Well, feedback from readers has led us to bring back a previously regular slot Hot Shots, looking at the people behind the productions and our industry.  This month we're focusing on Susan Scott, a full member of SAGE, well-known for her expertise in cutting documentaries and talking to her about her latest project, a wildlife documentary about dolphins for National Geographic.

Decade-old South African Guild of Editors (SAGE), a voluntary, non-profit organisation, has become a recognised player in the film and television industry. With more than 100 members, including film and video picture editors and assistant editors, the Guild represents most of the best talent in feature film, TV drama, documentary, insert, online and sound editing in South Africa today. These members include Artes, Avanti and M-Net All-Africa award winners and nominees.

With over 10 years of experience cutting documentaries, Susan Scott is a full member of SAGE and has a serious list of credentials, including being a member of the Avid Beta Testing team in the USA (1997-1999), and winning an apprenticeship with an A.C.E. editor in Washington DC (1995-1996).

What is it she loves about what she does and the industry?  "Every project is so totally different from the last one.  I'm an information junkie and love learning as much as I can about what it is that I'm cutting on...I've learned so much subject matter on the films I've cut (of course that does mean that I'm incredibly boring at dinner parties!), plus the producers, writers and directors in our industry are intellectual creatives that are fun to be around....it's inspiring to be in the presence of so many bright minds. I can't think of another job that is more creative, educational and motivationally inspiring than editing.

"I learnt early on from my mentor, Tony Black, A.C.E. to be a calming presence in the edit suite.  He always used to tell me that producers and directors arrive at edit suites extremely stressed out, feeling that their shoots had met expectations, especially true in the field of documentaries.  So even though you may want to have a fit about the way the footage was logged, or a drive that is acting up, or a tiny bug that has crept in to your software since the last update, etc, etc, the producer is really not interested in those tiny technical aspects.   And most importantly...doesn't like seeing an editor in flux.  We're supposed to have a handle on the post and assure the producer that all is well!"

Currently cutting a wildlife documentary about Common Dolphins for National Geographic, shot on HDCAM and using an AVID system, Scott explains the process:

"It's documentary, so there was no director...there were two producers on this film, Peter Lamberti and Billi-Jean Parker.  I have worked with both for several years now and have an excellent working relationship with them.  We're at the point where we know our strengths and weaknesses, which means there's no judgment or disappointment. We all push each other in our different spheres of strength....it's a great team actually!

"The format is challenging because the film was shot on HDCAM and that can be difficult to work with when it comes to storage in the offline process - especially when you're looking at over 100 shoot tapes like we were for this film.  Peter likes to copy his HD shoot tapes to DVCAM, so that his team in the library uses the copy to log for inventory purposes and the edit team also uses the copy to log and digitise into the system.  The benefit is pretty clear - the master shoot tape only gets touched when the copy is made and again when it is online time.  Plus it makes it easy for us in the edit team, as we can work on our project offline Standard Definition in the Avid...no gremlins or slow systems."

Traditionally, editors are given time to work on the edit and get an editor's cut before working with the producer. However cutting wildlife is somewhat different, Scott explains:

"In wildlife there is so much footage to work through that you have to spend time sifting through it all.  When I take on a project like this, I sit with the producers and get their brief so I'm clear about their vision for the film right from the beginning before I look through the rushes.  Then I'll sit for about 2 weeks doing string outs before I start with my selects and cutting the first scenes.  When I'm at a selects phase, I'll call in one of the producers, usually Billi, to take her through my idea of how the scene will play out (keeping her and Peter's vision in mind) and we'll discuss important themes or storyline beats that we want to come through BEFORE I start cutting.

"Editing is an extremely manipulative process and any good producer worth their salt knows that.  They need to be part of the process or you will have a million changes when your scene is cut...it's not a power struggle....the producers are the authors of the film, and I'm there to help them achieve this in the best possible way.  We might argue over a certain idea, but generally there is consensus when I start cutting the scene and that's when I get left alone to cut.  When the scene is done, I'll show it to Billi, if there are changes, action them and move on to the next scene."

Most of this production was shot underwater which also poses its own problems and techniques. Scott is a scuba diver so was probably better prepared than most, but still found the project a tough one. She elaborates:

"I've always wanted to cut underwater. Peter is one of the worlds' best underwater cameramen. Editors like Candice van der Valk and Zilke Lemmer, who have cut wonderful underwater films, always told me that it was easy....slap in a dissolve once subject has passed camera because the background is all blue, and you won't see the edit.  Not that I was looking for an easy edit, but sheesh, I couldn't believe how tough it was.  I jokingly told both Candice and Zilke that they had spun me a big one!!

"Seriously, I did battle with the editing, and I do think that what Candice and Zilke told me is true in essence for underwater, because I did do a few of those dissolves and they worked great guns...but what I found specific to this film, was that the subject was very difficult to portray as a character.  Billi had warned me about this when I took on the project, but I didn't realise how daunting it would be.

"The Common Dolphin (Delphinius Delphis) has an extremely high metabolism and never stops moving.  In fact, when I looked at rushes of the Bottlenose Dolphin, I couldn't believe how slow they were compared to the Common, which are extremely difficult to film and are in frame for only a few seconds at a time.  So on a slow scene setting up character, I found I had an MTV cut of note, cutting here there and everywhere to keep them on the screen....while MTV cutting is great fun, this film had the subject moving fast and we had to spend time taking them in....so we needed slower scenes.

"It was incredibly frustrating!  Plus there are no close-ups and of course you can't have wides underwater because of the visibility, so I found I would have this terrible rhythm of cutting topside, underwater, topside, underwater, and so on, which has an unsettling effect as it pulls you right out of any bonding you've had with the character underwater.  I realised I had to set each scene for either topside or underwater, unless of course it was a quick cutting montage like a hunt where you want the MTV all over the place cut."

This production will be broadcast on National Geographic HD Channel in the US and sometime in the next 12 months on DSTV's National Geographic Channel.

To source an editor visit website  www.editorsguildsa.org.