AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GORDON BURKELL
FOUNDER OF ART OF THE GUILLOTINE
Gordon Burkell is passionate about editing. So much so that it led to the creation of aotg.com. A website dedicated to editing techniques, theory, tutorials and more. Since I discovered Art of the Guillotine, it’s been a staple in my daily surfing routine.
With the launch of their all new iPhone App, the site has once again evolved as a true destination for people who love to edit. I recently had the chance to talk to Gordon about what inspired the site, how it has evolved over the years and what’s next for Art of the Guillotine.
When did you first become interested in Post Production?
I actually started on set as a boom operator and after many late night shoots in Canada’s cold winter months, standing around waiting for everything to get perfectly set up I realized the set is a very boring place to be. I then met Joe Serafini, who ran Crunch Recording Group at the time and he allowed me to come on as a young apprentice and learn from his post sound guys. But it wasn’t until I met Alan Collins, who had worked with David Cronenberg and Roger Corman that I began to fall in love with post production but more specifically film editing.
Alan was originally from the England and he had a love for cultural theorist like Roland Barthes. He also was really interested in editing theory and he made me see film and post production very differently. When he began to direct I began to cut his films and it’s because of him I’m in editing.
What does being an editor mean to you?
For me, I see editors as artists and storytellers as well as complex problem solvers. I’ll never forget being handed a 100 hours of documentary footage from a director who had no idea if there was even a story. We spent countless hours molding the documentary. It was like someone dropped a vase and it shattered into a million pieces and I was required to place it back together perfectly, I knew it could be done, it would just take time and patience and of course a steady hand.
For those who haven’t visited yet what is Art of the Guillotine?
Art of the Guillotine is a site that aggregates, organizes and disseminates information about film editing for film editors, students and academics. Using our systems and our new mobile apps one can choose the type of editing news they want and have it appear in their user accounts. So if you are an academic and you want only theoretical articles and submissions, that is what will appear in your account. If you are an editor and only want industry news, not blogs and tutorials, then you can choose that. The site caters to your interests and your needs!
Recently we’ve also begun to branch out, with the success of Art of the Guillotine, we acquired the domain aotg.com and have begun transferring things over to this new site, of course you can still access the site through artoftheguillotine.com. With this branch out we also purchased trimbin.com a site that is still young and just starting but is not just editing specific, it allows anyone in the industry to submit film related content and then users can vote on the best submissions which move to the top.
We also have Postchat on twitter each week so people can discuss post production from various angles. This is a Twitter based meet up spot that allows people to discuss things, people wanting to take part can simply search twitter for @postchat. Also, they can check out postchat.wordpress.com although that will be changing to postchat.aotg.com very soon.
What inspired Art of the Guillotine?
I do a lot of documentary editing and was asked by the local university to come give a talk about it. Of course, I showed some work, discussed some basics but then, as I am the product of working with Alan, I began discussing theoretical ideas and how they applied to my work. For example creating a circular structure for a documentary about Native Canadian culture, circular narratives are a fixture in Native Canadian storytelling.
When that site started to get out of hand, aotg’s current developer/programmer, Richard Munro came on board and we’ve been building ever since, always improving. We work late nights and cut during the day.
What steps did you take to gain an audience initially?
Initially, we just contacted a few schools in the area and sent the list and visited industry events to spread the word. It hasn’t been a speedy process, we’ve simply let people know and slowly built upon it.
Building a greater audience requires constant evolution. How has AOTG evolved since it’s inception?
It has evolved dramatically . We started as paper, then basic HTML, then database driven and as of November 2011, we now have our enhanced mobile app. But as I mentioned before, we’ve done this on our off hours over a long stretch of time. It’s taken many years to get to where we are and it always means a lot to me when I get emails from editors and students thanking us for the site. At the moment we have over 10,000 articles, videos, audio and more! All at the finger tips of the user. Students can easily search our database to get information.
In fact, I received the greatest compliment from a PhD student who was writing her dissertation on current editors’ techniques. Her work didn’t have much to go on aside from articles found in just a few books but not many publishers release books with interviews anymore. She told me my site, with our podcast interviews and the Association Video Series involving the American Cinema Editors, the Canadian Cinema Editors and the Australian Screen Editors became key in her research.
I got so excited to think that we are now a reference point for thought and we could be seen as a resource established and credible enough to be used in academic research. This was always a goal and now it has come to fruition!
You’ve created an amazing community around your site. How have you used social media tools to your advantage?
Twitter and FaceBook are a must and if you really search MySpace you might find us, although I don’t update that one anymore. We just launched a Youtube channel and use ustream.tv for our live events.
I have to admit though, I wish I could tweet and chat more on twitter. I try to but then I get so busy that I forget to answer a tweet for a day or so and I feel so badly about it. I enjoy chatting with everyone on twitter so much but in chaotic editing rooms it isn’t in the forethought of my mind.
Talk a bit about the inspiration behind your new mobile app and the development process?
The inspiration was really the students again, I now teach editing at universities and the students are mobile and I wanted to make sure they could access us in a visually engaging way! I also use an iPad a lot in the cutting room and wanted to be able to engage in my site and its content. As well, I wanted to get the ACE, CCE and ASE videos in people’s hands. Now you can listen to us interview the top editors, watch the top editors, find events and get your news all on your phone or tablet. We currently are only on the iPhone and iPad but we are launching an Android version in January.
What are your goals for AOTG in the future?
The goal is to follow our initial goal, create a space to aggregate, organize and disseminate film editing information. Information should be as easy to access as possible. So we are working to make it so. We have some big announcements coming in 2012 so continue visiting for more exciting updates and news!
What is next for you?
For myself, I continue to work on AOTG.com, it’s my passion. I love editing but even more I love helping out editors! It is so rewarding to have students come to me with questions and being able to say “here’s a group of videos you should watch” or “read up on this theoretical perspective”. This is so much more than I had when I was in their position!
I am working on a small hundred page book on film editing techniques/theories that most publishers are scared of, so if I can’t find a publisher brave enough to publish it I plan to code it into a eBook and provide it on aotg.com.
What is your favorite film from an editing perspective?
Tough but fair question! I do have several and it usually comes from different editing perspectives. So for example, action scenes is one film, love scenes another, dialogue another. I will say with no word of a lie that the movie I’ve seen most in my life is Battleship Potemkin, I’ve seen several different cuts and love the film. Originally I hated it and it wasn’t until I rewatched it and rewatched it to help teach myself Eisenstein’s theories that I began to respect it and eventually love the work.
However, one movie that always moves me is The Hours. It’s a tough film to watch from an emotional perspective but the scene in which Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf are at the train station arguing about going back to London is quite possibly one of the best edited dialogue scenes I’ve ever scene. Of course, as I point out to students it is a team effort. The director did a phenomenal job with the actors and the angles and camera shots are fantastic. As is the cinematography and screenwriting.
On a side note, my favorite guilty pleasure film is the original Planet of the Apes. What a great film, and for some reason, CityTV here in Toronto, has a huge window on it and they show it all the time.
Special thanks to Gordon Burkell for the interview.
Follow on Twitter @artguillotine