Feature

Making the cut

A great editor can make the difference between an OK ad and an award-winner.

So where do you go to get the best? Campaign's John Tylee asked adland's top creative directors about their editors of choice. In no particular order, here are the industry's go-to guys.

RICH ORRICK - WORK

Few partnerships between editor and director have been quite as close - or as fruitful - as the one between Rich Orrick and Ringan Ledwidge.

The blockbuster "go on lad" commercial for Hovis, the harrowing "break the cycle" film for Barnardo's and "the tunnel", the 60s movie spoof for Stella, are among the high-profile personifications of a rapport between the pair that's been compared to that of an agency creative team.

Orrick, 39, freely admits that he owes his big break to Rattling Stick's Ledwidge, although it would be wrong to assume that his success has been built entirely on the director's patronage.

"Rich takes a massive interest in the creative process," Jonathan Burley, the Leo Burnett group executive creative director, says. "He has exquisite craft skills and the ability to put everything together seamlessly, whatever the style of the commercial."

Orrick and Ledwidge's collaboration has resulted in memorable work, including "getting dressed" for Lynx.

It's a spot of which Orrick is particularly proud. "Jobs like that are few and far between," he explains. "It's a great feeling when everything comes together like that - and it got me noticed."

Orrick cites Ledwidge as the key figure in helping him migrate from pop promos into commercials. "We know each other's minds pretty well," he says. "There's a natural empathy between us."

What makes Orrick rare among editors is that he is almost entirely self-taught. A one-time medical student who briefly worked as a financial risk analyst, he set out editing pop promos for his brother before becoming a runner for an editing company in the early 90s and working his way up. "I love the opportunity for storytelling that this job gives me," he declares. "I love being able to add the extra magic."

Orrick's long-term ambition is to follow Ledwidge into movies. "I'm not frustrated doing what I do, but it would be great to tell a story in long format. The problem is the vicious circle which means studios won't trust you to do a feature film unless you've already done one. Hopefully, that circle will be broken at some point."

PAUL WATTS - THE QUARRY

It's hard to believe Paul Watts when he claims to have a stomach full of butterflies whenever he presents his work to an agency creative team.

With memorable commercials -from Stella's "ice-skating priests" to Skoda "cake" and the Sony "paint" film - to his name, Watts is very much an editor at the top of his game. "Whatever Paul turns his hand to he's fantastic at," George Prest, the Delaney Lund Knox Warren executive creative director, enthuses. "Whether it's 'ice-skating priests' - an editing masterpiece - or Skoda, he's just so versatile."

So why the jitters? "Because I'm working on something on which a creative team might have invested nine months of their lives," Watts says. "No wonder they're often more nervous than I am."

He thinks effective collaboration is key to producing a good commercial. "I'm working with gifted, intelligent and experienced people," he says. "If somebody comes up with a half- decent idea, then you'd be daft not to follow it through."

In his view, it's the editing that might turn a good commercial into a great one. "The director may have shot something that answers the script," he says. "But the edit might provide the opportunity to do something different that makes for a better end product."

Watts, 41, grew up in Blackheath and left school at 18. After a shortlived spell running his own sandwich delivery business, a friend got him a job as a runner at a video post-production company. Having once aspired to be an actor, he soon realised that editing would provide a challenging outlet for his creativity.

"The appeal of editing is that there are so many facets to it," he says. "It's a perpetual puzzle but, unlike Sudoku, there's never just one answer."

Watts cites the Guinness "bet on black" spot as one that gives him particular satisfaction. "It was an ad that required a lot of graft to get the end result. After 12 years, I can look back on it and it still feels good."

He seems to work particularly well with the director Chris Palmer: "He once referred to me as a 'wine-guzzling ponce' but we're actually like an old married couple in the editing room."

Grasping the new opportunities offered by the coming together of online and offline is one of the biggest issues Watts must confront, he says: "The challenge is how you create an organisation that brings together all the best practitioners to deliver content for TV and the net."

RICK RUSSELL - FINAL CUT

Rick Russell came to editing via an unusual route - the theatre. He'd directed plays in fringe festivals and worked as an actor in rep before turning to editing.

And his background has clearly helped him in honing his reputation as an editor who combines high technical expertise with an instinctive feel for what he does.

"Rick can do any type of ad, from comedy to the moody stuff," Ewan Paterson, the executive creative director at CHI & Partners, says. Adam Kean, the Publicis joint executive creative director, describes Russell as a combination of high intelligence and fine manner. "He's always ready to listen - but he has great faith in his own judgment," he comments. "And he always seems to get it right."

A formidable array of credits bear testimony to Russell's talent - from the Barclaycard "rollercoaster" spot to Boots' "here come the girls" and the Guinness "tipping point" film through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. "Having been close to this project, I can really appreciate the editing that went into this work," Paul Brazier, AMV's executive creative director, says.

