Jim Page is a film and television editor with over 15 years of experience and counting. The list of clients that this impressively accomplished editing professional will leave beginner video editors salivating. Most won’t get anywhere near the likes of ITV soap Coronation Street and BBC’s EastEnders, alongside award-winning films like No More Wings (2018) and work for brands such as Samsung and Disney as well as documentaries for Discovery and other major tv channels.
In this in-depth interview, film editing guru Jim Page talks about a previous lack of self confidence, losing his way and starting from the bottom of the ladder, to getting the chance to work on projects with increasing prestige. His advice includes not worrying about dropping money you probably don’t have on expensive equipment, take any job you can to begin with, and the art of editing for film and tv itself, which is so closely aligned to the director and producer of a film or television programme.
This is a must-watch video interview on YouTube for anyone looking to become a video editor in the film and tv industry. Alternatively, check out the interview in full below…
I get to work every day and tell stories for a living
FF: What gets Jim Page, film and tv editor, out of bed in the morning?
JP: That’s a very good question. And I’m not sure of the answer every day, to be honest. Sometimes nothing gets me out of bed! The truth is, I suppose, that I feel like this is a bit of a privilege, really. I know that sounds a little bit arty-farty, but I think the idea that I can get to work every day and tell stories for a living, and play, and work with really creative, amazing people; and then make something that people will enjoy, hopefully, or makes them think, that’s way better than doing a proper job.
You know, I’ve done other jobs like working in a supermarket or painting and decorating, all that kind of stuff. And there’s obviously a lot of pros to those kinds of things. I know my back would probably be in a better position, it’d be healthier probably if I wasn’t sitting at a computer all day. But I think I would be unsatisfied if I didn’t have some outlet for whatever creativity I feel I have. So that’s what gets me out of bed every day, knowing that I can spend my time doing something that I love.
FF: Yeah, brilliant. We all love to be in that position, absolutely. When did you realise that you wanted to become a film editor and can you explain what a film editor actually does? Perhaps for those who are considering it as a vocation or just starting out.
JP: Yeah, sure. So, when I went to college, I did a general media studies kind of thing. I really wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet but then I realised I wasn’t going to be able to cope with the illness side of it. And then I became quite seriously ill and left school early. And so, I sort of felt I was a bit aimless for a while. But I knew when I was younger that I used to enjoy writing and I used to enjoy telling stories and stuff. And I absolutely loved films growing up. I used to watch Star Trek films with my dad and films were always on TV.
So, I went to do a media course, just as something to do really – I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life. And I sort of fell in love with it. I fell in love with the technical side of it, I fell in love with the collaborative side of it and working with people.
And the course we did was led by two great, great lecturers, Terry Foster and Irene Irving, who I’m still friends with to this day, who I still consider mentors to me. It was a very practical course, so you got to make things and make lots of mistakes. And it was, for me personally, a very revelatory period. It got me out of my shell. As I said, I was ill for a long time, so I felt a little bit socially stunted and I made friends there.
We actually ended up making a feature film as part of the course. And I ended up editing that, and that’s when I realised this is what I could do for a living. I really enjoyed the directing side of things, but it was a lot more stress to me. It was a lot more uncertainty and also a lot less time to get what you wanted done. Whereas, with editing, I always felt like I was playing in a sandbox. I was given all these things to do, like baking almost, given all these ingredients and tried to come up with something good. So yeah, that’s what we did.
Assistant video editor at the BBC
And then that film won a Royal TV Society Award and that got me in as an assistant editor at the BBC for six months or so working on daytime TV shows and then I went freelance and just did everything I could really.
In terms of what editing is, I mean, it’s a very big question and long books have been written about it. But essentially editing is, on a macro and a micro level, telling the story. So, you’re telling the story 25 frames or 24 frames a second. But you’re also telling a story on this bigger scale, whether it’s half an hour program or a 45-minute TV drama, or a 90-minute feature film. So, it’s telling a story in moments which add up to being a bigger thing.
