Max Downey has an impressive portfolio of commercials, short films and documentaries under his belt from his successful freelance work as a Film Editor. Lift-Off looked to him to find out his day-to-day routine, hurdles he has faced and his top tips for young editors.
So Max, what attracted you to editing?
When I was 18, for my birthday, my dad bought me an editing software called Pinnacle Pro. I ended up shooting any random shots with a handy cam, around the house, on the train, with my mates, to get it into the edit and cut it. I think it was then that I realised that I wanted to be an editor.
What does your day to day consist of?
That depends on what I am editing and the stage of the edit we are at. At first it involves viewing rushes and selecting the best shots. I will then assemble the film, sometimes on my own, sometimes with a Director. Then in collaboration with a Director we will craft and edit the film for presentation to Creative Directors (Advertising) and Execs (TV). Then there is a further process of feedback and honing the film to arrive at the finished cut. So it is quite varied in a way but 95% of the time I am in a room, on a computer, which thankfully I love.
How did you get to where you are now, any hurdles on the way?
My first job in the industry was when I was 16. I was a Runner on a shoot with a Madonna look-a-like. After a few more running jobs I studied Film Production in Bournemouth where I specialised in editing.
On graduation, I became a Runner in a big London post facility. I then became an Assistant Editor for commercials, followed closely by promotion to the position of Editor.
Throughout these years, in addition to working full time, I spent a lot of mornings, evenings and weekends editing everything I could get my hands on including music videos, charity films, short films, documentaries & low budget feature films.
There have been a lot of hurdles along the way. Some of the biggest have been when I have worked for companies where the management have had a view of what my job should be that differs from my own. This has happened twice in my career and both times I have left the company (on good terms). I am now freelance which is great as I am really in the driving seat. On the flip side though I’ve got no one to blame if I am not getting the jobs I want.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment and biggest regret ?
My biggest accomplishment was probably establishing myself as a freelance editor. It took me a year of thought before I took the plunge into being self-employed but I have never looked back. I don’t really have many regrets.
What have been the most challenging and most enjoyable jobs you have worked on?
Most of the jobs I do are challenging. There is always a time pressure and the people I work with always expect first class work. Some that stand out are the Nike Rise Philippines project, which took to me to Manila for 7 weeks. That was challenging and enjoyable as we did very long hours. But got to see that amazing city and work with a great team. Also, I am currently editing a Documentary Film for Netflix which is really challenging.
(Keep scrolling for Max’s top tips)
What are your top three tips for the younger generation in the industry?
- Edit A LOT and build a reel. I don’t mean a montage reel, I mean like 9-12 bits of good work that you can show on a website. And, again, edit everything you can as this is how you get good at it.
- Grab the opportunities that come up and seek out new ones.
- Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work up. This will give you a good grounding in the industry. To be honest, I feel like everyone should do their time. There aren’t many shortcuts.
If someone wants to pursue a career as an editor, how would you recommend they go about it?
Move to London, get a job in a post facility, work your way up and cut A LOT. Also, build relationships with people as this is very important in business and life generally.
Any other advice you would like to voice?
Don’t give up. It’s a long road to becoming a professional editor but worth it as it’s a fantastic job.
And finally I need to know, what is your favourite film and why?
That is a tough one but the best film I have seen recently has to be Dunkirk. I loved the fact that it was so immersive and that it used very strong pictorial storytelling. It was refreshing to me that in a world of Hollywood remakes, an original epic blockbuster like this could be made. I also really liked that it didn’t feel like I was watching a historical war film, it felt like this is what it might feel like to have been on that beach now.
To find out more about Max and view his previous work, check his website http://maxdowney.com/.
Interviewed by April-Rae Hughes