Unsung hero

Wonder Woman film editor Martin Walsh has an Oscar to his name and is much in demand in Hollywood. But he’s still a down to earth Mancunian.

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As a child growing up in Manchester’s Moss Side, Martin Walsh never imagined he would one day become an Oscar-winning editor rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in film.

His latest project, Wonder Woman, pulled in £12.84 million in its first 11 days at the UK box office and has been hailed as a “masterpiece of subversive feminism”, while the Observer’s Wendy Ide described the film as a “gloriously badass breath of fresh air”.

The film, starring Israeli actor Gal Gadot as DC Comics’ Amazonian warrior princess Diana, is a CGI extravaganza complete with warplanes crashing into water and a final showdown between her and arch-enemy Ares, the god of war.

It is no small feat for an editor, who faces the painstaking process of agonising over every moment within every scene.

“Wonder Woman took 18 months to edit, which is just way too long,” says Walsh. “Those big ones are huge now. There’s so much technical stuff involved with CGI and the process of getting it up to a quality that’s good enough to go out on a big screen.

Walsh’s job is one most would envy but there is a point when projects can get tedious

“When you’re creating environments and monsters and sea and sky it takes forever to make CG characters move in a way that’s acceptable to the audience. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between my department and the visual effects department, and of course the director is there all the time.”

Walsh’s career in film took off in the early 1980s, when the process of editing involved using splicers to physically join together lengths of photographic film. In the midst of the digital age, Walsh admits he sometimes looks back on the old days with nostalgia.

“I often wish I was still back in a little room with bits of sellotape stuck in my hair,” he says. “Both have their ups and downs. The sellotape era was great but you had to be really careful and decisive and accurate in everything you did. Nowadays pretty much anybody could jump on a computer and mess around with bits of film and join them together, because you can undo it instantly.

“It’s like a giant word processing document. You just Apple Z to your heart’s content and undo what you just did, so it’s easier in that respect. But the downside of that is that you can generate an infinite number of versions of that film, so decision-making gets a little bit harder.”

Martin Walsh
Martin Walsh spent 18 months editing the movie

Walsh’s previous credits include Chicago, V for Vendetta, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 take on the Grimm Brothers’ Cinderella.

His career has taken him all over the world but Walsh admits his break into the film industry was merely an accident.

“I am possibly the luckiest person alive. It was a fluke, it was a complete accident. I knew I didn’t want to do anything involving wearing a suit when I was a kid. I wanted to do something creative somehow,” says Walsh. “I originally tried to be a photographer.Then an architect but I was crap at maths. I started out as a failed musician. I tried to be a bass player but I was rubbish. I couldn’t stick it out in any band.”

Walsh’s first media job was working for a small firm in Salford that made industrial videos for businesses.

“I fluked the job and from there I kind of blagged my way into the BBC in Manchester, which back then was a tiny little film unit above a garage on Stockport Road, long before it was Oxford Road. From there I bounced around as a freelance doing news and current affairs and working my way up the ladder.

“I just kept going in Manchester until one of the guys I worked with at Granada said he was off to London to do a documentary series and asked if I’d like to go with him, so I said yes. I knew that there were limited opportunities in Manchester. The bigger world of television was in London and it still is unfortunately.”

The glamour and perks of working in film mean Walsh’s job is one most would envy, but he admits there is a point when projects can get tedious.

“You get to a point where you never want to see the film again. One of the tricks of editing is to try to remain as objective as possible for as long as possible. It’s really hard sometimes but you’ve got to remember the very first time you see some rushes and it makes you laugh or cry or it moves you in some way. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself all the way through that that’s still the case at the end, because even though you are sick of it and it doesn’t make you laugh anymore, the first time the audience sees it it will make them laugh. I keep a notebook and put a red circle around things saying: ‘Never cut this.’ It’s so easy to get bored of things.

“Wonder Woman is a great movie. I love it. I think it will change the scene a little bit for superhero movies. It’s a really involving, emotional, special movie.”

Walsh progressed in the industry through perseverance and hard work rather than nepotism. Although the film industry is infamously difficult to break into, he says young people shouldn’t be put off from giving it a go.

“It’s a strange industry. A lot of people have people they know – their relatives have been in the business. A lot of the people come to me through film school, which is a good start but it’s not the be-all and end-all. A lot of people come through working as runners, making the tea and sweeping the floors, which is what I did.

“There’s no tried and tested way. All I would say is don’t let the idea of it being unattainable get in the way. It’s not unattainable. If I can do it anybody can bloody do it – that’s for sure. I didn’t go to university and I didn’t have a film school start. I dug in and got on with it.

“I’m dealing with a lot more students in film schools and art colleges and I’m finding that people who really care and are really interested are the ones who really shine. A lot of them unfortunately are just messing around in film, but the ones who are serious will rise to the top.”

In 2003 Walsh picked up the Academy Award for Best Film Editing for Chicago, and although he admits the gong has made him more expensive, he insists it hasn’t changed his personal life.

“I think people in the industry notice and maybe your name rises up a list of people who they might choose to do the next project. But my mum and my sisters still think it’s nonsense and ask when am I going to get a real job and all my mates still take the piss out of me.”

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