EDN Member of the Month – Jesper Osmund
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for March 2019 is Jesper Osmund, Film Editor and Narrative Consultant from Denmark.
EDN has among other things talked to Jesper Osmund about his road into the world of documentary, the crucial role of editing when it comes to storytelling, his involvement with EDN over the past decade and the upcoming EDN Pitch Pilot Workshop in Galway Ireland, where Jesper Osmund will be one of the tutors.
Jesper Osmund has edited over 100 documentaries, many of which selected by leading festivals across the globe and awarded as well as screened at various international festivals. His track record in documentary editing includes titles such as Stronger Than A Bullet, Becoming Zlatan, Commander Arian, Every Face Has A Name, Prison Sisters, A Bastard Child, I Will Be Murdered , Those Who Said No, No Burqas Behind Bars, When The Boys Return, Big Boys Gone Bananas, and The Well. Besides his work in film editing, Jesper Osmund is also a narrative consultant who advised on numerous films (incl. The Raft, We Could Be Heroes, I Called Him Morgan, Amazona, Samuel In The Clouds, The Beast Is Still Alive) and tutors regularly at rough cut/pitching workshops and the IDFAcademy Summer School.
EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and your road into the world of documentaries?
You know, whenever I meet someone in the movie industry who tells me that he or she always knew and never wanted to do anything else with his or her life than dedicating it to the movie industry, I am on one side strangely fascinated, but mostly bewildered by it. How can you be in this industry and have so little imagination about what you can do with your life?
Personally I started way off on several other career paths, none of them ever close to be completed, when an action of pure impulse and little common sense made me a student of Master of Arts in Film and Media at the University of Copenhagen. At that point in my life I had a great job/career as a full time bartender in a hip/punk underground Copenhagen nightclub based in a concrete cellar, but already after shooting our very first and very modest student film… shot in the concrete cellar under the University of Copenhagen... I decided, the time had arrived for me to see the daylight, the daylight of an editing room. The three days of editing on our student film became the three most meaningful days ever, so I quit University and initiated my still ongoing journey as an apprentice editor. And I still haven’t answered your question, but the short answer is: it all started with "life".
EDN: Editing is obviously a crucial part of the filmmaking process. How would you define the scope of what's possible and in which ways can editing impact the narrative?
In documentaries editing is the narrative. As a passionate editor I like to think of the scope being infinite and in terms of personal challenge, I really do. In documentaries we are constantly challenged by incomplete material because of the nature of shooting, so a natural part of the editing is trying to save that material, to create a twist, invent an element, change a character, add a layer to the narrative, something that will make up for or at least disguise the flaws in the approach but in the end appear to be so organic, that nobody will ever suspect that the film wasn’t a swan at birth.
EDN: Going through hundreds of hours of footage and selecting the most suitable material is a tedious task. How do you deal with this challenge and in which ways do you usually collaborate with the director and others involved in the production?
It’s a time-consuming and very exhausting challenge that is basically only nourished by the volcanic energy infusions that comes with every sparkle or glimpse of a pearl. But the challenge is not just watching all the footage, anybody can do that. The challenge is watching it and at the same time in your imagination try to play with it, adjust, invert it into something, that could possibly be useful in some layer in a future narrative. This is where exhaustion comes in, working emotionally and intellectually on several layers at the same time.
It’s important that I can make up my own mind, and if I can spare my director from going through it all, I do and will only bring him or her in when it feels called for. But I know that I sometimes look like a sleepwalking black cloud coming out of the editing room fumbling my way to the coffee machine not really communicating on any level.
EDN: Your track record regarding documentaries is long and impressive, including many award-winning titles. What are your major criteria before you decide to get on board a new project?
Hopefully it’s a combination of several. I can get motivated by an idea or a vision, but for me as an editor to offer unconditional support of that idea I prefer a director/producer who can appreciate that dedication and form the teamwork that a film needs. The creative process is very delicate because we are different as human beings, we have different backgrounds, we operate differently in our own emotional pattern and logic, but we still have to build together, build a common interpretation of whatever we have in front of us. So in order to avoid a potential minefield I am selective with whom I work … to protect ourselves, but certainly also the film.
EDN: Having been in the editing business for nearly 30 years, what do you consider to be the most satisfying part of your profession?
To be right. Because this is not science. I often say, that I might say something on Monday and then on Thursday I might say something different, that to you sounds like the complete opposite. This does not mean that I was wrong on Monday. No, it just means that I have become wiser on Thursday.
To be right is very satisfying in a business, where you often end up discussing emotions and where anybody obviously is entitled to an opinion. It is satisfying in particular for the big decisions that have to be made at a time and on a ground where they can be very hard to defend. Like in a case a couple of years ago, when hired as narrative consultant to give feedback on a rough cut, I had to tell the director all the good things I could, but also that I didn’t see a film, only half a film … and then to explain how I could see what the other half could look like, but that would involve the director to go back to the war zone for another month to film again. After a few more meetings the director chose to listen, smuggled herself into the war zone, filmed for another 4 weeks and returned, thank God. We got the film completed and it opened at HotDocs Toronto.
EDN: You will be involved as a tutor in the upcoming EDN Pitch Pilot Workshop in Galway, Ireland. What is your experience with this kind of workshop format and what do you hope the participants will take away from the session?
I have been a regular tutor for EDN the last 10 years now. The first time was in Lisbon 2009 and it was actually a bit of an experiment to have an editor as one of the tutors with main focus on the visual pilot, but the feedback from participants was overwhelming and quickly I became a regular in many of EDN’s pitching workshops. The Pitch Pilot Workshop is a natural extension of that success just done in a much smaller scale to fit e.g. a film fund.
It’s a great opportunity for a director/producer team to work intensively on their film at this early stage, because you can’t really make your pilot without directing attention to some fundamental decisions about your film. It still impresses me to see, how much can be done in such a short time.
For an overview of all previous EDN Members of the Month, please visit: