Veronika Jenet on the art of film editing

Veronika Jenet accepts an IF Award for her work on

Veronika Jenet began her film career in the same place as many others, at film school. Unlike many others, she wasn’t enrolled there.

“At the time, film school was not as regimented – the place was basically open 24 hours. I was hanging around solidly all year and I wasn’t a student. The teachers kind of looked at me strangely but hey, I was there; I was doing work,” she says. “I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to do that now.”

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) played a pivotal role in Jenet’s life. It’s where she met director Ray Quint, now her husband and business partner, and director Jane Campion, with whom she has collaborated on five feature films.

Quint and Campion were both final year students at the school when Jenet found herself assisting on a number of projects. Since first taking on the role of editor on Campion’s 1983 short Passionless Moments, Jenet has worked alongside many of Australia and New Zealand’s best-known filmmakers. In addition to Campion, she’s collaborated with Phil Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Jan Sardi (Love's Brother), Elissa Down (The Black Balloon), Rachel Ward (Beautiful Kate) and Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City).

Though she’s been part of the Australian film industry for almost 30 years, Jenet is originally from Germany. She emigrated during the 1970s with a group of friends and lived for a number of years in tents in the Australian bush. It was here that the she began shooting footage of the landscape.

“I remember when I saw amazing images how exciting that was. It was really a little bit later for me [that I asked], ‘Am I going to become a cinematographer or am I going to become an editor?’ I think probably the reason why I’m an editor now is because it was more ‘doable’. I had a daughter, a young child, and I just couldn’t see myself going on locations and being away.”

That first film was shot on a Bolex Super-8 and mixed on a projector. Three decades later, and her most recent project, Around the Block, has been shot on the RED EPIC and is being edited on Avid. She chooses Avid because it’s, “user-friendly, it does everything you want it to do and it’s fast,” but believes the software itself isn’t important. “You control the machine – if it controls you, you have a problem,” she says.

What technology has done, she concedes, is broaden the role of the editor.

“You become a jack-of-all-trades because there’s not much you can’t actually do. You play with music, digital effects, you EQ. It only stops with the time you’re given to do it.”

Though the digital revolution may have given directors the freedom to keep rolling and, by extension, left editors with a greater volume of footage to sift through, Jenet says it depends more upon the shooting style than the medium.

“I worked on Lore Super 16 and Snowtown Super 16, and they did shoot a lot of footage. I’m working on this [Around the Block, shot digitally], and they didn’t shoot a lot of footage. It depends entirely on the project.

“With Lore, my assembly cut was more than three-and-a-half hours long and I cut very tight. You’re working with kids, most of them haven’t acted before; there are restrictions on how long they can work, so you are trying to make sure that you cover yourself and you obviously shoot more because of it.”

Lore is a coming-of-age story from Somersault director Cate Shortland that explores the challenges faced by the young in the aftermath of World War II. As with The Waiting City, which was shot in Kolkata, Jenet remained in Sydney while the shoot took place overseas.

“It was low budget, they were travelling a lot, and I wouldn’t have had support so we decided that I was going to do it from here. They uploaded to the internet, we downloaded, and I think that’s very much the future now,” she says.

Though there are financial and logistical advantages to working this way, Jenet says the drawback is that editors can become isolated from the crew.
“[Working close by] I can communicate with continuity, go on set and keep an eye out for this and that in a non-threatening way,” she says. But when editing remotely, “you don’t know about the dynamic on set. You have to tread very cautiously and by you not being there, that’s hard. With the phone or even emails, you don’t know what they think. You don’t know the back story; it can be very difficult.”

After her third feature, The Piano, received eight nominations at the 1994 Oscars, including one for film editing, Jenet says she made a conscious choice not to work overseas.

“I think at the end of the day, I’m a purist. I like movies and I like storytelling. I didn’t want to work in a factory.

“I’m much better working with a director on a vision with as much freedom as possible. The other reason was that I did have a family and they’re number one to me. Really, I didn’t come to Australia because I wanted to go to America.”

Asked about the biggest change to take place during her career, she laughs, “In the last five years most directors I’ve worked with could be my children; that’s the difference! And you know what? I actually really do enjoy it.”

The criteria for good editing, however, remains unchanged.

“Even me, as an editor, I go and see a movie and I might look for the editing in the first five minutes. And let me tell you, if I’m still looking for and seeing the editing after 10 minutes, I know it’s a turkey. You have to get lost in the story.

“I know it sounds airy-fairy but I do still believe that it’s an art form and that we create art. That is why we are doing what we’re doing.”

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #149 (October-November 2012).