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Finely Sliced: The Excitement of a Project’s First Day for Michael ‘Hooli’ Houlahan


The editor at Heckler Singapore on the good and the bad of changing trends and how an editing mentorship propelled him into the industry

Finely Sliced: The Excitement of a Project’s First Day for Michael ‘Hooli’ Houlahan

Award-winning offline editor Michael ‘Hooli’ Houlahan has joined the Heckler Singapore roster. Hooli has over 25 years experience working with notable brands such as Heineken, McDonald's, Grab, Olay, KFC, Doordash, 711, Latitude, Mazda, Jaguar, Chrysler & Renault

Hooli has worked with global agencies and production companies including Publicis Singapore, Prodigious Singapore, The Secret little Agency Singapore, Speedtrack Jeddah, Sweetshop Shanghai, Finch and Airbag to name a few.

He has also collaborated with renowned Directors including Patrick Hughes/ Finch, Los Perez/ Division, Justin Reardon/ Royal Budapest, Damien Toogood/ MERV, Husein Alicajic/ 13 &Co Craig Melville/ Airbag and Tim Bullock/ Scoundrel.

LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?

Hooli> Firstly I just sit down and watch all of the footage so I’m completely across everything and all the options on the table.

I don’t pay too much attention to the supplied scripts and storyboards or even talk to the director and producer initially. I just put together an edit that I think works best. It’s your best opportunity to bring a fresh eye to the project.

At this stage it’s mainly about structure so again I won’t fuss too much about which take I use but more about the sequence structure. Once I find what works best then I’ll back into rushes and fine tune every shot.

The beauty of not being involved in the production process is you don’t take on board any baggage of the process up to that point. That might mean an actor who was difficult on the day doesn’t come across that way in the footage or a shot that was time consuming and difficult to get might just not work.

LBB> Non-editors often think of editing just in technical terms but it’s integral to the emotion and mood of a film. How did you develop that side of your craft?

Hooli> I was lucky enough to start editing at a time when we were still cutting film and there was a really strong Editor/ Editing Assistant Mentorship.  You basically sat next to a senior editor all day and watched them work, ask questions and soak it all in. I learnt a lot in those days, watched a lot of films and asked a lot of questions.

LBB> How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?

Hooli> It’s everything. If you don’t understand the story and its mechanics then you’re flying blind. There’ll be more than one way to get there and by working closely with a good director you’ll find the way and usually with a lot of trial and error.

LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing (even when it’s a film without actual music) – how do you think about the rhythm side of editing, how do you feel out the beats of a scene or a spot? And do you like to cut to music?

Hooli> One of my mentors, Mike Reed always said that being a musician was always a bonus as an editor. Vision has a rhythm in the same way music does whether it be dialogue, comedic timing or literally cutting to music. I’ve had a passion for performing music and immersing myself in it my whole life so I definitely think that has been a plus in my career.

LBB> Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.

Hooli> I worked on a job for Heckler/ Los Perez/ Division recently that pretty much drew on every skill I have. It was a multi layered, scrolling, FX heavy music video basically. Every shot involved multi layered compositing continuously scrolling through frame whilst singing to lyrics.

I had to invent a way to make it happen in the offline process with a large amount of footage on a laptop in a corner of a studio in Bulgaria. We got there in the end!

LBB> How important is your relationship with the director and how do you approach difficult conversations when there is a creative difference of opinion?

Hooli> Creating good working relationships with multiple directors really is the key to be a successful editor in this business. One thing I’ve learnt is every director is different and every director has a different way of working so you have to be flexible about that.

There will always be creative differences in the process and if you feel passionate about something you’ve just got to be diplomatic about it and have a good reason for it. You’re not being paid to say yes to everything and everyone but in the end you’ve got to know when to push and when not to and that’s just experience.

LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough? (And why?)

Hooli> Well ever since we went from film to digital having not enough footage is rarely a problem!

I do think a lot of the allocated time in the editing process is taken up going through hours of footage and not enough time is left to really perfect the edit. Yes a lot of footage will give you more options and that’s great if have enough time in the schedule to explore them all so somewhere in the middle would be nice!

LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?

Hooli> I had a long successful director/ editor relationship with Garth Davis where we produced some really great work. Clarks 24/7 Clarks and Tooheys Tongue. Tooheys were a highlight and took me from being an unknown assistant editor into the big game.

The director Patrick Hughes has always had fun projects to work on. Probably my favourite was The St.Kilda Film Festival Trailer SKFFT . Ridiculously huge and bloody funny. Air New Zealand Summer Wonderland ANZSW was another highlight directed by Craig Melville starring Ronin Keating. Comedy and Music…. two of my favourite things. And last but not least the French Film Festival Opener FFF is a favourite because well it’s funny!

LBB> There are so many different platforms for film content now, and even in advertising something can last anything from a few seconds to a couple of hours. As an editor, are you seeing a change in the kind of projects you’re getting from brands and agencies?

Hooli> Not really. I think we are still making the same content, it’s just going to different places. One thing that has changed is the different formats required for every project ie) 16:9, 9:16, 1:1 etc..

The durations have probably changed a lot too with more emphasis on shorter length versions like 15 and 6 seconders as peoples attention spans continue to dwindle.

LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?

Hooli> I really respect the director Martin Scorsese/ editor Thelma Schoonmaker relationship. What a Legacy of work they have. There must just be an unspoken understanding between them to have spanned such a long and successful career together. The Australian editor Jill Bilcock is another favorite. Moulin Rouge was an editing masterpiece.

LBB> How does editing in the commercial world differ from the film world and TV world?

Hooli> Well hard for me to answer that one as I’ve intentionally specialised in the commercial world my whole career apart from a multitude of music videos.

I do love the commercial side of editing because it is so eclectic. One week I’ll be working on comedy, the next on a FX heavy production, the next a dialogue piece all with different people in different companies, cities and cultures. 

LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years.

Hooli> Yes a lot and not all of it good. I think what I do is try and remember with every project that I’m here to tell a story and create an edit that sings. The rest is beyond my control.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that excitement of sitting down on the first day of a job and getting my teeth into the next project.

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Heckler Singapore, Mon, 20 Dec 2021 11:37:21 GMT