Now, what’s difficult about editing is, the lines are quite blurred between where directing starts and where editing finishes. And the best sort of films are the ones, I think, where there’s a combination of both. Where the director has an idea, has planned it to be a certain way, and then the editor either makes that better, or changes it in a way that kind of works. So without getting into the technical side of stuff, which I think has been talked about ad nauseum, to me, editing is the purest form of cinema. It is what differentiates cinema from the other art forms. The combination, the adjunction of moving images from one to the next, and how that makes you feel, when a certain frame before or after changes how you see that collection of images. And I find that endlessly fascinating, to be honest. It’s a weird kind of alchemy, and it’s very difficult to explain what it is. A lot of it is very instinctive.
I think every director and producer who’s worth their salt understands how important editing is. And a lot of them like to do some editing so that they understand it better, and they can make their decisions better. Because everything you’re doing on a film set, ultimately, is all about providing material for the edit, to then create the film. And there’s so many films, you can come up with examples, where things have been made or saved in the edit or changed so fundamentally that you can’t underestimate how important that is. Now, obviously, to the general public it’s just sticking shots together, isn’t it? But I think it’s a much deeper thing than that. And it’s kind of essential.
FF: Yeah, I think that’s very, very well put. Thank you for explaining that. And I think you’re right to touch on maybe the general perception of people who are not aware of just what goes into the filmmaking, and then film editing, process.
JP: It’s odd because actually you don’t want people to notice the editing. With cinematography, there is a certain element of, ‘Ooh, isn’t that lovely and beautiful’. And that’s because, obviously, it’s a very visual thing. You want people to go, ‘Wow, that looks amazing’. But with editing, you don’t want people to notice because as soon as they notice the mechanics of the film being made, they’re not watching the film, they’re watching the making of the film. And that’s the last thing you want as a storyteller. Someone’s sitting around a campfire and reading, you want the audience to be engaged in the story not listening to the person’s voice going, ‘Ooh he’s got a weird squeaky voice. Why does he talk like that?’
I think every director and producer who’s worth their salt understands how important editing is.
FF: Yeah, you’re almost like the referee of the filmmaking business in some sort of ways. Like, you don’t want to notice the referee during a game of football or whatever it is.
JP: In that way. I mean, I don’t want to be in any other way the referee of the film. And yeah, I think we could possibly stretch the analogy too far in that regard! [both laugh]
FF: It’s a tenuous one, yeah. You’ve got quite an amazing list of clients on your portfolio. If anyone goes to visit Jim’s website, you’ll see that very, very quickly. It’s almost a case of name a big brand, and you probably work for them. Has it been a kind of snowball effect, so that the more big brands you’ve worked with the more referrals or recommendations you get?
JP: Yeah, so I mean, my focus has always been on working in films and working in drama. But along the way, certainly in building up, I started off working my way up doing anything, really.
I worked for a fashion company, doing internal videos. Before the advent of GIFs and stuff on the internet, fashion companies would film their footage, just their clothes being filmed on a pole. And then that would be put on a Marks and Spencer website or something. So, I did that for a bit, filming it and then editing it down.
The lottery of taking any video editing gig paid off
I worked for an online lottery company. It’s bizarre, but basically when I was first starting out, I was just looking for any jobs at all. So, I was living in the Midlands at the time, and there was a job in Battersea in London for someone to edit together the results of the lottery; the balls come out of the machine, these are the results, put it online. And it wasn’t much money, but it was a job and it was something to do. So, I would drive down about nine o’clock at night, to get there for about eleven and edit this thing together which would take about 15/20 minutes. And then it would be uploaded online and then I’d drive back. So, in terms of my hourly rate, it was pretty good. But of course, I also had like a four or five hour round trip to get there.
