Art of the Cut Episode 100: What Makes a Great Assistant Editor?

In Art of the Cut‘s 100th episode, we’re talking to Ruth Antoine about her recent British Film Editors’ Michael Johns BFE Award for Outstanding Assistant Editor.

This award is given in honor of editor Michael Johns, who was a long-time governor of the BFE.

It’s new to see an award given to an assistant editor and I was intrigued as to what made Ruth stand out above her many fellow assistant editors. It was truly one of the most fun interviews I’ve done – and that’s out of 300!

Ruth’s work as an assistant editor includes The King’s Man, The Dig, Maleficent, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

Going back to earlier positions, she worked on Gravity, The Monuments Men, T2 Trainspotting, and Mowgli, Legend of the Jungle. She also co-founded the group Black British Post Prod Collective with Francine Leach.

You might want to grab a pint for this one. You’re in for a ride.

Listen while you read…

HULLFISH: It’s a pleasure to meet you. I was looking at your IMDB page. You have worked on many of the shows that I have profiled on Art of the Cut before, starting with Gravity, although you were a PA. Were you on set or a post PA?

ANTOINE: I was an editorial trainee. That was actually my first job in the industry.

HULLFISH: Wow, and that was probably the first Art of the Cut: Gravity with Mark Sanger and 12 Years A Slave with Joe Walker.

ANTOINE: Yeah, I met Mark and the team when I was a part-time runner at Framestore, who were doing the pre-viz on Gravity. I just wormed my way in, as you do. I really wanted to work in editorial, and I showed up and said, “Hire me. Take me.” This was during pre-production on Gravity actually. I just had the balls and told the director and the editor that I really want to crack into film. He helped me out, and then I think it was the next week they planned to send me down on the shoot and we were filming in Shepperton studios, and that was it. That was my big break. I was quite lucky.

Landing a gig at Shepperton Studios was Ruth’s big break.

HULLFISH: Tell me about this award you received from BFE. What is it, and how did you come to that award?

ANTOINE: BFE, British Film Editors, this is actually the first year that they put together an award to recognize the efforts of assistant editors. So, this one was called BFE Michael Johns Outstanding Assistant Editor Award, and I won. I believe I was up against four other assistant editors. For the nomination process, anybody could nominate an assistant editor who were members of the BFE. Then, there was a series of interviews I had to go on and talk about myself, or why I deserve to win, and answer various questions about my career to date. Yeah, it was all a bit of a surprise.

HULLFISH: It is so interesting to me because we have nothing like that for the American Cinema Editors. There’s no such award that I know of, and I think it’s a great idea. So many people that I’ve spoken to said the world doesn’t turn without the assistant editors. The movie does not happen without the assistant editor. So, it’s a very great award to give and to get.

We’re like the unsung heroes in the cutting room. We’re almost forgotten.

ANTOINE: It was a bit of a surprise. I got an email saying, “Hey, guess what? You’ve been nominated by someone at the BFE.” Then, I thought, “Well, that’s a bit weird,” rolled over, and nearly went back to sleep. Then I got calls from friends saying, “Hey, hold on a minute. You’re on this website. What’s going on?” Then, the rest is history. I was taken by surprise. I had no idea that I was nominated. I had no idea that they were going to run with this sort of category, but I’m so glad that they do because, as you said, a lot of people have said this—I’m quoting from someone who said—”We’re like the unsung heroes in the cutting room. We’re almost forgotten.” I think I’ve heard maybe two Oscar-winning editors who’ve ever mentioned their assistants, Mark Sanger being one. When he won his Oscar, he actually name-dropped me in his speech. He named all of his assistants, and I was a trainee.

HULLFISH: That’s impressive.

ANTOINE: I was on the list. So that was really, really cool. That was almost…

HULLFISH: Six years ago? Something like that?

ANTOINE: Yeah. He was probably the first editor that I had heard who mentioned his assistants during the Oscars. I think there’s only been maybe a couple since then that I have heard personally. So, it was really nice to be nominated for such an award, and then to go on to win it, I’m over the moon and I’m still buzzing from it. I’ve gotten various emails and calls from friends and work colleagues. Then, obviously you reaching out to me as well is just wonderful. I’m really chuffed.

HULLFISH: I saw that the award was given, and I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” It piqued my interest, but then Sian Fever said, “Somebody better do a story on this woman because we need to know more about her.” I thought, “I’m on it.” Art of the Cut has got you covered. We need to know the story.

