It was a pleasure to sit down with Jake Roberts, the editor of BROOKLYN, which was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay). Jake has already established himself as one of the top editors in the industry. This year alone he cut two Hollywood Productions coming to a cinema near you. COMANCHERIA, starring Chris Pine & Jeff Bridges. And TRESPASS AGAINST US, starring Michael Fassbender & Brenden Gleeson.
Interview with Jake Roberts:
Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about your experiences working on “Brooklyn”? How many months do you work on editing the film? How does it feel to be the editor of an Oscar Nominated film?
Jake Roberts: ‘Brooklyn’ was a great experience. There was a really positive energy throughout the shoot and it felt like we might be working on something quite special. It was personal to a lot of the people involved and that seemed to come through in the material and that makes you want to raise your game, especially when you’re watching a performance like Saoirse’s unfold you feel a huge pressure to do it justice. Once John and I were back in London we cut for about 3 months and obviously there was plenty of back and forth but at the same time it was quite a calm and controlled process. We had a very strong first assembly and we never deviated too far from it or went down too many experimental cul-de-sacs. This is largely a testament to Nick’s script which only needed the subtlest of refinements so essentially it was about distillation, making it as tight as possible and all the while carefully calibrating the emotional journey through the performances. As for the Oscars it is all a surreal bonus, like I say you hope as you work on something that it is special and obviously a nomination suggests you did something right but the most thrilling thing is that a wide audience gets to see it and thankfully it seems we managed to strike a chord with a lot of them.
PHOTO: Still shot from BROOKLN:
Matthew: You have worked on many documentaries. Is this something you like to continue to do?
Jake: In theory yes as documentary is so much of an editor’s medium but having fought for so long to get into features it’s difficult to turn your back on them. Certainly as a viewer I’d rather watch a great documentary than a fictional film so if the right one came along it’d be hard to say no.
Matthew: What is the key difference between working on a narrative film in comparison to a documentary?
Jake: In documentary you are creating the narrative as you go, effectively writing the script in the edit, but at the same time you are obviously constrained by your material so you have to know both how to tell the story but also how best to illustrate that within the limitations of the footage you have available. Someone once said that it’s like being given a bag of sentences and being asked to write a novel. The fact that in narrative film you get to follow a script that has been very carefully written and developed means that all that heavy lifting has been done for you and your role is just tell that story as effectively as possible.
PHOTO: Documentary film LONG WAY AROUND, starring Ewan McGregor:
Matthew: How did you transition from working on short films to features?
Jake: The very first short film I ever cut was for the director David Mackenzie after which we made a low budget feature together, I was 23 at the time, but then David went on to make a bigger film with actual film stars and the producers insisted on a more experienced editor so I lost that relationship. I then spent years cutting every kind of project that came my way, documentaries, commercials, music videos, shorts, television drama, you name it. Basically I honed my craft and just tried to become the best editor I could always hoping I could return to features one day. Many years later David was preparing his sixth feature film and his regular editor was unavailable so we reconnected and fortunately I had gained enough experience to be given a chance by the financiers. We have now made 5 features together.
Matthew: In the last 16 years you’ve worked as an editor on over 20 productions. What film has been your favorite working experience so far?
Jake: Films are like children and like any parent you can’t really pick favourites but each has their own unique qualities. Being involved in ‘Long Way Round’ Ewan McGregor’s round the world motorbike trip was a great communal experience, working out of a garage in Shepherd’s Bush in the months before they set off we were cutting upstairs as they prepped the bikes downstairs. Everyone involved stayed up all night helping pack up the equipment the night before they left and then months later we were flown to New York to be there when they arrived. We shot ‘Tonight You’re Mine’ in 4 days at a music festival working 22 hour days which was a very intense and disorientating but bonding process. ‘Starred Up’ was shot over four weeks in Belfast but was similarly intense as David was insisting that we have all the scenes fully cut within hours of them being filmed. We were shooting completely sequentially and he wanted to have as clear an idea as possible about the shape of the film up to the scene he would be filming the next day so we basically made the film as we went. We eventually screened the entire movie at the wrap party and locked the picture 3 weeks later so it was ultimately very short and sweet. Just recently I was cutting in a log cabin in New Mexico and every Sunday we would have a barbecue and screen assemblies for the entire cast and crew, Jeff Bridges would bring his guitar. That was a lot of fun.
Matthew: What is an editor looking for in their director?
Jake: Work. No seriously I think a coherent vision that hopefully translates into the dailies and then a sense of collaboration in the cutting room. It’s definitely a conversation and I think I would struggle to work with someone who insisted on doing all the talking.
Matthew: What is a director looking for in their editor?
Jake: You’d have to ask them but I would imagine someone who brings ideas and solutions to the table but doesn’t force their agenda, merely offers it. Ultimately someone who makes them look good, which we usually do.
Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
Jake: Probably Jaws or This Is Spinal Tap.
Matthew: What type of film would you love to edit that you haven’t worked on yet?
Jake: I’d love to do a kids film so that my children might be allowed to see what I do for a living.
Matthew: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?
Jake: Start early. I can only speak from my own experience but if you’re clear about what you want to do then I wouldn’t waste time getting a media studies degree, you’re going to have to work for nothing to get started anyway so better to do it at 18 than 22. Get any practical experience you can, firstly to make sure this is really something you want to do, it’s going to take a lot of work and sacrifice so make sure you’re suited to it. Approach established professionals directly and tell them you want to do what they do, most will try and help in some way even if it’s just a cup of coffee and some advice, I always do. Try to edit rather than assist. Personally I think you’d learn more cutting a zero budget music video than you would assisting on a big budget feature. Even if you’re at the bottom of the ladder doing very basic tasks do them as well as humanly possible, listen to any instructions very carefully and never think of anything as beneath you or not worth trying over. Care. I once had to edit 9 hours of obese women discussing their bras in a focus group but I treated it like I was making art. You never know where the contacts who can ultimately give you a break might come from. It might be the guy directing the corporate video you’re working on? He might be making a feature in a few years so do an incredible job and he might remember you. If you are always creative, reliable, conscientious and good company doors will eventually open I promise.
PHOTO: Saorse Ronan in BROOKLYN: