'Take every opportunity' Murder in Successville editor Calum Ross on editing TV comedy and more
Calum Ross is a TV comedy editor known for hit shows Fresh Meat, Lovesick and the BAFTA award-winning Murder in Successville. Here he tells Mandy News how he got started in the entertainment industry and what a typical edit is like along with great advice for how to build a career in editing.
Please introduce yourself to us and tell us how you got into the TV and film industries.
A film and television editor who's been honing his craft for the last 15 years. I’d never dreamed of working as an editor when I studied Visual Communication at Edinburgh College of Art. It was actually my dad who spotted an advert in his local paper up in the Highlands of Scotland, where Ecosse Films were looking for a trainee assistant editor to join the crew of the hit show Monarch of the Glen.
I think there were four different jobs including mine and a total of 15 people who applied. Thankfully there wasn’t much competition in such a remote place. I worked on three series as the assistant editor and then I was given the opportunity to cut the final three episodes.
How did you get involved with Murder in Successville?
Murder in Successville came about through the director James De Frond. I’d worked with him on a couple of teasers and also a comedy feed for BBC3. The producers Avril Spary and Andy Brereton showed me the pilot; it was both bonkers and brilliant. An idea so crazy that it should never work, but from the pilot you could see that it was genius. I was in.
What is the process of working on an episode of the show, turnaround, working with the director, etc?
The show itself is filmed over two days. It became clear right from the beginning of the edit that the workload was going to be huge. Even from a two day shoot, it was going to take eight days to cut it. The schedule was never going to allow for this so I quickly bumped my assistant Dean Harding up to assembly editor. The two of us had our work cut out, that's for sure. Some takes were 30 minutes long, filmed with three cameras. There were such great performances and due to the ad lib nature of the show, the director would just let the actors run with it.
We had so much great material to work with. Quite often we’d be half way through editing some great moments when suddenly there would be a key line that wasn’t caught on camera. We’d scrap it, and then later discover a line that would totally work for the earlier joke. We’d then have to re-edit it all again. It really was a job where you were crafting the piece. We pretty much included every joke that worked and quickly realised that including the moments when the actors corpse was working really well. I think the Jamie Laing episode is my all time favourite. The scene where he infiltrates the Harry Styles gang is one of the funniest things I’ve ever cut. Tom (Davis) is just a genius when it comes to being funny and this is totally highlighted throughout this episode.
The director James is fantastic when it comes to comedy. During the fine cut, we were often in the edit until 10 or 11 at night. We had about a week per episode. The assemblies were long and we would just chip away at them taking out little bits at a time. I think Deborah Meaden’s episode was the longest assembly we did…3 hours!! There was so much great material in there and the bed scene is one of our all time favourites. She was a great celebrity to have in the show and was totally determined to solve the crime. She hated it when Tom messed around.
The fine cut was a really difficult process as not only were we losing stuff that was really funny, but it was also still making the story and continuity work. Usually we’d manage to get the episode down to about 50 minutes and then it got really hard because we were losing absolute gold dust. We always got there in the end and the episodes were always better for it.
I’d definitely say this was the hardest but most rewarding show I’ve cut thus far.
What do you cut on? And, what do you think of the many technological advancements that have been happening in editing over the last few years?
All my projects are cut on Avid Media Composer. I once did a job on Final Cut and it was horrific. Not because it’s not a good piece of software, but because I’d never used it before. I told the production this, but they still wanted to hire me. I’d choose not to go down that route again.
In terms of technological advancements, I'm the worst person to ask. I use about five buttons and the mouse. I let my assistants deal with anything technical. I would say the words filmic and bold get branded around a lot these days, but I just use my creativity to get the best from what I'm given. If it's bold and filmic...then great.
What else have you been working on lately and what is coming up for you in the rest of 2018?
Last summer was spent working on the Netflix show Lovesick. It was a really enjoyable job and I was pretty pleased with the end result. I finished off last year working with the Murder in Successville team on their latest show, Action Team. It was a fantastic looking show set in the world of secret agents and bad asses. It also starred Tom Davis, as well as a host of others including Stephen Graham and Vicky McClure. It was more story driven but still had the silly gags that Murder did so well. It was broadcast earlier this year on ITV2.
Next up for me is a new Netflix Comedy Drama called Sex Education. It’s about a teen virgin called Otis who channels his sex therapist mum when he teams up with rebellious Maeve to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school. It should be a lot of fun.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved in the editing department and to become an award-winning film and TV editor like yourself?
My advice to any assistant starting out would be to get as much editing experience as you can. Take every opportunity to get on the machine and do some editing. Try editing a scene from the show you are working on, and compare it to what the editor has done. Ask if it’s ok to watch them work, providing you have time.
Learn the shortcuts he or she is using to edit as no director likes working with a slow editor. Most of all be patient. If you work hard enough, you will get your opportunity.
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