ANTOINE: That’s really sweet of Sian. I’ve met her quite a few times—you know how it is, everybody sort of knows each other once you’re in—but we’ve never had the opportunity to work together. So, that’s very sweet of her if she said that. See, this is what’s so surprising is that then I hear about people talking about me and then you feel part of this post-production community, which is really nice. Everyone’s really lovely.

HULLFISH: Tell me about that jump from second assistant to first assistant. What does it mean if you are going to tell a second assistant what you gotta be prepared for? What is it that’s the difference?

A lot of departments will come to me if they have any queries about the dailies or post-production and things like that, so that the editor can just focus on the story.

ANTOINE: I think I’m still learning a bit about it [laughs]. So, a second assistant editor is really supporting the first, and the first assistant editor delegates the workload. An editor has instructed the first with what needs to be done, and then the first passes daily tasks down to the second. I think I would like to start off by saying that people assume that an assistant editor is someone who is almost like a personal assistant to an editor. It still can be quite a creative role, and being an assistant is really quite different to what an editor would do, but we can sometimes share creative roles as well. I find that being a second, you do quite a lot of creative work in terms of soundtrack, playing music, visual effects, that kind of thing which enhances the edit. I want to explain that being an assistant is not like we make teas and things like that. It’s not at all. The first assistant runs the cutting room.

I’m just even thinking about this project, the project that I’m on now. I speak to the music department, post-sound, production sound. I chat with the camera department and ensure the lab and dailies team are happy with the workflow and pipeline. I’m sort of in control of the technical, guzzy stuff. A lot of departments will come to me if they have any queries about the dailies or post-production and things like that, so that the editor can just focus on the story. Within all that, I would also support the editor with some creative roles such as sound work, music work, visual effects, and things like that; but primarily a first assistant is just running the cutting room, making sure that everything is brought in the correct way for the editor to work.

Then, I would be supported by a second assistant editor and I would pass on work to her, or him, or whoever I’m working with at the time. It is quite an elite role because you have to be highly experienced to become a first assistant editor. You’re the point-of-call. You are the person that has to answer a lot of queries and a second may not have the confidence or necessarily have the experience to answer and go through all those things. You are first because of your experience of working on multiple projects, and you just have to be hot on it. A second wouldn’t have had that experience to be able to answer those issues.

HULLFISH: It is a lot of management of the room itself. It’s a lot of interaction with the other departments and dealing with people who are trying to get things from you and get things to your editor, right?


HULLFISH: So you’ve got to be organized, be a good people person, and be able to handle a lot of things coming at you from different directions all at the same time.

ANTOINE: Exactly. Sometimes, I just feel like I have so many emails to get through just answering technical inquiries, and making inquiries, and double checking and triple checking things. Once you’ve established a good relationship with the editor as well—because I know my editor quite well now, Jon Harris, I feel as though I’m always a step ahead with what he might need—it’s like an unspoken language between the two of you, and it should be. Between the editor and yourself you should almost know preemptively what he might want. There’s so many millions of examples I can give of how I know how he likes to work, how he wants his timeline displayed, how he likes his sub clips, or how he’d like his scene bins in a particular way. He doesn’t have to tell me what he necessarily needs, because I already know that, and then I can delegate that down to a second assistant.

That’s pretty much it, but I just want to stress that a lot of people think it’s not a creative role at all. It’s a bit of both and it can be creative as well as being able to delegate well and manage the cutting room. You really need to be super organized. I like to say: “a non-flappy person is who’s going to succeed as a first assistant editor.”

HULLFISH: Non-flappy. I like that. The other word that I need to figure out how to spell is “guzzy.”

ANTOINE: Yeah.[laughs]

HULLFISH: “Technical guzzy details.” Is that what you said?

ANTOINE: [laughs] Yeah, I think so. Maybe.

HULLFISH: I don’t know that word.

ANTOINE: Oh my word. That’s bad slang. Oh, my mom would beat me. Oh my gosh. I can’t even explain what it means. It’s all the stuff that you just… an editor wouldn’t want to worry about. For example, metadata in a bin—all of the ones and zeros and all the things that help during the DI conform or the metadata and all that. I call that the “guzzy” stuff—guzzy stuff that an editor doesn’t need to think about, but it’s so important to have in the bin.

