EDITOR - DARREN FLAXSTONE
Darren has been working as a freelance film editor since leaving Bournemouth Film school in 1992.
Since then he’s collaborated on over 200 diverse projects, including the Emmy award winning Natural World, ‘My Life as a Turkey’, the BAFTA nominated documentary, ‘My Foetus’, Animal Planet’s ‘River Monsters’, various David Attenborough programs including, ‘Africa’, ‘Life’ and ‘Nature’s Great Events’, plus the hard hitting observational series, ‘Protecting Our Children’, which won the RTS award for editing in 2012.
Darren has also written and/ or edited/ directed several low budget drama features including the award winning ‘Shank’ and the quirky horror, ‘Dark Vision’, all of which have been released on various VOD platforms.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I took an edit assistants post after film school, at an independent documentary company in Bristol called ‘Green Umbrella’, which was founded by a group of Film-makers from the BBC who made 1991’s David Attenborough epic ‘Trials of Life’. Although a small company I was offered some great opportunities to edit here, and was cutting films for the BBC and Channel 4 by the time I was 24, having only been there for 18 months or so.
DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Yes, I attended the Film and Television course at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, from 1988 to 1992, (I did two courses back to back). At the time it was one of the best courses of it’s type in the country and as well as being highly practical and ‘hands on’ we had some superb visiting lecturers in the shape of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ actor, Ronald Lacey, ‘Chariots of Fire’ producer David Putnam and legendary designer/ Hitchcock title sequence guru, Saul Bass, (a huge hero of mine!) The course really allowed me to develop via meeting other like minded people plus operate ties to experiment and find my niche, editing! Other fellow class members included director Edgar Wright, and Oscar winning writer Simon Beaufoy, so we were in good company!
I have to add that 25 years or so on I believe the climate has changed hugely, especially with the development of high quality digital cameras, home editing systems etc, so nowadays the Film School route is not a must do for everyone. We only had Super 8 film and ropey old VHS camcorders at our disposal back in the mid 80’s, so Film School was a must to go up a notch!
WHAT SKILLS OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
Well, certainly it’s not being technically minded ... It’s a difficult one for me to say, but perhaps having passion for film and storytelling, which after all is what you’re trying to achieve with everything you do, to try to make an emotional connection with the audience. I would say the vast majority of producers and directors I work with have the same ideal that drives them. People skills also definitely come into play. At Film School we were often told, ‘Think about whether anyone would want to spend 10 hours a day trapped with you in a small room!’. Now I think about it, I’m not sure I would!!
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
A list of work done aside, I always try look for a bit of a spark/enthusiasm/passion in someone, that plus a certain amount of consistency, i.e. a CV that shows commitment, whatever level of the project. A CV for a younger editor for instance can be a stream of student, low budget and wedding videos, but to my mind it shows that this person is incredibly committed to what they do and possibly worth taking a chance on. There’s nothing more off putting than the ‘ I wouldn’t get out of bed for something bellow me’ attitude. After all, sometimes in our careers we have to work on less than stellar projects, but that doesn’t mean any less effort and commitment is given. Also basic details really count like grammar/spelling and any unexplained gaps.
WHAT MISTAKES DO YOU SEE STUDENTS MAKING THAT ARE COMING UP IN YOUR AREA?
A lot of student films I’ve watched recently, drama and documentary, have bags of freshness, great quality of image and no shortage of good ideas, but can often be way too long and really outstay their welcome. So discipline and a lack of self indulgence is a good thing here!
The one thing I’ve noticed in some rather great looking student films I’ve recently seen, is a use of style over substance to a point where the style no longer has much power or effect anymore. If you choose your moments and vary your editing/pacing/effects tricks etc, then they’re all the more effective when they do appear. The same thing applies to the overuse of music!
The thing I look for most while judging a film, is primarily entertainment value and originality. But what sets a great film apart from the good ones is a certain coherence, not just of narrative, but also of tone, films operating within the rules of their own universe without wildly veering into other territories. Just because you can doesn’t, (always), mean you should!
