Conversation on Career with Editor Danielle Boesenberg, President of the Australian Screen Editors’ Guild

Posted on: Apr 18, 2024

Photo Credit: Danielle Boesenberg

By Tahlia Norrish

Danielle Boesenberg is an award-winning film and TV editor living and working on Gadigal land (Sydney, Australia). Since going out on her own as a freelance editor in 2004, Boesenberg’s cuts have screened at the Berlin, Toronto, Tribeca, Palm Springs and Sydney festivals. She was elected president of the Australian Screen Editors’ (ASE) Guild in 2021, and most recently, Boesenberg was nominated for an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA) for best editing in television for Colin from Accounts

We recently sat down with Boesenberg to discuss the rinse-and-repeat process of assembly, the importance of having a point of view and more. 

For people who might not have a precise understanding of what film and TV editors do, how would you describe your job? 

Editing is the last draft of a film or episode of television. There are three drafting processes: the development and writing of the piece, what’s captured on-set and the editing of it, which is the last draft. It’s our job to make the best of everything that’s come before—all those big and small decisions made through development, pre-production and production. All of that leads to rushes on a card that goes to the editor to start making decisions about which shot to be on, when to cut and why. We work with images, story, dialogue, performance, pacing and rhythm to craft a cohesive and emotionally satisfying whole. 

I work mostly in scripted television, where there’s usually between three to five hours of material to watch each day, representing roughly eight to ten minutes of air time. We start working after the first day of principal photography, so we’re working the entire time the shoot is on. We put together what was shot the day before in one sequence—an “assembly.” Then, we start working with our director on a director’s cut, which goes to producers and the network, and we address their notes from there. 

There aren’t really “typical” days for us in the film industry, but could you walk us through what a relatively standard day in your life might look like?

You’re right; every day is different. But during the assembly period, while the shoot is going [on], usually the first thing I’ll do is check in with my assistant and see how much material we’ve got coming in, how they’re planning to spend their day and we talk about what I might need from them. Then I get into my suite. While I’m waiting for the first bin of rushes to come through, I’ll review what I cut the day before because you work at such a pace in television, you’ll often review your cuts and think, “What was I thinking?” So, it’s great to have a chance to look at things with fresh eyes and make a few tweaks. 

As I’m fed new scene bins, I start to assemble. My process is to watch everything shot for that scene and mark up the sequence as I’m going with anything that seems noteworthy to me—moments of performance I really feel, a beautiful camera angle, an ad-lib line of dialogue that’s great. I’ll mark those things up and build each scene around the moments I love. I might add some sound design or temp music if I think it’s warranted, and then move on to the next scene. It’s pretty much “rinse-and-repeat” during the assembly period.

You studied media arts at the UNSW College of Fine Arts and then completed the Graduate Diploma in editing at AFTRS [the Australian Film Television and Radio School]. Would you still recommend a pathway like this to aspiring editors? 

It’s not the only pathway, of course, but one of the great things that pathway gives you—or certainly gave me—is the opportunity to build community. The students working alongside you are the filmmakers of the future. If you do good work and make good connections, your cohort will rise together as you build your careers. And you get to try—in that safe, protected environment—collaborating with different types of people. An edit suite needs to be a safe space. It becomes quite an intimate space, and it needs to be somewhere your collaborators feel really comfortable.

That said, there are other pathways. Assisting is a great pathway into editing in television. I [also] worked in advertising for a bit at the beginning of my career because I wanted to cut every day. There’s no one way to do it, but if you have a fantastic film school near where you live, absolutely apply, because there are lots of benefits. 

It could be easy to look at your career and accolades of late and assume your journey has been seamless, but you’ve been hustling for years. What kept you going when the going was tough? 

The balance between career and family is still a major factor in what a woman is perceived to be able to do. I wanted a family, and I have three daughters now, and it’s important to me they see me working hard at my career. It’s important to me that they were old enough to witness my transition into long-form television. There were dark days along the road … but I think what got me through was staying conscious of what I wanted to achieve creatively, even when the doors weren’t opening. 

I worked a lot in short films—I cut about 40—and that was quite strategic. I was waiting for the opportunity to move into long-form broadcast, but short films are a great vehicle for creativity because there are fewer stakeholders, meaning you can take more risks. There’s more freedom, more capacity for growth and learning. That was a great grounding for everything that’s come since… I was able to work across genres, so I didn’t end up getting pigeonholed. Every job I did, I learned something new. If luck is [when] preparation meets opportunity, I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared for when that opportunity came. 

How do you think about balancing your personal style and taste with that of the director and producers you work with? 

The first thing I do is look for creatives who are telling stories that speak to me, or are aligned with what I’d like to say about the world. The job is about making the best version of that story. Yes, there are other stakeholders, so a lot of the job is about making offers. There can be numerous ways to cut a scene. Sometimes, if I’m looking at rushes and I think, “That could be good, but so could that.” I’ll cut two or three versions and send them all to the director. Then there’s more of a conversation with the team about what we want to push in style or tone to make something as good as it can be. 

If you give the same set of rushes to four different editors, you’ll get four different scenes. Your own style comes out simply in the way you approach your work. That’s something I think is important for emerging editors to understand—it’s not really about your technical skills. Your point of view and the way you approach something is why you’ll keep getting work. 

As a prominent female editor in the film and TV industry, how do you see the role of women behind the scenes evolving, especially in technical roles like editing? 

Editing is a little different in that a lot of the first editors were women. Back in the day, editing was considered technical work and was delegated to women who struggled to be taken seriously as creatives. Over the years, the male creatives they were working with realized how important and influential editors were in constructing a story, and so [they] started inserting themselves into the editing room. 

I see editing as the perfect blend of technical and creative, and I think that speaks to women’s strengths. There’s a body of craft and technical knowledge as well, but there’s an X factor that is intuitive—you feel your way through. Creative women often excel in that arena. 

In terms of the continuing evolution of female-identifying practitioners working in post-production, I hope the evolution is just more jobs—more jobs for all of us. There’s such a benefit to having a really broad and diverse group of people working on a project together and factoring in all those perspectives. It’s a win for the whole team. 

What films or series do you consider a masterclass in editing worthy of study? 

There are so many amazing works out there. The one that springs to mind is the film Whiplash. It has a percussive cutting style that really matches the material—quick cuts and close-ups and a sense of escalating urgency. It’s palpable. I defy anyone to watch that and not feel anxious. More recently, I saw All of Us Strangers, which is very different, but equally visceral in some ways. It’s stunningly crafted [and] there’s an intimacy to it that’s really affecting. What I love most is that you’re asking yourself throughout the film, “Is this real?” But you’re also never lost or confused, which I think is a really delicate balance to strike, and it’s a masterclass in that. 

If I was going to look at a TV show, one that stuck with me is Normal People. I read the book and I wasn’t sure how they would capture the intensely personal and intimate moments in the book on screen. But the cutting elevated the tender, human sensory connections beautifully. I felt my way through it, which to me, is mastery. 

Special thanks to Danielle Boesenberg for her time. Keep an eye on Boesenberg’s website to stay up to date on her work. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tahlia Norrish is an Aussie-Brit actor, writer, and current MPhil Candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Sport Sciences. After graduating from both The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Distinction, Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (First Class Hons, Acting), Tahlia founded The Actor’s Dojo — a coaching program pioneering peak performance and holistic well-being for actors.

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