Mick Audsley is one of the UK's most accomplished, acclaimed and in-demand film editors. From his incredible work on the films of Bill Douglas and Terence Davies, to extended collaborations with Stephen Frears (seventeen films), Mike Newell (six films), Neil Jordan (two films), Terry Gilliam (three films), John Madden (four films), Audsley has traversed genres and filmmaking styles. Amongst his notable films are THE HIT (1984), MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985), DANCE WITH A STRANGER (1985), PRICK UP YOUR EARS (1987), DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988), THE GRIFTERS (1990), INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994), TWELVE MONKEYS (1995), THE AVENGERS (1998), HIGH FIDELITY (2000), CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN (2001), DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009), THE ZERO THEOREM (2013), EVEREST (2015), ALLIED (2016), and the forthcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017). Audsley won the BAFTA Award for Best Film or Video Editor - Fiction/ Entertainment for the Stephen Frears TV film THE SNAPPER (1993), and was nominated for Best Film Editing for DANGEROUS LIAISONS (also for Frears). He regularly teaches at film schools internationally, and with wife Joke Van Wijk runs Sprocket Rocket Soho, a networking organisation that brings together and shares ideas and information from filmmakers from different backgrounds and disciplines. In the first part of a two-part interview I spoke with Audsley about the early years, and the early collaborations with Bill Douglas, Terence Davies and Stephen Frears. 
Audsley with the pre-digital Avid
Growing up, what were some of the most formative films for you? I think I was more into European cinema initially - early Truffaut and Godard, and also the Czech filmmakers, and films like Juri Menzel's CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS (1966). Then I saw stuff like THE CONVERSATION (1974) and the first two GODFATHER films (1972-74) and my head started to spin in a good way. I also loved Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967).

When did you start to think about film as a career? 
Pretty early on. I started making films when I was at school. I was first interested in animation and I went to art school and then to film school at the Royal College of Art on the basis of animation. It was there that I saw I wanted to develop into feature-length filmmaking and live-action filmmaking. I found that animation was rather a lonely business. You're on your own for days on end. The one thing that I had never done is any cutting. I had worked in the cutting room as an assistant but I had not done any editing myself. I did a lot of sound work and sound editing but not any picture work. It wasn't until I left the Royal College of Art that, desperate for a job, I fell into the British Film Institute through some friends and one thing led to another and I ended up cutting some small films. That's how I got started.

How did you get into the orbit of Bill Douglas? 
I met Bill through friends and I worked on the last part of his autobiographical trilogy, MY WAY HOME (1978) and went to Egypt with him. When we came back, we talked about the film and he invited me to start cutting it with him. I think he saw me as a sympathetic mind. Years later we went on and did COMRADES (1986) together.

Why do you think you and Douglas made good collaborators? 
I was very taken with Bill's stripped down, very pure poetry of filmmaking and his attitude towards a purely visual style of storytelling, which wasn't reliant on dialogue and words but was montage and the building of images. His scripts would read as the images you would see, and the accumulative montage was what gave you the meaning. I really admired his approach and I found it very pure.

Do you think the experience of working with him was a life-changer for you? 
It had an enormous impact on me, and I think that for example when I first worked with Stephen Frears, he picked up that I had been knocking around in that sort of world. I also fell in with other filmmakers who had championed him and who educated me through the kind of language that Bill was endeavoring to get on the screen. It was an interesting time.

What was it like working with Terence Davies on the final part of his TRILOGY (1983)? 
I think Terence came to me because he was a devotee of Bill's. He adopted a similar language and took it further himself. I started working with him when he was a student at the National School of Film and Television in 1979. The first two films in particular were startlingly powerful, but the resolution of the story in the final part was a different form of storytelling, and less based on conflict. I was relatively inexperienced so I aspired to the standards set by the other editors who had worked on the first two parts, people like Peter West. We had limited resources because Terence was still a film student and this was only a little 16mm film, but there were moments of utter brilliance in the film. I was lucky enough, through Terence, to meet Alexander 'Sandy' Mackendrick, who was a film tutor at the school, and who helped me edit the film. He spent two days with me. It was as transformative an experience as ever as I have had. Terence was generous enough to allow me to do that. We showed the film to Sandy and he gave me notes and helped me understand it better – what were writing issues and couldn't be resolved by editing, for example.

How different was working with Stephen Frears? 
Well, he was much more experienced obviously. He was very much working in the industry. He had a notorious reputation already by the time we met, which was in 1981. He was an established director of made-for-TV films, most of which were brilliant. He had also directed GUMSHOE (1971), which was his first film and I admired greatly. Working with him was a step up because it was working in the industry with someone I'd very much looked up to. He saw himself as a working, jobbing director, whereas Bill and Terence considered themselves as poets I think.

