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The 2012 10 to Watch: Dev Singh

After establishing himself as a VFX specialist with big budget U.S. films (including The Ice Harvest and Four Brothers), Toronto-based Singh moved into editing and is currently working on Little Terrors, Picture Day (premiering at TIFF) and Fangs of War 3D.

Each year, Playback puts out a call for the industry to recommend its best and brightest up-and-coming talent for our 10 to Watch list. And the search keeps getting tougher, as the professionals who make up the screen entertainment industry keep getting better. The selection represented here were carefully chosen with input from a variety of industry sources and organizations. This year’s 10 to Watch were revealed in Playback‘s Fall issue; the stories featured here are longer versions of the Q&As that appear in the print publication.


The buzz: After establishing himself as a VFX specialist with big budget U.S. films (including The Ice Harvest and Four Brothers), Toronto-based Singh moved into editing and has quickly amassed noteworthy experience, including cutting The Last New Year and An Insignificant Harvey; he’s currently working on Little Terrors, Picture Day (world premiering at TIFF) and Fangs of War 3D.

You had your career break out while working on big American productions (Four Brothers, The Ice Harvest), how did you manage to land those jobs?

I started as an assistant editor and wanted to work on some bigger jobs… but most editors on those jobs were coming from the States and England at the time and brought their own assistants. One of the editors I met while applying for jobs, Eddie Hamilton, said he was looking for some people in VFX for Resident Evil Apocalypse, so I worked in VFX on the production side as a liaison between editorial and the various VFX houses we were working with. One of them was Mr. X Inc., which was doing some pretty cool movies at the time and we got along so I started working with them. The best moment was working on Four Brothers when Dennis Berardi gave me a job to put together and edit a Pre-Viz for a winter car chase scene. We developed the Pre-Viz and I edited it into a sequence. During two weeks of overnights in a Toronto February we shot second unit with the stunt guys and around 150 people. It was a bit surreal going out and seeing what we had helped visualize being shot. We at Mr.X then composited the actors using a Poor Man’s process on a soundstage to match the action, and added 3D elements and environment to basically every shot in the sequence.

What made you return to working on Canadian productions?

I returned to working on Canadian productions because, as exciting as VFX was, I’ve always preferred editing. In editing you’re the storyteller and VFX is a part of that, but it’s ultimately working inside the shot instead of shot to shot. I preferred seeing the whole of the film rather than elements of the whole without the context of the entire film.

How has your career progressed since then?

It was hard at first, jumping into editing because most people knew me as either a VFX guy or an assistant editor. Dennis [Berardi] put me in touch with Digital Domain and I worked on a movie called Zoom. Finally, I landed my first feature which was The Last New Year, a small low-to-no budget film that Garfield Lindsay Miller and Alyson Richards were kind enough to trust me to edit – even though I hadn’t edited a feature at that point. Then I went to the Canadian Film Centre editor’s program and that was the start of things progressing.

You still do some VFX, but why did you transition from VFX to editing?

I wanted to be part of the larger storytelling aspect of the films. At their most basic level the emotions of a film are derived from how characters interact with each other and their environment. Some of the most compelling scenes in film, and quite frankly the most challenging and fun to edit, are two people conversing.

What’s in an editor’s job description that people in the wider industry may not know about?

Most people don’t fully understand the work that goes into editing a film. You spend four to six months working over footage, and even though there is a script it’s a blueprint and the footage is the clay. Over a long time you collaborate with a director on shaping, structuring and drawing out the characters and story into a cohesive whole. You have to have a mind that can see the structure of the film as a whole, and the minutiae of 1/24th of a second.

Do you have any trademark editing techniques?

I don’t really have any special ones, as each film tells its own story and I try to first and foremost service the story. But I do try to experiment a great deal. One thing I try to do after we’ve locked the film is do a pass on the whole film where I don’t look at every cut, but just try to flow with a rhythm to take out the studied perfection in each moment, bring out a little ragged energy and encourage a few “mistakes” and imperfections.

You have a 3D project coming up. How does editing for a 3D project differ from editing for regular films?

I don’t have any particular idea, but I’m treating it like a VFX film with another stereoscopic element. I still try to simplify it to moments and suitable perspective. I take solace in the fact that it’s all relatively new and most people who have done it over the past few years have just done it for the first time. I think it’s another story element and ultimately is most successful when treated as that and the technical challenges will ultimately still service the story not the other way around.

Where did the idea for Silent Clown Pictures [Singh's production company] come from?

Silent Clown Pictures came about from my first short film I directed after attending Ryerson University’s film program. I did a [stop-motion] film inspired by Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building?” and Buster Keaton. It was an experimental short heavily influenced by the vaudeville and the early days of film. I started a small production company to produce it, and Silent Clown Pictures just seemed right.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m doing some projects with some friends from the Canadian Film Centre. Then I’m on to Fangs of War directed by Jim Donovan and Produced by Ken Nakamura, and a few exciting things in 2013 that I can’t really talk about for fear of jinxing myself.

What are some trends you’ve seeing in editing—where is editing headed?

Things are really in a dynamic transitional phase in the technical areas of post production. I’m keeping abreast of changes and trying to develop more tools in my toolbox to utilize. Although, it can be daunting to keep up at times, it’s still storytelling and working with people, and piece by piece, moment by moment, collaborating with everyone on the film, trying to make the best film you can.

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