Tom first got his teeth into the editing game cutting promos for friends who were in bands back in school. He started out in the industry working at various production companies, honing his craft cutting mood films and director showreels before joining Absolute in 2017.
Since then, Tom has worked on some varied projects across the film and TV, advertising and music industries, including Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ prologue, Lumos’ important #HelpingNotHelping project and BMW’s ‘M140I The Shadow Edition’ campaign.
A keen storyteller, Tom is inspired by those telling their stories in new and inventive formats and has noticed a few editing trends emerging within the industry during recent years.
The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?
I like to make sure I’ve seen absolutely everything from the rushes. Usually, there isn’t time to watch everything back frame-for-frame, but I always take as much time as I can to familiarise myself with what was shot. Even those little moments between takes can give you further insight into how an edit is going to work and can prove useful if you’ve hit a creative wall. It’s also important for me to say - with confidence - that I’ve seen everything, so I can easily answer any questions from the director or the team and offer creative solutions in sessions.
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?
I think it’s something that comes with a bit of time. When you first start out, your first instinct is going to be to learn the software. But once you’re technically proficient, that part of the process almost becomes second nature and developing your craft from an emotional stance is how you truly hone it.
Lumos, ‘#HelpingNotHelping’, 2019
I enjoy showing an edit to someone who knows nothing about the project I’m working on, because more often than not they’ll pick up on something I hadn’t considered. Watching someone’s reaction to an edit also helps me get a better understanding of how to build a particular mood. I think it’s a side of the job I’ve improved on, partly through cornering people in the office and showing them my work when I get the chance! Shoutout to the entire team at Absolute who’ve had to sit through my rough cuts over the years…
How important is an understanding of story and the mechanics of story?
As an editor, visual storytelling is essentially your job. You’re entrusted to understand how an audience will interpret the story, so you have to make the most of that responsibility. However, I think it’s possible to become too preoccupied with the nuts and bolts of storytelling in its traditional form. Taken too literally, you might lose sight of things that can make a film really engaging and unique.
After university, I was fortunate enough to work as an intern on the BBC Arts documentary series, ‘Arena’. I was massively inspired by how those documentaries were constructed, fusing together archive footage, performances, interviews and all kinds of anecdotal material in a way that didn’t necessarily follow an overtly conventional narrative structure. Spending some time in the cutting room on 24-hour film, ‘Night and Day’ for Arena’s 40th anniversary was a truly eye-opening experience - and one that I’ll never forget!
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?
There's always a moment towards the end of the editing process where you're trying to figure out a rhythm to the edit, independent of any music (or lack thereof), in order for the emotional beats in the narrative to land successfully. It's probably the process I enjoy the most as it's all about tweaking and finessing what you have in order to raise the project to another level.
That said, I love cutting to music. A great track can help give you a head start on where you can take the edit and when the music perfectly compliments the emotional narrative beats in the cut, It can be incredibly satisfying. But it’s important not to fall into the trap of forcing the music to match at the expense of the footage.
HPBLK, ‘Stuntman’, 2019
I’ve had the rare fortune as an editor to be able to collaborate on a number of projects with a composer - Joe Worters over at Absolute’s sister company, Blind Pig. Joe is a fantastic musician with a great knack for creating compositions that add an extra layer to projects. Being able to pop next door to work in the same room is such a valuable creative resource. It’s one of the many reasons I can’t wait to get back to the office!
Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.
I recently worked on Brooks England’s ‘Whatever The Road’ campaign, for which production took place in four various locations around the world, each shoot using a different crew. Jacopo, the director, had given each team a clear brief, but naturally there were some slight stylistic nuances between each of the team’s rushes. The creative challenge lay in bringing a level of unity to the final films, whilst showcasing the individual qualities of each. Luckily I had a fantastic director with a crystal clear vision to work through the gears with!
Brooks England, ‘Whatever The Road’, 2021
How important is your relationship with the director and how do you approach difficult conversations when there is a creative difference of opinion?
The editor/director relationship is incredibly important – you’re depended upon to bring their vision to life. I tend to think of the director as a driving force for the creative and, as an editor, you want to do their ideas justice.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stand by your own creative opinion, though. I always try to approach creative differences with a level of prudence. I’ll never outright decline a request - from a director or otherwise - until I’ve fully understood the reasoning behind it. Once I have a better understanding, I might be convinced and end up changing my mind entirely. But if I’m not, I’m in a far better place to express an opinion or offer creative workarounds.
What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough?
It’s usually better to have too much than not enough material to work with. That said, swimming around in hundreds of takes can take you down a bit of a rabbit hole where you end up second-guessing yourself.
I once worked on a music video where there really wasn’t a great deal of material at my disposal. But it was kind of liberating in a strange way as it eliminated the pressure of searching for the gems amongst several hours’ worth of footage.
Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?
I’m really pleased with the ‘Helping Not Helping’ video I did for Lumos, as it was for a worthy cause and I think the whole project came together really nicely in a very short space of time. Working as part of a team on the prologue for Netflix series ‘Maniac’ was also an amazing and memorable experience, partly because I was able to channel my inner science nerd spending lots of time researching things like microscopic footage of vampiric amoebas!
Netflix, ‘Maniac’, 2018
I’m also quite proud of a film I cut fairly early on in my career, ‘Make The Call’ for The Macallan. It was incredibly challenging, but I learnt a ton about editing and post-production and got to work with some amazing people.
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?
There’s certainly been a shift towards mobile-friendly content. Now that there’s so many different ways to watch a video, brands and agencies are really honing in on people viewing stuff on their phones and designing content that works specifically for certain platforms. It’s been the case for a little while now, but it feels as though recently, directors and creatives are creating content across platforms in really interesting ways.
Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?
In terms of editing heroes it has to be Walter Murch and Thelma Schoonmaker. I also think Ronald Bronstein is amazing - I’m a big fan of the Safdie brothers and he is clearly instrumental in their collaborative filmmaking. I recently discovered Adam Curtis edits a lot of his documentaries himself, which I think is so impressive. His exploration of complex and ambitious ideas, through endless amounts of compelling archive footage mixed with eclectic music is amazing and no doubt requires some next-level editing power.
How does editing in the commercial world differ from the film world and TV world?
In the commercial world, you only have 30 or 60 seconds – max – to tell your story, so you have to use the most economic method of storytelling. I think that mindset comes in useful regardless of the project in question. The longer turnarounds awarded to longform editors aren’t without their challenges – it’s all about patience! You’re basically working on an elaborate jigsaw puzzle.
Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years?
It’s not necessarily a trend but I’ve noticed editors are becoming increasingly relied upon for temp VFX work. Whether it’s to hide cuts via elaborate transitions through scenes or working quickly with multiple layers that need to be comped into shots, there are many situations in which complex setups need to be coherently visualised by an editor before going through a VFX workflow. Technological advancements mean the work is always changing and moving forwards, it’s a side of the job that really keeps you on your toes!
BMW, ‘M140I The Shadow Edition’, 2019