28 January 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Q&A with 'The Tunnel' Editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle
17 Oct 2013 : By Kevin Cronin
Stephen Dillane & Clémence Poésy in 'The Tunnel', two episodes of which were edited by Úna Ní Dhonghaíle.
Irish Editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle – twice nominated for a Bafta, including last year for her work on ‘Ripper Street’ and IFTA-nominated for ‘Doctor Who’ – has amassed an eclectic body of work spanning drama, documentary, sci-fi and police procedural. As her latest series ‘The Tunnel’ begins on Sky Atlantic this week, Ms Ní Dhonghaíle spoke to IFTN about her editing career to date, her current and recent projects, along with advice for up-and-coming editors.

An English/French bilingual remake of Scandinavian noir drama ‘The Bridge’, ‘The Tunnel’ stars Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon) and Clémence Poésy (‘In Bruges’, ‘Harry Potter’) as detectives investigating a dead body found in the English Channel.

From an editing point of view, what were some of the creative decisions made in cutting ‘The Tunnel’ - in terms of either paying homage to or differentiating it from its Scandinavian predecessor ‘The Bridge’?
It can be a daunting to follow in the footsteps of such a brilliant and much loved series as ‘The Bridge’, but the creators of ‘The Tunnel’ (Kudos, Sky Atlantic and Canal+) wanted to use the stories and characters to create something new and with Ben Richards at the helm, as lead writer, I think they achieved that. He opened up the political landscape of the film, but kept the broad strokes of the original plot and changed some of the subplots to make the series feel more real for the French and British dynamic. As a result, I hope,‘The Tunnel’ feels inspired by rather than derivative. I edited episodes 5 and 6 with the wonderful Hettie MacDonald directing. We both have, up until now, only worked as lead or finale director and editor and so our decision to work on this came from the great scripts and producers attached. Working on the middle episodes posed an interesting challenge: How to keep your own fingerprint but fit within the series structure. Fortunately, all the directors were given great freedom in their episodes and with Dominik Moll as the lead director on the series, it was a real joy and privilege to see what he was doing and it kept us working at the top of our ability. The way ‘The Bridge’ used landscapes and establishing shots to create mood and a sense of danger, rather than place, was very interesting to us and we did keep this in mind as we were editing. The landscapes became signifiers for the bad guy who remains unseen and only partially glimpsed for over half of the series.

‘The Ice Cream Girls’, which was shot in Wicklow, also concerns a murder investigation. How did the experience differ from working on ‘The Tunnel’?
‘The Ice Cream Girls’ was adapted from a novel, three parts, directed by Dan Zeff and I edited all three episodes. The plot focused on two women, who as teenagers had been charged with murder, one was sentenced to 18 years and one was acquitted. The film begins when the two women meet again and through flashback, you discover what really happened. The challenges of editing this and ‘The Tunnel’ are quite similar because they are complex stories and you must keep an eye on the emotional journey, while you juggle plot. In many ways, it can be easier to edit a three part drama, rather than a larger series, because it’s self-contained and Dan and I knew exactly where we had to keep an eye on the story or pitch the performance of the characters a certain way throughout the three episodes.

Can you tell us briefly about the editing process for ‘Ripper Street’ and ‘Quirke’, both of which were also filmed in Ireland?
What most people don’t realise is how short the edit process can be – for a 60 or 90 minute TV drama, you will have approximately 3 weeks from the end of the shoot to finishing the edit and this includes producer, executive producer and BBC viewings. We are very lucky with both ‘Quirke’ (I edited the last episode) and ‘Ripper Street’ (I’ve just finished the last two episodes) because Element Pictures, Tiger Aspect, Tyrone Productions and the BBC are very like-minded and quick with their responses so we all hit the ground running. It’s really wonderful when you are working with people like this because it improves the quality of the finished films.

You were nominated for an IFTA for the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘A Good Man Goes to War’. Was this your first foray into the world of fantasy/sci-fi and what editing challenges did it pose?
It was great fun! I love sci-fi and it was my first heavy VFX show to edit with my Director Peter Hoar. Growing up with two older brothers, I was watching the original Dr Who series and films like Alien before I was seven years old. We had two great VFX assistant editors who would mock up the battle scenes for us with the headless monks and alien duplication and at other times, we did a quick VFX job ourselves. All these VFX are temporary to help us edit and for the executives to view and have an idea of what will happen on screen. One of the essential jobs of the editor during the shooting of any film or show, is to cut the film together and spot if any shot is missing that might need to be picked up. Usually this list is shot by a second unit and on ‘Doctor Who’ I had the opportunity of overseeing the second unit shoot on Peter’s behalf, we needed to pick up things like CUs of the baby Melody Pond etc. This was also great fun and nice to step out of the cutting room and go to set for a change.

Did education/training play a part in launching your career and if so, where did you study editing?
Yes I was very lucky that my experience at film school helped me begin editing immediately rather than working my way up the assistant editor route, as many of my friends have done. I studied Communications (Film & Media Studies) at DIT Aungier Street and from there I went to the National Film and Television School, in Beaconsfield, UK specialising for three years in film editing. Five of my graduation films premiered in Cannes in 1999 and one won the top prize.

Can you tell us anything about ‘King Kennedy’, which is now in post-production?
‘King Kennedy’ is a feature documentary, focusing on the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war. It is edited out of hundreds of hours of archive, directed by Ronan O’Rahilly and produced by Howard Goldstein. The biggest challenge was editing without talking head interviews of 'experts', as can normally be used in documentaries, and instead Gaye Lynch and myself (we are co-editors on it) edited the scenes as if in the present tense so when you watch the film, you get caught up in the emotional roller coaster of events.

Would you have any advice for would-be editors?
To keep making films, shorts, documentaries, animations – each discipline informs the others and for me, I love editing all them and each time, I learn something new and I can bring that to the next film.

‘The Tunnel’ began this Wednesday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic - with the first 5 mins of Episode One available to watch here and the trailer attached below.

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