But it was that sort of thing you have to do, I think, because you just have to take the opportunities and then you can point to people and go, ‘Well, okay, no, I’ve not necessarily done much but I’ve done that, I’ve done that, I’ve done that little thing’.
And I did some corporate thing operating a Steadicam, where I went around this corporate event and filmed and interviewed people, and then edited it. I had a great ongoing relationship with the Daily Telegraph newspaper’s fledgling online presence called Telegraph TV. It was almost like a bootcamp in filmmaking really in that I went out in the morning and filmed a piece; whether it was an interview, a VT, a little kind of semi-news item. Then in the afternoon I would edit it, and then I would put it online. So, I would make these pieces and through that I was able to connect with people and get better at what I was doing. And then it was just sort of through osmosis, really, a lot of this is by chance that you contact someone.
From Disney to Samsung and Amazon: video editing for the biggest brands
I did some Disney Store videos, and then someone saw that and thought, ‘Ah, that’s alright’, and then they gave me a job doing something else. Then I worked for one company where I did a lot of stuff for Samsung and Amazon, still freelance but sort of working my way and doing lots of different things. So that was one strand of what I was doing.
A lot of that was paying the bills while I was doing short films and working my way up to doing features. And at the same time, I was working my way through factual TV as well. So, I was doing daytime TV shows and eventually I started doing documentaries and that kind of thing. Again, it’s just kind of pushing on doors and hoping for them to open really.
FF: Yeah, I think a lot of people would be forgiven for being maybe a little bit arrogant by name dropping the names you’ve just mentioned. And yet, I sense from you a kind of quiet confidence. I don’t sense any arrogance from you at all. I think you know that you’re good at what you do, but you just let your work do the talking.
JP: I guess so, I suppose you’d have to ask other people whether I’m arrogant or not. I don’t think I am. I suppose it’s all contextual, isn’t it? It’s like, I was recently offered something which I’m not going to do, because I didn’t think it was that good. But 15 years ago, I would have jumped at it because it was something to do. Whereas now I’m maybe a bit more selective about certain things. And I don’t think that’s arrogant, I think it’s just that your time is a finite resource. And certainly, as you get older, you have less energy and less bandwidth in your head. And so, you want to be selective about certain things and a bit selective about who you end up working with.
So, obviously, working on the Disney thing was fantastic and brilliant. And I’m not someone going, ‘Oh, yeah, Amazon, Samsung, oh whatever’. They’re basically the biggest companies in the world and I was doing stuff for them which is amazing. But it’s all contextual when that’s what you do.
Like at the moment, I’m working on EastEnders (1985 – ) for the BBC and I’ve also got a feature coming out soon. I’m obviously very excited about both of those things, but I come to it in a different way than I would have done 15 years ago when I was first starting out, because obviously I’ve got all this experience behind me. It’s not overawing in the way that maybe it would have been 15 years ago. So yeah, I think it’s all context.
Wrestling with growing notoriety as an editor
FF: I think it’s fantastic. Before this interview, you mentioned that the actor and former wrestler Dave Bautista has endorsed the short film Quiet Carriage (2019), which you edited. I’m fascinated to discover how that happened. How did that come about?
JP: Well, basically, the lead actor, Amit Shah, was in a film with Dave [Bautista] and became really good friends with him. And he showed it to him, and Dave liked it. And, that’s it. It’s as simple as that really.
I think what’s amazing about this business is actually how tiny it is and the whole Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. The more work you do, the more connections you make, and the more you’re one or two away from Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. And it’s kind of crazy. It’s like, I have worked with a filmmaker a lot and he has projects in development with David Fincher. And those projects are things that hopefully I’ll be working on. Now, to me, that’s spectacular, that’s amazing. But to him, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s just my friend David Fincher’. So, it’s intriguing how small the world is really.
