Eye In The Sky, a film about a commander in England, drone pilots in The United States, terrorists located somewhere in Kenya. Do they have the authority to strike at these high value targets on foreign soil? How far can they take this action, and what are the stakes. All these are weighed up in this thriller about remote warfare.
SAMDB was fortunate enough to catch up with the film’s editor Megan Gil for a Q&A, who’s credits include the Oscar winning Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Spud and several others that will be familiar.
How did you get your start in the film world, and what made you focus on editing?
I had taken a year off from university and done some travelling and was waitressing when a friend asked me if I would like to help out on a TV series she was working on. So I started as an apprentice in the cutting room on Agter Elke Man, got a third assistant job on a feature straight afterwards and never went back to university. I assisted on mostly features for neary 10 years before I started cutting.
Do you have a software preference for edit work?
Over the years, I’ve worked on 5 or 6 different systems. They all ultimately do the same thing once you learn the quirks of each system. At the moment, I prefer working on Avid. It has become really affordable. It’s the most reliable and I find it the most intuitive. Probably because it was one of the first systems I learnt to use.
Talk us through your edit workflow, and how you approach editing a feature film. It must be a very collaborative process?
I approach each film slightly differently, depending on the way it has been shot, the story etc. Eye in the Sky was particularly difficult because each character/location was shot separately because of budget constraints. For example, all of Helen Mirren’s scenes were shot first and Gavin played all the characters she interacted with on the set to feed her lines. Then we shot Aaron Paul and Gavin played all the Helen Mirren parts to him. So it was really like cutting one long phone conversation. I couldn’t cut many of the scenes until all the film had been shot because I had to wait for all the pieces of the puzzle before I could complete it. Once I have a full first cut, then the collaboration with Gavin begins. We obviously stay in touch during the shoot, to make sure we both feel like things are working, but the real work begins once I have a full cut that we can begin to pull apart and rearrange.
You’ve worked with director Gavin Hood a few times in the past. Have you found that the familiarity makes the work easier?
Yes, definitely. I understand his sensibilities, he understands mine. We have a shorthand that comes from working together so often. We don’t always agree but we always find a way through that, borne out of our respect of each other. He always says if one of us isn’t happy, then there’s something wrong and we need to find a way to make it work.
A film is made three times; when writing the script, when filming, and then when editing. Is it often that you would find the story changing in any major way?
Yes and no. Editing, I think, is where you find the essence of the film. It is where you throw out the stuff that doesn’t serve emotion or story. Often stuff is written or shot that over explains. Hopefully, editing is where you keep the essentials and leave behind the superfluous without losing the emotional journey.
What advice would you have for any aspiring film editors?
See lots of films, read lots of books, watch lots of people. Our ability to tell stories comes from our understanding of the world and the way humans exist in it. If we only live in the vacuum of film, we start talking to ourselves. Novels are where I got my love of storytelling. Knowing how people react and live in the world helps inform a sense of reality in the storytelling. And film is only that, another medium for telling stories.
What’s next for you?
Well, I have just finished working on Shepherds and Butchers for Oliver Schmitz, which premièred in Berlin, so I’m taking a bit of a rest. After that, I’m not sure. I am waiting to hear about a couple of South African projects I’m very excited about. And then, hopefully, Gavin’s next movie, which will probably be next year.
We are grateful, and thank Megan for sharing her experiences, and journey with us.