HULLFISH: I hope “guzzy” becomes a word used in editing rooms around the world! Maybe an addition in Urban Dictionary!

It’s so odd because the role of an assistant editor and the role of an editor are in many ways very different—but that is the next step—yet they’re almost disconnected from each other in many ways. It’s all these details that the editor doesn’t even think about. I remember one of the first times when I started meeting really experienced editors, I thought, “These people don’t know anything about the technical side.” I was amazed because I always knew the technical stuff. You’d ask them about button pushes or how they do this, and they’ll say, “You know, my assistant editor tells me I push that button and it puts it in the timeline,” and you’re the editor and she’s the assistant? It’s very funny.

What are some other important things about being a good assistant? What are those details? What are those skills that you were recognized for?

ANTOINE: Well, I would say the number one thing for being an assistant editor is having a great sense of humor. Working in a dull environment is the worst for me. We can sometimes be spending 16 hours a day together, and how dreary would that be if you don’t have a great relationship? Even just having a bit of sense of humor is what can get you through a really tough day. Apart from a sense of humor, I guess it would be having great communication skills.

HULLFISH: The sense of humor is really funny because, well it’s a sense of humor, but I tell that to assistants all the time: “I’ve got to be with you 16 hours a day for maybe a year. I need somebody I like. I need someone that I’m going to enjoy being with. We’re going to sit down and eat how many hundreds of meals together…” I need somebody that I actually like, and I think that’s a big part of it.

So, communication skills is obviously a big one. Somebody just asked me about some of these exact things and one of the other things I told them was you need to be accountable. If you make a mistake, you need to let people know immediately. You can’t try to hide it. It’s not a skill, but it’s something that’s important. A lot of people might say, “Oh, I gotta cover this up.” You have to tell someone. Also, just letting people know if you don’t know something. “I don’t know what that deliverable is. I’ve never heard of that one before.” Maybe you’re talking to a VFX company and they give you some acronym that you’ve never heard of. You should tell them.

They expect you to be this technical genius almost, but also I think people do respect you if you say, ‘I don’t quite understand that.’

ANTOINE: I think that’s probably the worst thing, the inability to speak up and say if you don’t understand something because it will come back around and bite you. It definitely will. I’ve heard that many times, and I say that even to my assistant: “If you don’t understand something, then please just say, because I’d rather you ask than make the mistake and then there’s trouble.”

I also feel as though people are less forgiving in editorial. I don’t know why. If there’s a problem, people ask, “Why did you do that?” Because they expect you to be this technical genius almost, but also I think people do respect you if you say, “I don’t quite understand that.” Just feeling comfortable to ask that question, because we are all working in a team and you wouldn’t necessarily get an eye-roll or hear, “I can’t believe she doesn’t understand that.” But people do really respect you if you say, “You know what, I don’t quite understand that.” I’ve done that. I’ve had to say, “I don’t quite understand what you’re asking me. Can you just send me a spec sheet or something and then I could work out what it is that you need.” Or just being able to say, “I can’t give you the answer right now. Can you give me 20 minutes? And I’ll come back to you.” I think people really do respect that. It just comes back down to communication and also just not being scared to ask for help.

I’ve got many assistant editor friends who I do frequently message and say, “Hey, what’s up with this? This is new.” Every project you start is going to be completely new. It’s going to be different camera formats, the workflow changes, new technologies develop. Every single project I’ve been on so far is delivered in quite a different way, and no one’s expecting you to know everything, but they are expecting you to ask the questions if you don’t know it.

HULLFISH: As experienced as you are, like you said, it’s a new system: “We’re using Evercast this time, we’re using, we’re using a different camera set up, a different dailies company is delivering dailies with a different workflow…” It doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you’re doing, it just means that you’ve never done this. Tell me some of the ways that the job is creative. You said that assistant editing is a creative job. It certainly is. How are you being creative on a daily basis?

ANTOINE: One thing I would say: it does take an editor to have confidence in you to give you creative roles, and that is built up over a system of time. Once you establish a relationship with your editor, then, if you have the confidence to say, “Hey, can I maybe do a bit of assembly work?” Sometimes they often do give you that. I work with editors who have said, “Hey, just so you know I’ve got a lot of work coming my way. Could you just assemble this for me?” You can support the editor just by assembling the day’s material. Do a really quick rough edit for him. So, that’s creative in itself, then you become an editor and you can own it. You can end up really enjoying that aspect of being an assistant editor.