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
In the current TV documentary editing world, (and also mainstream Hollywood movies), on one level things are better than ever with amazing technological advancements and some incredible imagery to play with. The downsides are that the past few years has ushered in higher level management involvement, (multiple execs, commissioners etc). From a BBC perspective this has all been for good reason to ensure the safeguard and trust of the subject, (Much of this has been in the light of the RDF ‘Queen Gate fiasco from 8 or 9 years ago). The result of this has been that there can now be ‘too many cooks’ in the process, which ultimately can have an undermining effect on the creative process and on the team. A far better model for me would be the Sky, Pixar, HBO approach of having a system that supports the creatives to actually create something special. Only by being allowed to take risks can anything truly different ever make it to onto the screen.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
WHAT “DO’S AND DON’TS” WOULD YOU SUGGEST? MAYBE WORKING WITH OTHERS OR SOMETHING YOU LIKE TO DO ON SET TO MAKE THINGS EASIER?
In my limited experience on a film set as a director, I would say try not to think in cameraman seconds, i.e. count in full, ‘one one thousand’ seconds to allow the editor choice to pace the cuts, especially at the end of a shot when a character leaves frame. It’s surprising in drama and documentary how when the adrenaline is flowing the camera operator will cut thinking they have given the shot sufficient time, when in reality you’re lucky to have half a second leeway, hence deciding on the pace of the cutting for the editor rather than vice versa. A small thing, but it happens a lot.
In the edit I would always suggest trying to do a first ‘broad stroke’ assembly of the entire film without getting bogged down in too much fine detail. For me it’s important to get an overview of the flow of scenes and overarching story as quickly as possible to see what is working and identify potential problems that could be sorted out with a pick up shoot.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
Since the advent of digital cameras my first thoughts on a David Attenborough type nature documentary for instance, is usually how am I ever going to cut this thing down, as invariably I have near on 20 plus hours per four minute sequence!! Obviously this is a little less with drama and more standard observational documentary, but none the less the initial overwhelming sensation never seems to diminish. Then again this is where the old adage of embracing the fear and doing it anyway comes into play and after the first few days in the edit a certain balance is found as you see something interesting emerge in the marble you’re chipping away!
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
When I left Film School I contacted a lot of established movie and TV editors for advice, (all by snail mail of course!) Stephen Frears’ and Harry Potter editor Mick Audsley was kind enough to chat to me whilst he was cutting the movie ‘Accidental Hero’. His advice to my younger self was to get my hands on anything I could, showreels, short films, promos etc. It’s the same advice I give to young editors today, as it’s surprising what cutting any level of film will continue to teach you and also who you will meet. From cutting two minute low budget films in my weekends for a passionate young director we went on to work together a few years later on a BAFTA nominated 50 minute documentary. From small acorns and all that. It’s still something I would do today, time permitting of course ...
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
Edit wise: try to remember what you feel the first time you watch something, as that first reaction to the footage is your only true opportunity to experience what an audience will feel on the one time they watch it. Then try to remind yourself of that feeling when you’re 14 weeks into the edit and you’ve seen the cut umpteen times. Career wise, try to focus on what it is you want to do in the industry, certainly by a certain age, as it’s hugely important to have something specific to aim for. You may not always hit the target, but you’ll probably come close!
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
Edit wise I can honestly say all blunders have been invaluable learning curves on a very long journey. In hindsight perhaps there has been an over reliance on commentary sometimes when it should’ve been more show don’t tell. On my experience as a low budget drama director there’s been far more blunder wise, the biggest of which is not having had good/ original enough scripts in place before shooting and from a more up to date perspective, not having kicked off a social media campaign for the project early enough, which is very much a 21st Century essential to getting your project ‘out there’! The only other thing I’d like to add is never underestimate the power of having decent sound at any level of film making, not just in terms of filmic sound design, but actual on location sound/dialogue etc. I’ve seen many a passable low budget film sunk by sub quality sound that has to be very sloppily and expensively, re recorded. Sound is 30% of the cinematic experience and all that ... plus it can really add quality to film and, when thought through, is relatively cheap!