Oct 23, 2012 3:20PM

How To Be A Super Successful Film Editor

We interview Jamie Selkirk, most known for his work on the Lord of The Rings trilogy.
Jamie Selkirk. Photo: Diane Sagnier

Meet Jamie Selkirk. Aside from being a total legend IRL, Jamie is an Academy Award-winning film editor and producer, whose credits include The Lord of The Rings and King Kong. He founded internationally renowned special effects company WETA in New Zealand, alongside director Peter Jackson and special effects whiz Sir Richard Taylor, in 1987. Since then, the company has been involved in the creation of MAJOR films, notably Avatar, the Lord of The Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones, The Legend of Zorro, I, Robot, Van Helsing, and the soon-to-be-released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Want to know what's what in the world of film? Jamie's your man. 

Zac Bayly: How long have you been working in film?
Jamie Selkirk: I started in television in 1966.

What kinds of films or shows did you want to work on, originally?
I loved Westerns! 

You've got a bit of a Western-y vibe; I don't know what it is, though.
Well, thank you! [Laughs].

What exactly do you do, day-to-day at work?
I am a film editor. Basically, King Kong was the last film I edited, so that meant sitting in the cutting room and going through aaaaall the footage and picking out what worked and what didn't. We spent about nine months editing that film, because there was so many special effects involved in that film, obviously, and you've got to work out how it's all going to come together. Basically, my role in the making of a film is a lot of fine-tuning, then more fine-tuning, then more, until we arrive at a finished product. 

How do you decide what makes the cut? 
Well, you keep watching it, and try to work out what bits are boring, and then you cut them! You want a film to be exciting right the way through. When we did The Lord of The Rings — I edited The Return of the King and was co-producer on the film as well — we watched every role of film that was shot, which was a lot, at the end of the day of filming, and we talked about what could work better, what might need to be re-shot… Obviously, Peter [Jackson] and I have a fairly good working relationship by now. 

How do you keep a clear enough mind, after watching all that footage, to make objective decisions?
You've just got to do it as you go. You work out how you want to cut the scene and then try and piece it all together. So, it's like, 'We know we want a wide-shot there…' And then you pick the best performance takes, and you put it in a row, and you just keep honing it. It's a lot of work. 

Does it take as long to edit a film as it does to actually shoot it?
Hmmm… Well, it's a decision-making process, which, you know, takes as long as it takes. And sometimes it just doesn't work and you do need to go back and do another take, so it's hard to say.

What's the main thing to keep in mind when you're editing a film?
It's all about story telling. You have to pick the moments that best tell the story, and that's it. At the same time, you’re thinking about the music, what bits need to be heightened in drama…

So, it's about story telling and getting the rhythm of the film right. 
Yes. Getting the pace and rhythm of the story right is a very important part of the editing process. 

What's the best-edited film you've seen?
That's tricky… It's hard, because you never know what the footage is that they've had to work with. And the thing is, every editor will look at the footage and see something different, and put things together differently. Some directors do a lot of coverage, and that means an editor has a lot of scope, but others are very meager with what they shoot, because they know how the film should look in their minds, so it's hard for an editor to put their style into it. 

What is your and Peter Jackson's working relationship like? 
Well, originally I did all of the cutting, because Peter didn't realise how much you can manipulate a film in the editing room, but now he loves being in the cutting room. When we did The Lord of the Rings, we shot all three films in the first year and a half, and then we started cutting film one, and did pick-ups — shooting extra bits to fill in the gaps — the following year, and then we did the second film the year after that, and… All up, it took six years!

Did working on The Lord of The Rings make you super rich?
No! We were paid well, but we don’t make extra money if the film does well. 

And you, and Peter, and Richard, founded WETA?
Yes. Our first film, where we did special effects, was Heavenly Creatures, which is one of my favourite films ever. I enjoyed working on that film the most out of any film. It was very fun. And it was ground-breaking, because it was our first time doing special effects, and… What are we talking about again?

You founded WETA after Heavenly Creatures.
Yes! We bought a computer — just one — and decided we needed to do something with it. We thought, 'OK. We've got this computer, we've got this scanner, and we should do something with this'. [We laugh]. We thought, 'What are we going to do with this thing?' So, we started a visual effects company because we had a computer. At that stage we were very small, but because of that film we ended up with eight artists working for us. 

It's pretty incredible that you started with one computer and now your power bill is like $30,000 a week or something after expanding to do Avatar's special effects. 
It's something extraordinary like that, yeah.

If you could bring one character from one of your films to life, who would you pick? I'm pretty attracted to those avatars, to be honest.
I don’t know… Hmmm… 

What about one of the wraith's dragons?
Yeah, that'd be a good one! You could ride it to work! I tend to forget all the characters after all this time…

What makes you excited about your job after all this time?
Working with young film directors. That's what I like doing. It takes you back to when you started. These young guys with so much enthusiasm and no money… It's really fun. As the films get bigger, the budgets get bigger and… It's just much nicer focusing on little films. 