HULLFISH: Sound is another big one for many editors. A lot of editors ask the assistants to do sound work.

ANTOINE: Yeah. I remember on The Crown, the first season that I worked on, I was almost like the go-to assistant editor to do sound design because I really, really loved coming up with really cool sounds. If you’ve ever watched The Crown, it’s a lot of clock ticking and all that. So, I said, “Guys, we can do without any clocks. Like every room, there was a clock ticking.”

HULLFISH: I have watched my share of The Crown. I never thought about it, but yes, there are always clocks ticking.

ANTOINE: Right, and I made that recent joke with one of the editors, and she just said, “Oh my gosh, Ruth, it was grand.” I just had the task of coming up with interesting sound design. It is an assistant’s role sometimes to come up with that, and it does help the post-sound department because I’m translating what an editor may wish post sound to use, because what I lay down on the timeline, they can ditch it if they want—post-sound can ditch it if they want—or they can say, “Oh, hold on. It’s actually there for a reason. Perhaps the editor and director wants this style. Let’s see if we can improve it.” So, already I’ve done some creative work there that’s ended up, in a roundabout way, in the final output of the film or TV show.

Soundtrack and music as well. On some productions, I’ve been asked to source music, think of music, and some of the music stayed in the show and it’s quite nice because then you get to search through Amazon music library and you use the script and you have to think about the characters. What would they like to listen to? That’s creative in itself because you have to really feel for it. Will this particular piece of music work well with this character? Would it work well in this period piece? Or sometimes it might not work really well, but then you have the task of figuring out what does or what doesn’t.

It does take a particular mind and type of person who understands how music works in a project, and sometimes it can stick. Again, that’s another way of supporting the music department as well. They can get a feel for that cut by what you’ve put in the timeline and turned over to them. Then they can assess whether or not that’s something that they would like to go with.

 As an assistant, that’s what we’re trying to do: we’re trying to translate what the editor may want. Or the editor might just lift it off the timeline if he doesn’t like it and dump what you’ve done [laughs ], but it is still really fun because you don’t want to feel like you’re not part of the creative process. I think that’s probably the most upsetting and the worst part of being an assistant if you feel like you’re not involved in any of the creative side of editing. As you know, it’s quite a lonely job. If you just feel as though you’re just there to do the technical end of things and not creative, I think that’s quite sad. You want to feel like you’ve contributed to the film.

HULLFISH: Another way that’s creative—that of course I use my assistants for, and I know many people do—is asking advice. You’ll show a cut to your assistant and ask, “Hey, what did you think about this?” Have you had that experience? Have people brought you in and said, “What do you think?”

ANTOINE: Yeah, numerous times, which is fantastic because it makes you feel like you’re part of the team, part of the storytelling, the process and the end product as well. It’s quite a nice moment to feel like, “Oh yeah, I contributed to that.” I’d like to also say there’s no right and wrong answer either. If an editor shows you something and says, “Hey, what do you think of this?” You should be honest and don’t be scared to speak up and say, ‘I don’t really like that.'” I worked with an editor who encourages me to have a little dive-in to see what he’s doing. We have a relationship, a great relationship, where I can say, “Oh, that’s really, really cool.” Actually, he’s such a genius. Everything he does is cool.

HULLFISH: Who are we talking about?

ANTOINE: Jon Harris.

HULLFISH: Oh, Jon Harris. All right. The Dig editor.

ANTOINE: Yes. He worked on Kingsman: Secret Service as well.

HULLFISH: When you are asked that question, what are you thinking about? What are you looking at? Are you worried because you’re kind of critiquing your boss’s work? It’s kind of daunting, probably.

ANTOINE: Well, I assume the reason why the editor asks you is because he knows that you know the dailies really well. He wants to include you creatively in the process, but also he might be asking, “Have I got enough coverage here? Do you think I’m missing anything?” And right there I can say, “Oh, we’ve got a close-up shot. We actually had that extra camera going. You haven’t really used that, and I think that’s a really good moment there.” That I think is what makes a great assistant editor, if you know the material inside and out. The editor is very, very busy on a daily basis. He can get six or seven scenes at once going. If you’re familiar with the material, which you should be at this point, then you can offer that.

