Like a well trained surgeon, award-winning film editor Oliver Harwood’s ability to carefully cut together media is as inspired as it is precise. A storyteller at his core, Harwood’s impressive body of work spans widely across a decade, boasting perfect examples of both skill and art in dozens of films, including the multi-award winning “Waste” and the international sensation “A Meditation,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of more than 25 film festivals across the globe.
Originally from Northamptonshire, UK, Harwood is far from just a “set of hands” in the editing room. In the industry, Harwood’s strong ability to work symbiotically with the director is a coveted talent, setting him apart from other editors who let their own personal style get in the way of the director’s vision.
“As an editor, I feel that my personal taste is a secondary concern to the director’s intention,” he remarks. “I like to think that my personal style is to have no personal style. In other words, it’s about bringing out the personal style of the director. If an editor’s primary concern is to impose an intrinsic style on every project they do, they should quit editing and be a director,” he says with a smile.
And acclaimed director Justine Raczkiewicz of “Waste” may agree. Her film, edited magnificently by Harwood, took home many awards through a large circuit, including Best Female Director at the Hollyshorts Film Festival and a Finalist at the USA Film Festival, as well as multiple Official Selections for festivals including the Brooklyn Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Fantasia Film Festival and more.
“Waste” tells the story of Roger, a shy and reclusive man working at a medical waste disposal facility. In the film, Roger becomes infatuated with his roommate Olive, a woman who models herself after a 1950’s housewife and seems to be more interested in pursuing the latest culinary fads rather than finding a mate.
Roger finds her quirkiness endearing, but learns one night over dinner that they have slightly variant food preferences (read: Olive eats human beings.) Roger politely dines with Olive, apprehensively crunching a sauteed human tongue which she has procured from a website selling ‘the discarded tongues of Buddhist monks who cut them out to be closer to God.’
Awoken now to a grizzly new world, Roger must balance his feelings for her with this dark new insight into who she is. After nodding off at work, Roger experiences a series of disturbing and strange dreams which ultimately lead him to confess his love for Olive.
Roger arrives, flowers in hand, to find Olive in a ball on the floor. She has severed her own toes and, barely hanging onto consciousness, she tells Roger that she’s tried to saute them. The picture changes to a black screen, and credits roll over audio of Olive instructing Roger on how to perfectly cook the toes, and Roger seems to be obeying.
Harwood does a brilliant job telling an unsettling love story using carefully selected lingering shots and impeccably timed cuts. At times, thanks to the editing technique, the viewer’s own levels of discomfort seem to perfectly match what the characters are feeling in that moment.
Harwood articulates his method best, explaining that “typically, a scene would start with a wide shot to establish the space, and then gradually work into the close ups, where the best performances are usually found… But with this one, we decided to start some [scenes] with a closeup shot, and then work our way to the wider shots. This helped reinforce the weird and uncomfortable tone of the story by creating ambiguity to some of the physical spaces used in the film.”
In film, when genres are combined, it takes an experienced, intelligent, and talented editor to tell the story correctly, without playing up one genre more than the other, and Harwood delivers this impeccably.
“When a film chooses to explore darker subject matters with a comical slant to it, the story must remain engaging enough to stand on its own and not be overridden by the themes,” he explains. “Otherwise, the overall feeling of the piece can be left feeling a bit pretentious without a strong emotional narrative to back it up. I tried to remove all thoughts of deeper meaning and intellectual subtext when editing and focused on the emotional through lines that guide the audience.”
Able to get into the minds of all types of genres, Harwood also displays exceptional work in the film “A Meditation,” which took home six awards from festivals including the MedFF and the Red Corner Film Festival, and screened as an Official Selection of the BLOW-UP International Arthouse Film Festival, Eindhovens Film Festival, Lisbon Film Festival, Oaxaca Film Festival, Kansas City Film Festival, and the San Francisco Black Film Festival to name a few.
This film, on the surface, does not appear to have much going on in terms of the story itself. “It revolves around a man who seems to be ambling through a particularly aimless point in his life,” Harwood describes. “He has no quest, no great adversity, just a vague sense of anxiety that comes with anyone who fears the existential dread of an empty weekend. He meditates, feeds his cat and browses the news, everything done without any particular enthusiasm or resentment. He seems to be just passing the time.”
The subject is awoken from a midday nap to his doorbell ringing; a young woman wants to buy a DVR he listed on Craigslist earlier that day. She wants to ensure that the machine works, so she follows him into the house to test it out. While in the bedroom, she notices marijuana on the dresser and asks, rather bluntly, if he’d like to smoke. They do, laughing together, and then the woman suggests they take off their clothes and get into bed. The initial awkwardness wears off quickly, and the pair embrace each other warmly until they are interrupted by the woman’s ringing cellphone. Her boyfriend has called, and she has to go.
She leaves, her warmth and presence from moments before replaced with a curt, aloof awkwardness, and the male subject goes about his daily routine of nothingness.
Harwood leans into the simplistic tone of the film by making similar editing choices at the top of the movie. “Because this is rather a simple story, I felt as if the editing of the piece should reflect that. Before the girl arrives, nothing of much significance seems to be happening, though there is a heavy emphasis on establishing a mood and tone,” explains Harwood. “To be able to do this effectively and as economically as possible is something that I believe is vital to a story of this kind.”
However, when the film moves in a more sexually explicit direction and the characters start to open up to each other, the shots became much closer and more personal.
Harwood says, “It was this break in style that influenced me to shift from a rather ‘matter of fact’ and simple editing practice to more abstract and emotionally driven choices.”
The shift is seamless; the viewer cannot quite put their finger on what has happened, but rather they can suddenly feel a change in energy, and this is the mark of a very, very good editor.
“Outside of the technical skill to handle the physical editing of the film, Oliver brought his unique and specific talents and approach to storytelling which is why I selected him to be the editor,” says Joe Petricca, the director of “A Meditation.” “He has great taste in and knowledge of film.”
The director and cinematographer may get all the coverage in the world, but when it comes down to it, how those shots are carefully stitched together bares some serious weight in regard to the final outcome and impact of the project. Oliver Harwood is undoubtedly a gem amongst ediors in the industry, and his refined and invaluable skill set is truly an asset both to the industry and to audiences worldwide.