As a child growing up in London, England, James Ralph wanted to be a chef. He enjoyed the creativity that came along with cooking, being able to create something amazing from simple ingredients. During this time, his hobby was making videos with his friends. As he grew, he started to realize the parallels between cooking and filmmaking. Both involve a high level of creativity and natural instinct, and both are their own forms of art. It was this realization that made making movies turn from a hobby to a true passion, and changed Ralph’s life.
Now, Ralph is one of Britain’s most celebrated editors. His work throughout his country’s television industry is iconic, putting his touch on the nation’s most popular shows. Working on series like Love Island, Britain’s Got Talent, 24 Hours in A&E, The Voice UK, and many more, Ralph has made quite the name for himself. This all truly began with his work on the immensely popular singing competition The X Factor.
“It’s amazing to think that over the years working on this show, I have had a hand in editing the auditions of artists who have gone on to enjoy massive worldwide fame. Early One Direction solo auditions, JLS, Little Mix as soloists and when first together amongst others. It gives me a real sense of achievement to think that, although they’ll have absolutely no idea who I am or what I do, I have in my small way played a part in their journey to superstardom,” said Ralph.
Having worked on the show since 2008 when it began its fifth season, Ralph is acutely aware of how to make the show a success. He brings a consistency and deep understanding of the show and how it works best. He has been involved in all stages of the editing process, from the initial auditions, to arenas, boot camp, judges houses, and the live shows. His extensive experience on the show and his vast understanding of its many elements has meant that he has a senior role, working as a lead or finishing editor. He knows the look and feel better than almost anyone, and without him, the show may not be what it is today.
“What I love about working on a show like this is that it’s a real test of all my skills as an editor, but also because it is transmitting weekly, you are working on something, that is getting real time feedback from the press, the public and social media. A really successful audition can become a real water cooler moment where it seems like everyone is talking about it, and that is a great feeling,” said Ralph.
From the beginning, Ralph is heavily involved in editing the audition stage of the show. He spends weeks going through all the footage from each audition, figuring out exactly what should be highlighted. Once episodes have been cast, he crafts every audition, ensuring to tell each story fully, maximizing the potential of each act. He also has to connect each act, and building the bridges and connections between them takes a great deal of time and skill, as viewers need the entire show to be seamless. According to Ralph, the choice of music and the pacing of the stories is so important in making the most of every scene. Simon Cowell is also highly involved in the process, and Ralph sends edits to him regularly for feedback. Ralph’s editing skills are vastly appreciated by all who work on the show.
“James is a pleasure to work with. Over the years numerous Series Producers and Edit Producers have worked alongside him and the feedback is always extremely positive. James is someone we try to book as an editor for the show every year, he is very much a part of the core edit team. We also work very long hours and James will never lose his sense of humor and always has a smile on his face,” said Ashley Whitehouse, Series Producer. “James is a very creative editor who can work extremely well under pressure, often cutting to very tight deadlines. He is a great editor when it comes to telling emotional stories, but equally skilled when it comes to cutting comedy. James is also very accommodating when working with junior members of the editorial team and will often help nurture less experienced producers. James is often used as a ‘finisher’ on our shows too, great attention to detail.”
Ralph takes a great sense of satisfaction from the fact that his work is not only appreciated by colleagues, but also fans. The show is consistently popular with the public and press, with extremely high ratings and award wins. When a fan retweets an audition, or likes a video on YouTube, they may not realize they are congratulating Ralph for a job well done.
“I love working on this show for a number of reasons. It’s a heady mix of intense pressure to deliver against deadlines for transmission, super creativity, and the chance to work on discovering acts that have gone on to become some of the biggest global acts in recent years. I have been involved in all areas of the edit from the opening sequences, pre-titles, guest artist videos for people like Katie Perry, Robbie Williams to actual parts of the show, live show videos as well as lead and finishing editor roles. There isn’t really a part of the editing of the show that I don’t know about,” he concluded.
Today Korean-born film editor Sunghwan Moon is living out his childhood dream of working on large-scale narrative film productions, but, as is the way with turning most worthwhile dreams into reality, his rise to the top didn’t come without a lot of hard work and effort on his part.
