Andrew D. Bird became a film editor quite by chance. The British-born Bird studied literature and moved to Germany in his 20s. He worked for a long time as a translator, “I was making my own super 8 films and realised I enjoyed editing.” He went on to become an editor and has collaborated with several notable directors including Fatih Akin. At the 5th Bengaluru International Film Festival 2012, Germany was the Country in Special Focus and The Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan presented a retrospective of Akin’s films, including The Edge of Heaven and Soul Kitchen. Bird was in town to present Akin’s films and also to conduct a master class in editing. We caught up with affable editor for a chat. Excerpts:
How did you get into editing?
It was easier in those days. I worked as an assistant to an editor. I am glad I learnt on the job. Theory is fine but doing is different. In the analog days, as an assistant, I was in the editing suite all through. I was able to share in the creative process. Now as we have gone digital, my assistant works independent of me.
How much creative freedom do you have when working with auteurs like Akin who have a vision and control pretty much everything about a film?
I work mainly in European art house cinema where the films come with the ‘Made by’ tag. Different directors work differently — some give you breathing space while others control everything. But trust is very important. I have been working with Fatih since 1996. It has been a long journey and we have learnt together. Our communication is very simple. We grunt! And I know exactly what his grunts mean. I cut the first version while the shoot is on and the director and I sit together and see what works and what doesn’t.
What according to you is creative freedom?
I would describe it as being allowed to remain true to the integrity of the work.
Do you have disagreements with directors and how do you resolve them?
Yes there are disagreements as I have strong opinions. I can remember one situation with Fatih where we disagreed. Editing is not about finding a consensus, it is about finding a solution. And quite often these disagreements lead to finding something new.
Can an editor be considered an artiste? If so, how and why?
Yes, editing is a very creative process. It is not like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Editing involves creating out of the elements you have at your disposal.
How do you select a film to work on and how do you then approach the editing of it? What sort of plug —actor, character or script, do you use to enter the film?
I am in a privileged position of being able to choose the films I want to work on. The decision would depend 50 per cent on the story and 50 per cent on the director. As an editor, you spend a lot of time with the director in a confined space. I should feel that I could make the arduous journey with this person. I am a character and story driven editor — that is how I would enter the film.
What if midway through a film you realise it is against your sensibilities?
Since I am in a position to pick and choose the projects I want to work on, the chances of being in a film that is against my sensibilities are slim. However, if that happens, I would carry on. One has to go through the valley of pain to create. The editor is the one to keep the faith, the director can lose it!
How much do other arts such as painting, music, sculpture, literature or life itself influence editing?
Coming from a literature background, I would say literature certainly. Painting also influences film as it is a visual medium.
What is the role of sound and music on editing?
Music plays a very big part in editing. Both Fatih and I are very musical and in high-adrenalin movies such as Head-On and Soul Kitchen, there was no scored music but music gave the films its charge. Being an editor is like being a DJ — both work with transitions.
Any plans of becoming a director, as many consider it a natural progression?
I would love to make a film. I believe you learn the most about filmmaking in the editing room.
Who are your favourite directors, editors?
I enjoy films by Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker. They do things that are really daring in the way they tell stories. I also enjoy the way Walter Murch talks and writes about films.
What are your other interests/hobbies?
There is no time! I do read a lot of generic English novels. My work environment is German, so I read to keep in touch with English.
Have you watched any Indian films? Any favourites?
I like Anurag Kashyap’s films. I liked Dev. D, it was lively, inventive and entertaining.