You’re supporting your editor right there, and that builds the trust, and that allows you both to develop your relationship. Because then he thinks, “Okay, she’s on it. She’s just pointed out that I’m missing a moment there. I haven’t even spotted that.” It’s not about who’s missed what, it’s about supporting each other. We’re a team, right? So that’s the first thing I probably would look for and think, “Has he missed any moments there? Is that going to be helpful for him if I mention it?”

That might also be my opportunity to say, “Hey, I think this sound effect can work there or had you thought about this music?” Then you can actually create work for yourself to do things creatively right there.

HULLFISH: Should an assistant tell the editor that they want to edit? Where do you stand on the politics? Hypothetically, you and I start working together next week on a project and I meet you. I want to hire you, you’ve never worked with me before, what do you do? What do you say to get cutting?

ANTOINE: That I would say is the wrong way to ever start. If I don’t know you, I’ve never worked with you before, I am not going to overstep that boundary. That makes me cringe and shudder slightly because you don’t have a relationship with this person and you don’t know them well enough and they don’t even know your ability. I think all editors may assume that their assistants want to edit, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to give you editing work to do because you are their assistant. I don’t want it to come across as this hierarchy structure, but there are still boundaries and you’re supposed to respect your HOD (head of department). Not to say that it’s disrespectful for you to ask to edit, but if I don’t know you well enough, I would not expect you to ask me that.

I think all editors may assume that their assistants want to edit, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to give you editing work to do because you are their assistant.

HULLFISH: When does that question get breached?

ANTOINE: I think if you’re having a chit-chat maybe over lunch and you feel comfortable to say, “Hey, I want to edit,” but not implying that you want to start editing the project. There’s a difference. Having that conversation about your passions and your career choices, etc., over lunch or you find an appropriate moment, then if the editor suggests, “How about you do a little work?” That I think is appropriate and that’s okay, but if you’ve worked with an editor for a long time, you can gauge how they are. I know that my editor now would not be offended if I said, “Hey, do you mind if I can do that?” I would always ask permission first as I’ve known him for years, but I would never dive in and start. I just couldn’t. I just think that’s not your job. That’s not what you were hired for, so be respectful and ask before you start digging in and rooting around and editing. I know for a fact that if I was to ask he would say, “Yeah, sure. Go for it”.

I don’t think being an assistant editor makes you a good editor.

It’s called cutting room etiquette, and a lot of people just can’t read the room and read what a person’s like. Being an assistant is all about being able to read that silence. I’ll be in a room with the editor and another assistant would walk in and start talking about the cut. It’s a bit awkward. What are you doing? I don’t think that’s appropriate. So you have to gauge and read what your editor is like. Amongst the assistants we can talk and chat about it, but I would never openly critique or even suggest that I can edit, especially if someone is as highly experienced as editors I’ve worked with. I would never—as much as I’m fond of Mark Sanger—I would never say, “Hey Mark, do you mind, can I start cutting your Oscar-winning film?” No, no, no.

I don’t think being an assistant editor makes you a good editor. I think people make this mistake, “I’m going to be an assistant editor, and then my next role will be an editor.” It’s like you said earlier: the jobs are very different. An assistant editor is quite technical. You do a little bit of creativity, but in no way as much as what an editor does. If you want to be an editor, you should edit. I don’t think you should be an assistant to edit.

HULLFISH: Do you want to edit?

ANTOINE: No. People assume that I do, and I don’t. I want to be an assistant editor and I’m really happy in that role. If I wanted to be an editor, I would edit.

HULLFISH: I talked to the editing team for Bosch, and they said that there is a woman on their editing team that they’ve used for 20 years and she says she has no desire to be an editor. She loves being an assistant, and that’s what she wants to be. It’s almost a shame that the word assistant has to be in the title. It almost should be just another word that we come up with.

ANTOINE: I was saying exactly that a few days ago: that I loathe the word “assistant” because it implies as though you are a personal assistant for an editor in a way. People who aren’t in the industry just assume that it’s not a great role or anything. It’s a whole different role that we have in the cutting room. I don’t even think we should be called assistants in a way.

It wasn’t until The Crown season one that I met female editors. Every job I had was just all men.

I did want to edit. I really did, and I know this is going to sound like, “Boo-hoo,” but I kind of fell out of love with it. I’ve been in the industry now going on maybe 11 years and I really did, I really had passion. I used to cut those short films and I just didn’t have my lucky break.

