[Frame of Reference] with Editor Cliona Nolan


Cliona Nolan is from Cork, Ireland, and has been editing for over 13 years. She works mainly in broadcast television, editing documentary and lifestyle series’ but also edits corporate, web videos, animation and drama. She worked as the online editor on Emmy award-winning animation series ‘Tutenstein’ and ‘Toddworld’ as well as the Emmy nominated animation series ‘Pet Alien’ and this year she will be editing her first feature film ‘Storage’.

What got you interested in editing?

There were no after school film projects or classes when I was growing up but I was involved in the theatre and I always knew that I wanted to study film. (Apparently from a very young age I would tell all my family repeatedly how I was going to work in ‘the movies’). So, while doing a degree in Film and Television in Galway, unsure of which area I wanted to get into, I tried out many things. Then, I got my first editing project. We were asked to take a short film and cut two trailers for it, one to make it look like a drama and the other a comedy. I loved how you could totally change the audience’s perception of something through editing, by adding a certain reaction, or through the use of music. From that moment I knew this was what I wanted to do.

How did you get started in editing?

Once I got the editing bug, I basically just tried to do as much of it as I could and let everyone around me know that I wanted to edit. In my final year of college, my lecturer at the time, Vivienne Dick, (an Irish experimental and documentary filmmaker) chose me to edit one of our graduation films, and I got the opportunity to edit this short film on a Steenbeck, which was an amazing experience. Once I graduated I continued to edit as much as I could, working for free until I eventually started to get paid gigs and then got a full-time job editing in Telegael, a post production facility in Galway. 8 years ago I moved back to my hometown of Cork, where I have been freelancing, working for the Irish state broadcaster ‘RTE’ and other independent production companies.

What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?

Apart from the steenbeck and some basic tape to tape machines I learned to edit on the Avid. When Final Cut Pro appeared on the scene I cut some short films and short documentaries on this but it was very buggy and crashed a lot, so I didn’t like it very much but most companies in Ireland that make programmes for television broadcast use Avid, (or at least all the ones that I have worked for) so I have spent the past 13 years using their products and am a self-confessed ‘Avid snob’.

Give us a run through of your editing process

Well I guess that’s completely dependent on a few things; the type of project, time and budget and the producer or director. As I’ve been doing a lot of documentaries lately I’ll run through the process I like to do on those (in an ideal situation, of course!). After talking to the producer or director about the programme first I like to go through all the rushes, and mark up the interviews with locators (or markers) containing a rough description of what’s being said, (sometimes I colour code these based on how important or useful I think it will be). I then like to, as quickly as possible, skim through the B-roll and maybe categorise it or group certain things into bins or sequences to make them easier to find later. Then I work with the producer / director on the content cut to get all our dialogue and scripting down to a manageable length and finally I edit the music and the B-roll in to set the tone and rhythm of the show. I think this is my favourite part of the process as this is where you see it all come together and it starts to feel like a fluid, watchable programme. And then I keep refining over and over until someone tells me to let it go or my deadline is up!

What tips were you given that were really helpful?

I always remember my first assistant editing job on a short film (back when they were shot on film) and the editor told me to always try to have at least a 3 frame split edit on your cuts, it takes the eye that fraction longer to catch up and it makes for a smoother edit. Another was to organise every project so that any other editor could walk in and just pick up where you left off. Also someone once told me if you need to cut a montage or something to music to use the ‘add edit’ function to tap out the beats on the top video layer and you will then have a basic block-out for your cuts, I find that useful still, even though you’ll more than likely adjust it afterwards it is a good starting point.

How organised are you?

I really really like to be organised, sometimes on huge projects things can get very messy, I like lots of folders with bins for everything. I also really like colour coding things. If I am working across a few episodes in a series I like to colour code music according to episode so I know immediately in the bin which tracks I’ve used already and I try not to double up if I can. I also colour code my timeline so I can straight away see my track-laying and find things easier, especially on a longer programme, plus it makes prepping for the sound mix easier.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?

Yes, absolutely, I work a lot in documentary and lifestyle and these genres can be difficult to plan out, so I have to work without a script a lot of the time. This is where having the time to watch through the rushes and interviews first really helps, as you see the story unravel while you’re watching and by the time you get to the end you know what parts of the story didn’t pan out and what has emerged unexpectedly. (It is also why in some ways I miss the traditional digitising as you could mark up as you went and that way you always got time to view all your footage.)

