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21

DECEMBER, 2020

Career In Focus
VFX Editor
Interview

This month, we’ve been chatting to Ben Mills, a rising editor with tons of VFX experience. He was the VFX editor on Mission Impossible: Fallout, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. As an assistant, he’s racked up some similarly stellar titles including: The Dark Knight Rises, Doctor Strange, and Kick-Ass 2.

When it comes to full editor credits, Ben is currently mid-leap between assistant editor and editor. He has some great shorts under his belt and has recently been credited as Additional Editor on the latest Kingsman installment, The Kings Man. Right now, you can find him at work as editor, along with Ryan Axe, on School Fight (Dir, Damien Walters). This makes him just about the perfect Master the Workflow interview candidate in our book.

How did you get started?

From university I started working at Anglia Ruskin University supporting the Final Cut Pro edit suites. Around the same time I also met my now-wife and after about 7 or 8 months I was hearing from the students coming back after getting some experience on feature films or shooting in London. Kristie, my wife, who works in prosthetic make-up, landed a job working as a prosthetics trainee on the last two Harry Potter films. So, she had this awesome experience and knew I’d rather be working in the industry and so gave me a massive kick up the ass to quit and try going freelance.

“I was quite apprehensive, I’d been bought up being told to make sure you’ve got a full time secure job so the idea of freelancing was quite nerve-wracking.”
I’d been sending emails to every contact in editorial on feature films I could get my hands on. This eventually paid off when I was asked to help out on a feature film called StreetDance 3D as a second assistant because I knew Final Cut Pro which they were cutting it on. It wasn’t the most captivating of stories (albeit very on trend at the time) but technically it was quite ground-breaking being the UK’s First 3D Feature and I was incredibly grateful to be given my first shot in the cutting room by my good friend Chris Hunter and editor Tim Murrell.

I used my holiday time at the university to go and work on StreetDance which was all in the run up to Christmas 2009. Then in the new year, they called me again asking me to help finish off the film for another couple of weeks. I knew I needed to do it – it was my big break moment so I decided to call in sick at the University for another couple of weeks and tried to stretch it out as much as possible until I knew I had to quit.

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And how did it develop from there?

I then got another opportunity working nights, at Technicolor’s film lab at Pinewood syncing dailies and the rushes for the Johnny English Reborn movie. Then, The Dark Knight Rises began shooting and I ended up doing that as well which was fascinating watching those rushes go through the lab and seeing the differences between processes. After that I was offered a job on another 3D movie as a second assistant, this time a documentary titled TT3D: Closer To The Edge about the Isle of Man TT races.

I managed to bag a load of experience so I walked into the industry as a second assistant which was a bit unheard of but because I’ve been working for a year I almost skipped the running or training bit and went straight into the second role which was amazing – though I had the grounding from my first job supporting the edit suites. It was an interesting journey that eventually led to me doing a couple of other 3D things and so I managed to get myself a known as a 3D assistant editor.

I worked on a few different 3D-features as well as a couple of incredibly technical jobs on the “In A Day” documentary series. I then met Eddie (Hamilton) who took me under his wing for Kick Ass 2. He already had an assistant on board, Riccardo Bacigalupo who had worked on lots of low budget feature films, but he wanted someone who could bring some more experience to the table. Then on the first Kingsman movie I took the role of visual effects editor having predominantly dealt with the picture side (including all the VFX and conform of Kick-Ass 2). I’ve always managed to kind of pivot around both roles but now I’m trying to take the leap into cutting and refocus myself so that I can try and land some editing jobs.

What can you tell our readers about being mid-leap between assistant and your first features as sole editor?

At the start of your career you really focus on getting another job and keeping going and then it comes to a really conscious point where you realise that you have to make a clear decision. I think there is the danger of falling down the rabbit hole and I’m definitely guilty of it, so there is a very fine line, I think, between getting to a point as an assistant – you get paid well on bigger budget films so you get quite comfortable and then things like cutting might start to get a little bit out of your reach as you’re so busy on the larger jobs.

You just need to take step back and get yourself onto a slightly different path where you have the freedom to be cutting more and get yourself in line for taking on smaller cutting jobs and carving out the time to do those.

I think that if I went into a TV production as an assistant I’d probably be able to progress to becoming an editor in TV much quicker – there’s more TV being made than there are features so it is a gamble but the odds are in your favour undoubtedly – different assistants and editors will have different experiences of this though.

