MEWShop alumni are always popping up in new and exciting places. Case in point: Miguel Esteban Rebagliato, who completed the Six Week Intensive at MEWShop in 2012, recently worked as an assistant editor on the Emmy-nominated miniseries The Night Manager. He recently wrapped a job on the upcoming Angelina Jolie film First They Killed My Father, and is currently working as an AE on the BBC adaption of Zadie Smith’s N.W. We recently caught up with Miguel to talk about his work, his editing philosophy, and how his experiences at Manhattan Edit Workshop have shaped his career.
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Valencia, Spain. I lived there until three years ago, when I finished an undergraduate degree in media and journalism and moved to the UK. I currently live in London.
2. What kind of film education did you receive?
My parents used to take me to the cinema often, sometimes to films I wouldn't normally choose to watch myself. But I didn't have my first formal film class until I was around 15, when I took a media class in school for a year. Then I did a four-year undergraduate degree in media in Spain after I finished school.
3. How did your experiences in MEWShop’s Six Week Workshop complement the education you had before you took the workshop?
My university education in media had been very general so far. It had been mostly theoretical and not that much about filmmaking. My approach to editing was therefore quite intuitive. I knew the basics of Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere and I was capable of editing short films and other forms just by following my instincts. The course at MEWShop gave me a better understanding of editing on many levels. It made me more aware of what I was doing - of the storytelling potential of editing and its influence in pace, performance and other factors. Having footage from real projects allowed me to practice all I was learning.
The course also helped me to improve technically as an editor. My knowledge of the different applications increased a great deal. For example, I learned ways of doing things in, say, two steps whereas before it would have taken me five steps to do the same thing.
One of the most essential things I took from the course was learning Avid Media Composer, the software I mainly use now. I hadn't ever used it before and I don't think it is an intuitive software to learn. I wouldn't probably be able to use it at the professional level I need to use it nowadays if I hadn't had such good Avid lessons.
4. Which film/s originally inspired you to pursue editing?
I can't point out any particular films that made me decide I wanted to be an editor. For me enjoying films in general came first. When I was about 12, my parents took me to an arthouse cinema. I didn't quite like the film I watched that day, but they kept taking me to more films there and I started appreciating them more after some time. Those years I also had a few DVD collections of recent European and Spanish films that I enjoyed watching. I knew I wanted to do for a living something related to films. It was when I started university and I made some short films that I realized that editing was the part of filmmaking that I enjoyed most and I thought I was best at.
5. What do you think are some personal qualities (in yourself and others) that make editing a natural fit as a career choice?
Firstly, I think love for film and TV shows is a must. You spend hours every day watching footage and playing with it, so you definitely have to enjoy watching films. As it is a collaborative job, I also think one needs to be patient and open-minded, willing to listen and try different things.
6. What’s your favorite editing software? Which software do you have the most experience editing with?
Avid Media Composer is my favourite. It's the one I've always used working as an assistant editor and therefore it's the one I know best. I like using it to edit too.
7. What is your favorite edited scene of all time? Why?
I find choices like this very difficult. Last time I had to choose I picked a scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are getting lost into different memories in Carrey’s head. I liked very much how Charlie Kaufman's script played with space and time and the possibilities that it gave to the editor, Valdís Óskarsdóttir. The continuity of that scene is deliberately far from perfect, to show it's not taking place in the real world.
I also find the final scene of Whiplash very impressive. It amazes me how the editing turns a music film into such a tense action piece.
8. What other jobs in the film industry appealed to you? If you had to switch career paths, what would you pick?
When I started doing short films I thought about working in the camera department too, but now I don't think it would be the right thing for me. I find the job of the script supervisor very interesting, as we work with their paperwork closely in the cutting room. I've been told it's one of the toughest jobs, though. I would probably enjoy working on something related to VFX, too, but I wouldn't really like to do anything other than editing.
9. What is your current favorite film or television show from an editing perspective? What makes it so compelling?
A few years ago, I would have probably said that it was Sherlock, the BBC TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It definitely has a very distinctive editing style. I could also say Whiplash. Both are pieces of work where the editing is very noticeable and has a very clear role that the viewer is aware of.