It wasn’t until The Crown season one that I met female editors. Every job I had was just all men. That in itself just makes you feel like it’s impossible as if, “I’ll never break the ceiling. It’s just never going to happen for me.” Then I worked on The Crown season one, and then I realized it appeared as though there were more female TV editors, but I had a passion for film. I’m a true believer of: “You can’t be who you can’t see,” and I never saw any women. Then, to top it off, I never ever, until last year, met a Black editor. It kind of beats you down a bit and you just think, “Why am I going to keep pushing and pushing something that’s never going to happen?”

But back to the reason why I also think I won the award, or part of it was my contribution to the post-production community. Last year I founded the Black British Post-Production Collective, which is the Facebook group. We have nearly a hundred members now, and I’ve been a true advocate for trying to network and meet other Black British people in post-production and supporting our community by employment and saying, “We need more diversity here.” Before COVID hit us really hard, I started seeking out Black editors and directors and I started interviewing them. So, I’ve got a little YouTube channel. There’s only a few videos on there now, because I haven’t been able to meet anyone. I’ve only started this a year ago, but honestly, it was strange to me that I hadn’t met anyone black in post-production.

I just felt like I was always the only person of color in post-production every single production that I worked on. I’m quite a confident person, I would say, but it’s quite intimidating walking into a room and it’s all men. Then, on top of that, I look different, I talk differently, I’m a true South-Londoner, I’m not middle-class, posh at all. I stick out. I stopped editing because I couldn’t see anyone like me, and I thought, “You know what? I need to start showing young people that there are people like me who look like me, who are dark-skinned, Asian, any other ethnic minorities who are doing their thing and successful at it too. Here’s a face. Let me be a role model for you. Something that you can aspire to look up to.”

Part of being an assistant editor is all about networking…because this job is never advertised.

That’s why I founded the page, and I’m really passionate about that. I’m really excited about doing that sort of stuff. If I don’t cut, I don’t cut, but at least I feel as though I’ve contributed to my community, to post-production. I think the cutting room should be a true reflection of society and who lives and works here. London is so multicultural, and yet the cutting rooms are white male middle-class. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

HULLFISH: If you’re trying to be an assistant in the business and get that next job, things like what you’re doing, those are great things for you to meet people and to be part of the community where people know your name.

ANTOINE: Part of being an assistant editor is all about networking—how you network well—because this job is never advertised. People ask, “How do you get in?” And I say, “There isn’t a magical website that lists all the productions and that they need assistants.” It’s all word of mouth. A lot of time you have to network and show up to places, networking events and things like that. Our networking hub is a pub. It literally is. Get yourself down to the pub in Soho. You’re going to meet an editor there.

HULLFISH: You told a little bit of the story about being persistent with Mark Sanger and getting in. How did you get that very first job?

ANTOINE: I was working as a part-time runner at Framestore, who were doing the pre-viz, and Gravity needed runners from Framestore to help out—do lunch runs and various runner duties. I looked for them. I was like this little buzzy bee trying to find the editorial team. Someone said, “That’s Mark Sanger, that’s his first assistant editor, Tania Clarke, and Debs Richardson was his second. They’re in that part of the building, but you can’t really go over there.” And I thought, “You watch me. I’m going.” I met Alfonso Cuarón’s assistant—I can’t remember the details of how it happened, but I was basically Alfonso’s lunch runner and making green teas—so then I just made friends with Alfonso and I would make him green teas everyday.

HULLFISH: So you went straight up to the top.

ANTOINE: I went straight to there. He was in the room with Mark Sanger editing, I came in with a green tea and I said to Alfonso, “I know you’re going to be in production soon, and I want to go, too,” and that was it. He said, “Absolutely, of course you’re going to come.” I said, “Oh, okay. Fine.”

HULLFISH: Tell me what a day is like for an assistant. What is a day like during production and then what is a day like five weeks into a director’s cut?

ANTOINE: During production, it would be getting all the media across from the lab, or from the DIT, bringing that into the project, syncing the material, and going through all the different cameras. The way I like to work is I have camera sheets in one hand and script supervisor continuity notes in the other, and then I have a bin with all my master clips and I literally go through every single take, all the reports, and make sure I have everything there. Then I sync it all, and then, depending on how the editor likes to work, I create scene bins for the editor. That can take most of my morning really, going through, making sure we have everything. On top of that is raising or flagging any issues that may come up in picture, like if there’s any sort of camera faults being listed and things like that. I might get a call from production saying, “Hey, what can you see here? Are there any issues?” I always like to try and be a step ahead and report anything unusual before they come to me because that might look as though I’m not doing my job very well. I’m supposed to be watching through everything and making sure everything’s okay.