I know it's such a cliché to say 'I like their earlier stuff', but I feel like as directors get bigger budgets to play with their films become less and less exciting. 
They do! I think you're right! 

Why do you think that is?
Well, remember, the more budget you have, the more pressure is placed on you to make a commercially successful film. Often the director tries to make the best film possible, and then the producers come in and they're trying to make as much money as possible. In the American film industry, especially, the directors get sidelined. Peter is lucky because he's done well enough to have a lot of control. 

Last question: how does one go about breaking into film? 
I suggest you try and get your foot in the door anyway that you can and then work out what you want to do. At the end of the day, a runner [the film-industry equivalent of an intern, but they're usually paid] is the best thing to be, because you get to see how all the departments work and decide what's the most fun. It's a great world to get into, but it's a hard world to get into.

Zac Bayly

Latest


Strummer AW12 Campaign

Tiah Eckhardt in a trailer park.


Exclusive: TOME NYFW AW12 Presentation

Designers Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin invites us into their studio for an exclusive look at their latest collection.


Watch: 'Cheerleader' by St. Vincent

Inspired by artist Ron Mueck.


Watch: 'Gee Up' by Kindness

Is this the best video of 2012?


Topshop Collaborates with Britain's New Generation

Including Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Marios Schwab and more.


Kj by Kirrily Johnston AW12 Campaign

The designer's basics / lounge line hits stores tomorrow.


Social Snaps: Wonders Cease Concept Store Launch

Last night at The Grand Social in Darlinghurst.


Test Shots of Miranda Kerr, Abbey Lee, Arizona Muse & More

Supermodels before they were supermodels from Wild Things book.


Alex Prager Shoots Hollywood Stars as Cinematic Villains

Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Ryan Gosling and more as baddies.


ASOS SS12 Lookbook

We got pretty excited when this landed in our inbox.


Playground Weekender Second Announcement

Shapeshifter, Cameras, Paper Scissors, Guerre & more!


Look Inside Diane von Furstenberg's NY Apartment

See the designer's penthouse which sits above the DVF HQ.


Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin & Emily Barclay Come To Opera House

Please excuse us while we punch the air with glee.


Michelle Williams & Ed Ruscha x Band of Outsiders

The artist and the actress (not the ex?Destiny's Child member) star in the SS12 campaign.


Exclusive: Palms 'Summer Is Done With Us' Video & Interview

We premiere Palms' new clip, plus talk party tricks and snapped boners.


Deadly Ponies AW12

The NZ accessory label is all about fur and luxe.


Ryan Kenny Shoots Laneway Sydney

Festival photos on film.


Charlotte Free for Wildfox Couture

This new lookbook might make Tumblr explode.


Model of the Moment: Krystal Glynn

We profile Aussie model Krystal Glynn ahead of New York Fashion Week.


Watch: Sofia Coppola's Marni for H&M Commercial

Shot in Marrakech, starring Imogen Poots, Annabelle Dexter-Jones and more.


Social Snaps: Vice Presents Chateau Rdio

Did you party with Das Racist on the weekend?


Oyster #97: Lake Bell

Keeping it real.


Topshop/Topman Secret Show Street Style

A secret show at the Melbourne Laneway Festival.


Interview: August Street

Rachel Rutt stars in the Sydney label's AW12 lookbook.


Franco To Play Mapplethorpe

We know you've missed him.


Lover Flagship Store

Lover's new flagship store, opening in March.


Exclusive: Sara Phillips AW12 Lookbook

Quite literally using the Outback as inspiration.


Warhol Exhibition at the MMK

Latest exhibition centers around the artist's fascination with the media.


Exclusive: Maurie & Eve AW12 Campaign & Interview

"Tallulah Morton is the essence of youth — that girl is like an exotic animal."


Oyster #97: Myffed

Myf Shepherd shot by Colin Dodgson.


Exclusive: Kym Ellery's NYC Photo Diary Pt 1

The designer captures her G'Day USA trip for us.


M.I.A Has Been Arab Drifting and Cheerleading

M.I.A's two new videos are in juxtaposition musically and visually.


Pitchfork & MoMA PS1 Present 'From Scratch'

A five hour Nicolas Jaar performance to launch Clown & Sunset Aesthetics.


Interview: Parisian Street Society

If you dream about the perfect vintage Chanel bag, read on...


Interview: EMA

The Internet weirds me out a bit.


Irina Lazareanu, Alex James for Aubin & Wills

The Romanian model and Blur bass player front the Spring campaign.


Freja Beha Erichsen for Free People February

The Danish model stars in this month's lookbook.


Michael Miller's West Coast Hip Hop Book Launch

This weekend at Known Gallery in LA.