The Agile Films editor has carved out a career for herself through caring deeply, knowing where she wants to be and grafting hard to get there, writes Alex Reeves
Growing up in a tiny town in North Wales, building a career as an editor wasn’t even imaginable for Beth Roberts. At school, the only options for success seemed to be through academic study. She never even considered her passion for the arts could be harnessed to become a profession, although she wanted to be a dancer for as long as she can remember - an interest that ties into her “complete love and passion for music.”
She always looked for ways to express that love and aged 16 she ended up on an A-level media course. That’s where filmmaking presented itself to her. After trying out every part of the production cycle, she realised how much she enjoyed editing. The discovery came at a crucial moment: “I was the lowest I had been at that time and I wasn’t taking care of myself physically or mentally. Editing was the only thing that made me remotely happy and at peace.” She figured if she felt that way about it when she’s at her worst, it could bring a lot to her life.
Beth’s the first person in her family to complete university and nobody's been since. Everyone considered her the black sheep when she decided to study to become an editor – though nobody tried to hold her back. Her parents had always supported her dreams, both working multiple jobs so she could take part in extra extracurricular activities. “I always just wanted to strive for something different, to build a life for myself that was just a little bit more comfortable whilst exploring things and learning more about the world's cultures,” she says.
She’d never actually been to London before she applied to attend university there. So her first visit was for her interview at Ravensbourne and second was moving there. “I guess I was a bit naive at the time,” she says, “but I've always been a big dreamer.”
“It's definitely difficult to adjust if you're not from a city,” she remembers. She didn’t know anyone in the business and had a lot to learn about how the production cycle works. All she knew is she was fascinated by editing.
Everyone in the production industry knows that you have to do your time as a runner and Beth put in the work on that front as soon as she could, even if it was miles away from the sort of career she was aiming for. Her first job was as a runner at a television post facility, as she describes it, “completely not where I should have been.” Unlike many aspiring filmmakers, she had no interest in long form at that time. But it was crucial in helping her understand how various parts of filmmaking worked, she admits.
Beth had her mind made up to get cutting as soon as she could. At 19 she started contacting people to try to get work and gain experience. She went to a production company and “basically told them: ‘Listen, I want to be an editor. Can I just cut your stuff?’” Still studying in London at the time, she had the luxury of not expecting to get paid. That said, it was always “a money chase” for her. “Even though I didn't want it to be, I had things to pay for.”
Becoming an assistant editor after graduating was another important period for her to grow. While being hands-on is clearly important to learn a craft like editing, Beth valued the chance to get to see things without having the same kind of pressure. She’s certain it helped her to hone “who I want to be as an editor and as a person.” For her, editing isn’t just about the process and understanding the tools. “It's a lot to do with who you are as a person and how you want to be in a room full of people,” she says.
Assisting Jinx Godfrey at Marshall Street Editors helped Beth develop immeasurably. I just really like Jinx Godfrey. “I have mad respect for the woman, the way that she goes about her career. She’s a phenomenal editor in her own right. She's also not doing stuff that's inherently feminine. She's just a really fucking good editor. I learnt a lot from her. She's a listener. I think that's something I need to do more of.”
Despite her determination, she wasn’t confident when she began editing. “I've absolutely faked it till I made it,” she says. “I had to pretend to be confident for a long time and only really in the last 18 months have I really become confident in my abilities as an editor. That's only going to grow with time, but I think I almost pushed myself too far in the deep end because of my ambitious nature. And I had to learn how to not drown.”
Beth knows she’s more driven than most. “I think everyone would describe me as ambitious, almost to my own detriment at times,” she says. She knows people have taken chances on her because of her determination and outgoing nature, “but also because I'm really fucking persistent,” she adds. “I'm not someone who takes no for an answer. If I want to work with somebody, then, I'm probably gonna try my best to make it happen.”
