7 July 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Q&A with ‘Robot Overlords’ and ‘Grabbers’ editor Matt Platts-Mills
05 Feb 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Robot Overlords stars Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson and was partly shot in Northern Ireland
With the Northern Irish shot Science Fiction drama ‘Robot Overlords’ about to burst onto the scene on March 27th (as well as The Belfast Film Festival presenting two drive in screenings of the film on Feb 7th and Feb 8th) IFTN talks to editor Matt Platts-Mills.

Re-uniting with director Jon Wright for the third time (after ‘Tormented’ and surprise Irish hit ‘Grabbers’), Platts-Mills talks to IFTN about his work on the £21m VFX laden drama ‘Robot Overlords’ which stars Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson.

IFTN: Tell us about your work on ‘Robot Overlords’

Matt Platts-Mills:‘Robot Overlords’ is an action adventure where a group of kids do battle against giant robots that have taken over the world. I was lucky enough to be the editor. I’d worked with the director, Jon Wright, on his previous two movies, ‘Tormented’ and ‘Grabbers’. He has a very free style of shooting that provides an enormous amount of energy to the cut. Couple that with an ambitious amount of Visual FX and I knew the film would be a roller-coaster of a ride. The first hurdle to overcome, when cutting a VFX film, is that one of your key storytelling elements is completely missing. Your first cut of a scene can consist of people shouting at or running away from nothing or endless shots of blue screen. So piecing together what will be a high octane sequence requires a lot of imagination and some faith. Once I’ve put the shots together I use a lot of music and sound fx. The job of an editor has evolved in line with the sophistication of nonlinear editing. You now have to be able to both competently mix and temp score a film so that you can give an accurate understanding ofhow the final movie will be. It’s quite amazing how much a good soundscape will help an audience viewing nothing but blue screen. ‘Robot Overlords’ required the sound of robots stomping about and shooting things, a great deal of fun to put together. Add to that a layer of quality temp music and it really begins to feel like a film. From what I can remember there was a lot of ‘Man Of Steel’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ in the score.’

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

‘I finished my A-levels which were in science; I had a strange notion that I should go into medicine. Luckily my results pretty much ruled that out so I decided to start again and go after my secret passion, film making. I did half a film studies course at my local college and then got onto the B-tech at Bournemouth Art college. Once I finished this I moved to London and got a job as an edit assistant in a corporate video production company. I was lucky - they had no in-house editors and they soon realized it was a lot cheaper to pay me to cut the work than hire people in. I started cutting a lot of people’s music videos and short documentaries and learnt a lot of my craft through practice.’

What was your first job in the industry?

‘My first job in the industry was a crowd martial and floor-runner on ‘Rob Roy’ in 1997.’

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

‘What I enjoy most about being an editor is the challenge of creating the film. You are in the privileged position of being the first person to see the rushes and it’s down to you to piece the movie together, arrange the story beats, select the performances. That first cut you make can have a huge effect on the morale of the shoot and how the film is perceived by the director and producers and on the show as a whole.’

‘Once the shoot is over and you’ve presented the film to the director the challenge changes. You’re involved in the intricacy of storytelling. Subtle changes in the grammatical structure can have hugely significant effects on a viewer’s understanding. You’re creating an emotional and intellectual dialogue with your audience that is both universal and unique to the project. It’s endlessly fascinating.’

Describe your typical working day and the equipment you use.

‘My typical working day changes depending on what stage of the project we are in. During the shoot I’m assembling the previous days rushes, constructing scenes. Often a shoot will be moving at speed and things will be dropped from the schedule so part of my job is to judge if a scene is covered sufficiently and, if not, request additional shots. Often I’ll end up on a second unit getting the close-up of the TV or the hand just so.’

‘During the offline, the bit after the shoot, I’ll spend my time working through the cut, clarifying story beats and creating a tone and flow for the piece. But its performance that’s key - if you can create engaging characters you’ve made something that an audience will enjoy and it’s here that your actors are your greatest ally.’

What filmmaker/editor has influenced you?

‘I recently had the opportunity to work with Mick Audsley, editor of ‘Interview with a Vampire’ and ‘Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire’. His ability to discuss and dissect editorial grammar was truly inspirational.’

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

‘I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on two shows in Ireland, ‘Grabbers’ and ‘Robot Overlords’, and I’m very proud of both. There is so much great work coming out of Ireland at the moment, shows like ‘The Fall’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Vikings’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, its’ hard to choose but one film I would loved to have been involved with making is ‘Angela’s Ashes’.’

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

‘I remember seeing ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ when I was very young. I had no idea what was going on but I knew I loved it. ‘Alien’ I remember seeing when I was far too young. The continual tension and the aesthetic, coupled with that creature, gave me nightmares and definitely lured me into the industry. Looking back it was something to do with being utterly absorbed in another world and it’s this that I try to achieve with the films I work on. I was also addicted to super hero shows as a kid. ‘Batman’, starring Adam West and Wonder Woman’, with Lynda Carter.’

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

‘Irish crews are great to work with, very talented and professional and really welcoming. It’s a fantastic place to be, apart from the Tollymore midges which are truly something, and I was only there for an hour.’

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

‘When you are cutting a film, turn your hand to every idea, whether you think it’s really good or really bad, with equal enthusiasm. You’re a craftsperson, there to serve the movie, and you never know what jewels a bit of digging will uncover.’

The Belfast Film Festival will present Drive-in screenings at two specific locations which were used during filming.

  • Saturday, 7 Feb at 8pm at Carrickfergus Castle
  • Sunday, 8 Feb at 12.30pm at Donaghadee

More information can be found here.

Over €4.6m allocated by Creative Europe to Irish screen industry in 2021
Director Gary Lennon discusses Irish documentary Castro's Spies; currently on limited release in IFI
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