For Manchester-born Lorene Dewett, the chance to apply for Film Forward - ScreenSkills’ new initiative designed to help experienced Black, Asian or minority ethnic film industry professionals to advance into more senior roles – came at exactly the right time.
She read about the opportunity just as she was about to graduate from a two-year master’s degree in editing at the National Film and Television School (NFTS), where she studied to help her step up to the role of editor. “I found out about Film Forward from the ScreenSkills website, as I am registered on there. As soon as I read what the Film Forward programme was about, I knew it was just what I needed to help me progress in my career,” Lorene says.
“Trying to step up to the editor role is difficult to do for most people in general, but being from a Black ethnic identity background, such as I am, makes it almost impossible. I’ve seen, from working in cutting rooms, that Black and other ethnic minority people are rarely hired to cut major studio feature films.”
For Lorene, the key to the Film Forward programme then is that she believes it “not only recognises the barriers to progress, but also provides a mechanism to address them by assisting film productions to make more ethnically inclusive hiring decisions by looking beyond their usual hiring network.
“Having now been selected to be a candidate on the Film Forward programme, I’ll be placed on a film production to work alongside a more experienced editor,” she says. “So they would still have their usual editor in place, but at the same time the production would be opening their network to me so that I can learn from their editor and also build new film industry connections.”
Getting a foot in the door to start with was a big hurdle when Lorene set her sights on working in the screen industries as an editor. “I didn’t know anybody in the film industry when I first began, so just getting into a cutting room was the main challenge,” she says. “So I just started sending my CV to editors and assistant editors, and I was lucky enough to find work that way on some amazing projects and with incredible editors.”
She rose from trainee to the first assistant editor role, working on feature films and high-end TV dramas including Been So Long, The Virtues and Save Me. “I always found the assistant editor job a very exciting place to be, as you get to see the rushes first. I still have that excitement when the rushes come in, as I can’t wait to see what they shot,”
Working as an assistant editor was very much a part of Lorene’s plan to step up to becoming an editor she says. “Whilst organising the rushes for the editor, I always looked at the shot set-ups and tried to figure out in my mind why they shot a particular scene in a particular way, in terms of coverage, performance, staging and so on.”
By approaching the assistant editor job in this way, “in my head I was already editing, as I thought about how I might have put the shots together. Then viewing how the editor actually cut the scenes was another amazing way to learn more about editing, as I got to see the evolution of a scene from rushes to the final cut.”
Yet after working towards stepping up to the role of editor for some years as an assistant editor, she wanted to focus in more depth on developing her editing skills. “Even though editors would sometimes give me the chance to cut scenes, the assistant editor role is incredibly busy and there wasn’t always time to actually take on board that opportunity to cut. It was a juggling act, and so I decided to apply for the two-year MA editing course at the NFTS to help me make that move to becoming an editor,” Lorene says.
During her time at the NFTS she edited a wide range of short format narrative films. Each film was cut in collaboration with a director, following a tight post-production schedule. At each cutting stage the films would be shown at audience review screenings, with fellow students, tutors and visiting industry lecturers offering feedback. “I’ve been editing constantly since the beginning of the MA course two years ago. The specialist nature of this approach to learning editing has provided me with skills and experience that will help me progress as an editor in the film industry.”
Having graduated in March 2021, the next big step she now faces is to gain access as an editor to the cutting rooms of studio feature films – a move that seems unreachable to her at times. “The challenge now for me lies in the fact that people from ethnic minority identity backgrounds statistically are just not being hired to cut the top studio feature films, and that’s where I want to go with my career.” It is in this sense that Lorene says Film Forward has come at the right time for her. “I’m ready to step up to the editor role, and I hope that this career progression programme will help me get onto the types of films I dream of working on.”
But it’s not just the chance to work alongside a more experienced editor on a studio feature film that excites her about the programme. “As the programme expands in the future, there will also grow a network of Film Forward ‘graduates’ working at the highest level,” she explains. “By encouraging their expanding film production networks to hire in a more ethnically diverse way, these Film Forward ‘graduates’ can also in turn help to shape the industry into becoming more ethnically diverse. I want very much to be a part of this aspect of the Film Forward programme’s process of change to the industry."
Lorene’s hope for the future then, is that “in addition to helping me break down the barriers to advancing my own career, the programme will also assist me in achieving this additional aim of mine of encouraging studio feature film productions to hire more Black and other minority ethnic editors.”
Film Forward is delivered by ScreenSkills supported by the BFI, awarding National Lottery funds as part of the BFI's Future Film Skills strategy.
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