Pia Di Ciaula is a BAFTA-nominated film and TV editor known for editing The Crown, Tyrannosaur and Paddy Considine's latest theatrical release Journeyman. Here she talks to Mandy News about how she got started, how she came to work with Paddy Considine, the challenges of cutting Journeyman and what editors can do to get noticed.
Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in film?
I'm Pia Di Ciaula, a film and television editor, born in Toronto but presently living in London, UK.
I originally wanted to be a fashion photographer because I loved cameras and interesting compositions so I went to film school where I operated and edited many films. My friends liked what I was doing but I suspect they were just too lazy to edit their own projects. The turning point was during one exercise when the whole class shot one scene together and then we were all given the same rushes. I decided to use an unusual way of telling the story by showing some images that were shot before the clapperboard. I pre-lapped dialogue and started with a close-up of a poster and then slowly revealed who was talking. This was a turning point because not only did I get top marks and praise from my peers but more importantly, editing the scene was personally creatively rewarding.
After I graduated, I arranged an interview as a camera assistant with DOP Mark Irwin who had shot many David Cronenberg films. Mark asked me if I was familiar with the ARRI-SR and I said ‘Yes’ but I didn't even know what it looked like! Mark hired me but after the interview, I called Panavision and asked if they had a similar camera. They happened to be servicing Mark's Arri so I went and learned how to load and handle it.
After the shoot, I transitioned into the cutting room and I've been here ever since.
You have worked with Paddy Considine before, how did you meet and how did you come to be involved with Tyrannosaur and, in turn, Journeyman?
My agent sent me the script for Tyrannosaur and, 30 pages in, I felt that I HAD to cut this film!!! It was so powerful and emotional that I had a visceral reaction to the script. How Paddy could turn a violent and horrible character into a lovable and empathetic one was beyond anything I had ever read before. I went for an interview with director Paddy Considine and producer Diarmid Scrimshaw and although I bonded with Paddy over Toronto and photography (Paddy is an award-winning photographer! There is no end to this man's talent!), I was the first editor that they had interviewed and, since it was their first film, they rightly had to meet everyone in town.
I left the meeting feeling deflated because we didn't discuss the script so I called my agent and asked if she could arrange another meeting. I had never requested this before so it shows how passionate I was about the script. I spent five gruelling weeks, while Paddy interviewed many other editors, until he finally agreed to meet me again.
Second time around, I told Paddy and Diarmid how much I loved the script but I also suggested that they drop two scenes. Paddy was surprised at my boldness but Diarmid thought it was a brilliant idea. We then discussed a few other scenes in detail and we seemed to be in sync. When I left that meeting I felt more confident and sure enough I was offered the film the next day!
Can you please tell us about the process of editing Journeyman, timelines, closeness to set, your general approach?
On Tyrannosaur, we all lived in the same building and the locations were very close to the cutting room. The fabulous assistant editor Priya, arranged to get rushes twice a day so that I could show Paddy edited scenes a few hours after they had been shot. I visited the set often and we were able to discuss any pick-ups and make decisions quickly. This was the most ideal shoot ever! We shot the film in four weeks and locked picture within six weeks.
Even if you work with the same people, every film has its own unique challenges. On Journeyman, the locations were further and we had the additional exciting challenge of Paddy starring in the film and training as a boxer so his time was limited. I still visited the set a few times but Paddy only came to the cutting room twice. I would send Paddy weekly assemblies and we would get together on Sunday nights to discuss them.
We shot in a boxing arena for two days using four digital cameras and five video cameras, so I received around 20 hours of rushes! To say that I was overwhelmed getting 20 hours of material would be an understatement. Laurie Rose was our terrific DOP and he used frame rates of 24, 25, 48, 72 and 96 frames per second. This footage had many uses such as to show the actual fight, as inserts on a laptop, for flashbacks and impressionistic moments. I didn't know where or how to begin editing but I had an emotional connection to a shot where Paddy lands on the canvass in slow motion. Paddy looked so vulnerable and beautiful that it allowed me to build the scene backwards.
Working with a writer/director/actor/boxer was challenging because Paddy is brilliant but also humble. He rightly questioned every performance and only wanted the truth. I've never done this in my whole career but I used a three minute close-up of Paddy when he is talking to his wife (played by Jodie Whittaker) on the phone. Paddy asked me to intercut the other characters but I said “No”. I've never refused to try any notes but I could not cut away from Paddy's face! If we had cut away, it would look like he had made a mistake and I had to switch takes, and it would also interrupt the emotion of the scene. Watching the film with a paying audience has been gratifying because women and men cry during that scene. Even though I suggested staying on the shot for three minutes, the credit is due to Paddy's tour de force performance. He embodied the character.
Editing Tyrannosaur with Paddy was a superb experience but when the writer/director is also the lead actor as in Journeyman, it's a bigger responsibility and a much more intense challenge. It took around three months to edit but since it was over the summer, we took a few holidays in-between so the post schedule was over a longer period. Having some distance and perspective was beneficial for both of us. If I hadn't edited Tyrannosaur and hadn't built up the trust from Paddy, it might have take longer to edit Journeyman. It boils down to taste and instincts and Paddy's are impeccable so his trust means the world to me!
What equipment did you use to cut Journeyman? Was it your preferred method and what do think of the technological advances in editing equipment?
I used to love editing on film because it was physical and therapeutic but non-linear systems allow so much more creativity and collaboration. I've been editing on Avid Media Composer for many years and it's a great tool for editing picture, titles and sound design. Some visual effects are too complicated for Avid and have to be done in After Effects but hopefully this may be updated in the future.
What is coming up for you this year and beyond?
Paddy Considine's film Journeyman is presently on general release in UK cinemas and will have a wider release later in the year.
I've just been nominated for a BAFTA for editing the multi-Golden Globe winning The Crown: Paterfamilias (Season 2, Episode 9). This episode was directed by the amazing three-time Oscar nominated Stephen Daldry, and is about Prince Philip and Prince Charles' experiences at boarding school in Scotland. The BAFTAs will take place in London on April 22, 2018.
I'm presently editing A Very English Scandal, with two-time Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears, written by Russell T. Davies and starring Golden Globe winner Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Life doesn't get much better than that! A Very English Scandal is a three part mini-series about Jeremy Thorpe, a gay Liberal MP in the '60s, played magnificently by Hugh Grant! It will be broadcast on BBC in May and world-wide on Amazon.
What advice do you have for up and coming editors?
My advice to up and coming editors would be to work harder than you ever thought possible. Listen and learn the dynamics of the cutting room. Watch old and newly released films. If you're an assistant, ask the editor if you could edit the rushes. Ask the editor to critique your work. Edit shorts. Shoot your own material. You must learn about story-telling, how to advance the narrative, delve deeper into subtext, character development, how to increase tension, vary the rhythm, experiment with sound design and music. Editors are expected to present the whole finished film even at assembly stage so it has to look, sound and feel great.
You must be open to seeing the material with fresh eyes and from different points of view. There are many ways to edit the same rushes, but you have to find the best way! Our job is to ensure that the story is told in the most interesting way possible, that everyone in the cast and crew are shown in their best light while still getting the highest production values.
If you work hard and are passionate about the craft, great things will happen. I never expected to be working with Oscar winners or to be nominated for a BAFTA but it's all about the work, the films, the people, the passion, the mysterious and extraordinary craft that is editing.
A very enjoyable read. I admire Pia's tenacious spirit and courage to speak up about dropping scenes. I thought the Crown was a knockout too; very cinematic, I remember the boarding school episode well.
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