I kind of made a mistake – not made a mistake, exactly – but I was less guarded with what I said about or to people earlier on, not realizing that. Not that I was nasty about people necessarily, but just that I said things early on in my career that maybe hurt me. I don’t know, just in that I was maybe too honest or too unguarded about certain things to one person, who might have known someone else, who might have known someone else. I’ve definitely become, certainly on Twitter, I’ve become less vocal about certain things.
FF: Yeah, and I think we can all learn a thing or two about that to be fair. But it’s amazing that you can name drop who you’ve name dropped just there. I won’t labour the point, I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t, but that’s fantastic.
JP: No, it’s cool. I mean, I’m a massive wrestling fan. And to have David Bautista even watch it is amazing. But for him to like it is great.
FF: Yeah, also Mr. Fincher, of course, David Fincher who’s released Mank (2020) on Netflix.
JP: Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing that. My friend has seen it already and loves it. Actually, I’ll just point out I’ve got a Tyler Durden pop vinyl on my shelf there. So yeah, that’s my credentials.
FF: Yeah, one of my colleagues, Aiysha Jebali, interviewed Ferdinand Kingsley, Ben Kingsley’s son, who’s in Mank (2020).
JP: Big shadow to follow in, isn’t it?
FF: Yeah, absolutely. He comes across extremely well in the interview, so that’s great. He’s a person and an actor in his own right of course.
Editing a Tribeca 2020 award-winning Film
The director and writer of No More Wings (2019), Abraham Adeyemi, a film you edited and the winner of Tribeca 2020, was mentored by none other than Sam Mendez… Who was your mentor, or major influence on you, when you started out and what did you learn from them?
JP: I don’t think I’ve had one single mentor. I’ve had people at different stages of my life who I’ve learned a lot from and I think one of the things I try and do now is be an active mentor for people who are maybe lower down on the career ladder than I am.
I’d say probably the first person I’d mention would be – I think I’ve mentioned him already – Terry Foster, who was my lecturer at college. And he is a great friend of mine, but he was very, very direct, and very harsh. I left school early, was very sensitive, very troubled. And his way of dealing with that was to almost beat me up, almost like a boot camp kind of thing to harden me up a bit, but in a way that is very kind and you know there is a means to an end. And he was a brilliant influence on me, brought me out of my shell, maybe too much, and really helped me get some confidence in myself to be able to move forward and achieve things. So, I’ll always be grateful to him, and Irene and Ken who worked there as well. These really brilliant people who went out of their way, worked well after their hours, and they treated it as a vocation more than a job.
Then there’s other people like Mike Warner who gave me my first documentary job. And then there’s people who have just sort of taken a chance on me and have become really good friends. People like Nev Pierce, who I’ve done four short films with, he’s a great friend. He’s very wise about the business. He used to edit Empire Magazine, and now he’s a filmmaker in his own right. And I respect and love him for his honesty but also his insight into things.
Pro tip: you don’t need the best video editing equipment
And then there’s people, you know, I guess you learn from every filmmaker that you work with, for good or bad. And often you are kind of this, a bit like Tom Hagen in The Godfather, you’re like the conciliary of the director, you’re there as a counsel, they kind of confide in you for certain things. And you get a lot out of that, really, in terms of seeing another perspective and advice. And so yeah, those are the names I’d probably mention.
FF: Oh, thank you for that. Getting technical for a moment, can you give us an idea of your current setup in terms of equipment, so like software, e.g. Adobe, Final Cut, DaVinci? And do you find yourself having to upgrade your equipment every two or three years or so to account for things like 4K, improved processing power, graphics cards, etc.?
JP: So, I work on a 2013 Mac Pro, which is, what, 6/7 years old now. And it’s definitely starting to show its age, so I work through proxies a lot, which are lower res versions of footage. So, I’m happy to work with 4K and 5K, I’ve done lots of that, I’m working on several things at the moment. But I tend to, on a day to day basis, edit with lower res stuff, just because it’s a bit smoother.
