Barry Bowmer on the role of the film editor

OK, so you become a film editor, tell us something about the role of the film editor. What does a film editor do?

Well a film editor, director, producer, cameras etc. go out and shoot whether it’s a drama or documentary and then it comes back into the film editor who in agreement with the director or producer, either you put it together yourself, you know, an order, or they sit down, as many did, and put it together with you and go through it and well, edit it basically. The Assistant syncs up the picture and sound rushes together and you work from that. Eventually when it’s together and to everyone’s taste or choice you have to then break the sound down and put it on separate rolls and that goes through to the dubbing theatre where they mix the sound together and play music on and sound effects, voiceovers, commentary and the picture is sent off to have the negative cut to match the cutting copy, which is the working copy and that goes to the laboratories where it’s graded and a print made, first print and sometimes they have 2 prints or 3 prints until they’ve got the colour grading correct. And you know in the meantime there are various things like credits, titles, captions which need to be done by Graphics etc. and then the whole thing done, sometimes it’s done in-house and then occasionally it went down to London for a press-showing, back to Golden Square. They had a press showing in the theatre there.

So if you were working on a programme like World in Action that end sequence must have taken quite a bit of time so what I am trying to get at is that you would have to finish filming and give yourself 2 or 3 days to get it edited and cut?

Well sometimes you didn’t have 2 or 3 days to cut it and get it finished! Some of the World in Action’s were longer but others may have started one-sided. One of them I think I started Sunday night, Sunday afternoon and some of it was already edited but I had to put it together (and this often happened), it went off for neg. cutting through the night or first thing in the morning, on a Monday morning, with World in Action going out Monday night and through the night we were laying the sound down ready to go to the dubbing theatre on the Monday so that the producer/director could arrange commentary on it and we used to get a print back on probably Monday lunchtime/afternoon which had to go through telecine for them to grade it as the labs hadn’t had that much time and then it used to go out Monday night at, I can’t remember now, 7.30, 8.30.


So it was compressed, you know you had to find ways round to get it together and get it out if it was an urgent subject as such. So the whole process when you had time on other programmes to do things, I don’t mean properly but had more time to do it but often on World in Action it was a race against time which, well as far as I know, usually worked.

And what about the dramas you worked on?

Well the dramas, I was Assistant on various ones from way back – Shabby Tiger, Country Matters, which was a lovely series. Spoils of War, Family at War, Cribb, Knife Edge and then on Strangers, Bulman.

Did you work with any really well-known directors? People like Mike Newell or Paul Greengrass, Mike Apted?

No. No. It was usually, well obviously Granada directors at the time and probably more freelance came in later on.

Who did Family at War because that was a well-known series, wasn’t it?

Tristan DeVere Cole who was a lovely man. Some of the others, often I worked with Bill Gilmour, a hell of a lot. Tom Clegg who was freelance, Laurence Gordon Clark, Tim Sullivan who was staff and Bill Brayne.

So did you get more time on the drama? Could you be more creative?

Yes you had more time because you needed, as opposed to it being World in Action or that style of programme, which was usually urgent and newsworthy, you needed to put more finesse into it and add music and commentary effects etc., etc. so you had more time to do it.

Did the directors leave you to get on with it or did they allow you to have an input?

Yes. Often they’d come in and see the rushes and say what takes, you know if they’d done five takes for a particular shot, they’d say which take they wanted. You know, you would go through an arranged and as far as you could you would use that take. And often if they were freelance and say from the south, they would leave and come back, give you a week or whatever to put it together and come back and you’d view it again, make notes and they’d possibly leave you again or if they’d come up you’d do the alterations and I’ll see you tomorrow or the day after.

So you got plenty of leeway to be creative?

Yeah. Others needed to be sat down and involved all the time, you know especially if they were, I guess, away from home or their base they’d want to be in the cutting room altogether. It depended, sometimes it warranted them there other times you were happy to get on with it on your own.

And if you were doing a documentary, which is largely unscripted, did the directors play more of a role then?

I would say so, yeah, because they had certain ideas. Some of them that didn’t have lots of ideas so I felt that they needed to be in the cutting room to sort of guide themselves and Editor and Assistant so yeah, they were more over your shoulder. But certain scenes they would say, ask for 10 minutes or whatever, “Can you put this together?” and then they’d come in, have a look and alter it or say it’s fine or whatever.

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