After spending several years as a lead editor for movie and TV series trailers including the ones for the film Kong-Zi, the series Iris and the promos for the film 71- Into The Fire and those for the Disney and Disney Jr. channels in Korea, Moon moved to Los Angeles to attend American Film Institute, a prestigious conservatory program that only accepts a maximum of 14 film editors from around the world every year. A major stepping-stone in his career, Moon received his master’s in film editing from AFI, which allowed his to make further connections in the American film industry while making his mark as a leading editor for films.
Prior to working as the editor of the films And The Wind Falls, Tracks, Head Trauma, Together Alone, The Lost Generation and many others, Moon was already well-versed in editing hours of footage into seamless stories for the screen. Earlier on in his career he established himself as a leading international music video editor through his work on the videos for Loveholics’ song “A Good Tain Knows,” Winterplay’s “Cha-Cha,” Shin Seung-hun’s “Love of Iris,” Baek Ji-young’s “Don’t Forget Me,” and K-pop artist Standing Egg’s songs “Kiss Me,” “MAM-E-GEOL-LYEO,” and “NA-O-NEUL-TTA-RA.”
The unfortunate truth is that many people sit around and wait for their dreams to happen to them, believing that their fated break into what ever industry they wish will just come if they are patient– Moon’s story is the exact opposite. Instead, his is one of perseverance and tenacity. After years of slowly working his way to the top and never losing sight of his end goal, all of his dedication paid off. To find out more about how Sunghwan Moon got to where he is today make sure to check out our interview below!
Where are you from?
SM: I spent my childhood moving around until third grade due to my father’s job. We lived in a mid sized town called Gwangju, Korea until I was in high school, and then I moved to Seoul for university. After serving three years in the Air Force, I moved to Oakland, CA, before moving back to Seoul where I worked for a while and got married. Now I’m living in the US again.
How and when did you first get into working as an editor?
SM: I’ve always liked filmmaking so I dropped out of the university where I was majoring in Law in Korea and entered a small arts college in Oakland/S.F. in California as filmmaking major. At first, I wanted to be a director, but soon I found out that I enjoyed editing more than any other fields in filmmaking. I kept working that path, and got my first job at a small company that was creating video pieces for mobile services such as Verizon. After that, I ended up working mostly on trailers, promos, and music videos. After doing that for about eight years, I was accepted to AFI and now I work mostly on narrative movies.
What inspired you to pursue this profession?
SM: I always liked watching movies as a child. I would skip school, which I’m not so proud, and go to a theater and watch the same movie again and again. I always wanted to do something related to film. I first wanted to be a film critic, but while attending college, I found that editing was the most fun thing to do. You shape the performance, the rhythm, the emotion– the movie is really created in a cutting room.
How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?
SM: It’s important in a sense because it can help you make connections. People say how good you are is the most important, but it’s also important whom you know.
Can you describe some of the projects you’ve worked on and some of the challenges you’ve faced?
SM: I was the sole editor on the trailers for Iris, the No.1 hit TV series in Korea in 2009, which consisted of 20 episodes, and I cut the trailers for each episode. The schedule here in the US can be crazy, but in Korea it is very common to shoot an episode in the morning and then air it that same night. I would get the script they were out shooting, and do a paper cut – meaning I would select the lines and shots based on the script, then select the music, then do the basic editing on paper. Once they finished shooting, I’d request the footage and quickly grab what I had pre-selected. Then if I felt I needed something else, I would look into other parts of the footage. This might not be an ideal method, but given such a short time to cut, it worked well for me.
Disney launched the Disney and Disney Jr. channels in Korea in July 2011 and I joined the team in January as the leader of the editing team, as well as a lead editor for the On-Air-Promotions team. We created all the promos/previews for these two channels. As a team leader, I also had to supervise other editors on their work and I really enjoyed working with the other team members. In many cases, creating the promos involved a meeting with the producers and editors since sometimes what the producers imagined in their heads wasn’t possible. We had to create many promos every week with a fairly tight schedule, but everyone collaborated well and it always went well.
I was the editor on the 8 series scripted show Fall Into Me for Lifetime. The story of the series I worked on was pretty classical – a normal girl meets a billionaire who she used to know in high school, but they wanted to give a bit of an ‘indie movie’ feel to it. We had to try to balance between a romantic comedy and an indie movie. I’ve known the director since AFI, so it was easy for both of us to communicate. Although we had never worked together before, we still shared the same education, which provided us with the same basic foundation and let us speak the same language. From a creative point of view, most challenges come from a lack of communication with the director; but that wasn’t the case this time. The director knew what she wanted and she understood what could be done and what she had to let go of.