For Russell, 45, creativity in editing will always trump the science of it. "Of course, you need technical know-how but, ultimately, editing is an instinctive thing. Your rushes are your raw material. You must never forget that you're making creative dreams come alive."

Nowhere did this come together more than in Frank Budgen's "mountain" for PlayStation. "It was an incredible challenge to make the idea of a 'mountain' of people work, not least because we were still experimenting with crowd duplication,"

he recalls. "And the Shirley Temple soundtrack was a real lesson in how music can be integrated with the action."

It's all a far cry from Russell's early days as a runner at The Producers where he watched and learned before his baptism of fire - editing a Royal Bank of Scotland spot for the highly combustible combination of the director Tony Kaye and the Saatchi & Saatchi creative chief Paul Arden.

Ten years after founding Final Cut, Russell confesses he'd like to extend his movie editing, having worked last year on 44 Inch Chest. "It's a natural progression for editors and directors of my era," he says.

RUSSELL ICKE, THE WHITEHOUSE

Russell Icke is addicted to his job - he thinks nothing of sitting at his kitchen table at 4am putting storyboards together. The result of such dedication has been a succession of acclaimed commercials from Sony "balls" to John Woo's Nike spot which saw Brazilian footballers dribbling through an airport departure lounge.

Not surprisingly, the latter features on the list of work of which he's most proud along with the Nike "tag" spot directed by Budgen and, arguably the best of the lot, the 1994 Levi's "drugstore" film directed by Michel Gondry, named in the Guinness World Records as the most-awarded commercial of all time.

"Russell is such a brilliant editor that it's like having another creative director in the room," Nils Leonard, the Grey London creative chief, says. "He's a very strong character who is very open about what he thinks will work and what won't."

The Levi's film certainly fits the kind of ads with which Icke most enjoys being associated. "I like scripts with good ideas because they really get me going," he says.

Icke identifies a sense of rhythm as the key to being a good editor. "I think that this applies equally to film as it does to music," he says.

Born near Tunbridge Wells, 44 years ago, Icke might be said to have advertising in his genes. His father was an art director at Leo Burnett for 30 years and got him his first job at The Shooting Lodge.

"I knew I wanted to be involved in film-making. But I didn't really know as what," he says.

The Shooting Lodge gave him the opportunity to edit some pop promos. But it was at James Garrett & Partners that he came into his own. "It was a terrific place to train and I learned a lot there," he recalls.

Having been at The Whitehouse for 20 years, Icke shares the ambition of many of his peers to extend further into feature films. He worked with Gondry on Human Nature and on Madonna's movie Filth And Wisdom. "It would be great to do more," he says. "But I'd never move away entirely from doing commercials."

STEVE GANDOLFI - CUT+RUN

On the face of it, the 1996 Blackcurrant Tango "St George" commercial might seem an unlikely example of Steve Gandolfi at his editing best.

With its sweeping movement from Tango's head office to the White Cliffs of Dover, all the action seems to happen a single take. In fact, there are two edits. "Steve thinks it's the best edit he ever did - and he's probably right," Paterson remarks.

Kean says: "Steve's cuts are always dead on. He always knows exactly what he's doing." Brazier cites Gandolfi's "optimism and energy" as his standout qualities, adding: "I've never seen him fazed by anything." Jeremy Craigen, Brazier's DDB counterpart, describes Gandolfi as a "geezer" and it's true he still bears the hallmarks of his humble origins in Battersea where his father earned a living unloading Thames barges.

Yet it's a world away from the life Gandolfi now leads, jetting between assignments in London, New York and Los Angeles.

An eclectic collection of ads bear witness to the claim of many that he's the best editor the UK has produced. Cadbury's "eyebrows", Guinness "noitulove" and the Audi "wakeboarder" spots reinforce Paterson's contention that "he's just brilliant at any kind of film". Prest adds: "As with all good editors, Steve's skill is in letting the story play out."

"I'm a workaholic," Gandolfi, 43, confesses. "I know I'll have to stop one day. But I just love it so much."

He's reluctant to name the best commercial on which he's ever worked or to name his favourite director.

Nevertheless, he seems to have a special rapport with Daniel Kleinman, working with him on ads from the Peter Kay spots for John Smith's to "mosquito" for Xbox.

Gandolfi began his career as a runner at the BBC before learning his craft at Ian Weil Editing. He set up Cut+Run 15 years ago, subsequently overseeing its expansion to the US East and West coasts.

His most fulfilling moment as an editor, he says, came when he was at a bus stop in Canada, listening to kids raving about the John West Salmon "bear" spot that they'd seen on the internet. "I'm glad to say it was one of mine."

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