That was the case when Beth first landed her current role as editor at London production company Agile Films. It wasn’t long before she cut a music video she’s still particularly proud of - for the Berwyn track Trap Phone, directed by Brock Neil-Roberts - her first work after the first 2020 UK lockdown. Her relationship with Brock started immediately because he was a new signing at Agile. “I saw my opportunity to try to get a hold of him because I really liked his stuff,” she says. The pair went on to do another job together that was equally slick (Fredwave - Dust), with both videos ending up with UKMVA nominations and Trap Phone winning in its category. “That was the first clear pivotal point in my career,” she says, “but I’ve definitely had another few since that again too.”
2020 wasn’t a breeze for anyone though, even though Beth was doing the best work of her career so far. “Lockdown really sat me back,” she says. “It definitely stunted my growth in my career and for a period of time I genuinely thought I was going to lose everything I'd worked for. I didn't know if the creative industry would survive in the way that it has so far which was a depressing thought because I’ve put so much into it.”
But there was a flipside to that. Lockdown also gave her time to reflect on what she does, why she does it and what she wants out of it. “I thought I might have been falling out of love with it. But having that pause made me realise it keeps me sane and it’s just made me even hungrier.”
Looking back, getting a degree from Ravensbourne was the right path for Beth, as she values the opportunities and contacts it set her up with. But she’s careful not to say it’s right for every aspiring editor. “I don't think there is one way. I think you have to just carve your own path.”
She’s much more prescriptive about how to act once you’re in your career. Beth knows people come to her because of who she is, not just how she edits. “The best thing that you can do for your work is to be yourself,” she says. “For the people around you, you know that that's going to be your selling point. People are going to want to come to you for who you are and what you bring to the table.”
Releasing this has helped her get a healthy perspective on why some people might not click with her. “When I was younger, I wish I'd known it's not personal. You don't get on with everyone. In the creative industries you're bound to not work quite so well with someone or mesh with someone the same way you do with someone else because everyone has different wavelengths, a different mindset. It's all so subjective that I think it's definitely not something to internalise.”
The collaborative nature of an edit session is something she relishes. While some editors like getting their heads down alone, she’d rather bounce ideas around. “I love the conversations, eventually coming out with something that's a hell of a lot better than what you started with. I love seeing that progress.”
Being a woman in post production - one of the many male-dominated areas of the creative industry - is something Beth has mixed feelings on: “In the early stages of my career I was speaking to a lot of women who didn't believe that it was an issue. I think unfortunately that was a lot of their own internalised misogyny. Which is interesting to me because that kind of proves the fact that there is a problem in the first place.” She was dissuaded from believing that she’d miss opportunities because of her gender, but her experience suggests otherwise. “I have learned it is true and have experienced it in a number of situations. I've also experienced age discrimination. I definitely think that is almost as prominent.”
She feels strongly about this and has tried to really make space for and support people who are underprivileged. “I'm very lucky to be privileged in the sense that I'm white, but I also understand the lack of privilege being a woman and being young. It can be tough because it feels disheartening, you get to that stage where you're just exhausted with the way things work.”
Burnout culture is another deep issue that Beth wants the industry to address. She’s continually talking to people about how when there’s no money for a project the attitude of “it needs to get done” prevails. “There's a lack of care for team members in terms of their mental health and wellbeing. We all joke about it. And we all talk about the fact that we do 12 to 18 hour days, and it's normalised. We all suffer in some way from mental health issues. I'm struggling to think of someone I know that doesn't suffer in some way.
“Mental health is really important to me especially because I've been in situations where I have really struggled, becoming so severely unwell that I wasn't able to work for a period of time. That really made me realise that it isn't healthy, what we do. And even though we all normalise it in the industry doesn't mean that it has to stay this way.”
On the bright side, Beth loves being an editor and is surrounded by inspiration. “The people around me definitely drive me,” she says. “I get inspired by watching other people's work and it makes me really want to make things.”
She wants to change the industry for the better. And she wants to leave her mark on the world of editing. For a long time she only ever wanted to work on short form, but says that’s gradually changing. “My goal is really just to work on pieces of work that I care about, that inspires people, that makes other people want to make something, with people I really gel with. I definitely want to make things that matter and resonate with people as much as I possibly can.
“But also, it would be kind of nice at some point to have ACE at the end of my name, but let's talk about that in another 40 years.”