I also edited the film And The Wind Falls, which was a bit of challenge since the story wasn’t typical. It was written in a way so that the story would unfold with subtlety. Things happen to the main character, but so many things are only implied that you will miss them if you’re not engaged completely. I’ve worked with the director before this – we worked on two music videos and then a web series pilot together after this project. We worked hard and I’m glad that our hard work got some recognitions from others including getting a Special Mention at Singapore Short Film Awards.
The director’s vision here was very clear for the film Tracks. He and the DP shot the film in a way so that the camera looks at the main character all the time like a documentary. Our reference movie was Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold. During pre-production, I was very curious about how the director and the editor on Fish Tank worked together. So, I managed to find the editor’s contact info, I emailed him and we ended up having a conversation. We met a little later when he came to the U.S. to edit Still Alice (starring Julianne Moore), and became friends. He told me the story of how he approached Fish Tank, and it helped me a lot. The actor did a great job so I didn’t have to worry about making cuts to the performance, which helped me immensely. As I said, it was shot in a way that the camera never rests, and it keeps following the main character. I tried to respect how it was shot and edit accordingly. And this film got into many festivals around the world including this year’s AFI FEST.
What tools do you use to edit? Avid? Final Cut? Etc. And what are the primary differences?
SM: My main tool is Avid, but I also use other software such as Final Cut Pro and Premiere. The only difference is the speed just because I’m more used to Avid than others. There are certain things that one is better at accomplishing than the others; and I feel Avid is better for cutting narrative films than other programs are.
What is it that you love about working as an editor?
SM: I respect what everyone does in the process of making a film. However, I feel it’s in the cutting room that the film is finally created in its final form. I love the feeling of being able to shape the rhythm, the performance, and finally create the story and the emotion through the film.
Also, if you are lucky and get to work with a good director, you’ll learn a lot while working with them. In a small editing suite, you talk to a director a lot. And you get to learn a lot. I think I’ve been lucky in that sense. So, in a sense, a cutting room is a working place as well as a learning place to me.
What separates you from the rest of the pool of editors in Hollywood? What is your specialty in the field?
SM: I have a background as an editor on trailers/music videos for eight years. I believe it has given me a better rhythmic sense. Also, I have a different cultural background as well, and I am sure it provides a unique point of view on a story.
Can you tell me a little bit about your editing process? Once you get the footage, where do you start?
SM: Once I get the footage, I try to understand what a director wants to achieve in each take and scene. If a director does multiple takes, I try to understand why. Once I get the footage, I don’t rely on the script as much. Yes, I’ll go back to a script to make sure I haven’t missed any small things that are intended for the story; however, I try to see what is actually captured in camera. In general, I believe how the footage is shot tells you how to edit. The footage tells you how to cut.
What is the collaboration process like in terms of working with the other departments on a project?
SM: There is a very popular comment from Jeong-min Hwang, the most famous actor in Korea. He once said something like, “All the other people prepared such a great meal. I did nothing. I just added my fork and knife, and enjoyed the meal. It was all possible because of them who prepared the meal.” I feel pretty much the same. So, I try to maintain solid communication with everyone so that there’s no room for misunderstandings.
Up to how long can it take to complete the editing on a project?
SM: It all depends on a project.
I’ve heard people say an editor can be sitting at their computer for up to 14 hours a day working on something—is this accurate? If so how do you stay focused?
SM: Yes, that’s possible. When I worked for a trailer company, I used to have to work even longer than 24 hours straight many times. I do not have any special way to focus. Since I do what I like to do, I don’t have to struggle to focus. I think all editors like their jobs. But I have to say it’s not healthy and it’s less productive to work for too long without taking a break. You get to be more creative when you take a break.
What projects do you have coming up?
SM: I’m currently working as the assistant editor on the feature film In Dubious Battle, directed by James Franco.
Do you have a passion for working on a specific kind of film or project, if so what kind of project and why?
SM: Although I’m leaning towards feature films, I wouldn’t mind doing a TV series as long as it has a good story. A good story is probably the only thing that matters.
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