I have three screens here, timeline, viewing, and this one is for bins and stuff. I’ve got three Thunderbolt 2 RAIDs, which is lots of storage for bits and pieces. And I’ve got this mic for doing audio and interviews and stuff. But the thing about technology is that you can do an awful lot of it just on a MacBook or a small laptop. You know, the idea of having three screens is more ergonomic really, I’ve got more space, I can look at things.
This is not the 15th century, these are not kings, they’re production managers and they’re producers and directors.
And I use AVID and Adobe Premiere. I’m trying to learn how to use Resolve for editing. I’ve used it for colour grading, but I’ve not used it for editing yet. Because the thing about it is, you need quite a low impact or low-pressure job to learn how to use software because you don’t want to slow down the process. Say, ‘Oh well, I’m sorry I’m going slowly it’s because I’m learning a new piece of software’. And they’re like, ‘Well, why do I care about that? I wanted the film two weeks ago’, that kind of thing. So, I’m sort of working my way through that, it’s just finding the right project. So, I’m just using what everyone else uses really, AVID and Premiere. And I don’t think I’ll change, mainly for financial reasons, I’d love to upgrade to a newer machine but frankly, I can do everything I need to do with this.
I think an awful lot is placed on specs of computers. I’m a geeky guy and I love the idea of this new graphics card and all that kind of stuff. But realistically, offline editing, you don’t need a super-duper computer anymore. Because you can use proxies and stuff, you can do an awful lot with very little. So, I think people starting out are like, ‘Oh, I need to buy a £1000 computer to do this’. You don’t actually. If you’re smart about it, you don’t. You just use the resources you’ve got.
FF: I think that’s extremely encouraging to hear for people who want to embark as a filmmaker, maybe a film editor specifically. And exactly right, if they feel that there’s this financial barrier, then they might be put off entirely from going into that. But if someone like yourself is saying, ‘No, you can drop a few hundred pounds realistically and still get the job done’, that’s brilliant.
JP: Well yeah, I think if I was starting out now, I would probably buy a £500 mid-range laptop and I would probably use DaVinci Resolve because it’s free. But it’s not just free, it’s a kind of beginning to end system. So, you start off with editing, you’ve got colour grading, you’ve got audio mixing, you got visual effects. You can learn the entire film studios worth of information just using that one piece of software, and it’s free, which is amazing. The only reason I’m not using it, is because I haven’t. I have a workflow that works for me with other software. And also, with certain things like with EastEnders, that’s on Avid, a lot of documentaries tend to be on Avid because there’s better sharing protocols…but then premiere just released their new productions function.
You don’t want to get bogged down too much into the technology of it. I just had someone on Twitter contact me and ask me for some advice. And the thing is, you can learn a huge amount of stuff off YouTube and tutorials. But the only way you can really learn is by getting some footage, putting it together, seeing if it works or not. And there’s sort of no shortcut. Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian writer, always talks about 10,000 hours, which is the time it takes for you to get good at something. And there really is no way around that, you’ve got to put in the work. Despite appearances, I do know that it’s like being at the gym, that you can’t go from no reps to 1000 reps straightaway, you have to build up.
Sometimes you get inexperienced people asking you to do a job and they’ll offer a very low rate and I’ll tell them, ‘I’m sorry, no’. I do do things for much less than my rate sometimes, depending on how much I like the project. But you sometimes get, when you talk to them about the rate, answers back about, ‘Why do you charge so much, because all you’re doing is XYZ?’ Well, I’m not charging you for the two or three days that I’m working on it. I’m charging you for the 15 years and the two or three days it’s taken me to be able to do it in that time and do it well enough. Because if I was starting 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do it as well or as quickly. It is a business and you have to value yourself, back yourself. That’s what I was told recently, back yourself. And I’m starting to learn that lesson, I think.
