Interview with Film Editor: Ayana Harper 

A little about myself, well I also say I’m a “Euro-Trini”, because I was born in Paris, France to Trinidadian parents and feel very connected to both places. I love to edit, watch documentaries and spend time with my family and friends. I graduated from EICAR, the International Film School of Paris in 2014 with some of the best people I know and who I am thankful for everyday (#shamelessshoutout). 


What made you become an editor?

Actually, I would say this came about in my 11th grade French class. My teacher Mme Geneix decided she wanted to host a film festival about the environment and had us write, shoot and edit films and it was then that I realized I had an affinity for it.


What education, schooling or skills are needed to become an editor? And what suggestion do you have someone who can’t go to traditional school but wants to become an editor?

Film school is always a good idea but its not the end all and be all. What it offers is theory, which I think is necessary to being a well rounded editor. Speaking from personal experience, it was in film school that I realized that editing is far more than understanding a software and just “cutting”. You are in essence a second director and therefore you have to have a keen understand of pacing, story and what your director’s vision is. You are a storyteller and are helping bring the story to life through the images you choose to make the final cut. That being said, there are lots books written by editors out there that someone who can’t afford film school can read and now with the accessibility of information and resources online “film school” is at your finger tips.


When you start editing, do you stick to the script and the storyboard, or do you start interpreting right away?

I usually stick to the script for the assembly. So that the director and I can then see what works and what doesn’t. From there, I begin to trim and see what best serves the story my director is trying to tell… sometimes this means radical deviations from the script but sometimes not. It just depends.


Do you cut to music or without sound? How does sound influence your cutting?

At first, I cut without music but this again depends on what you are editing. For example, if it’s something narrative there comes a point in the edit where I might ask for a temp track or something similar to what the director intends to use as the soundtrack as this has a direct influence on the pacing of the edit. It’s hard to create a mood with the edit at times if you aren’t sure what the scene “sounds” like.

If I’m cutting something nonlinear or something which is entirely about mood then it’s best to have the music first because you cut to the music and any changes of the track change the edit.


Are there rules for editing certain types of scenes (i.e. comedy, dialogue, action) that you like to follow – or like to break? Examples?

I remember a great tip from my editing teacher Sean Cullen in Film School who said, “when you finish cutting a scene with dialogue, listen to it without watching the video”. If it sounds right, then you have the pacing right. Sometimes, when you are cutting a dialogue scene you can get too bogged down in the visuals and so the pacing of the conversation gets a little thrown off… I like this tip and I use it all the time!


What have you learned about editing that they don’t tell you in film school?

Oh this is a tough one! I think you learn as you go to be honest, every project you edit is going to be completely different so there are rules of course but you learn so much on the job. I think probably what I learnt is that there is no one way to cut you have to be flexible, of course you may prefer to edit certain kind of films but I think flexibility is a good thing.


What kinds of things inspire you? Do you have any personal rituals, or maybe a creative exercise you do to get your head in the right mood before you start?

I like to work at night, because its quiet and I tend to be able to concentrate best then. Sometimes I try to go for a run before working to clear my head, but to honest normally I just set a time and go for it.


What are the three most common mistakes you see beginning editors make?

I think mainly it’s a question of pacing, sometimes people want to cut fast because it looks “cool” and “exciting” but it’s not necessarily serving the story. I also have to say, that editors get the blame here but directors have a lot of say as to what ends up in the final cut…so maybe its not only beginning editors making the mistakes but directors as well.


How do you earn a living and sustain a career doing what you love?

It’s been hard and unpredictable, I recently moved to Trinidad and while we have a film industry here it’s still in its infancy so it has been difficult to find consistent work. But I have been fortunate in that 3 of my cousins and I have started a production company called Story Play and have been working on our own projects including an animated web series called Big Man Dan so that’s been really great! I think all creatives understand the struggle but it’s worth it every day!


How does a typical day (for you) begin when you are in full swing of editing?

Well if I choose not to edit at night, I try to get up early and go for a run. Then once I get home I eat a hearty breakfast and go for it. Really not much to it.


What’s next for you?

Well as I mentioned before my cousins and I have our web series Big Man Dan which is in pre-production right now and is all very exciting!

I have been helping with the script development as well as going over the storyboards. I also would like to direct one of my own screenplays at some point in the near future as I think understanding what it’s like on the other side of the camera will help me be a better editor to my directors.

I also have a few shorts to edit in the coming months and I’m hoping to edit my first feature pretty soon which is both daunting and thrilling! I’m also looking forward to new collaborations and new projects, the more the merrier!

How can we keep up with you? 



Shivawn Hill, is a writer, director and a storyteller at heart. She’s currently in post production with her short documentary film. She believes that one day soon she’ll form the ultimate group of Storytellers who will travel the world to share the stories of creative peculiar people. Come hang out with her on Instagram

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