Fiona Starogardzki is an Assistant Editor whose long list of credits includes: Ripper Street, Jekyll and Hyde, Babylon, and Amber. She has also worked on Feature films ‘I Give it a Year’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Love, Rosie’. She gave us the lowdown on life of an Assistant Editor.
Dublin Editors: What made you want to get into Post production?
Fiona Starogardzki: I realised when I was about 14 that I wanted to get into film making, but always thought it would be as a part of the camera department, as I had always had a keen love of photography. I studied in the National Film School of Ireland, and in my first year, I did a module of editing. After the first day, I was hooked, and it’s been a great love affair with all things editing ever since.
Dublin Editors: What was your first professional job and what led you to where you are today?
Fiona Starogardzki: My first job was in a very small post production company in Dublin, as assistant editor to Dublin Editors own Eoin McDonagh. He took me under his wing, and taught me how to be a good assistant over the time we worked together, and within a short enough period, I was moved up to the role of Junior Editor within the company.
I spent roughly 3 years cutting broadcast, sport documentaries and reality TV, but I realised it wasn’t really where my passion was, and decided to take a step back, and become an assistant again to work in dramas and features. I moved to one of the larger post production companies in Dublin, but sadly didn’t really get to work on many dramas and features there either, so after a while, I went freelance.
I agreed to do some weekend work, syncing some tricky footage for a friend of Eoin’s. Having spent a couple of days syncing, the editor on the project had to move on, and the producers asked if I could carry on and finish editing it, which I did.
The next job they were working on was an RTE drama, which had Tony Cranstoun on board as editor. They asked me would I assist, and I jumped at the chance.
I worked with Tony for a further 3 years, one particular project (I Give It a Year) which took me to London. I worked between Dublin and London for a little while, before packing my bags and making a permanent move over here. It was a bit of a challenge, as I had to build up a whole new network of contacts and editors etc, but so far I have made it work, and have been working on dramas and features exclusively for over 4 years now.
Dublin Editors: What do you think is the main role of the Assistant Editor? And what responsibilities come with the job?
Fiona Starogardzki: One of my editors once said, “The editor is the swan, gliding seemingly effortlessly across the water, and the assistant is the legs, doing all the hard work unseen below the surface”. He also told me “You’re in charge here. You run the edit how you see fit, and I’m just here to cut”.
There are so many different parts to my job. Obviously, there is the technical part – the processing/ syncing of rushes, the prepping of bins, the exporting and uploading of rushes playouts, the backing up, the hunting down sound effects, the vfx pulls, the prepping for conform, and sound mix etc etc etc.
Then there is the admin part – keeping track of all continuity, sound and camera notes, replacing the script with the marked up script, replying to all emails (so many emails!!) and questions everyone has for post production, doing timings, talking to audio and grading and vfx, sorting deliverables etc.
Then there is the editing part – assembling some scenes, cutting recaps, teasers and promos etc.
Another massive part of my job, is creating a good working atmosphere, and just making sure the editor has everything they need to be able to edit properly. Every editor is different in this regard. Some will need to be left alone as much as possible, others will want to chat and bounce ideas off you, debate scenes and cuts etc, and sometimes, just get their head out of the edit for a little while and have a cup of tea and a laugh. Most will have their own unique way of working, and it’s a matter of sussing that out as soon as possible, and falling in line with that.
If all the editor has to do is concentrate on editing, then I am doing my job well.
Dublin Editors: How many people are in the Post Department for a large series like that?
Fiona Starogardzki: It usually depends on budget, I find. In editorial on J&H, we had 4 editors, 2 assistants and a post production supervisor towards the end. Then of course there are also countless VFX, music, audio, adr, conform, colourist etc etc staff.
Dublin Editors: Most of your work seems to be in drama, but you have also worked in Documentary and reality TV, in what way do these workflows differ and do they bring up a different set of challenges for the Assistant Editor?
