‘When I started, there weren’t many female editors’: how I carved out an award-winning film and TV career

Lindsey Woodward is a film editor on a rapid rise, with recent credits including the Bafta-winning series I May Destroy You. As a woman in a male-dominated profession, and an industry outsider who managed to break through, Woodward knows success doesn’t come easily.

Hailing from the town of Ilkeston in Derbyshire, where her mother worked in a hospital and her father was a mechanic, Woodward was “one of the very few people” in her family to go to university. During photography and video coursework, she found herself drawn to editing. “It was only when I got into the editing suite that I really had fun and enjoyed myself," sy sê, recalling working with Adobe Premiere Pro to assemble the rushes from short film projects. “I didn’t know how it all worked, but I was getting in early and the days were flying by.”

After university, Woodward spent time waitressing at a diner in Nottingham, which she credits with building up her confidence as she was very shy at the time. She was spurred to rekindle her creative dreams when a friend of hers who had been studying nursing switched to pursue a career in fashion. Woodward started an evening course in editing and the creative possibilities burst into life. She recalls a time when her class was given the task of editing footage of a man assembling a motorbike: “Not one of us edited it in the same way," sy sê.

So what makes a good film editor? “An instinct for telling stories – an eye for the best emotional performance, for what pushes the story forward, and a good knowledge of music to help bring it to life," sy sê. “When you’re editing, it’s a feeling – you have to trust it.”

She describes her process in the edit suite: “I go through the rushes, then lock myself away and concentrate on a scene. As the ideas start coming, I put things on the timeline to build the scene and get a rough shape, hitting the emotional moments. Soms, I take a day away from a scene and come back to it with fresh eyes. Toe, I put all the scenes together, build on the character arc, as well as think about the music and how it helps bring the scenes to life.”

When she was new to the industry, turning her talents and instincts into a career was no mean feat. After completing her evening course, she contacted dozens of post-production companies and was offered a job based in London. But she faced a dispiriting setback – making it work financially. “The money was so low, and I didn’t know anybody in London, had no family there, so I had to turn it down.”

To others who may face the same entry barriers, Woodward stresses that London is no longer the only option from where to pursue an editing career. Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and many other cities now also offer a wealth of opportunities, not least because of the current effervescent state of TV thanks to the streaming boom; Woodward recently finished editing The Last Bus, an upcoming Netflix original series, in Bristol.

Uiteindelik, Woodward secured her first role at a post-production house in Manchester, where a world of work and new experiences soon started to open up. “I came out, I could afford to eat and drink, I had a great time,” she says of this formative period. Eventually she did move to London as a freelancer, chalking up assistant editor roles, before finally making the jump to being a full-time editor on I May Destroy You.

Woodward recalls a sense of fun and camaraderie between the six-strong team of editors on the acclaimed BBC series: “We did different versions of scenes, then got [each other’s] opinions and fresh eyes on it to make it better and take it to a new level. Everyone was willing to share, from ideas for music or montage cuts to techniques for motion graphics.” Series creator Michaela Coel and co-director Sam Miller would spend time in each editor’s room, constantly discussing and refining. Coel was never precious, says Woodward. “She welcomed any ideas anybody had.”

Woodward acknowledges a debt to Coel for giving her such a significant opportunity. “It’s a catch-22 that you have to have broadcast editing experience to get a job as an editor – so I’m eternally grateful to her for taking a chance on me.” She also pays tribute to her colleague Jason Krasucki, who passed away earlier this year. He’d mentored her since the start of her career and put her forward for roles as an editor. She says Krasucki’s generous mentorship has made her determined to “pay that forward. I want to be generous with the things that I’ve learned through the years and pass that on.”

Looking out for others and being a team player is important to Woodward, and her advice to those early in their editing careers shows the value she places on nurturing relationships. “If you prove to people that you’re hardworking and nice to be around, they will want to keep you close by, and take you on to the next job with them. The industry is so welcoming, and everyone is willing to share – we have so many WhatsApp groups where we help each other.”

To those considering pursuing an interest or career in editing, Woodward recommends seizing the initiative: “Start by editing anything you can. Go to YouTube and play around with music and video. Making short films helps you understand directing and things like continuity. If you’re interested in post-production or editing, approach companies in these fields and seek work experience.

“You’re likely to start off as a runner. You can aim for editorial trainee or PA roles not just on feature films but TV as well, which now have big productions and need big teams of people. Be keen to learn. Find out as much as you can, ask questions about the software. Editors will be happy to talk to you if you’re interested in their projects. I keep a notebook and am constantly writing things down – how to do something if I was on my own, tips, ideas, music I hear that I like.”

Like many other fields in the industry, editing can be a demanding, even taxing, role; as Woodward says: “You spend a lot of time in a room on your own. It can be repetitive work, and challenging on your eyes and back. It’s a competitive field – there are a lot of editors out there. You never know if you will make the jump from assistant to editor.”

En, natuurlik, there’s progress to be made in the industry, especially around diversity and inclusion. “When I started off as a runner, there weren’t as many female editors," sy sê. “It’s intimidating when you start off. I’ve seen more [female editors] over the years, but we need more still. Maybe editing is perceived as a technical field, which puts women off. And the nature of the role can be hard on working parents, especially women.”

But a strong sense of optimism firmly underpins Woodward’s views on the industry’s inclusivity. “I like to think things are changing and improving. More conversations are happening, more women are creating amazing shows and winning awards. Younger female editors can look to them as role models and get inspired.”

Woodward urges editors in the industry to “monitor who’s being hired and pay attention to being inclusive. Take a chance on new people, not just those with previous broadcast credits. When it comes to editing there’s not one way of doing it. Diversity brings varied opinions, exciting ideas and a different spin to the table.”

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