Editor Jim Page Gave Low-Budget Fantasy Film ‘Arthur and Merlin’ the Epic Feel It Deserved

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

Arthur and Merlin (or Arthfael and Myrdinn as they are called in the film) is the passion project of Movieworks, who aim to create a new model for British films by bringing together up and coming professional talent and providing a distribution and production platform, almost like the Hollywood studio system, something that does not really happen in the UK.

My involvement came by chance. A friend and fellow editor had been approached to edit, but was already booked, and he suggested me. After 11 years as an editor of documentaries for the likes of BBC and Discovery, and years of cutting short films unpaid, this was my first paid feature.

It’s a tremendously ambitious film, filmed across the North West, using the stunning landscapes of Yorkshire to stand in for Celtic England. Based on the same texts that JRR Tolkien used as his inspiration for The Lord of the Rings, it’s a unique take on a familiar subject.

I immediately clicked with Director Marco Van Belle. He has the right mixture of taking the work seriously without taking himself seriously, and that’s something I really responded to. I read the script, and 12 pages in I wrote to him and told him that I HAD to do the film. It was so entertaining—such a brave concept for a low-budget film.

Cutting

The film had already been shot on 2K ALEXA, and so all the material was there for me. I was able to cut natively, which saved time and conforming time. Without an assistant, I was concerned about days of syncing hours of audio and video, but happily a scratch audio track existed (a basic mixdown of all the audio channels recorded from the on-set mixer), so I could cut straight away.

The way I approach cutting scenes is as follows:

First I watch every shot. Sometimes this can feel laborious, but to use a pretentious analogy, it’s important to know the palette of colours you have before painting the picture. As I go, I use visual markers. I often do selects in the rushes timeline as a visual reminder.

Next I break down every shot/take line by line, so all the takes of a particular line are easily listened to one after another. So for example, if someone’s line is “yes sir”, I would find every take of that line (Wides, Close Ups, etc.) and put them in a long line eg. “Yes sir. YES sir. Yes SIR. YES SIR”. Then I could directly compare each line of dialogue.  It’s also helpful when working with a Director when he says “what alternatives do we have?” it means I have them right there to hand, saving me clicking and scrolling through clip after clip.

I then start with what I feel is the master shot of the film, and add cut points, purely by instinct. I like to let things play out as much as possible, and it’s important to remember with a fantasy action film that, even if most people will watch it on DVD or VOD, it needs to feel designed for the big screen, to make it feel epic. It’s important to not turn it into a series of talking heads, which is a more traditionally TV drama style of filming.

Then I go through, add in the best dialogue takes, review, refine, repeat!

VFX

I’d previously done a short film which involved extensive VFX, and the key is to be as specific as possible in imagining the length and nature of the VFX, because an extra frame or 2 of rendering could cost thousands, and in a low-budget environment that’s just not practical. Alongside temp wireframe models, a lot of effects were roughly temped by me using animattes, timewarps and keying, to give the director (and the VFX artists) the most accurate representation of the final result as possible.

Sound

Another key thing is sound. I’m a big believer in doing as full a mix as possible as you’re going. Even if it all gets replaced by a brilliant sound mixer (like ours, Enos Desjardines), the more sound design you can do in the offline the more you can “sell” the film in your mind, and to those who aren’t used to watching rough cuts. I use a website called Freesound.org where users upload millions of sound effects for temp use.

The film came together very quickly, about 4 weeks of assembly and 1 week of editing alongside Director Marco Van Belle (at his cluttered kitchen table!) working with Marco was fantastic; he knows when to give general and when to give specific notes, and I always felt empowered to have ownership of what I was doing, and to give my opinions (which is not always the case!).

The film premiered at the BFI to fantastic response, after which distribution on DVD and VOD was announced. Seeing a film I’d edited for sale in my local supermarket was a moment I will never forget. Not only that, the epic soundtrack produced by Graeme Plowman is also available on iTunes.

More information can be found at arthurandmerlin.co.uk, by visiting the Facebook page, or by following on Twitter.

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James Page is an editor of 11 years, cutting everything from feature dramas to 30-second promos, BBC Documentaries to comedy sketches. In 2015 a short he edited was nominated for the Palme d’Or short film award, and he is preparing to cut a new feature with the working title ‘The Pugilist’. You can follow contact him on Twitter as @iamjimpage and see his website at www.jimpage.co.uk