[Frame of Reference] with Editor Anthony Cox

Sitting in Regent Park.


Anthony Cox is a graduate from the University of Sydney holding a Masters of Film Studies, he works professionally within the wider television industry and has close ties to the local independent filmmaking scene cutting short films and music videos. In 2012 a short film he cut, The Wilding, was accepted into competition at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival and saw him recognised with the Australian Screen Editors Guild Award for Best Editing in a Short Film.

Most recently he has worked on ABC3 children’s reality series Bushwhacked! starring Brandon Walters (Australia) and Kayne Tremills as well as the soon to be aired Nine Network reality series The Great Australian Bake Off with hosts Shane Jacobson (Kenny, Beaconsfield) and Anna Gare (Junior Master Chef) and Channel Seven’s My House Rules with Johanna Griggs.

What got you interested in editing?

Computers. Growing up I preferred to sit on my computer playing Age of Empires on dial-up internet than be outside on a weekend. I also loved movies and not only consumed many a choc-mint choc top going to see the mainstream films at the cinema each week but was also part of my local Film Society in Launceston where I was introduced to a lot of the classics of cinema (these also screened at the cinema off original 35mm prints). When I realised I could make films using my computer life seemed complete.

How did you get started in editing?

Funnily enough I never really wanted to be an Editor but I did know I wanted to make films. I went to film school at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and my course was quite specific in training us to become Writer/Directors. Upon leaving film school I was a bit disheartened as I enjoyed storytelling but not Directing, I could not deal with actors comfortably. Wanting to get my foot in the door I took the first job I got offered in the “media industry” which was with a production company in Sydney as a Transfers operator and suddenly I felt at home doing dubs, play outs and encoding. After some time I realised  I could continue to tell stories through the craft of Editing working with other Directors and I began to reach out to local independent filmmakers offering to cut their short films at home while working full-time. I also went back to studying part-time and completed a Masters in Film Studies at the University of Sydney which was focused on film theory. Doing my masters gave me a greater understanding of the theory behind Editing as I chose to do my assignments on techniques created by master filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein, the theories of Freud and so on. I slowly climbed the ladder from Transfers to Junior Editor, Senior Edit and I now freelance working with multiple production companies on projects ranging from news, current affairs, reality TV, TVCs and of course I still edit short films in my down time.

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

Avid Media Composer. In Australia it is not a popular choice, Final Cut Pro 7 was dominant and now with the release of FCPX a lot of minor post houses are turning to Adobe Premiere both of which I have tried but find a bit over the top for just basic Editing. I have found however that Avid Media Composer is very simple, straightforward and takes a lot of the guesswork out of Editing. I am able to concentrate on storytelling rather than managing media and the likes and I have always felt story and the right shots will always win over compositing and effects.

Many of the high-end post houses and jobs all use Avid Media Composer so I am glad it is not popular amongst up and coming Editors as it leaves me with more job offers! But I would recommend to anyone at university or film school who wants to be an Editor to buy it and begin learning it as soon as you can. Avid have a low-cost academic version, it is exactly the same just cheaper so take advantage of it while you can!

Give us a run through of your editing process?

It varies from project to project and often I write a lot of processes on my blog about how I edit certain formats. As a general guide, I watch EVERYTHING first. The Director knows the vision inside out, I need to know it in its complete state, no frame should escape me. I then always start with an assemble of what I feel are the best shots and voice over (if any). From there I do a radio edit, cutting for dialogue and pacing ignoring visual continuity or flow. Once I have the pacing right in terms of dialogue I’ll begin looking at the vision and adding overlay. It really is just working with a bed, doing a pass, then another pass and another until I am satisfied. For longer projects I quite like to break things down into segments or scenes and work on them in smaller parts. Once I put them together I start to look at how they join and the overall flow/structure. Each project tends to create its own editing process depending on its needs, how much vision there is and how many other Editors are working on it.

What tips were you given that has been really helpful?

The rule of 3 – in every sense. From composition within a frame, to using 3 shots opposed to 2 or 4 for a bit of overlay, holding an establishing shot for 3 seconds or doing a 3 frame dissolve on audio. 3 is a magic number and always seems to work for me in edits.

How organized are you?

