Emer Reynolds- Broken Tail
9th Annual Irish Film & Television Awards
11th February 2012
9:30pm RTÉ One
Three time IFTA winning editor Emer Reynolds, usually recognised for her work editing dramas like ‘Shameless’ and feature films like ‘My Brothers’ has been nominated this year in the new Editing TV category for her work on a very personal documentary, ‘Broken Tail’. The self described ‘animal lover’ tells IFTA the story of Broken Tail, the differences between editing for drama and documentary and what it takes to be a great editor.
IFTA- Congratulations on your IFTA nomination. What was your reaction to being nominated?
Emer Reynolds- I was thrilled. I didn’t realise. I just started getting a flurry of texts. I didn’t expect it at all. I’m very excited.
IFTA- What you tell us about ‘Broken Tail’, the documentary you are nominated for?
Emer Reynolds- Basically it is a film about the mystery surrounding a tiger who disappeared from its forest park home in India in Ranthambhore Park, five miles outside Delhi. All tigers in India are raised in forest parks, when they escape from these forest parks, because they are not walled parks, they are just areas that are arranged for tiger conservation, normally they are killed by poachers or villagers trying to protect their village. So it is very rare for a tiger to leave a forest park and live like Broken Tail, even though it ended sadly and he ended up dead but he was found 200 kilometres away and he had survived for over a year, so the mystery of the film was about how a tiger had managed to survive in rural and urban India for so long. Where did he eat? How did he live? They are normally hunted as I said. He was also an unusual tiger because he had been filmed since he was born. The BBC had basically filmed him for two years non-stop. There was a whole rake of archive images of him since he was a cub and all the way through until he left. The film was basically a tiger conservation film, trying to track if is it possible for tigers to survive outside of forest parks. It is a very personal film, because you have all this personal footage of this particular tiger, this very unique tiger. He suffered an accident as a young cub; he broke his tail so his tail is at a right angle and so he is extremely recognisable in footage unlike a lot of tigers. They look the same but he has a very vivid personality and was a very playful little cub. Basically it was a film about him in particular and tiger conservation in general and about the fact that tigers are dying, there are only 1,400 tigers now in India from 40,000 a few years ago. They are dwindling and there is a big threat to tigers now. That is what the film was about and it has been very successful. I loved making it. I am a big animal lover and I don’t know what I bring to it but I certainly bring a degree of anthropomorphism, a humanising of the animal. I get both accused of it and complimented for it because some wildlife filmmakers’ don’t like animals to be over anthropomorphised. I think it is a way of communicating with the audience when they can see an animal has recognisable hopes and dreams like we all do.
IFTA- So how did you actually get involved in the first place?
Emer Reynolds-I got a call basically. I had never worked with the producer or director before that but I have been working with them since. They are a production company in Wicklow called ‘Crossing the Line’. They make loads of wildlife, natural history films and history films too. They just called me up and said would I be interested? It was a very good call. (Laughs) It was a long edit because there was millions of old archive footage but John Murray is the director and we got on really well.
IFTA- You said the edit was quite long, how long was it exactly?
Emer Reynolds- It was maybe a 20-22 week edit, which is very long edit these days. Normally films are often in and out in three or four months. Documentaries often take longer, especially if there is a degree of footage and we did three separate shoots out in India, that was two years ago now.
IFTA- As an editor, how do you decide what makes the cut? Is it a natural instinct do you think or is something else at play?
Emer Reynolds- Well certainly initially it is instinct. You are alone with the material. What I respond to and draw on is trying to tell the story, how best tell the story with the footage I have seen and what rings my bell. Then the further stages where the director and producer respond to what I have done and give further thoughts and notes and direction as to perhaps how I might adapt the material or the scenes. So there is a process of constant refinement, constant mining of the material, redirection, doubling back on yourself and takings two steps forward and one step back. (Laughs) It is very creative, very intense and very delicate. If you are lucky your own instincts are closer to the money than not. Sometimes edits can be difficult if your edit is cutting contrary to the material, the story, or what the director or funders were hoping for. In this particular instance, we had a happy marriage of everyone’s instinct, feelings about the film, the drive of the film and the vocational aspect of saving tigers. It was a peaceful edit but an intense one.
IFTA- This is the second version of this documentary. Was it hard to go back to the same footage and make it different?