What is your favourite film? Favourite TV show?

Most of my favourite films are older or from my childhood, probably because I am nostalgic about them or maybe because it’s been a while since a movie has blown me away. Choosing one is so difficult… A few that I still love to this day are; ‘Momento’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of a spotless mind’, ‘Adaptation’, and I really like feature docs like ‘The King of Kong’ & ‘Spellbound’.  Television at the moment is really so good. Right now, editing wise, I just think ‘Breaking Bad’ is so well crafted I love the editing on this show. ‘Sherlock’ also deserves a mention for its editing. I like sci-fi and fantasy too so I enjoy ‘Game of Thrones’ and love to see the locations from Ireland in it. I will watch pretty much any sitcom, (which I would one day love to edit) they are my not-so-guilty pleasure, in particular; Arrested Development, The I.T. Crowd, Black Books, Modern Family, Bored to Death… I could go on and on…

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)

I have worked in corporate, documentary, lifestyle, drama, animation and news, so probably most types but my core work is in lifestyle and documentary television series’ although in the past year I have gotten back doing some drama, which I always loved and will be cutting my first feature film this year, which I am very excited about. (@storagefilm)

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

I love talking to other editors and could happily spend hours talking about workflows or new plug-ins but if I could meet anyone in the world, it would have to be Thelma Schoonmaker. She has been my heroine since college and one of the first ever female editors I had heard of. Plus Dody Dorn, because she edited one of the most complicated and amazingly edited films I have ever seen; ‘Momento’. And of course the editor(s) on ‘Breaking Bad’.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Go for a walk, get a coffee, if you have time sleep on it, or basically do smaller jobs first that are still productive but less taxing on your brain so it can de-stress and you can tackle the problem with a clearer head. The best advice I ever got when I was overwhelmed was to make a list and just do things one by one, thinking less about the big picture until you’re not so overwhelmed and you can sit back and look at it as a whole (which usually ends up in the solution popping in, especially once you try to watch it through without stopping…)

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?

Because I work mostly in documentary and lifestyle television I don’t do a lot of effects work so I mainly use plug-ins for fixing things and onlining / grading. I have a lot of plug-ins on my edit suite at home but I find Boris FX invaluable and would use it on nearly every job. I also find myself using NewBlue FX film colour plug-in a lot in grading, I just really like the looks it gives.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

Trust and mutual respect are the most important things in my book. If you find someone who trusts you and respects your opinions as much as you do theirs then hold on to that relationship as best you can, you may not always see eye to eye but that’s alright as long as the trust and respect are still there. Trust must be earned too so if you’re not feeling it on the first job it can be built up over time. Plus I always have to remember it’s their vision and at the end of the day it’s their call, my job is to advise and to help them tell the story they want in a way that engages an audience, not to direct.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

In 13 years I have worked with some amazing people who I admire very much, and thankfully there have only been a small number of people who were problematic for me. I think you need to gage the situation really… about 13 years ago I worked with someone for 7 days and by day 5 I didn’t think I would make it through, but I stuck it out and learnt some valuable lessons from that. (1) Not to work with that person again and 2) to devour manuals and get better and faster, so I wouldn’t be in that situation again.  On the other hand if it is a longer project I don’t see any shame in simply telling the person that you are not the right person for the job, working in a difficult environment long-term is not something anyone wants really. However, if you’re working with someone who is just creatively very different, then I would just suck it up and try to work with them to achieve what they are looking for.

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

It’s a cliché I know, but story is the key and above all I think editing comes from the gut, it’s all about instinct and emotion, it might sound odd but I always have to feel out the rhythm of a programme and cut when my gut says to. With content I try to remember how I felt when I saw or heard something the very first time watching it, so if it felt strong the first time but not so much after seeing it over and over I always try to hold on to my original feeling on it.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor:

Do training courses if you can, read manuals, learn shortcuts and get faster on the software so you can concentrate on the storytelling. Then spend as much time on learning why you cut as you spend on how to cut. (By reading books, watching movies and talking to other editors) Also, edit as much as you can, every day if possible. And above all be nice to people and try to always help your director / producer achieve the best show it can be. (That’s more than one thing, sorry)

To learn more about Cliona visit her website www.cutandsplice.me or follow her on twitter @jkl_3

2 thoughts on “[Frame of Reference] with Editor Cliona Nolan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s