An Interview with Graeme Dawson
Graeme Dawson is an editor. His credits include, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, The Planets, Forces of Nature with Brian Cox, One Strange Rock, Paranormal Witness, The Last Czars, Wonders of Life and Banged Up Abroad. I spoke with Graeme about his work as an editor, his day to day schedule on The World According to Jeff Goldblum and how the editing process has evolved since he first started out.
Did you always think you would go into editing? What was your first experience in this line?
I studied documentary film at University but never really thought that editing was the field I would end up in to be honest. At University I was writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing as most film students do.
Editing time was limited and I don’t remember being particularly taken by it except maybe for a closing credit sequence involving a penalty shoot-out, Elvis Presley singing in German and a list of the people we wanted to say ‘thanks’ and pointedly ‘no thanks’ to… that was probably the first thing I edited from start to finish myself, simple but fun.
It was the also the first time I had the thrill of working the music and getting the timing just right, creating something brand new and of value in of itself…something that didn’t exist before. I was quite proud of that end to the film.
I found editing when I moved to London and got a job at a Post Production facility called Molinare. As soon as I got into it, I realised that my creative side had found a home.
What project have you most enjoyed working on? Do you find that the greater the amount of creative input in a project the greater the enjoyment?
I’ve been working in television now for 25 years and have many special relationships with shows I’ve worked on for a whole load of reasons as you’d expect. Different genres often at different stages of my career - lots of MTV at the end of the 90’s meant working with loads of music which was so good and a really important learning ground for the future.
I’ve worked with many brilliant directors, d.o.p.’s, composers and fellow editors that have made projects special. It's often the people involved in a project that really makes them memorable. When there is a real positive, creative atmosphere in the camp it makes such a difference.
I’ve edited a number of BBC Science documentaries including some with Professor Brian Cox; ‘Wonders of Life’, ‘Human Universe’, ‘Forces of Nature’ and ’The Planets’ and they have always been really ambitious projects, presenting the Editor with the challenge of getting across big ideas as simply as possible.
But it was a joy to work on something far more irreverent like ‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’…
What is your day to day schedule like when editing a series such as The World According to Jeff Goldblum? What is the workflow like?
The Jeff Goldblum edit was slightly strange because at first, we thought there was no way we were going to be able to produce 12 shows in the time we had. A schedule was drawn up that was so tight it looked like the merest of hiccups would derail the whole thing. ‘Disney +’ had a launch date set in stone however, and ‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’ was one of the original shows it was opening with. In the end, the edit was really remarkably smooth.
Jeff Goldblum was super engaged with the editing process and gave us voice-over and ad-libs at an early stage to work with. It’s actually pretty rare to have this until after everything’s locked, but we did, and it meant that the shows had much more polish quicker and the editors could really go to town and have fun.
The workflow was complicated. 4k rushes shot in America - digitally wrangled there and then downloaded and processed in London - ingested in one part of town then transferred to another place where we were cutting in Soho. It’s then the Edit Assistants job to organise, sync and review the rushes before offering them up to the edit.
We then offer up a rough cut to the American Producers, National Geographic after about 5/6 weeks followed by a second amended rough cut maybe a couple of weeks later, then a fine cut, then a picture-lock. Throughout this time of course there is internal review by the UK Producers which need to be factored in.
It sounds like a lot but it worked well!
Is there a software you find particularly intuitive or enjoyable to use?
I’m an Avid user mostly. I used to use Final Cut 7 which was pretty good too, but the Media Composer is my friend.
How has the editing process evolved since you first started out?
My first technical job in television was ingesting (although it was called digitising then) the rushes of the Friday night studio shoot for ‘Father Ted’. Four large digi-beta tapes would arrive by courier and my first task was to literally rewind them before sitting and watching them load into the Avid in ‘real time’.
I worked for a company at that time that did most of its business in ‘online’ tape editing with only a handful of non-linear ‘offline’ edits. Of course, those formats are no longer used and that part of the industry has changed.
As an editor, we are probably expected to do much more grading than before and all-round the expectation from the client is for a far more polished cut, earlier than ever before.
I have had notes on grading and sound design at rough cut stage, once on a drama documentary about an ambush and subsequent vicious fire fight between a Green Beret unit and the Taliban in Afghanistan. After 4 weeks!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had, and would you give this piece of advice yourself to someone pursuing this line of work?
Not sure if it’s the best advice I’ve had but taking time to build the story is important - not everything all at once - give the viewer time to enjoy the film you are creating, find the right rhythm!