Director Phillip Noyce had not worked with editor Jill Bilcock prior to their collaboration on Catch A Fire, the emotional story of a working-class African driven to acts of “terrorism” by the brutal torture of his own government. Noyce paid Bilcock what might be the ultimate compliment, “She is a virtuoso editor… I must say that so much of the finished film bears an uncanny resemblance to the very first cut that she delivered to me during the shoot.”The collaboration was mutually satisfying. “He’s lovely to work with. He is one of those directors that wants to see what you do,” says Bilcock, of Noyce. “You present the cut, he reacts to it and then you get the gist of what’s wrong and fix it.”The editing process is essentially the same for Bilcock on every film, with differences dependent on the director’s working style. “In the first four weeks, you discover the idiosyncrasies of the director,” she says. “That’s when you learn about his tastes and work out the plan for the rest of the movie.”A rewarding aspect of editing Catch A Fire was incorporating local songs—a means of communication during apartheid—into sequences such as the funeral, outside the burning plant and in the prison. Seeing how magnetic that footage was, Bilcock strove to weave those sequences as plot line into the film, creating emotional storytelling with the music. “That was exciting. It gave more depth and credibility to the story. That’s how they communicated. It kept them safe, being able to sing in their own language and pass on political information,” she says.The translations of the songs were not in the original script, but when subtitles were added, “What they were singing about went straight to the heart. It was the absolute soul of the movie.”For additional authenticity, much of the English in the film was dubbed into Zulu even though it had not been shot that way. Another challenge for the film was turning it around to show that it was a true story being re-enacted.Technology played a huge part on the film with editing changes, sound and music being sent across the internet to crewmembers and facilities scattered over several continents—the composer in Africa, the music editor in California, the director, editor and various labs in Australia and New Zealand, and screening previews in London and New York. Though both Bilcock and Noyce were in Australia, even they were 600 miles away from each other. “We’re quite advanced with technology, being so far away from everything in Australia. It is a way of life right now,” says Bilcock.On location, Bilcock found a flourishing South African creative community. “Johannesburg is an edgy city with a wonderful, creative depth to it. It felt like Australia 20 years ago when the boom started in our industry. They’re very full of energy and enthusiasm. It was extremely exciting being in a place where people were working at reconciliation as opposed to blowing each other up,” she says. 2003: Won, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Editing, Japanese Story; Won, Living Legend IF Award; Nominated, FCCA (Film Critics Circle of Australia) Award, Best Editing, Japanese Story; Nominated, IF Award, Best Editing, Japanese Story. 2002: Won, ACE Eddie, Best Edited Feature Film—Comedy or Musical, Moulin Rouge!; Won, AFI Film Award, AFI Editor of the Year, Moulin Rouge!; Nominated, Oscar, Best Editing, Moulin Rouge!; Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Editing, Moulin Rouge!; Nominated, FCCA Award, Best Editing, Moulin Rouge!; Nominated, Golden Satellite Award, Best Film Editing, Moulin Rouge!. 2001: Won, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Editing, Moulin Rouge!; Nominated, FCCA Award, Best Editing, The Dish. 1999: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Editing, Elizabeth. 1998: Won, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, Head On; Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Editing, Romeo + Juliet. 1997: Nominated, Golden Satellite Award, Outstanding Film Editing, Romeo + Juliet. 1994: Nominated, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, Muriel’s Wedding. 1993: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Editing, Strictly Ballroom. 1992: Won, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, Strictly Ballroom. 1989: Nominated, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, Evil’s Angels. 1984: Nominated, Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Achievement in Editing, Strikebound.
Written by Mary Ann Skweres