London-based Siân Fever is a freelance video editor working on a huge variety of projects from music festivals to feature films, short films, and commercials. She was very influenced by music and films growing up and now combines those passions in her editing work. She worked for MTV and a music content production company before becoming a freelancer two years ago.
Tell us about your journey into video and specifically editing.
When I was 15, I was working part-time at Blockbuster, to fund my ever expanding VHS collection when someone started there who had just graduated from film school. For the longest time I’d been trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a career. I had thought I might like to be a lawyer, or some other vocation that involved strutting about in a power suit, but the moment he said he’d graduated from film school, every other option I’d been toying with fell away, and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.
I commuted ninety minutes every day to the BRIT School, a free performing arts sixth-form college famous for its pop star alumni, to study media. No small thing for a wide-eyed sixteen year old. And from there, I studied a Television Production degree at Bournemouth University. After graduation, I interned at MTV who kept me on as a researcher and editor. I then joined the grammy-nominated JJ Stereo, a production company specialising in music content. They work with record labels and band management to produce music videos, commercials, behind-the-scenes videos, music television programs and multi-camera concerts. I left there two years ago to go freelance, and signed with an editing agency.
What sort of videos are you working on?
When I started freelancing, I had mainly edited music television and music content, so I’ve been keen to diversify my work, develop different editing styles and embrace new challenges.
Since flying the production company nest, I’ve tried my hand at commercials, corporate films, promos, short films and I’ve even edited my first feature film. I love television drama, so I’m trying to steer myself towards that via short films and more promos for drama.
One of my favourite edits so far was a short film called The Expiration, based on a John Donne poem. It’s an evocative, bittersweet film, that reveals the inner journey of two lovers as they reluctantly accept they must part forever. The edit combines fragments of sexual imagery with an agonising conversation. The visuals are accompanied by the poem itself, sound design and music; all devised to support each moment in the narrative. It was exciting to have so much to play with, and I had a wealth of performances which facilitated my ability to be very specific when editing them.
I also just finished an interactive trailer for ITV’s new primetime drama, Grantchester. It’s a “choose own adventure” style trailer – with choices throughout, and eight different possible outcomes. I got to play with the first three episodes and refocus the story into eight different themes, from lighthearted and sweet to dark and lustful. That was a fantastic experience too.
What's a typical day these days?
It’s a cliché, but there really is no typical day. A job might be five hours, or three weeks. I might be working on my own kit at home in West London, on a laptop in an open plan office in Westminster, or in an edit suite in a post-production facility in Soho. The hours can be long and unpredictable. There’s a phrase in post-production circles - "Post Don’t Stop”- and it embodies the 24/7 nature of editing and post-production.
I combat the fluctuating nature of my work by getting up early, and attacking my emails and social media first, and then fit in a run or spinning class if I can.
The work itself is so varied, and I never really know what I’m about to walk into. Usually, I'm briefed on site so when I arrive at a client’s office, I’ll only have a very vague idea about the project and the stage it’s at.
I might be working on my own independently, or I might have a client attend with five advertising agency execs sat behind me. For me, not knowing is really thrilling and it’s quite an exciting way to approach work. It tests your skills, and you’ve got to be very focused. It’s really satisfying.
In the evening, I’ll often have Skype meetings with clients in different timezones, or drinks in town with colleagues. Hopefully though, I’ll have given myself the night off and be sharing a meal or cinema trip with friends. Evenings with friends are good for the soul.
Last thing before heading to bed, I’ll set my agenda for the next day. I'll make sure I know where my job the following day is, how to travel there, and arm myself with possible tasks in case I have a wait for assets, a render or feedback. I like to stay productive!
How did your passion for the music scene develop?
I grew up in a very musical household. My mum sang in choirs and musicals, so before I was walking, I was singing, and so was my family. Many a car journey was accompanied by our warbling over Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion. Once in school, I was handed a violin, sang in all the choirs and played in all the orchestras, until I left for sixth-form at sixteen.
My hometown was a run down suburban commuter town, without much to occupy me, and many people my age formed and supported DIY punk bands. So I went to a lot of gigs, throwing myself around in basement clubs and the back rooms of pubs, it was wonderful.
That connection with music meant it was very natural for me to go into editing, there’s a lot of musicality in editing.
