Bolton School Sixth Form Boys

'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Editor Inspires Young Filmmakers

Film editor and Old Boy Barney Pilling returned to the Boys’ Division to lend his expertise to current pupils in a series of workshops. The day involved pupils studying Art and Design and English, as well as boys in the Animation and Film Clubs.

After leaving Bolton School in 1991, Barney worked as a DJ before joining the film industry “at the bottom” as a Runner; he spent eight years working his way up to his first editing job. Since then he has worked on TV programmes such as Ashes to Ashes, Hotel Babylon, and As If, and his work on Life on Mars and Spooks received nominations for Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment) BAFTAs. He has also edited a number of films, including An Education, Never Let Me Go, and recent release The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has been nominated for a slew of awards in 2015 for its editing, including the Best Achievement in Film Editing Oscar and Best Editing BAFTA.

He explained to the boys that it has taken a huge amount of dedication to reach this point in his career, but that it all seems worth it as he still really enjoys the job: “When I spend a whole day without looking at my watch, it’s great – I feel like I’m a kid building a model again.”

Barney spoke to each group of boys about being an editor, and how it all starts with being a storyteller. He explained that the editor is involved from the very beginning of the process: he reads the script and meets with the writers, producer and director to discuss the themes and style that they want to achieve, even before initial storyboards have been drawn up. When filming begins, the editor receives the material the day after it has been shot, and works in a studio close to the filming location to catalogue everything and to start to piece the story together.

“The best thing about this job is that, while the director is filming, I have about ten weeks to put together a film that is how I think it should be,” Barney said. “After those ten weeks are up, the director comes into the editing suite and we work together to make the film. Fifty percent of the time, he gets to say, ‘I don’t like that, can you change it?’ The other fifty percent of the time, he says, ‘Wow, I hadn’t thought of that!’ It’s a wonderfully creative process.”

The first session of the day was with a group of Year 10 Art and Design students and was based on the opening of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The boys read a synopsis of the first five minutes and then in groups created a brief outline of the different shots they would need to achieve this story on film. Barney worked with the groups to discuss why they had chosen certain angles or types of shot. He also offered some great technical tips – for example, when one group decided to do a close-up of an eye, he explained that they would need a corresponding close-up of what it’s looking at. To end the session, the boys watched the opening of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with Barney offering comments on why certain editing choices were made.

This was followed by a workshop with Year 11 boys studying English. Barney and the boys watched Schwarzfahrer, a 1994 Oscar-winning German ten-minute short promoting racial tolerance, and then discussed a number of issues raised by the film, such as the representations of the characters and the themes involved. They also looked at technical aspects, including the effect of black and white film and the use of sound.

Barney then joined a Year 7 English lesson based on a short film called One Day a Man Bought a House. The workshop was based on the idea of visual storytelling and introduced the boys to basic concepts of film shots and mise-en-scène. While watching the film, the boys recorded details of their favourite shot, and discussed the content and effects. There was also opportunity for them to ask Barney questions.

During the boys’ lunch break, Barney joined the Animation Club and Film Club, giving both groups the chance to hear about the editing process from a professional point of view as well as the opportunity to ask questions. One of the boys asked Barney what was his favourite project, which he was able to answer straight away: The Grand Budapest Hotel, closely followed by Never Let Me Go. He said, “I’m a big fan of The Grand Budapest Hotel director Wes Anderson, and I think he’s been getting better and better. It was a dream come true to get a job with him.”

Barney was able to give some Sixth Form boys interested in moving into the film industry some great careers advice during this session. He also helped the younger pupils in Animation Club with setting up a new project: creating a film of toy soldiers dancing to music by using ‘stop-motion’ techniques.

The final lesson Barney joined was a Year 12 English Literature class, which was focused on Never Let Me Go and the relationship between the original dystopian novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and the 2010 film.

Barney suggested that they look at a section at the end of Chapter 6 which is particularly significant, as it forms the basis of the title; they read this passage and watched the corresponding section of the film. This was an interesting segment to look at, as it allowed Barney the opportunity to show how the film compressed about eight pages of text into a few shots with no dialogue. The section also contains a diversion from the original text: in the editing suite, Barney and the director actually changed one character into another, using complex visual effects to alter what was actually shot! Barney discussed with the boys why this decision was made and how it was achieved. The session produced some great thoughts of the process of the dramatisation of book to film, and the different thematic and emotional requirements that the same story needs when it is told in different formats.

There was also time in the afternoon for three Sixth Form boys to interview Barney for the Creatives Now! Magazine.

Barney’s visit was a fantastic opportunity for boys interested in film and film editing to speak to someone within the industry who started out where they are now. Barney was really enthusiastic about the projects and workshops the boys were involved in on the day and led some excellent discussions about the material.

Barney with a group of Boys' Division pupils

Barney with a group of Boys' Division pupils

Helping some boys in Animation Club to set up a shot

Helping some boys in Animation Club to set up a shot

Discussing the shots needed for the opening of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Discussing the shots needed for the opening of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'