machliss: appealing to his funny side and satisfying his hunger for technology. “That for me is the latest gee-whizz thing. It is really very interesting.”
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