So music was always there, but the thing I felt most passionate about was film and television. I was captivated by Sister Act, and recorded the whole film on cassette so I could listen to it over and over again on long car journeys. Later on, I would obsess over The Craft which coincidentally coincided with my teen self gravitating towards a gothic aesthetic that I’ve never really left behind.
Then, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer hit our small screens, when both me and Buffy were teens. We grew up together, and it was the first time my poor, angst-ridden self felt understood. To feel validated at a time filled with insecurity and isolation is incredibly powerful, and my interest in the series served to introduce me to television critique and academia, ultimately fuelling an interest in how these stories were made.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I am a strong believer in something that Jim Jarmusch calls Strummer’s Law which is “No input, no output”. As a creative, it would be folly not to seek out and enjoy the creations of others, both for inspiration and a welcome brain break from your own projects.
So as much as possible, I try to embrace that sentiment and make room for it. That might be visiting the theatre or museum exhibitions, reading books and comics, listening to radio plays and podcasts - anything outside of the world of film and television, and the further outside the better.
I try not to rely on blogs to curate information and content for me. There is so much pleasure to be had from chasing a thought through YouTube or Spotify, or spiralling down a Wikipedia hole and seeing where it will take you. This is how I find and develop my creative voice that is unique to me.
Recently, I went on a trip to Amsterdam for a tradeshow and a friend gave me the first four issues of indie comic The Wicked and the Divine for the flight. I hungrily consumed all four issues before I had even got on the plane. It’s familiar, and yet dangerous and left me simultaneously stunned and creatively charged. It’s brave work that confronts mortality in a very immediate way.
What’s the most exciting day you’ve had on record?
Back in 2011, I was the assistant editor on a five-part series on Channel 4 about a UK all-female pop band called The Saturdays It was part-concert and part-documentary, following the group on tour. It was a tough show, with tight deadlines and we had a really challenging delivery. We were flopping about the office in a post-delivery haze, having just sent the tape off for the last show as the first show was airing.
It was around the time when Twitter had started to become prominent, so without expecting to find anything of note, I casually searched for the band’s name, and discovered an army of the band’s fans enthusiastically commenting about the show we'd made.
The series had reached the audience it was made for and those people loved it, and were picking out details that the editor had slaved over. It was incredibly exciting to read the comments, and see that the parts of the show we had fallen in love with and had become catchphrases during late-night edits, were now being tweeted about and quoted back to us. I had a strong sense that the barrier between creators and their audience had vanished, and that was really special.
What's the biggest challenge in your video projects right now?
A lot of my clients are hanging on to Final Cut Pro 7 for dear life, which is no longer supported. So my main challenge is persuading them to move to editing software that would be more beneficial to them.
And secondly, cutaways – having enough cutaways. It’s the asset you rely upon to mend a lot of woe in the edit. If I could say one thing to producers everywhere it would be, I beg you to shoot more cutaways. Shoot twice as many cutaways as you think you need, and then shoot more. I have never, not once, had enough cutaways on a project.
How were you collaborating before Wipster?
Either with a Quicktime file on a WeTransfer, or a private Vimeo link. It gets the job done.
Wipster was a breath of fresh air. It was a need you didn’t realise you had until you used it, and then there was no going back. It’s incredibly helpful to give a client a tool where they need to feedback at a particular timecode and a particular area of the frame, as it encourages them to give more specific, actionable feedback.
There is still a bit of work to do to get some of my clients on the same page. Wipster is really attractive and uncluttered communicating simplicity, which is ideal for clients who are not that tech-savvy, and would otherwise shy away. Some clients have responded very positively calling it "the best thing since sliced bread”, while a minority want to stick to what they know, and request a WeTransfer. Those clients just need a little bit of reassurance that it’s incredibly straightforward to use and it’s going to save everyone a lot of time.
Is there one piece of advice you would give video editors just starting out in their careers?
I wish someone had pulled me to one side when I was eighteen and told me the following: No good comes of comparing yourself to other people. I dearly wish someone had said that to me when I was starting film school. For a time, I let what other people were doing, define what I couldn’t do. For a time, I let what other people might think dissuade me. That’s a lot of wasted energy. So, look internally at what you can do, what you want to do and what is important to you, and just forge forward blindly and with determination.