Fiona Brands

Fiona Brands is a freelance editor based in London. Originally from Germany, she now lives in England where she completed a Master’s degree in Editing at The National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield. Her graduation film “Wild Horses” by Rory Stewart premiered at the 70th Festival de Cannes in Competition in the Cinéfondation Selection and was also selected for the Edinburgh Film Festival, Encounters, Aesthetica and Raindance 2017. Her grad animation “Tête-à-Tête” by Natasha Tonkin has been selected for thirty film festivals in 2017 so far and has received a high commendation from the Canberra Short Film Festival and won the Emerging Talent Category at the Festival Stop Motion Montreal. Recently, she’s been awarded with the “Filmstiftung NRW Award – Best Newcomer Editing” at the 26th German Camera Award 2016 for her work on “The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff” by Barbara Kronenberg. The first feature she worked on as an editor in 2013 “My Brothers Keeper” by Maximilian Leo was nominated at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in the “Perspektive Deutsches Kino” and for Best First Feature.

Fiona Brands was selected for the 2018 Berlinale Talents and is a member of BAFTA Crew 2017/18 in London.

Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Berlinale.

 

 

Why did you choose editing?

Fiona Brands: I think I always loved stories and what impact they can have both emotionally and intellectually. I started reading from a very early age on and from that point forward, I spent hours with the characters expanding my horizon by submerging myself in their worlds. At the same time, I always felt drawn to the moving image and, I think, being able to visually express myself is something that comes more naturally to me than verbal communication. I could always easily understand patterns in visual storytelling and the underlying subtext of human relations in Film. I also enjoyed being able to experience those emotionally as much as when I was building those worlds in my head reading a story.

As an editor, now, I can be the link between the written word and the visual expression in the finished film. I can make sense of the footage I get from set, understanding the story and the feeling I want to convey, but having to make informed choices as to which I can find what I need in the rushes or if I have to adjust the story to the potential of the material.

For me, editing is not just putting things together in a machine, but it is deeply connected with understanding people and the narratives that we create for ourselves. So, maybe, I just want to live in a fantasy world.

According to Martin Scorsese’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, editing is a misunderstood art. Would you agree with that? What is most misunderstood about a film editor, according to you?

F.B.: I do agree with that. I have made the experience that a lot of people tend to think of editing as a primarily technical discipline. And yes, it is important to know the basics of your craft, since it enables you to be creative. But, I think, that is where the technical aspect of editing ends and there is much more that is important, that has to do with your skills at storytelling, emotional rhythm and pacing, collaboration with your team and also creating a space for yourself to be creative in.

But, I have also noticed that the people that I value working with the most, do actually understand the potential of what editing can do for their films. And, I think it’s not without reason that so many directors do have a lifelong collaborative relationship with one editor.

I have had some very strong female mentors guiding me and giving me the confidence that there is a place for me at the table.

Can you talk about the “art of cutting”? Would you agree with the assumption that it can make or break a film?

F.B.: I think it can most certainly break a film. But, yes, I’ve also been called upon a lot of times to fix an edit that is not working at all and we mostly managed to make it into a film eventually. I always felt like there already is a film in the raw rushes and it is up to me and the director to find it. A lot of the time, it is about balancing the different aspects of the material, trying to figure out how to create meaning that is accessible to the biggest number of people, taking into account how we experience the world around us and how we are socialized. But, also working with expectations and balancing out the information flow that the audience perceives from watching the film. Too much explanation can be boring, but too little will be confusing. It’s a bit like a game of chess, when you have to pre-empt what your next move will do for the rest of the game. And, you have to adjust to that constantly.

One thing that always frustrates me is that editors often don’t get called upon before the actual shoot. I personally enjoy being involved on script stage, because I think it is invaluable to have someone who’s job it is to make sense of the words on the page visually in context of it all together.

Have you edited on film or you have only experienced digital editing? If so, what is the difference and which one do you prefer? Do you think that a part of the charm and excitement of “cutting” was lost with the move to digital?

F.B.: I have edited on film. I edited my first short in Film School nine years ago on a Steenbeck. And, I absolutely loved it. It was a great experience to start my editing career that way, because it taught me immediately that it is not about the equipment, but what you can do with it. And, it required a lot of thought before actually making any edits since it wasn’t as easily revokable. You edit with a lot more intention just by the nature of it. That is not to say, that I don’t enjoy editing digitally. I don’t think it is very feasible with the realities of our job to manually work on film. There is never enough time and with the amount of material that gets shot now, it would be quite overwhelming. And, obviously, there are amazing things you can do on a computer that you wouldn’t have been able to do on film. It opens up a lot of possibilities and I can get very excited about that too. I am a bit of a techy, I can’t deny that.

How do you feel as a woman working in a technical job today? How do you feel about the underrepresentation of women in these jobs in Film? And, by extension in the film industry as a whole?

F.B.: I still think there is a real problem. And, it’s not like there are not a lot of women taking up a job as an editor to start with, but there always is this glass ceiling looming over us. In lower budget productions, you see much more women than at the so perceived top on blockbuster movies. And women are trying, but just don’t get the chance or, as in any other job as well, have to take a break when they want children and then never get another chance at continuing their career upwards, but end up moving laterally or dropping out. I can only imagine that there is still a prejudice towards women being less technical than men, but also the fact that the people in charge are mostly men means that they are more likely to choose men to work with them.

I personally have been lucky because I have had some very strong female mentors guiding me and giving me the confidence that there is a place for me at the table. Let’s hope I’m not speaking too soon. But, it is also very important to me to encourage the next generation of female filmmakers whenever I have the chance. I really think we have to support each other and actively work against discrimination by choosing our team, collaborators and the projects we want to work on carefully.

