9 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Tony Kearns on Editing
22 Sep 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Editor Tony Kearns.
With the nominations for the IFTA Awards announced, we continue to shine a spotlight on Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

We spoke with veteran editor Tony Kearns, who has been nominated for his work on Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. A highly experienced Irish film editor, mostly working in Dublin and London, Kearns has worked on TV commercials, music videos (Pulp: Disco 2000, The Prodigy: Firestarter), short films (IFTA-winning; Rockmount), TV dramas (Netflix: Black Mirror, The End of the F***ing World), and feature length Irish films such as Standby, The Lodgers and Mark O’Connor’s Cardboard Gangsters.

In 2018, he worked on Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Netflix's first interactive film for adults, which earned him a BAFTA Craft Awards nomination in the Editing: Fiction category. Kearn's is currently working on a major four-part series in EGG Post Production.

Tell me about your experience working on Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and your favourite moment during post production?

“Everybody involved in making Bandersnatch had their head wrecked by its labyrinthine interactive structure and by the fact that none of us had done this type of storytelling before. We were flying the plane while it was being built, which made the experience exhilarating and scary at the same time. 

“We all had to be extremely organised to keep track of the multitude of story paths, both on the shoot and in the edit, and to be able to deal with the many restructures that were used to make the experience of the film more fluid and compelling.

“Despite all that, it was a very enjoyable process, full of great moments; in particular I think we all enjoyed the moment when the cut was locked. It was a funny feeling as, while we were very happy to lock, we were also completely unsure of how viewers would react to Bandersnatch.”

How do you approach a project, and what is your process?

“Before the shoot: read the script, talk at length to the director, argue with the producer about the fee; lose the argument.

“During the shoot: assemble the scenes and get a feel for them as quickly as possible without cutting corners, making sure to view all the rushes as they come in.

“After the shoot: present polished and amazing cuts to the director at all times, tell well timed jokes when the room gets tense, moan at the producer about the post schedule; get ignored by the producer.”

How do you like to work with Directors, and do you like to have a collaborative process?

“Making films and TV drama is collaborative; it can't be avoided, so if you don't like collaborating then you're in the wrong business. As editor, you are there to help the director create their film, to pull it into shape and to work together to get the best result possible.

“Luckily for me, I love the collaboration process and I prefer to be in close communication with the director as much as possible. There will be times when it is better for me to work alone especially in the early stages but collaboration is essential in the fine cut stage.”

To what degree do you reference the screenplay when editing?

“I reference the script when assembling the scenes to make sure I'm not missing any lines or action. Once the first cut is completed I refer less to the script and work from the cut as the script is now on the screen.”

Simple changes to the edit can completely change how an audience responds to a scene: how would you describe the editor's role in terms of storytelling?

“The editor's role as in terms of storytelling is obviously important and is the main part of the job on a film or TV drama. It has been said that the editor is the third writer, after the screenwriter and director.”

How did you first get into editing professionally, and what have you learned through your experiences that would be of use to aspiring editors?

“I went to a piss poor media studies course in Dublin in the early 80s, fecked off to London in June 1984, got a job as a runner in a post-production facility in Soho, then trainee then assistant editor then freelance editor from October 1989. I had a small blackmail racket going in the facility, which helped with the job promotions before I went rogue; sorry, freelance.

“My advice for aspiring editors is to find a mentor who is generous with their time, to keep your eyes open and know when to keep your mouth shut. Get as much editing practice as you can and have the patience of a saint. Make the most of your lucky breaks; one for me was to have a mentor who was generous with their time. Also blackmail is useful.”

What was your first paid editing gig, and how has your style changed over the years?

“First paid gig: Bananarama Megarama '89 music video. It's a stone cold classic. In terms of editing, I have no idea of what my 'style' is; let alone how it has changed over the years. My hairstyle, on the other hand, has completely disappeared.”

We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward reflection?

“My approach is to make sure that I have the soul of a poet and the hide of a rhinocerous. I also enjoy highly creative revenge fantasies.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career thus far that you would share with aspiring editors?

“Learn to cope with the bad times as well as the good.”

You often hear about things clicking for a film in the edit. Was there any moment on this project in particular when the editing made a major change to the project?

“I can't recall a particular standout major change moment during the edit of Bandersnatch. Not that it was plain sailing; far from it. I have an excellent and long running association with Bandersnatch's director, David Slade, and this allowed us to nail the edit structure for the vast majority of the scenes/segments quite quickly and smoothly.”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“I have bottled my creativity up during lockdown so that it can be released with full force on my next project in a glorious, sparkling, wonderful display of mad colours and psychedelic shapes. Otherwise, lots of weeding, hat sorting, and going through my lifetime's accumulated crap.”

Click here to read more of our interview series.

IFTN Festive Q&A with actor Albrecht Schuch
IFTN Festive Q&A with director Luke McManus
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