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The Peak Experiences of Pip Karmel

The Peak Experiences of Pip Karmel

Articles - Editing

Pip Karmel

Writer/director Pip Karmel’s debut
feature, Me, Myself, I, starring the delightful Rachel Griffiths,
established this Australian moviemaker as someone who can deliver
the goods. Solid direction, a good script: just what we’ve come
to expect from one of Australia’s small but impressive band of auteurs.
Though the Australian film industry is not a large one, there’s
certainly no lack of talent brewing down under. 

Like many of her mates, Pip
studied at Australia’s National Film School. Starting out as
an assistant editor, she went to film school in order to put
herself on the fast track to becoming a proper film editor.
It was there that she met director Scott Hicks, who invited
Pip to take some time off from school and cut his first feature, Sebastian and The Sparrow. With that under her belt,
Pip returned to film school determined to become a director
herself, which she has accomplished. Along the way, she has
returned to the editing chair twice — both times for friend
Scott Hicks — to cut his break through picture Shine,
and his most recent outing, Hearts In Atlantis, starring
the resplendent Anthony Hopkins.

MM: Was Hearts
In Atlantis unique in any way as an artistic challenge? And
how does it compare to a movie like Shine?

PK: Shine was full
of music; it was a different animal with its own challenges. The reason I did Hearts In Atlantis was that, a)
I like working with Scott [Hicks] and b) he offered
me the job at a point where the timing was perfect. I
hadn’t edited anything since Shine and I’ve been concentrating
on my directing career. I just had my first feature released.
At about the same time, I had my first baby. When Scott rang
me up the baby was about three months old. It was a great
opportunity to do something wonderful while my baby is still
small. I didn’t think I’d be able to direct anything at that
point, and it’s always a delight working with Scott. And the
film has Anthony Hopkins in it — so altogether it was a sort
of high-end experience.

MM: How do you prepare
as an editor? Do you read the script and make notes before
you begin?

PK: I read the script
a couple of times. Scott usually makes fun of me because
I don‚t read the script too much (laughs). Once I’ve read
it, I just virtually put it away; I’m only working with the
material that’s being shot. Occasionally I might forget
what’s supposed to be happening, but if you can’t get the film
out of the material that ‘s being shot…

MM: …you’re in
trouble…

PK: You’re in trouble! And the script — while I respect the script absolutely
— once the director has done the job of putting it on film,
I think you’ve got to work [with that]. The raw material
for an editor is the footage; even if something looks good on
paper sometimes it works differently on film.

MM: Are there ever
occasions where a scene has been shot and you request more footage?

PK: Yes, occasionally.
And very occasionally Scott would ask, if I was on-set,
for me to check something, and then tell me, jokingly, that
I’m responsible for it if it doesn’t work. (laughs) There
are always scenes where another shot or two might help, but
often you find that the longer you live with something,
you can make it work. By the time the crew has gone back
to do the pick up shots, you’ve made it work without them. It’s
amazing what you don’t need.

MM: Do you have
any conscious sense of working with the production design when
you cut? There’s always a lot of atmosphere in a Scott Hicks
film; in Shine, water is a main theme: a fish tank in
the foreground, rain, a water hose, the bath tub, the shower,
the swimming pool, water from a sprinkle splashed on a car windshield.
Do you consider any of that when you edit?

PK: That’s been worked
out before it gets to me. If there is a scene like that
in the film, I guess you could cut it in a way that diminishes
it, but my main concern is the story; I don’t look at much else.

MM: In Hearts
In Atlantis, how significantly might the narrative shift
if you took out a given shot, or put one back in?

PK: Well, I think in
all films there are, not so much with a particular shot, but
scenes, that whether when left in or taken out can shift the
general direction of the film, depending on how plot-heavy it
is. In something like Shine or Hearts In Atlantis,
where the story’s told mostly in flashback, you’ve always got
the framing scenes at the beginning and the end.

In Shine, there was
a scene shot for the beginning that ultimately wasn’t used;
in Hearts In Atlantis there was always that possibility
as well — that you might not want to use those first and last
scenes that wrap around the film.  But that’s the
point of editing.  There’s something about sitting
and watching something for an hour and a half; it’s an intangible
thing, but you get certain impressions that maybe on paper were
really clear and become more open to interpretation when they’re
on film; they are very different animals. The writer might be
perfectly happy with the script and think, oh, it works perfectly,
but then there are so many factors that come into play when
it comes to film that the effect can be completely different.  The way a scene is blocked out, the way the actors
interpret their roles, and then there’s always the things that
happen on the day you shoot, and time constraints when you’re
filming it. I guess that’s what makes it exciting.

MM: With Anthony
Hopkins, there seems to be so much that he can do without actually
speaking. He expresses so much with a gesture or a glance.

PK: Yes, it’s wonderful
to edit material with actors like that; there’s a lot going
on in their eyes. But when he opens his mouth it’s golden, as
well. It’s beautiful material to work with, and kind
of an honor to edit material with an actor of that caliber.

MM: Has working
as an editor affected your work as a screenwriter?

PK: Oh, yes. I’m seeing
it in my head more clearly; I think I understand what you don’t
need to write — hopefully I do, anyway — and the kind of transitions
that you need to make in a film. It’s not like writing prose,
and there’s no point writing some things because you can’t see
them when you shoot them. Often a writer will write something
that you can’t shoot as a director.

MM: Internal thought
processes?

PK: Yes. I get not
to write that kind of stuff (laughs).

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