Ian Hunton describes his work as an online editor

I never did film editing. All the editing then was called ‘online editing’. It was traditional. Because the online editing suite was so complicated – with videotape machines and the mixers – it was generally accepted that the people who got those jobs were ex-engineers. I decided after I’d had eighteen years doing the engineering bit that I’d like to go and do something on the production side.

I’d already applied a couple of years before, when the job of lighting director came up. I got down to the last four, so I nearly got that one – I’m glad I didn’t – and then I applied for and got an editor’s job. It was online editing; it means that you edit in a linear fashion. Your pictures are on any one of four machines. You can combine them through a mixer and then you record them on a fifth machine. So you’re adding to the recorded, edited tape bit-by-bit, which is great – except if the producer-director says, ‘Will you drop this shot in here, ten minutes ago?’ You can’t do it without dropping down a generation of video, which in those days was fairly serious, because you could actually see the difference.

When DigiBetas came in – the digital machines – you could do it and not see the difference, but, of course, it was time consuming. These days all you do is just press a button and it drops in. Then, you had to actually start another tape, run the tape to where you want the bit to go in, run the bit in, and then run the rest. It was linear editing.

Eventually, with PCs and Macs becoming more powerful – Macs especially – you could put your video onto a computer and store it in the computer. Storage was still expensive. The hard drives were still expensive and you couldn’t get much on them. Nowadays, we take a terabyte of information as standard on a little disk, but then you couldn’t. They used to have stacks of disks. But they realised that Macs or computers could actually do the video editing in a non-linear fashion, so that you could go back, insert stuff or cut stuff out without affecting the quality at all. But the programme you played out at the end was not broadcast quality, because they just didn’t have enough memory. Of course, as memory got better and better, they became broadcast quality.

What they used to do was edit a programme – and generally it was the film editors who took over the offline editing – and they produced EDLs, which were edit decision lists. It was actually a list of the pictures – using time code so they were accurate to a frame – and how they were assembled on the final product. Then they’d bring those into linear editing and we could then take that disk and assemble the programme, but using the original material so that it was the highest quality possible. They also used us to put titles on, closing credits and any effects that they wanted. By that time we could fly pictures and things like that. So all that was done in online editing.

Was it a very creative process?

It could be. If you were working with local programmes and things like that, they would come in with a box of tapes and ideas of what they wanted to do, and we’d edit. And that would be proper editing. But it was still linear editing. Once you’d made your mind up, by and large you didn’t go back and change your mind, because you knew it was going to take time. But, yeah, that was great. That was the bit I used to enjoy the most: when they’d come in and say, ‘These are the ideas I’ve got. I’m going off now, you sort it out.’ That was fabulous.

All of us did offline editing and the PC editing as well. I did several Coronation Streets, I did a gardening programme with Arthur Taylor called Surprise Gardeners. I remember that; that was the first series I did on a Mac. That was my first experience of doing it, and that was great, obviously, because that’s when the creative juices start flowing.


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