Because I’ve got a 2-year old son now, you have to reassess the whole work/life balance as well. I’m at that point where I can balance the creative and technical requirements of the job incredibly well, I’m just waiting for the next shot to come along!

What would you say are your favourite aspects of the job?

At the moment working from home! More seriously,

“one thing is getting to be the third head chef in creating the story. First is the writer who picks the ingredients, then the director who brings them all together with their vision, and finally the editor who cooks it and adds the finishing touches”
Naturally there are A LOT of people in the kitchen helping it to get to that final stage but being a key creative in the story telling is so incredibly rewarding. I think being that person to suggest how the story is going to be told and come up with ideas visually is fascinating and the journey of every film is different. You’re the first person to actually see the footage and how it’s all looking so that’s always kind of special to see the dailies for the first time before anyone else, pretty much. Then you start to piece it together and start placing the pieces of the puzzle, which is super exciting.

How do you think the industry is coping with working under lockdown conditions?

It has changed the dynamic by people being remote – I think there’s less scope to experiment and to keep trying different options because you’re not both in the same room but it does also give the editor a bit more creative free reign, I think, so that’s nice. It works well if the director trusts their editor of course, but when you’ve got someone like Martin (Walsh) on board then it works incredibly well as he just knows what needs to happen and how it is to be. It’s definitely changed the way people have to think and the way they have to work.

What would be your top advice for people that wanting to break into industry?

It’s probably going to be a controversial one and is based on my experience of University but I would say don’t go to University! Loads of people and especially parents hate to hear it because everyone wants their kids getting into uni but I think there is something to be said about going straight into the industry and learning the dynamics and getting involved as a runner on a feature or on the TV show and getting to know people and just building that network and flushing out ideas to as to what you would like to do.

As an editor, the best the best piece of advice is to always ask questions – never, never take the first answer as being gospel, always query stuff because that’s how you learn.

I think the one thing that I always find separates a good assistant from a bad one is that a good assistant will ask you stuff. They’re constantly asking questions because they are learning and they’re wanting to suck in all this knowledge. A bad assistant will charge ahead and not ask questions, then get it wrong and have to keep re-doing it and that not only wastes their time, but yours as well because you have to spend time fixing their mess. Figuring out your own way is also incredibly valuable because you’ll find out what works for you – there’s ten different ways to sync dailies and you will figure out the best way for you and the quickest and most efficient way for you.

And you don’t stop learning – there’s still stuff on a day to day basis I can’t quite remember how to do, usually on After Effects, so I just look on YouTube for a tutorial. I’m not saying that I based my entire career on YouTube tutorials… I was figuring out a problem with an end roller, I noticed it was stepping because, and this is super-nerdy, it was going by full pixels rather than sub pixels so I had to go find this little bit of code that would then make it scroll up by sub pixels so things like that I’m never going to remember so a quick Google or YouTube and there is the answer.

I think that’s good to hear for our readers here at master the workflow. The idea of asking questions can sometimes feel very daunting you don’t want to disturb anyone so it’s good to hear that that it’s welcomed.

Definitely 100%. And I think there’s also a bit of a stigma like in terms of credit as well. There’s a weird thing when ‘trainee’ is in your title people expect you to ask questions but then when people go to the next level and become perhaps a second assistant editor then I think there becomes this weird sticking point where you feel ‘I can’t ask questions I have to know what I’m doing’ and it’s totally not the case. Even as a first I still ask questions about how to do certain things – you’re not expected to know everything at the same time, no one’s got that much brain capacity so you’re always going to ask questions about stuff. So, don’t ever stop asking questions!

And on that note, that’s where our interview will draw to a close. Thank you so much Ben!

Before we go however, totally unprovoked by me, Ben gives us his honest opinion of the Master the Workflow product, a naturally occurring plug that we’d be fools to turn down.

It’s incredible what Richard and Larry have built with Master The Workflow, it’s not only intuitive and packed full of information and tips, but they also give you the tools that you need. It’s really impressive the amount of time that they’ve put in off their own back to really cover every aspect of the job.
I’ve spent hours developing Filemaker databases that work for both Editorial and VFX and I’ve got one kind of set template that I will move from job to job and it just kind of works for me as I know how it works under the hood in terms of scripting and setup, it doesn’t necessarily work for the next person. One of the fundamentally hard things to do is make a codebook / database completely plug and play for all, and it seems that Richard and Larry’s one that comes with Master The Workflow works incredibly well out of the box and absolutely anyone could pick it up, following instructions and run with it.