FF: Rightly so, that’s a really, really good point. What challenges would you say you’ve learnt to overcome in the process of getting to the stage you are now as an established film editor? And do you have a trick of the trade that you wouldn’t mind maybe sharing with us?
JP: To answer the first part of the question, I think confidence has always been a big problem for me, just generally. And I think, because of the nature of our business, it’s very competitive. And you’re very good friends with people while they need you and you’re not necessarily top of their list of people to speak to when they don’t. And I think that’s partly the nature of the business and partly the nature of certain personalities who are attracted to the film or TV business. I know that I’ve made some amazing friends through this thing. And I also know that I’ve had some heartache from this business because of thinking certain people are what they aren’t.
And so I think coming into it, I probably would have been more circumspect about who I got close to, or tried to get close to, and try and think a bit more coolly about relationships with people. A good bit of advice someone gave me once was that if you’re shooting a film, you should never get too excited about a good shot, and never get too down about a bad shot. And I think that advice applies to all elements of everyone’s life, really, and I think it’s something I try and deal with.
In terms of my own failings, when I first started out, I was so desperate for people to accept me as being capable that I pretended to know more than I did. And I think people found me out quite quickly or at least were put off by that. Of the advice I give when I do lectures and stuff for people, the thing I say to them is: no one’s expecting the runner to know anything. They’re expecting them to be really enthusiastic, and they expect them to do the job quickly and well. And there’s no shame in saying, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you explain that to me again?’ Only the biggest asshole would say, ‘Oh, how dare you ask me that question again’. You know, this is not the 15th century, these are not kings, they’re production managers and they’re producers and directors. It’s not a problem for you to not know the answer to something. And actually, people would rather you said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know’, than not know and pretend and get it wrong.
And it’s the same with schedules. I’d rather say to someone now I can’t get this done for another three weeks, than say two weeks and let them down. And I think that’s a lesson it took me a while to learn, people would rather you be realistic than hopeful but then fail. And that’s not to say that when someone says, ‘Oh, do you know how to do this?’ You can go, ‘Yeah’, and then quickly go and work out how to do it. If you feel like you can, then that’s absolutely fine. But there’s certain things you can’t do that with, and I think you have to make a judgment call.
How to get more video editing work?
And I think the biggest bit of advice I’d probably give is, do as much work as you can, even if you think it’s going to be shit, especially if you’re starting out. Because there’s so much you learn from everything. Especially the things I’ve learned from really bad short films that I’ll never show anyone, that I can apply now. For instance, I’ll come back to it again, I’m not overawed by a million or 2-million-pound budget feature film now, because I’ve done so much work on things that perhaps you’ve not heard of.
I worked out the other day that I’ve cut about three and a half thousand drama scenes across all the short films and the multiple features I’ve done, which is a lot really.
And so when I come into a show like EastEnders (1985 – ), which is a very fast paced show where they’re shooting seven or eight scenes a day, and you’ve got to edit them as you go along, and then you’ve only got two or three weeks to assemble four episodes, which is like 80/90 minutes of prime-time TV. If I was coming into this 10 years ago, maybe I would have been like, ‘Oh my god, what am I gonna do? There’s so much footage’. But because I’ve been through other projects, I don’t feel that way.
So, the more you can do, the more you kind of build up your calluses, I suppose, and build up your confidence about being able to do stuff. Really, it’s only in the last couple of years where I felt, ‘You know what, actually, I think I’m quite good at this’. Whereas there were other people who would have maybe said that about me five years ago, or ten years ago. I think we’re all in a learning process and hopefully I will continue to learn because I want to get better.
FF: That is a brilliant way to end I think. I want to thank you so, so much for your time.
JP: Thank you for having me.
Presenter: Richard Williams
Transcription & Print Editor: Keren Davies
Video Editor, Visual Effects & Artwork: Richard Williams
Trailer footage: Vimeo
Film lover. Coffee hater. Raising a newborn during a global pandemic and interviewing indie filmmakers in between nappy changes.