“Find that unique ‘You’ and develop it”

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Geeta Singh has been an editor for nearly two decades and has edited and put together over a 1000 hours of programming, across genres, cross channels and in different formats. Having been a linear editor in the past, her fundamentals and craft are rock solid, which allows her the opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries whenever it is demanded. Having edited three shows and programs that have been shortlisted to the exclusive Panda Awards (also known as the Green Oscars) is testament to her abilities as an editor.

She is currently editing Tigmanshu Dhulia’s feature film, Yaara and is the co-writer and editor of feature films like Listen Amaya, with the Late Farouque Shaikh, Deepti Naval and Swara Bhaskar, which was released theatrically and has travelled to several international film festivals. She was also the series editor for a four-part series on the Kolkata Knight Riders for the Discovery Channel titled ‘Living with KKR’ and the editor for the international version on the Kolkata Knight Riders called ‘Sons of Kolkata’.

She visited the AISFM campus recently to conduct a Guest Lecture and we spoke to her to know about the finer nuances involved in the art of editing. Read on to find out what she has to say.

Do you think editing styles have changed over the years?
They have become more refined and more conscious of editing. I don’t think that much thought was given to it earlier. There is a lot more thought, technique and craft that goes into it now, though it is still an invisible part of the filmmaking process. Because it is not very often that you see a film and very rarely do you comment about the editing. You might comment about the other technicalities but not editing, so in that sense it is still invisible. But the editors and directors have become more conscious of the small details and cuts involved, so I think the importance of editing is been recognized. Thank God for that.

Do you think editing can make or break a film?
“Well, I think it is 100% true. The editor comes right at the end of the film and then it is the editor’s responsibility, it is on his or her shoulders, to ensure that the film turns out as per the director’s vision and exceed the expectations.

While we often confuse editing with pacing, I don’t entirely agree with that because every film has a different need of pace and rhythm. Every film cannot have the same pace because it is motivated by the characters and so many other factors. Very often you may have shot a particular script and when it comes to the editing table, you come to know that it is not working and you might have to change the whole ending. That could change the way the film works or doesn’t work. Also sometimes the point of view of the writer’s can be greatly improved by editing and the way you construct shots, the usage of shots, etc. For example if you have A, B & C, the order and arrangement of these three shots can make a difference, and how much you hold a shot. It’s just that one frame extra that can make it or break it. Sometimes you feel that shot could have been held that much more. It’s just those fine details that really make all that difference. That’s where the editor’s job lies where you can construct that narrative and you can keep that rhythm that is required for that film. A fast film is not necessarily a good film; if it’s fast, it’s a requirement of that film and if it’s slow, it is for a reason.

You’ve worked across different genres and formats, out of all those which one was the most challenging and why?
I find documentary editing the most challenging because it is less structured, so you can begin and end anywhere, find a viewpoint and you could change the whole thing around and there is no one way of starting a story. Whereas if you talk about feature films, it is a little more cemented because you have a bound script. Even there, there is flexibility where you might decide to not begin the way it was shot or the way the director imagined it to be, you might change it around. But documentaries, for me, are still more challenging.  And having come from a large documentary background, I think it is an advantage for me.

What’s your favourite film, in terms of editing; a movie that you wish you had edited?
There are two films that I wish I had done, which are extremes in terms of editing styles and story. One is a French film called Amour, where you really need courage to edit like that. Where you have the courage to believe that you can hold a shot for two-and-a-half minutes without cutting, you need to internalise that kind of rhythm. You need to find your own internal rhythm to know we can pull the shot more. So that’s a bit of a challenge and which is interesting for me to do. The other thing is of course the Oscar winning film Whiplash, in terms of editing, which is extremely opposite to Amour, in terms of pacing and the student-teacher relationship. So, again here you have beat, rhythm and drama and it is very different. These two films are very different, equally satisfying to watch and be a part of. In terms of classics, I would have liked to work on some of Satyajit Ray’s films.

As an editor, have there been instances of professional differences where the director has his stand and you yours; and how does it always sort out?
Differences are there and differences are good because if there is no conflict then there is no fun. Conflicts always bring the best out and I think as long as it is not a conflict of ego and if it is for the betterment of the product, the film, then I think conflict is great. I think it is one person communicating with the other about the logic and reasoning and about why it should be a particular way and not the other way; and then arriving at an amicable solution.

That said, do you think, the director should not be interfering in the editor’s arena because he has his perception and wants to see it a particular way?
Fortunately or unfortunately, I always maintain that I cannot work if the director is sitting with me constantly while I am editing; so I prefer to go and edit myself so that I have that freedom and objectivity. Because I am seeing the rushes for the first time and with a very objective approach, where I don’t have any preconceived notions and have only read the script, so I am able to interpret it in my own way; and I like it that way. Once I am done then the director comes and sits with me at that time, and I am happy with that. I am not happy if the director will sit from the beginning till the end.

Have there been instances where the director has said, ‘sit along and see how its shot, so that you also see what I have in mind’?
Very rarely, only once or twice. Largely no and I prefer it that way. I am conscious of the people that I work with, since the relationship between a director and an editor is extremely crucial and if that equation is wrong then it is not good.

Any suggestions and key elements to keep in mind, when it comes to editing?
Well, as they say, ‘Cut with your gut’; keep your instinct alive. The other thing is that we all tend to become very close to our work, where we are not able to take decisions, which is not very good. It’s good to be close and love what you do, but beyond that one should be open to another opinion. Students still have a long way to go and the more they do, the more they practice, the more they watch to learn; and not just to sit back and enjoy, and learn about what went into the edit and other technicalities and apply that, is important. It is imperative to find that unique ‘You’, that separates you from the clutter, which comes over the years, is what is essential and needed. But if you are conscious of it, then you develop it and evolve it further.

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