A lot goes into the making of a film beyond what we see on screen. While the actors and the director hog most of the limelight, several other artists and technicians, depending on the size of the production, work tirelessly on and off the sets to bring a project to fruition. New departments are being created apart from the traditional costume, music, cinematography, etc, as filmmaking evolves around the world.
This News18 series, Off-screen Stars, is to celebrate people working behind the camera during production, as well as those performing various pre- and post-production jobs, that are essential for a project to come alive.
From 1981 to 2021, every Best Picture winner, barring Birdman, was nominated for Editing at the prestigious Academy Awards, which is a testament to the fact that it is one of the most significant jobs in the filmmaking process. But it’s unfortunate that a film editor is not valued the way they should in our film industry, said National Award-winning editor Nitin Baid, who has several critically acclaimed movies like Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan, Raazi, Gully Boy and Ajeeb Daastaans to his credit.
In this interview, Baid speaks about initially discovering the art of film editing, the early days of his Bollywood career and the “humongous” wage gap and opportunity gap editors face in the industry. Excerpts from the interaction:
How did you get your start in film editing?
I’m from Calcutta. During my college days in Bangalore, one of my friends was working on a corporate film and he told me that he wanted someone to help him out and I obviously didn’t know anything about editing per se. And, that’s how I had the first experience of editing something in terms of storytelling, and meanwhile, I was also watching a lot of films. So by this time, I knew that I wanted to do something related to films. I eventually applied to Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) and did a two-year course in Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. From there, the first film where I got to work as an assistant was Gangs of Wasseypur. I met with Neeraj during its shoot and that’s how we went on to work together in Masaan.
How does a typical show in an editing room proceed?
For me, editing is like one music piece which has a lot of variations as we are playing it and a lot of people come together to help find the raw materials for that piece to be created. A lot of times, things that seem amazing on the paper never work when you come to the edit table. In Gully Boy, the train song, which comes at the end of the movie, was originally in a different position on the paper. One day, we were having a screening of the film and I suggested what if we put this song right at the end of the movie after Ranveer Singh’s final performance and suddenly everything made sense. So, a job of an editor is to make sure that they are actually achieving the vision that their director intended and the scriptwriter started with.
Editing is one of the most tedious jobs in the industry. Has it ever happened that you cut the same scene over numerous different ways?
I always do that. Today, you are constantly dealing with almost 200-hour of footage on any film so there’s always a way to construct a scene in different ways. I always try these variations constantly. Even when I’m cutting one scene, I know that we can do it this way also so I do that alternate version at the same time and just keep it because, in a larger picture, things often change.
Legendary film editor Dede Allen had said, “You cut with your gut.” Would you agree with that?
For me, the perfect way comes once I start looking at the larger picture, what I want to create and whether we have achieved what we were setting out to achieve.
You have worked with acclaimed filmmakers like Neeraj Ghaywan, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar in multiple projects– from Masaan to Gully Boy and Lust Stories. How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
With every director the process is different. But most definitely, if you work with a director more than once then it gets easier for you to understand their approach. The editor eventually has to blend with the director because the editor works towards the director’s vision by adding whatever knowledge the former has. Karan’s process of making a film is very different from how Zoya and Neeraj would make a film. Their rhythm and pace are very different from one another.
Recently, in Ajeeb Daastaan, there was a whole sequence before Neeraj’s Geeli Pucchi begins. Konkona SenSharma goes to buy a TV and the film ends with she is actually getting the TV. I was on a call with Neeraj and we were discussing the film and I told him, ‘Do we really need this full opening and closing chunk?’ When I actually put it together in the edit, Neeraj said, ‘You’re right! We don’t need this scene. Let’s have the opening scene where she starts working in a factory and we’ll directly end the film on the moment where she is drinking tea.’ So, these are very instinctive things. And, once you work together on multiple projects, you develop a balance and understanding. With Karan, he is much more commercial in terms of how he imagines. There’s much more exuberance in everything that he approaches.
Every best-picture winner since 1981– with the exception of 2014’s Birdman– had also been nominated for film editing. This statistic illustrates just how vital the role of the film editor is. Do you feel that they get their due credit in our industry?
I started my career with Gangs of Wasseypur and from that time to today, things have improved on a massive level. It’s also because the role of an editor has changed. We are no more just cutting specific footage. There is almost like 200 hours of footage and somebody is going through that 200 hours and creating everything constantly, so you have to value them. I’m friends with a couple of international editors and there is a massive difference in terms of how the editing and sound skills get recognised there and here. There’s a perception that editing is a much more relaxed job because people think, ‘Oh, you guys are sitting inside this room and you are doing your thing it’s not that much of a trouble.’ So, I feel there’s a long way to go for the actual value of editing to be understood both in terms of disparity in pay scale and generally in terms of how things sort of move around in the circle.
Does this job pay well?
It has improved quite a lot. I’m slightly lucky to be in a position right now where I have the luxury to push for certain things. I know a lot of people who are extremely talented, more talented than me who are not in that lucky position. But in terms of disparity of what you will pay to a DOP (Director of Photography) or give to a production designer is very different than what an editor gets paid. As soon as it comes to the editor, the budget gets shrunk to a massive level because you will invest in the DOP thinking you want your film to look good visually. I don’t know if these disparities are going to change, it’s always going to be there because of how things work around here. That is something I really feel sad about especially for people who are very talented and even for me. It’s just that I’m a little lucky that I can marginally push for a certain fee which is slightly decent than comparing to someone else who’s been getting lesser.
But the pay disparity is humongous. Even the crew of the stars– the team that comes with an actor– that itself is such a big expense. I mean the team of the star is getting a huge amount and you are editing the film and you are almost constructing the film and you are getting this number. It’s extremely sad that people are not able to see through what they need to invest in.