What project will you do next Jill? “I want to do something that is really hard. I’d like to tell a story that is important, is real, and edit it in a way that is stylistically different…. We need a revolution in entertainment.”
Jill Bilcock is one of the film industry’s leading editors. She is also Australian, a woman and seems to feel fear but crashes through anyway. Inspiring. She has been responsible for some memorable films; Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Strictly Ballroom, Head On, Elizabeth… and memorable scenes within memorable films: the tango scene from Moulin Rouge, the virgin becoming scene from Elizabeth…
Influenced by Russian montage and Cinéma Pur (Pure Cinema) it’s easy to see the connection between Jill’s heart and the emotion she brings to the screen. She says she edits though an emotional connection with the image, the music and the story. It has to feel right. It is such a joy to hear someone talk about the importance of intuition, of feeling.
“Use your intuition, trust your gut, if you think it looks bogus, it is.”
It is usual in the industry to create what’s called a pre-vis (pre-visual) to support an understanding of the look and feel for a film before it gets funding. Jill creates pre-vis with no gaps, she can create them from found footage, from domestic shoots, really from anything she can fin. Anything that will help to make decisions about the vision of a film.
She created a pre-vis for the tango scene for Moulin Rouge, a deft piece of editing from footage from many sources. Its beauty is not in what has screened but how it supports people to see what might be possible, particularly for producers, studios and money-folk.
It’s like a draft, a mock-up of a concept that cannot be conceived of. An idea that cannot be visualised. Thus it is visualised.
Studio heads were apparently skeptical of an idea to do a contemporary Shakespearean drama using full Shakespearean language. Skeptical that it could work, or attract any box office. The film was of course Baz Lurhman’s Romen + Juliet. The editing of course remains a stand out for film buffs everywhere. The idea worked brilliantly.
‘The through-line of every scene is make them feel…”, and it’s more often the image that will make an audience feel, not the dialogue. Alfred Hitchcock was a great proponent of using the face to tell the story. He believed that in real life people do not say what they mean, nor reveal everything. He believed that a good Point of View (POV) shot, Close Ups (CU) and great editing would tell the story because the audience would fill in any of the gaps.
Jill is a big believer in getting inside the mind of the director, supporting them to protect their vision and helping them to create it. First thing she does is ask the director to send her ‘all the music in the world they like’ and she proceeds to ‘work them out’ from there.
She is also a big believer in limitations and happy mistakes. For some films she may have up to 100 takes to look at to pick the right take. But in other cases she is stuck with just one that HAS to work. These have sometimes been her most creative.
When asked what strategies she uses to enhance and protect her creativity Jill says she’s not sure. Then she went on to say she comes to every project with some fear, some trepidation but always looks forward to the challenges and creative solutions to those challenges. Like loving a roller-coaster ride I expect.
In this masterclass Jill spoke about technique and process, however, what I valued most was the confirmation that editing is about emotion and about rhythm – you just have to feel it.
Once referred to as ‘editing like a Russian serial killer on crack’, her editing has also been referred to as ‘stately’; either way she reckons you have to do it for yourself. “If you do it to please someone else then it will never be finished.”