Emer Reynolds- There is essentially a feature version, which was 82 minutes long and then frequently with documentaries, it is very common in Ireland anyway, they are funded by the Film Board and a TV broadcaster, in this case RTÉ. They will often co fund it but they will be looking for slightly different durations. The theatrical version was 82 minutes and the broadcast version was just under 60 minutes. That is very common for documentaries that get made in this way, that they will have two lives, a theatrical life and a broadcast life. We didn’t really make a new story; we just took out a lot of elements from the original. When we made the shorter version, we took a view on what may not be central to the story. What might have been little dogs legs, very pretty stuff about India or village life in India that couldn’t sustain in the shorter film. It was very painful; there is some beautiful stuff that we took out but it had to be done, and the shorter film is more staying with the central story. In a feature film you can kind of branch out more.
IFTA- Have you seen any of the other nominees work?
Emer Reynolds- I haven’t seen any of the films unfortunately. I know both Ray Roantree and Mick Mahon. I don’t know the other editor but I am sure she is great too. I am privileged to be in a category with them. I have heard very good things about the Ashes of 9/11. There is some hard competition there.(Laughs)
IFTA- How important do you think it is to have a category like the new TV editing category at the IFTAS?
Emer Reynolds- I think it is fantastic. There are two discreet editing muscles. Certainly drama with a script whether it is TV or feature film drama; there is a script and there is material, and there is a very clear direction. Often in documentary it is a very unknown journey, you might only have a basic idea where the documentary might start and end. The editing process in documentary is often very freewheeling and a lot of the story gets told in the edit. Perhaps it isn’t exactly what happens in drama editing, given that you start with a script. The nature of the editing brain part that is used in documentary is quite different from feature film and drama editing. I think it is fantastic because there are troves of beautiful films and documentary being made that will now be highlighted and featured in this way, which is brilliant.
IFTA- Obviously you have edited dramas and documentaries, what are the main differences editing them?
Emer Reynolds- Drama is very subtle work, to do with character nuance. The rushes come into you from a drama with a specific voice, often with documentary there is so much material and you could go one of two hundred ways and often it is your initial instincts. Editors usually get a free hand in documentaries and have a clear voice maybe that is because of a smaller team or less funding. (Laughs) In drama there are a lot of voices and one of those is the editors and it will be strong or weak depending on the material. I find documentary editing very freeing; it is like suddenly you are busking to a piece of jazz rather than following sheet music. I actually love both. Editors in Ireland are very fortunate in that way that we are able to edit both documentary and drama all the time. You don’t get corralled into one or the other the same way as you do in London. Editors here can go from feature film and drama to documentary and back again. I think it is fantastic for your creativity. It is great for your editing brain, using different pieces of your creative instincts. I love being able to go between the two.
IFTA- What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into editing? What do you think are the qualities someone needs to be a good editor?
Emer Reynolds- Patience (Laughs). Lots of patience. It is a very self motivated kind of a job. It takes someone who is happy to be alone in a dark room with hundreds of hours of footage and have the patience and the self motivation to work through. Somebody who is very collaborative who can really be part of a team, hear other voices, respond to direction and other visions. Films change so much; it needs to be someone who can respond to change and embrace change. Someone who finds it difficult to go over material they have already done; it wouldn’t suit them. Editing is a constant process of refinement, looping over and back on previous decisions, rethinking them and unthinking them. I think it needs a quite flexible brain and quite a flexible personality.
IFTA- What are you working on at the moment?
Emer Reynolds- I am actually working with John Murray and Cepa Giblin the producer of Broken Tail. I am working on a wildlife series with them. It is going great. It is very zen, it is wildlife on the Shannon and river systems; so it is birds and fish and otters. So I am cutting that at the moment.
Emer Reynolds is nominated in the TV Editing category for the 9th Annual Irish Film and Television Awards. It is one of the four new craft categories at this year’s awards. She is nominated alongside Ray Roantree for ‘The Ashes of 9/11’, Mick Mahon for ‘Writing in the Sky’ and Ailbhe Gaffney for ‘Masterchef Ireland’. This year’s IFTA ceremony take place on the 11th February 2012 in the Dublin Convention Centre and will be broadcast live on RTÉ One at 9.30pm GMT.