Above: David Spruengli (third from left) on location at Mount Everest
Less than two years after graduating from Sydney Film School, David Spruengli has travelled to Cambodia and Nepal as an assistant editor and has worked on numerous feature films and documentary series. Resident blogger Tom Earls recently sat down to chat with David about his experiences.
I should start by declaring a slight bias: David is a friend of mine, and has been since he agreed to edit my Advanced Thesis film, April’s Vermillion. In the process of editing that film, David not only taught me the precise value of a talented editor, he also saved the film from what it might have been.
Two years later, I am sheepishly asking David which, of the five films he edited during his time at SFS, he learned the most on (I know what I hope the answer will be).
“I’ve probably learned the most editing your film because it was the most challenging one to begin with and I had the most fun working on it,” he tells me, before capriciously adding; “I guess it’s always the trickiest films from which you take away the most.”
All swipes at my raw footage aside, David has had a great start to his career. His Advanced Diploma mentorship, under acclaimed editor Roland Gallois, eventually led to regular post-production work at Fox Studios. Last year, working as an Assistant Editor at Definition Films, he travelled to Cambodia, where he worked on a feature film called The Last Reel.
“Working overseas is always a bit of an experience because you work together with people from that country. It got a bit chaotic,” he said. “There’s just different ideas of how things need to be done. A prime example is you would need the generator on set, and they would rock up with the generator but there wasn’t any fuel for it. Logistical things like that would just not happen.”
Born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, I ask David if working and living in another country has helped him to adapt to these long shoots overseas.
“Totally. That’s the reason they sent me: because I’m young and I don’t have family here. I’ve got a girlfriend, but it’s okay for me to go away for a couple of months. I’m easy going like that.”
More recently, David found himself at altitude on Mount Everest, working on a film called Sherpa, only to find himself and the crew right in the middle of the deadliest avalanche in Everest’s history.
“The story is meant to be all about the contrast between people who buy their way up the mountain and the Sherpas who actually do all the work for them and provide everything that they need to get up there. It’s a bit of a take on consumerism and the commercialism of Mount Everest.”
David and the rest of the crew were not caught in the avalanche, but found themselves in the middle of the rescue operation.
“It was the first time I was in a disaster like this. It was intense. It was very emotionally challenging because you can’t escape; the only safe time you have is when you go to bed at night in your tent. It wasn’t just the avalanche that happened, there were upset Sherpas up there. Sixteen people died, it was this whole rescue thing. We were filming in the middle of them and they didn’t know that we were making a film supporting them, so we got quite bad vibes. We were just another news team to them. It was not nice: being looked down on as if you were an asshole reporter who films everything around you.”
David assures me that this is not typical of an assistant editor’s experience, however.
“It gets a bit repetitive. Every day is basically a problem world of its’ own. Especially with tech: sometimes it just doesn’t work. I had days where we’re meant to have a screening and I am responsible for everything working at the screening, and you have Screen Australia coming in, ABC coming in. All these people and it’s not working. It’s very scary – everyone’s looking at you.”
Despite the high-pressure, the altitude and the brush with potential PTSD, David keeps a stoic attitude, “I guess that’s filmmaking: you set everything up really nicely and have an idea and then everything falls into pieces.”
“Looking back at [my time on Everest], it was a great experience but in a bad way. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about how other people react in panic situations, when mass panic breaks out. The overall experience was good. A bit dramatic, but you take something out of it, I guess.”
What’s the best advice David has for editing students?
“Do some research on editors that you like and try contacting them directly. Post-production people are generally pretty friendly and if you’ve got the right attitude you might be able to assist them on a project at some stage. It’s all about showing ambition and the will to work and learn hard. If you rock up pretending to be a know it all, your chances are very low that you’ll get work. Don’t be a Gen Y; Show genuine interest in the craft.”