So, I’m constantly in communication with production sound and the lab to make sure I’ve got everything. If I don’t, before I start contacting the department—this is one thing that I taught my second assistant Francine Leach who I’m working with now—I say, “Just go for the clip names first.” Every clip has a number. You go through the bin. You see clip one through to eight, for example, and nine was skipped but you’ve got a clip ten, and then you know something’s missing. That’s a little trick that I taught my assistant and I say, “Okay, if it doesn’t look as though it’s there then someone’s probably accidentally missed it off the delivery so I’ll check the Lab report. If it’s not there and if it’s not noted on the script supervisor’s notes, then it’s most likely going to be in the camera report. If it’s not on the camera report, it might be on the DIT report. If it’s not there—if it’s not on all three—then you can send an email to the lab because you’ve checked everything.” A lot of the time they’ll say, “It’s just my bad. We didn’t write it down or it was missed or sorry. We didn’t roll.” Then you say, “Okay, cool.”

HULLFISH: So that’s your morning?

ANTOINE: Yeah, that’s my morning, and in the afternoon we upload to PIX, which is a dailies viewing platform. It doesn’t sound like a lot.

HULLFISH: I know that’s a lot.

ANTOINE: It is a lot. That’s the bulk of the morning and just making sure that the director and the DOP have the material to watch. Usually, the editor will pass over a reel. He’ll ask, “Can you do a tidy up?” The tidy up being go through, listen through dialogues, making sure that all sounds good, popping some sound effects in to help enhance the story, do a little rough mix, try and get it sounding good. Then I might have to play that out to the studio. If it’s during the director’s cut, that’s what you would usually do. You would prepare the cut so it’s ready for the studio to listen to it. It might be a QuickTime that I have to output and upload to PIX, or we might be preparing an actual screening in a small theater or cinema.

You have to know what your editor wants before he asks for it, and that’s part of your role as an assistant.

At the beginning of a show, I get scripts and I highlight useful sound effects moments. Could be a car horn, could be a police siren—I literally highlight the script. Then when I start a show, I start finding sound effects libraries for those particular moments, so that I have it on hand. When we shoot it, and the editor assembles those scenes, I’ve already got the sirens there and I can pop them in.

HULLFISH: Like you were saying: be ahead of your editor.


HULLFISH: Don’t wait for him to say, “Hey, where’s the siren?” Say, “I found a siren.”

ANTOINE: And I’ve already got it in the bin. I read the script, so as soon as I know, say, scene two has a reference of a music track, I’ve already got that music track in an episode bin called Episode 1 Scene 20. It’s already there in the project, and I did that during pre-production. Then, I’ll pop that in his scene bin as well, so then he doesn’t even have to root around in the project for the music track. It’s already there in the scene bin. As soon as he assembles it, there’s the music track, he’s got it.

I was talking about that language that you have, that unspoken language. That’s exactly it. You have to know what your editor wants before he asks for it, and that’s part of your role as an assistant. You should be reading the script. You should be figuring out what is needed here because you’re not cutting the story, you’re not dealing with the drama, but as an assistant you’re dealing with the sound effects and music and the visual effects a lot of the time. So, if you know, there’s a window and they’re shooting outside a window, you best believe it’s probably going to be a blue screen. I already know what I’m going to put behind there because I’ve read the script and I’m thinking about it already. Then I know on Tuesday they’re going to shoot that element, and so why do I not have it there available for him in the scene bin?

HULLFISH: That’s why you’re the first award-winning assistant editor in the history of the world.

ANTOINE: It’s overkill [what I do], but honestly it just means that I’m not sitting there panicking when he’s asking for stuff because I already did it a week ago, because I read the script, because it was available to me a week before I even got my contract. I think, “Why are you not reading it, guys?”

HULLFISH: Then you can joke. Then you can have a sense of humor and have fun because you’re not stressed.

ANTOINE: Exactly that. Then suddenly, that workday that used to be 16 hours has gone down to 8. Then you’re making production happy as well, because you haven’t been put through overtime.

HULLFISH: What do you think the new normal is going to be? Eventually, hopefully, America and the UK and maybe the rest of the world is going to get back to normal, but do you think post has changed forever?

