I worked as an editor for 6 years in New York. I was surprised and delighted to find that they have a totally different way of choosing editors from filmmakers in the UK. I highly recommend their approach. It involves research.
Ask people if they have any editors they would recommend, don’t just ask your friends. Keep an eye out when you watch films and if you like the way one is made, make a note of the editor’s name and get his or her contact details. Nowadays, with access to the internet, this is easy to do.
Draw up a short list of between 3 and 5 of the men and women you are interested in. You may be able to see their work online, if not, get them to send you some samples. Show reels won’t help much (though this can get you the initial 5 individuals) so ask for whole films or clips of 5 – 10 minutes. You want to look at whole scenes and how they are put together. Look at this work before you invite them for interview. When looking at their films, you need to look at how scenes are constructed, how good are they with mood and atmosphere, does the film have the kind of clarity of ideas a good film needs, can you follow, are you keen to watch more? Then, call in the ones that impress you for an interview.
People often say to me, it’s hard to choose an editor because you don’t know whose ideas formed the final film. My answer to this is quite simple: ask them! At this stage you have seen their work, you liked it, ask the editor questions about the film and how it was put together. When I interviewed Anne V Coates, ACE, who has edited over 50 features, she talked about the films she had worked on like she had edited them last week. This included ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which she edited (and got an Oscar for) in 1961. Editors look at the same cuts, the same scenes over and over again, they can remember the creative decisions, the alternatives available. This is all burned on their memory.
Next you want to talk about your film. You should send them any treatment / script you have. Maybe you have a trailer, make sure they get to see this before the interview. Ask them questions about your film. Talk about your film’s issues. See if they have anything to say about your film, your ideas. If it is controversial, will they be able to accept your approach?
Then you need to check working style compatibility. How do they like to work with a director? Does it match up to your expectations; do you feel attracted to the approach they suggest?
Finally and perhaps most importantly, ask about how they approach an edit. How do they set about structuring a film? I believe an editor should be a skilled storyteller; they need to help the director put the film together. Do they sound like they can do that?
A director complained to me recently that her editor did not seem to ‘get’ her film. It included shots she wanted held on screen for 10 seconds, it was a poetic film and always planned as such. She had chosen a commercials editor, someone who is used to shots being on screen for a few frames, not a few seconds. Don’t make her mistake, it’s not the editor’s fault if you choose someone who is simply not appropriate for your film.