Making the cut

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By Editing can be a paying profession for those with the passion to play with pictures, says Kavitha Shanmugam
  • Published 25.08.11

Namrata Rao put up with a lot of ribbing from classmates at the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI), Calcutta, because of her unabashed love for movies — Bollywood style. Yet it was this filmi sensibility that catapulted the talented film editor into the big league in Mumbai. Rao passed out of SRFTI four years ago and already has such hit films as Band Baaja Baraat and Love, Sex aur Dhoka in her kitty. She is currently working on the Yash Raj Films’ venture Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Dibakar Banerjee’s forthcoming thriller Shanghai.

“I was lucky to work with first-time directors such as Dibakar and Maneesh Sharma, who were open to suggestions,” says Rao. “And, I did not turn up my nose at editing commercial songs.”

And while that may have been a major reason for her rapid rise, it’s talent that defines a good editor. “I think luck plays an important role in how one gets that first break,” says Shan Mohammed who passed out of the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, in 2006. “But it can only take you so far. Then talent takes over,” he says.

The first film he signed on to edit was The Great Indian Butterfly, after he was recommended for the job by its cinematographer, his senior at FTII. But along with the art film, he was offered the breezy entertainer Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, which hit the theatres first. The rest, as they say, is history.

There was a time when people paid little attention to film editors, who toiled away in darkened studios, giving shape, life and narrative to raw film footage. But editors are now recognised as an integral part of a film. The fact that hit directors such as Prakash Jha, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rajkumar Hirani emerged from the editing rooms has also brought the profession into the limelight.

“Although it is not a glamorous career, editing is often a gateway to direction,” says Prashant Naik, head of editing, Whistling Woods International, Mumbai, a film studies school. “Some of the most famous Hollywood directors — Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, David Lean and Robert Wise — were editors at one point of time. As Quentin Tarantino puts it, the last draft of the screenplay is the first cut of the movie and the final cut of the movie is the last draft of the script.”

Film editors have to know all aspects of filmmaking — from structure and shot division to sound, dialogues, storyline as well as the vision behind the film. “Learning cinema is learning editing,” says Shyamal Karmakar, head of editing, SFRTI.

An editor has to have the patience to sift through endless footage, know how to mix sound and picture effectively, control timing and pace, and above all, possess the knack of narrating a story well.

“Editing is much like rewriting. It is just you and the images as you have to breathe life into them and then let them out in the world,” says Rao.

“It requires an analytical and logical mind,” says Mohammed. “Editing is a repetitive process in which you keep working on the next draft, and get closer to the whole point of making the film,” says the editor of Wake Up Sid, Kamal Haasan’s Tamil film Manmadhu Anbu and My Friend Pinto, a Sanjay Leela Bhansali and UTV production.

An editor can make or break a film. Young professionals such as Mohammed, Rao and Pranav Dhiwar (editor of Dabangg) are responsible for the new edgy look of movies that are such a hit at multiplexes. And there have been many instances of an editor being held responsible when a film flops.

Fickle box office results aside, sheer numbers make editing a great profession to be in. The demand for editors is driven by the hundreds of feature films churned out every year (150 digital films a year are made in a tiny state like Manipur), entertainment software required for 350-odd TV channels, ad and corporate films, documentaries plus online and game content. Students at FTII, SRFTI, Whistling Woods or other recognised film institutes are snapped up even before they complete their course.

“And, if the first film you edit becomes a hit, you turn into an overnight success,” says Karmakar citing the case of his student Bodhaditya Banerjee, who edited the Bengali film Autograph and was flooded with offers after the film stormed the box office.

Unlike the old school editors who learnt their craft by assisting senior editors, youngsters these days opt for film schools to learn in a systematic manner. And most of them take to complex editing software such as Avid and Final Cut Pro like a duck takes to water.

“Prepare a showreel — it could be a short film or documentary — to showcase your editing skills when you apply to a film school,” says Ranjith Sankaran, head of editing, L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai. “It gives you that extra edge.”

Students can focus on specialisations such as dialogue, music, online or visual effects editing. Not all strike gold but there is “enough work for those who know their job well and have a good attitude towards work”, says a veteran editor. Post-production houses, TV channels and corporate houses are options as is assisting senior editors in projects.

An assistant editor can make between a few thousand rupees and Rs 1 lakh per project, depending on the movie. “In an organised set up such as advertising agencies or TV channels, first time editors can expect anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 per month,” says Sankaran. A little bit of experience takes them to the Rs 30,000 bracket.

And, if you are a whiz kid who has made tracks to a big Bollywood production house, the sky is the limit.

Top schools

Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune

Course: Postgraduate diploma in editing

Eligibility: Bachelors degree

Duration: Three years

Fee: Rs 33,000 per year (plus hostel and deposit fee)

Course: Postgraduate certificate course in video editing

Eligibility: Bachelors degree

Duration: One year

Fees: Rs 85,000 per year (plus hostel and deposit fees)

Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI), Calcutta

Course: Postgraduate diploma in editing (will become postgraduate degree next year)

Duration: Three years

Eligibility: Graduate

Fee: Rs 80,000 per year

Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

Course: Diploma in motion picture production with specialisation in film editing

Eligibility: Class XII

Duration: Two years

Fee: Rs 13 lakh (plus security deposit of Rs 1 lakh) for course

LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai

Course: Diploma in editing and sound

Eligibility: Class XII

Duration: One year

Fee: Rs 2.5 lakh for the course


Shyamal Karmakar, Head of editing, SRFTI

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