Fiona Starogardzki: When I worked on documentaries, it was usually for a single editor, so in that regard, the workflow was quite different. Documentaries really taught me a lot about storytelling, as you couldn’t just rewrite a script if something wasn’t working, you had to figure out how to tell the story with what you had.
With my reality TV experience, I was usually working with multiple editors simultaneously, and with an extremely quick turnaround. Everything had to be meticulously done, so that there were no mistakes, as there really wasn’t time for mistakes! It taught me the importance of good organisation and communication.
Dublin Editors: What have you found to be the best training for an Assistant Editor?
Fiona Starogardzki: I know its cliché, but its experience really. Learning on the job. Working on different projects, with different people all the time. Getting things wrong, figuring out how you got it wrong, and then sussing out how to do it right. Asking questions.
Every editor I have ever worked for has taught me something new.
Dublin Editors: The technology in Post is moving so quickly now how do you keep up to date with the newest and latest trends?
Fiona Starogardzki: When I started out, it was all tape based. Within a few years, file based workflows were coming in to their own, but at the time, there wasn’t really any training for the new workflows (in Ireland anyway). It was a case of getting stuck in, and trying (along side other fellow assistants and tech ops) to figure out how best to go about it. Trial and error really.
Now there are some good training courses around, and I also find lynda.com to be a useful resource. More often than not though, I still stick to my old way of asking others in the field their advice.
Dublin Editors: How would you describe the Editor – Assistant Editor relationship and how involved do you get in the cutting process?
Fiona Starogardzki: I think every editor/ assistant editor relationship is a little different, but essentially, you have to be a tight team. You need to understand how each one works, in order to always be one step ahead of them, and know what they will require from you.
I am wildly lucky, in that I have worked for editors, whom I genuinely believe to be good friends now. They have all also been very open to the idea of teaching me, so most involve me quite a bit in the editing process, whether that is just asking my opinion on a scene or a playout, or getting me to cut some stuff, or allowing me to sit and watch the process of editing with the director etc.
Dublin Editors: What do you love most about your job?
Fiona Starogardzki: I love the variety of it. Working with different people on different projects all the time is the best part of being freelance.
I love the art of storytelling, and the fact that I get to be a part of that, is pretty damn great.
Dublin Editors: What is your biggest gripe about it?
Fiona Starogardzki: Post production and the role of assistant editor in particular, can often be overlooked and underappreciated, I have found. Other departments have banded together to strive for better working conditions and pay etc. We are currently trying to do that over here in post production in the UK, but it is a slow process.
It can also be rather isolating some times. The rest of the crew all band together on set, but we are usually miles away in a couple of dark rooms.
As a freelancer, there is also a distinct lack of job security.
Dublin Editors: How do you maintain a work/life balance? Do you set the hours per day you will work?
Fiona Starogardzki: In the beginning, I didn’t really have a balance at all. I worked all hours, and weekends, and pretty much worked myself in to the ground. As I’ve gotten older, and gained experience, and I guess a little wisdom, I have balanced it better.
I try to work roughly the same hours as production when they are shooting, within reason. Sometimes longer hours are needed, and I am happy to do that, but I try not to make it a regular occurrence if it’s not needed.
Dublin Editors: What are your plans / goals for the future?
Fiona Starogardzki: Ideally, I want to be an editor. Feature films is the dream, but TV drama has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and I would be just as happy doing that, or a combination of both.
Dublin Editors: What advice would you give someone trying to get into Assistant Editing?
Fiona Starogardzki: I think it would be that there is no direct route in to this. I know a lot of people who have had career paths like mine, with some back tracking and side stepping, and that’s not a bad thing. Each path taught me something which has helped me understand this job better. Start on the bottom rung, get yourself a job in the post world, learn your craft, and work your way up.
Dublin Editors: What advice would you give to Editors on working with an Assistant Editor?
Fiona Starogardzki: Appreciate them! They are working harder than even you know. And have their back – I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to be a part of a team in this industry that can sometimes make you feel like a lone wolf.