In the Berlinale Talents database, you are quoted saying “I want to tell stories that nobody has seen before. I want to tell stories of people that no one is looking at. I want to make visible what we see around us every day.” Can you elaborate on that?

F.B.: I guess, for me, that is a way of saying that I want to work on projects that are saying something truthful about our world. Because there is a lot of variety all around us every day that I don’t feel is mirrored enough in the films and the material that gets put out there in the cinemas and TV/ streaming programs. And, why do some people think that this would be less entertaining for a broad audience? I have been watching films and shows with straight, white, male leads for all of my life. And, it hasn’t turned me away from the medium. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, for me, it is obvious that showing more diverse stories can be as entertaining. I don’t want to lecture anyone, but I want to open up a conversation about topics and have people identify with characters who are dealing with their specific problems. Like I experienced as a kid watching films, emotional understanding can help overcome prejudice and expand your own universe. I feel it is important that we see people doing things differently, but understand that we all go through the same emotions. That’s ultimately what I want to do with my work.

In 2016, you were awarded the “Filmstiftung NRW Award – Best Newcomer in Editing” at the 26th Camera Awards for your work on The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff by Barbara Kronenberg. How do you feel about awards? Has this award shaped your career? If so, how?

F.B.: Awards are a funny thing. It obviously helps to get people to notice you, but they are quite subjective in my opinion. I think the best thing about them is that people will then go and watch the film you have so passionately worked on and are being exposed to the material. But, just the fact that this year the first woman was nominated for a cinematography Oscar in ninety (!) years doesn’t make any sense to me.

Getting the “Newcomer Editing Award” in 2016 was definitely a great thing for me and it opened a few doors as well. I think it was also helpful to put my name back on the map in Germany since I am now living in London, but still intend to and do work in Germany from time to time. I enjoy the interconnection of the different cultures and I feel that Film in Germany is opening up to a more international audience as well.

The first feature you worked on as an editor in 2013, My Brother’s Keeper by Maximilian Leo was nominated at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival 2014 in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section as well as for Best First Feature. Can you talk about that?

F.B.: It feels like a long time ago now, but it was my first feature project I did a year out of my Film School in Cologne. And, I took over from the previous editor who had started the film, but wasn’t able to finish it due to her schedule. We were working towards the Berlinale deadline and it was quite a ride getting it done in time. Long weeks and long days. We had a lot of structural problems that needed to be fixed and it was due to the nature of the film that it took longer than anticipated. And, you can’t force it. Sometimes, it just takes the time that it takes to have that one idea that you need to make it all work. It always comes up when you least expect it and, most of the time, not in front of the computer.

Who is your inspiration?

F.B.: I think I am mostly inspired by life. By other people, good conversations and the work of other filmmakers and artists. Nothing specific, but I’m always looking around. Trying to find something that has meaning for me.

Whose films would you like to edit?

F.B.: That is too hard to answer. There are so many interesting filmmakers out there and I’m not only interested in a certain genre or style. I like many different kinds of films. I also think that it is more likely to happen that I will find my collaborators around me and grow together with them.

Would you consider moving to the USA and work on American films or do you prefer the European fare?

F.B.: I do like making films here in Europe. And, I also like a lot of what is coming to us from America. I think there are a lot of opportunities for a broader range of content being made with streaming services on the rise. It also puts pressure on the studios to diversify their program. With me living in London, I actually feel I can get the best of both worlds. There are a lot of American productions coming over to do their shoot and postproduction here. And, also, still at the moment, a lot of European co-productions that look for opportunities here.

Also, what genres are most fun to edit? Most challenging? And, which one(s) do you hate the most?

F.B.: I like everything with a bit of an edge. Something that is not completely conventional. I like editing films that are a bit comedic, but in the way that life can be funny sometimes, completely unintentional. Mostly right next to drama. Making something funny is really hard. But, even more rewarding when you hear people laugh. I also like visually very compelling films and I get a lot of pleasure from looking at beautiful footage that has inherent meaning as well. The latter can unfortunately fall off the table if you are only thinking about framing nicely.

One thing I will never understand is that people think documentary and fiction editing are so different from each other. I only think it makes you a better editor if you can do both and, if anything, documentary editing is the hardest thing to do – when you are trying to find the story in the material without the guidelines that you would have when you are editing fiction based on a script. If you have accomplished that, you really understand what storytelling means.

What I will probably never be able to do is edit horror films. Or watch them. For some reason, I don’t have any problems with violent action, but as soon as you create that tension I fear for my life. And, I should know better than that.

What are you working on at the moment?

F.B.: Right now, I am finishing a documentary. It is called Mad Dad, directed by Zora Kuettner and it is about her father, a clinical psychologist, who has led one of the first trials of deinstitutionalization in Berlin in the 1990s. He worked with his patients for four years on a closed ward at the Karl-Bonhoeffer-Nervenklinik and prepared them gradually for a life in community care. Most of those patients had been locked away in hospital all of their life. In the film, we have archive material from that time and are then going back to Berlin to visit them twenty years later to find out what has changed for them. It is a film about social psychology and its effects on mentally ill people, but is also mirroring the state of psychology in Germany as a whole.

I’m also preparing for two projects I will take on later this month and from April on. A fictional short called Anemone with director Amrou Al-Kadhi, which is about a British-Nigerian teenager who expresses their non-binary identity to their conservative community through the magic of marine life. And, a feature called Granada Nights, directed by Abid Khan, which is a self-discovery story about an uncultured British-Asian tourist, who must get over his ex-girlfriend and mend his broken heart before he can find love in the hedonistic, international student city of Granada, Spain.

 

This interview was conducted at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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