ANTOINE: For me personally, I’ve enjoyed working from home. I never thought I would be that person. Honestly, over the last year I’ve seen how this has supported women, particularly people with families, being able to work from home. So, although COVID is awful, the pro out of it, if you can call it that, is that people have been able to work from home. Which means they’ve been able to spend more time with their families.

Ruth Antoine at work
“For me, personally, I’ve enjoyed working from home.”

There’ll be more part-time roles that come up, for women in particular, in the cutting rooms, because they’ll say, “Working from home, can I reduce my hours? I’ve got children. Is that okay?” And of course you can, because then you’ve got an edit suite in your house and you can jump on when you need to. It’s really supported young families. Like my editor, he has a newborn and a little child as well, and he’s saying, “Honestly, this is great for me. My family dynamic is fantastic.”

Also, I’ve saved money. It seems to be selfish, but I work more effectively at home. I honestly do. I’m not spending time commuting into a cutting room. It’s here at my house. I can almost dictate my own hours. I do start between eight and nine, but then I can take a break and have lunch, maybe put my washing on.

Using The Dig as an example, we locked down in March last year and I hadn’t even turned over to music or post-sound, and we got the film out. I don’t think there were any delays in the end. We turned over to music and sound. We did a DI remotely. The music composer was in Australia, our editor in the UK, director was in Vienna and then moved to Amsterdam to do something… We were dotted all over the world. We had musicians in Iceland. We did it without being in the same room. It was remarkable. We graded in another country, and that was all out of my kitchen, by the way.

HULLFISH: Hopefully they’re paying for your fast internet because I heard that happened in LA when COVID hit and all these assistants had to go home and stay home, they realized the assistant is paying for crappy internet. Maybe the editors have the one gig speeds, but the assistants have whatever the cheapest plan is. And they said, “No, the assistant needs to be on a serious internet plan.”

ANTOINE: Because we were already in post, I’d already made multiple backups of the Nexus. So, all the media had already sat on a drive. The moment Boris Johnson said, “Lockdown. Two days,” I’d already had a drive with all the media. One was sent to Jon Harris’s house, one was at my house. Boom. Plugged in. Ready. I didn’t have to stress.

HULLFISH: I see how you got this award now. So, you have two Avid systems in your house and you were running both concurrently? Exports on one and ingest on another or rendering?

ANTOINE: Overcutting, doing the visual effects as well, turning over some visual effects, getting submissions in, cutting those in, sending media to the editor who was across town, uploading the media, sending him the bins, keeping track of the reel versions because obviously we’re not in a shared project even now at this point. Honestly, I think back on that, how did we even do it? But we did it well.

What I do miss is being in a room with amazing people talking about the project and getting excited about it. There’s only so far you can go with Zoom. Yeah, I do miss the days where I could walk into the editor’s suite and say, “That looks freaking cool.” And he’ll say, “I know, right? It’s really good dailies today, isn’t it?” Then you have that quick little banter. Or, you sit in a friends and family screening and people are laughing at your work and you think, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even think it was a comedic moment then.” So, you’re missing those moments where you think, “This project could be a hit.”

What I do miss is being in a room with amazing people talking about the project and getting excited about it. There’s only so far you can go with Zoom.

I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most, but I totally understand why it’s working for people with families because we all know that the industry can be quite tough. The hours can be long. If working in this pandemic can support young families and people with families, etc., then I’m all for it to remain that way. It’s working really well for me. We’ve got this really cool device called SalonSync, where the media just downloads and uploads automatically between all our systems. So, we’ve got a visual effects editor starting soon, I’m the first, I’ve got a second, and an editor and we’re all across London and we’re all working seamlessly. It’s like we’re in a building together. We’ve just had to improve on our communication, whether it be a phone call or text, we’ve just got to find other ways to communicate.

HULLFISH: Really good information. Thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Cut, and I hope we stay in touch.

ANTOINE: Yes, I would love that. Thank you so much for interviewing me. It’s been wonderful.

Steve Hullfish

Stephen Hullfish is an internationally respected producer and editor, and has written six books about the professional scene in Hollywood. He has edited seven feature films, including "Courageous" and "War Room", as well as "The Oprah Winfrey Show". Steve has also worked with industry leaders like Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic, Fujifilm, and Tektronix on technical and creative projects, and produces bespoke training for companies like the NHL, MLS, NBCSports, and Turner Networks.

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