28 January 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTN Speaks to Úna Ní Dhonghaíle – Editor of ‘The Missing’
11 Dec 2014 : Seán Brosnan
Following on from her acclaimed (and IFTA and BAFTA nominated) work on the fast-paced ‘Ripper Street’, editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle has slowed it right down with BBC One show ‘The Missing’.

‘The Missing’, starring James Nesbitt as Tony Hughes, the father of a boy missing in France, has been met with critical acclaim since airing in October. Ahead of the finale of the hit show on Tuesday, December 16th, IFTN caught up with Úna Ní Dhonghaíle to talk about her work on the show and her career so far.

IFTN: Tell us about your work on ‘The Missing’?

Úna Ní Dhonghaíle:‘The Missing’ was very exciting as Tom Shankland, the Director, and Willow Gryllis and Charlie Pattinson the Executive Producers of New Pictures, had decided to shoot using the seasons, so all scenes set in 2014 (the winter) were filmed first from February to April and all the scenes set in 2006 (the summer) were filmed from April to June. This is very unusual for television as it made for a longer shooting schedule, but it also enabled Tom to direct all eight episodes. I had worked with Tom previously on ‘Ripper Street’, which has a much faster, visceral style of editing. With ‘The Missing’, we focused on delaying the reveal and holding shots longer than expected, so the audience might lean forward to see what was going on. We were all inspired by Jack and Harry Williams’ scripts and wanted to do justice to them. Tom worked with Ole Birkeland as DOP and together they created such beautiful rushes, that the drama was implicit in the shot and it meant that the shots sustained and told a story on their own. ‘Editing is often knowing when not to cut’ is often a phrase used by film-makers and Tom was exceptional in wanting to hold the moment.’

What training/education did you receive to become an editor?

‘After leaving school, I studied ‘Communications: Film & Media Studies’ in DIT Aungier Street for four years. Muiris Mac Conghail and Malachy O’Higgins were amongst two of my most inspirational lecturers there. I then applied to the National Film & Television School (NFTS) in Beaconsfield, where I specialised in film editing for 3 years.’

What was your first job in the industry?

‘My first paid job in the industry was as Assistant Editor on ‘The Pear Bottle’. This was on a 16mm Steenbeck and it was the only assisting job I did – which is a good thing, as I am a better editor than I was an assistant, it can be a different skill and I respect the assistant’s job completely.’

What do you enjoy most about being an editor? And what do you consider the greatest challenges to being an editor?

‘With documentaries, I love the challenge of finding the story, or the best way of telling the story, through the material. Editing documentaries gave me some of the best training I have ever received. You are dealing with real life stories and people who live outside the domain of the film and so there is a huge amount of responsibility needed to make the film with integrity and truthfulness. I edited a film called ‘Child Miners’ about two orphaned children in Bolivia, who continued to mine in the deserted tin mines, using their hands and the ill-fitting protective equipment of their deceased fathers. The film had a huge reaction in America and one man who saw it, set up a trust fund for the education of these children. The Director Rodrigo Vasquez continues to film with them and great friendships have been forged. Making a difference in a positive way makes it feel worthwhile.’

‘In drama, the script exists, so the challenge for the Editor is how to cut that story in such a way that the plot and action work to reveal aspects of the characters and allow the audience to empathise with their circumstances. Editors work extensively with sound and music as we edit and this helps create the mood or atmosphere. On a practical level, the greatest challenge to being an editor might be to keep a clear head in the final days of finishing the film. There are usually so many notes that you must have a good memory in order to address all the notes and continue to improve the film.’

Describe your typical working day and the equipment you use.

‘I now work on AVID and during the shoot, my assistant will organise the daily footage into scene bins as per script. I will then watch all the material, paying special attention to any shots marked as the director’s preferred performance or shot and I begin to construct the scene. Re-reading the script is key to keeping the intention of the scripter’s thought process alive. I will add extra tracks for any sound effects, atmosphere tracks and music if needed. I usually edit using film scores as temporary music tracks, but on ‘The Missing’, we were very fortunate that the music composer Dominik Scherrer was working alongside us from the beginning, so I could send him a scene (with or without a temp music track) and he would compose something and send it back to me. We were then able to create the feel of the series in a much more collaborative way. Much of an Editor’s fine cutting begins at this assembly stage and I often review this early work before we lock because many times you find something that is more vibrant and instinctive than when the material is overworked.’

What filmmaker/editor has influenced you?

‘Mick Audsley, Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker, Sam O’Steen, Gerry Hambling and the Coen Brothers. I love Jim Sheridan’s films, especially ‘The Field and ‘In the Name of the Father’. Darren Aronofsky’s films and Francois Truffaut are equally brilliant in my opinion – the French, British and Italian New Wave films of the 1950s are a must see.’

What Irish film or TV show would you have loved to have worked on?

‘Love/Hate’, ‘Corp agus Anam’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’ are seminal TV shows that I would have loved to have worked on. As are Stephen Burke’s ‘After 68’ and Lenny Abrahamson’s films – films that touch and inspire the audience appeal to me.’

What films and TV shows did you enjoy growing up that may have encouraged you to work in the industry?

‘We always holidayed in Dunmanway in West Cork and as children/young teenagers my parents brought us to the local cinema regularly where you could see a diverse range of films from ‘The Long Good Friday’ to older horrors like ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. This proved influential for me as did seeing films like ‘Cal’ and ‘Lamb’, where Irish stories had a clear power and resonance. In college, Clare Lynch’s film ‘Fruit 15’ was a revelation to me and I had the great pleasure of talking to Mick Mahon, who was involved in that film, about the film and to toast Clare’s memory. She was an incredible film-maker.’

What’s the difference between working on an Irish production and working on an international production for you?

‘Most of the work I do seems to have a very collaborative international edge so the differences fade and similarities grow. It’s a great challenge for everybody involved and each of us bring our own cultural references to the film-making process. I haven’t had the pleasure yet of doing a fully Irish drama production, but hope I can as I live in Dublin and it would be a great experience.’

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to get into editing?

‘I would recommend trying to edit anything that you can – from short films, documentaries, personal film – anything that can hone your skill and allow you the period of experimentation to become a creative film-maker.’

The final episode of ‘The Missing’ airs next Tuesday, December 16th at 9pm on BBC One.

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