Sitcom and Feature Film Editor Paul Machliss, ACE, Gets Tension and Timing Right in the Cutting Room

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

Editor Paul Machliss, ACE, has collaborated many times with director Edgar Wright on UK television shows such as Spaced, and the feature films Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The World’s End. For their work on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Paul Machliss and co-editor Jonathan Amos were nominated for an American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award as well as an Online Film Critics Society award, and won the San Diego Film Critics Society award for Best Editing.

Originally from Melbourne in Australia, Paul is a huge fan of British comedy and has been living and working in the United Kingdom for many years now, having edited some of the most popular sitcoms such as Black Books, Peep Show, and The IT Crowd. His documentary credits include coverage of music festivals and live concert performances from Led Zeppelin, Diana Krall, and the Pet Shop Boys.

“One of my latest projects was a TV adaptation of the children’s picture book called Fungus the Bogeyman. We created several one-hour episodes for this new mini-series that were aired around Christmas. It involved a lot of VFX in order to create the Bogeyman creature, so we teamed up with visual effects company Double Negative, and it turned out to be a lot of fun!”

Paul Machliss speaking at ‘Creating Compelling Stories’, part of Broadcast’s Production & Post Production Forum, at BAFTA

“From the age of 7, I just knew I was going to be involved in the film and television industry. My father, a producer in an advertising company, used to bring me along to a lot of his video tape editing sessions. As a kid I found it a fascinating world. Bear in mind, it was in the 1970s, so this weren’t just people hunched over laptops. There were very big pieces of hardware kit; 2-inch analogue video tape recorders and large editing suites. It was actually a process of getting to play with these toys when I was younger, and over time learning what they did and how I could use them for telling stories.”

“It’s just phenomenal that you can now sit in front of a laptop with Media Composer and have more expressive creative power than you could ever dream of whilst sitting in a tape suite 20 years ago.”

—Paul Machliss, ACE

“Unlike a lot of other film editors, I didn’t take the ‘celluloid route’; I came from a video tape technology background and moved eventually to offline storytelling picture editing.  When I first started as a tape librarian and video tape operator in the late 1980s, it was all strictly analogue. I remember working as an Assistant on a television commercial, where in order to have three separate images floating across the screen, we had to run nine 1-inch VTR’s in parallel. For a 7 second sequence, it took all day to line these machines up and rehearse the shot over and over again, just to avoid ‘tape generations’. It’s just phenomenal that you can now sit in front of a laptop with Media Composer and have more expressive creative power than you could ever dream of whilst sitting in a tape suite 20 years ago.”

“Some of the most difficult scenes I ever worked on were the complex visual effects scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Trying to put together a story with images that you won’t be able to see for another couple of months is hard. With only some hand drawn storyboards, sound effects and plate shots we had to try and visualize this epic battle between two creatures.

Another example is a sequence from The Hour, a BBC drama series I worked on, which had a parallel narrative with one scene taking place in a TV control room and the other one as a live TV interview on the studio floor. The challenge was to keep both stories happening at the same time and to maintain the tension running on both story lines, without making it too jumpy.”

Timeline of the movie ‘World’s End’

“Editing dialogue, getting the tension and timing right, and touching people emotionally, is in some aspects trickier than editing action scenes.”

On the movie World’s End, Paul Machliss cut all the action sequences on the film set. “I basically had my Avid set up on a table next to the Video Assist, connected via Ethernet to my system. As the Video Assist recorded the files, I could immediately drag them over into my Media Composer and cut the action sequences while they were shooting. We could review the sequence, see how the edit evolved and basically problem-solve as we were filming. This avoided sitting in the edit suite several months later, wishing we picked up more shots at the time. And being there with the actors, crew and the rest of the team is great, because as an editor you normally don’t come out of the edit suite very often.”

Paul Machliss at BVE 2014 talking post production

“If you are lucky enough to edit a bigger project with assistant editors working on an Avid Shared Storage system, you have a very safe pair of hands that take care of arranging the media, while you can concentrate on the art of editing.  But sometimes there are smaller projects that don’t require assistance. Then I would usually get media from the DIT or the original camera cards, import it, arrange the bins and sync the sound. It’s so easy these days. With the combination of non-linear cameras, time-of-day timecodes and the latest versions of Media Composer, syncing up rushes and multiple cameras is a breeze. Probably because of my technical background, I have never been afraid to ‘look under the hood’ and to problem-solve if there are issues.

“When I was an online editor in a purely tape based environment, you had several boxes doing just one little thing (vision mixer, DVE, edit controller, sound mixer), and now with Avid, you have all of that in one box.”

“If you look at my setup in Media Composer, you will find it very basic. I haven’t changed it a lot from the Media Composer that comes out of the box. Obviously over the years, I mapped some menu items to the keyboard. I have got a row of shortcuts on the function keys like Render In To Out, Multicam or Remove Effect.

When I first sat down at an Avid system with a keyboard and mouse, I found that holding the mouse for a long period of time gave me a cramp in my hand. I tried to use a graphics tablet and for the best part of 20 years of editing, that’s all I have been using. Between my keyboard and tablet I somehow manage to make the machine work.”

“I recently added the Avid Artist Mix and Artist Control hardware to my setup. Man Up, a romantic comedy with Simon Pegg was my first opportunity to use the Artist Mix. I found it just the right tool for my audio work with lots of audio layers; 10 to 12 tracks with background atmosphere sounds, spot effects and temp scores. It’s more intuitive to physically grab a fader than to move a UI screen element up and down with my tablet pen. Earlier this year I also picked up an Artist Control, with a touch screen that allows you to store macros. Some actions that would normally take 4 to 5 keystrokes on the keyboard can now be accomplished by 1 touch on this device.”

Editor Paul Machliss worked on a TV adaptation of the children’s picture book called ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’

“As I get to the end of a project, having watched it dozens of times over the course of months, I am usually happy with the end result and I would rather look forward to what comes next, than to think about what has come before. I usually don’t watch the movies and projects I have worked on. I like to leave those as passed moments and experiences in my life.”

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