“My parents were not involved directly in the arts,” states British Film Editor Peter Honess who was the son of the head of personnel at MGM Studios in England. “I left school when I was 17 and after six months or so my Father got fed up with me hanging round the house; he came back from the Studios one Friday night and told me I would be starting work on Monday in the cutting rooms. I asked him what a cutting room was; I soon found out and 48 years later I am still there! The film industry has always supported nepotism and in many cases, been very successful. All of my three children are involved in it; three of my four wives work in it, which means I am happy but poor! I have been married to a script supervisor, a first assistant director/producer and a unit publicist; from these three talented ladies I have had good advice and support throughout my career.” The movie profession does not revolve around working weekdays and 9 to 5 office hours. “We are all hired guns and out of necessity sell our souls to the devil. It is tough to lead a normal family life when often working seven days a week, on location in beautiful places or complete dumps and every place in between. I have set up cutting rooms in many places including a beach house in Hawaii, a truck following the crew to multiple locations, a trailer in a Canadian forest, and in the jail of a Crusader castle in Malta; many have happy memories but some were diabolical!”
“Patience and more patience,” believes Peter Honess is essential to be a successful film editor. “For example, the director sits with you to look at a scene you have cut. You spend sometimes days recutting and structuring the scene; one of two things often happen. The director pronounces, ‘This is what I want.’ You smile but DO NOT tell him that the scene is now virtually the same as it first was. Or he gets up, after hours of agony, and as he leaves the room throws over his shoulder, ‘Just put it back as you had it!’ Another vital element is to listen; I mean really pay attention. If you get notes for God’s sake write them down. Nothing frustrates a Director more than to watch scenes where you have forgotten a note or misunderstood it; that’s how they lose trust in you. Make sure you watch carefully what the Director does with the camera. Do not cut out camera moves because you could be killing his baby.” Honess observes, “Fortunately, each Director works in a different way. I have worked with one who thought he was using me as a pair of hands to one who never came in the cutting room and was happy with the cut. The smart ones work with an editor as a collaborator. It is for me the best and most fulfilling part of the process. It is after all the Director’s film and to be the conduit to telling his or her story is deeply satisfying.”
Inserting a temporary music track while editing is a rare occurrence for Peter Honess, who states, “You influence the audience with music. Put the wrong temp music on and you’ll piss off the director as he cannot see the wood for the trees. It is not a good idea to cut your footage brilliantly to the Rolling Stones and find the production cannot afford to buy it; it will never look as good again. There are two areas in the film world that everyone is an expert in – music and script. It is silly to put temp music on a scene and spend the inquest discussing the temp music and not the performance.” Something which Honess does enjoy is the challenge of visual effects oriented films. “The technology is always improving and I am often staggered by the skills of the animators. We usually get pre-viz of most visual effects shots and this helps when putting the scene together for timing purposes. If there is no pre-vix available then I have the storyboards scanned and put into the Avid and use them between the live footage.”
Peter Honess misses the camaraderie that existed before the digital revolution. “When I cut on film I always had an assistant with me; it was more fun. The computers seem to have grabbed the stage; they demand to be stroked with ever changing technologies and quite frankly are not sexy! A cutting room with those strange Moviolas, splicers, rewinds, weird looking KEMs and film hanging in bins was sexy, whereas a TV monitor and keyboard doesn’t do it.” As for the portable viewing option for movies, he has no trouble with it. “With the possibilities offered on iPads and phones the more people can have a go [at editing]. Why not? Its great fun and gives you total control over what you want others to see.” When discussing recent offerings at the cinema, the Academy Award-nominee for L.A. Confidential (1997) remarks, “Not a bumper year for movies in 2011, believes Honess. “I liked very much Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life; a director I would care to work for! I am looking forward to seeing Romeo and Juliet . I am cutting the film in Rome; it feels really good and hope the audience will think so too.” Honess adds, “Although English by birth I have lived in the US for most of my working life. I am fortunate to be an American citizen and a British subject which makes it easier to work in both countries.” As for what has enabled him to survive in the turbulent movie industry, he states, “Enthusiasm. It will never let you down.”
Many thanks to Peter Honess for taking the time for this interview and for his insights regarding L.A. Confidential make sure to read On the Record.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.