I am a big fan of that kind of editing, but what I really appreciate too is when I start watching a film or a TV show and I don't even think about the editing at all. That kind of invisible editing I think that deserves to be praised too. Mad Men, one of my favourite shows, for example, doesn't first come across as a piece of work where the editing is complex. However, reading some interviews with the editors of the show, one can see how many fluid morphs, split screens and other editing tricks were used to shape the pace and the performances that Mad Men is famous for.
10. What was your proudest moment as an editor?
My proudest moment as an editor was probably when I was fine-cutting my first feature film, an independent micro-budget project I did with some friends, which was called My Month with Mrs Potter. After finishing the three weeks of shooting and assembling all the scenes as they were shot, I really enjoyed turning the long and slow first assembly into a finished film that was watchable and as interesting as possible. I started doing this on my own first and after a first pass, I worked for weeks with the director. I particularly enjoyed switching from thinking how to make a scene work to thinking about the film as a whole.
11. How do you see the post-production industry evolving over the next decade or so?
I don't think I have worked in the post-production industry in London enough time for me to predict how it will evolve. What I have seen in the cutting room, though, in offline editing, is that the core of our way of working doesn't change that much. For films and TV dramas almost everyone uses Avid Media Composer here with an Avid Isis shared storage system. Maybe once cloud storage systems have been around for more years, those might replace the Avid Isis. But I tend to see that the system that usually works is kept on and on for future jobs.
When I worked as assistant editor on The Night Manager, for example, the show was shot in 4K and that involved many new things for the post production house that was doing the online and the grading. For us in the offline, though, it didn't make that much of a difference, as we were still working on DNxHD 36 1080p proxies, a system that works very smoothly.
12. What technological advancements in post-production have affected your work and process the most?
I haven't seen that many changes in the offline, but again I haven't been working for that long to be able to see those. I see from time to time new features in new versions of Avid, which make some daily tasks easier.
13. Talk about your most challenging experience as an editor.
Right now I'm focusing on working as an assistant editor, which allows me to work on bigger projects and learn from very talented editors. I also edit other projects on the side when I have the chance. On the current job I have as assistant editor, a TV movie for BBC2, the editor let me assemble during the shoot as many scenes as I wanted, as it would help him to get a first idea of the scenes and it would good for me to practise. Since assisting and editing are such different activities and require completely different mindsets, finding the time and being able to focus on assembling while so many things are going on, that has been one of my most challenging experiences as an editor.
14. What project/s are you working on now?
I'm working on N.W., a TV movie for BBC2. It's directed by Saul Dibb (Suite Française, The Duchess) and based on a book by Zadie Smith. The editor is Ben Lester, who also edited all the episodes from The Night Manager.
I'm also finishing the last edits on an independent feature film called A Day in May. It was shot last summer during 72 hours and we finished the main editing last September. They've done a few pickup shoots later this year, mainly for some GVs to use as transitions between scenes. Recently I had to edit an opening titles sequence using stock footage as a temp placeholder. They shot an extra day later on and I edited a new opening titles sequence with those new rushes. Now I need to discuss a few changes with the director, but it's not so easy to find the time when I'm busy working in London and he lives in France, so hopefully we'll be able to talk about it one of this weekends, I'll send him a new version and we'll eventually lock it.
15. Is there anything you do outside of editing that has helped you sharpen your storytelling skills?
Obviously watching films and TV shows. I also like reading fiction very much. The last three projects I've worked on as an assistant (The Night Manager, First They Killed My Father and N.W.) were based on books, so I decided to read them before starting. I was recently discussing with the editor I'm working with whether having read the book helps or makes things more complicated when the film is based on it. It definitely helped me as an assistant, as I knew the story well since the beginning. I'm not quite sure it would help me as an editor, as it might condition me and would make me compare the book and the film constantly, but it would also give me a better understanding of the characters and the story. That's something I still have to find out.