Very. I have a template that I take to each new project so things are exactly where they always have been. I like to feel at home and be able to find things easily without thinking, my editing style relies on the keyboard and muscle memory. There’s nothing worse than spending hours searching around for something or wading your way through unfamiliar territory!

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

I will generally start with a script and do my assemble as close to the script as possible. Then I throw it away. I will begin to let the story reveal itself as I do my passes and quite often that means swapping scenes or adding things or subtracting things that worked well on the page but not so much in the edit. A good Director will also go with this process because the story on the page and the story within the rushes you have actually shot can sometimes be two different things.

What is your favorite film? Favorite TV show?

For movies: The English Patient, Forrest Gump, Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistlestop Cafe, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Jurassic Park are just some of my favourites. I never have a specific but these come close. Anything that is a long biopic with a bit of fantasy or romantic sob story sucks me in, pretty embarrassing.

For TV shows it is: Mad Men – love the dryness, the writing, the whit, the sexism (from both sides), the fashion and the drinking! I also have just started rewatching The X-Files and reliving some defining moments from my teenage years with Mulder and Scully. I was also a big Alias fan, LOST and was saddened by the abrupt axing of Pushing Daisies.

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

A lot. Short Narrative. Documentary. News. Current affairs. Sports. Reality TV. Music videos. I do not like to pigeon-hole myself into any particular format, which is why I remain freelance as I like the variety of styles and being able to push myself creatively. Eventually though I would like to be a long form narrative Editor as story is my number one passion.

If you could meet any editor, who & why?

Kirk Baxter. He is an Oscar-winning Editor from Australia! He kind of came from nowhere on the Hollywood scene with his first major film being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I have been following his films and love his work especially on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?

Break it down. Do not look at the whole picture, look at smaller sections. Eventually those smaller scenes and segments will come together to make a completed piece that is longer but more manageable. You don’t build a spaceship from the word go – you build the various parts first and then assemble it. It is the same with editing.

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

I don’t use any plug-ins to be honest. I am one for KISS, keeping it simple stupid. I let story and the shots drive my work and barely use V2 let alone V3, 4, 5 and 6. The one I use the most though is the “Timewarp” effect that comes standard with Avid Media Composer, in Reality TV a good ramp can go a long way to making a stand out shot look even hotter.

How does the director-editor relationship work for you?

I always approach each Director openly and express my true thoughts on the story and the rushes. There is no point holding back and telling them the vision is great when you know there are major issues present. I try to go to lunch, hang out with them and get to know them on a personal level by asking them what sort of films they are into and who they admire. At the end of the day I tend to see the Director-Editor relationship more as a friendship rather than a professional relationship. Friends trust each other! And with filmmaking you need trust.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?

I have only ever come across a very small handful of problem clients and Directors (thankfully). If it was not working my advice is to step off the project, obviously giving notice. There is no point continuing on something that is painful and upsetting you. The last thing you want is to be going to work feeling like you do not want to be there, it is not the best situation for you, the other person or the project which will ultimately suffer.

Never lose your cool though and try to offer alternatives such as another Editor who you think would work well with that particular client/Director. Sometimes a clash of personality or job dispute just can not be helped. Remain professional though and still be grateful for the opportunity. Sometimes, by actually walking away calmly and helping them to solve the issue with another Editor might mean another call from that very client/Director in the future with a much changed attitude and bigger budget…

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?

How does it feel? If it feels wrong, it is wrong. If it feels rights, it is right. All my judgements are based on what I feel as I review my cuts rather than what I “think” should be correct.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor

Never work full-time but never knock back work. If you work full-time in a post-house it can be good in terms of security, pay and getting annual leave though I find Editor’s become bored, they become lazy as they are used to doing the same edits in the same manner day in and day out, dealing with the same content. Working freelance gives more opportunity to do a variety of projects and keep your skill level up and to tackle challenging projects.

Never knock back any work even if it is just compiling highlights for the football, a night shift news edit, an unpaid short film or a music video for a local punk rock band. Try to see it as an opportunity to do something different, to work with someone else you may not have thought to work with before and learn from the experience. Most of all be thankful when somebody approaches you with a job because out of all the aspiring Editors (and that list is growing with the accessibility of software and hardware today) they have come to you.

You can follow Anthony on twitter @mymatecoxy or his blog.

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