Did you feel like you learned some new skills working on THE HIT with Frears? 
Yes. Very much so. I love the film and I loved working on it. Stephen would trust me with the rushes because he was away shooting in Spain. I would interpret the film off my own bat. We would talk a lot every day on the phone. We developed a language where it was me informing him of what I was experiencing with the footage I received. It was very generous of him and very gratifying for me. I learned a lot about film construction. It was a very safe little family with Jeremy Thomas as producer, who had also been an editor, and the wonderful cast. What more could you want?

The Hit.
Frears' films are very often very different from the previous one. Is that quality something you enjoy about working with him? 
Yes, definitely, and I never expected one thing to lead to another in the way that it did. It led to other things. My association with Mike Newell began because he and Stephen were friends. I was very lucky to be rubbing shoulders with people who were my seniors and were people who I could learn from and who looked after me, and collaborated with me and gave me a voice. They let me speak freely about what we were doing, which you need to, being an editor.

What was the editing process like on THE GRIFTERS? Did you accompany Stephen to L.A. to edit the picture? 
No, we edited it in London, like most of the films we did together. We would jump backwards and forwards to New York to see Marty Scorsese and Barbara De Fina, who were producing the film, and the lovely Thelma Schoonmaker. I was lucky to get to work with these wonderful people, and also Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the most magnificent score. I shall never to this day forget being in the studio in Dublin and hearing Elmer's score for the first time up against the movie. It was very thrilling indeed. I'd heard it on the piano, so I knew it was going to be great, but it wasn't until I heard it in the studio that I thought ''Wow, this is a classic!''

Did Scorsese have a lot of input into the editing of THE GRIFTERS? 
Stephen encouraged Marty to sit down with us and talk it through. Marty was shooting GOODFELLAS (1990) at the time and he said ''We're quite happy with what you've done. I think you should go home and carry on with what you're doing. We love it. '' I was in awe of him and his editor, the wonderful Thelma Schoonmaker. They were like gods to me, and still are. They were so warm and friendly and supportive of us. I felt very privileged. We obviously took their notes very seriously but there was an attitude of ''Believe in what you're doing yourself guys, and don't let us interfere. '' So their input was mainly encouragement, or in my case, like having your parents tell you to carry on. We worked very hard on that film to make it what it was, and a lot of it was Stephen directing me in the editing.

Did working with the likes of Frears, Newell and Neil Jordan, make you respect even more the art of acting, since they always manage to get remarkable performances from actors?
Oh yeah. What they were presenting to me was the work of some giants like Anjelica Huston, Johnny Cusack, Stephen Rea, Tom Cruise. It would sometimes leave you worrying overnight that you had represented these people well, but you just have to carry on and follow your own instincts. The process of my job is to learn to tap into what you want to see and is the movie you want to see from what you are given. If that isn't in tune with the people that are employing you that's difficult. There has to be a trust between the editor and the director because an editor has to make so many choices. I think the reason that I survived with these people that I looked up to was because I had great empathy for the work they were doing.

Dirty Pretty Things.
Are certain genres more difficult to edit? 
I don't think so. I'm not keen on comparmentalising genres in our side of the job because I feel like each film hasn't been made before. I just focus on making the best version of the film that is in front of me. For example, when I was working on THE GRIFTERS, I didn't think I had to apply film noir rules. I just tried to make the best version of the film within the world of that movie and how I'm being directed. I'm surprised when people say ''This is an editor with a reputation for cutting action, or for cutting dialogue. '' Editors do all these things, although of course all editors have different strengths.

Are you moved or changed by the material you are cutting? I am thinking of a film like Frears' DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. 
Yes. I felt that was a very important film and the migrant story of people living under the radar to survive and how we exploit them is probably even more relevant now. It's a story that needed to be told. What I love about what Stephen and I drew out with the film is how dependent we are upon the subculture and how it made you see things in cities that you didn't normally see. I am very proud to have been involved with it.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a good working relationship with a director? 
From an editorial point of view, you have to feel that the director trusts you and that you can trust them to provide you with what you need to articulate the movie they want. The important thing is that you're able to express your feelings and explain the decisions that you make if you have to. It's useful to be able to talk about why you have chosen certain things. Even if those choices are wrong, somebody has got to make them because you have to start somewhere. The possibilities of a film are hugely varied with the huge amount of footage that gets turned in these days. It's also important to me that a cutting room is a place you can experiment and make a fool of yourself in the endeavor of finding what's best for the film. I am cutting a film now (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) and the film is only five weeks into shooting. I don't have the overview of the finished film yet and there are bound to be mistakes and changes made. I will adjust the work I do as I understand the film more and as it grows. It's important to be able to have a good dialogue with the director. 

Part two of the interview. 

Audsley's website.  

The website for Sprocket Rocket Soho.

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