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Annette Davey: On Making the Cut in Hollywood and Beyond

From her early days in the cutting room, giving life to the video for The Go-Betweens’ Streets of Your Town, to a break into major features with rom-com Waitress and the long list of credits that followed, editor Annette Davey’s international career has risen in leaps and bounds. Now firmly planted in the world of high-end television, Davey’s work reaches global streaming audiences, on display in recent awards season favourites Pam & Tommy and Maid, along with hit series, Hung, Transparent, Girlboss, GLOW, Get Shorty, The End, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and more. The AFTRS alum spoke to AFTRS’ Alumni Program Manager Christine Kirkwood about starting out as an editor, the strong bond between her AFTRS cohort, and breaking strides in her career.


CHRISTINE KIRKWOOD: As children, we often watch movies and get carried away with the magic of cinema. When did you first become aware of editing as a pivotal part of filmmaking?

ANNETTE DAVEY: I always loved movies as a child. They were a magical place to escape to. I don’t think I was really aware of editing though until I knew I wanted to work on films.

I grew up in Adelaide and there weren’t many opportunities there, so I came to Sydney. I was lucky enough to get a place in a six-month government program, training women in filmmaking, which was absolutely incredible. The program resulted in a film that was 18 short films stitched together (as 18 women couldn’t decide on one film to make as one cohort!). I helped in the edit suite and that’s where I really fell in love with the art of editing.

I applied for UTS but I wasn’t sure if that was the course for me. Ending up at AFTRS was perfect because it was far more practical. Rhonda McGregor was the Head of Editing at AFTRS and she encouraged me to move into that field specifically.

CK: You’ve worked on a vast array of projects, what was the job that marked a significant turning point in your career?

AD: The feature film Waitress (dir. Adrienne Shelly, 2007) really changed my career. Suddenly I had a hit movie and that made it a lot easier to get jobs. That’s the movie that really shifted things. That’s when US TV started to open up to me as well. But there have been other shifts along the way. Such as Transparent. And again just recently with Maid and Pam & Tommy.

CK: How do you make a start? Do you have a particular method or is each project different?

AD: Each project is a little different. I obviously read the script first and get a feeling for the work, I talk to the director and producers. I like to work on first seasons the best. If you come on to a series in season two or three the style is already established which is great, but I love finding the tone from the start. I love going through the dailies and getting a feel for the best scenes, pulling anything I have a reaction to, anything that moves or intrigues me. If I’m working on TV I try to assemble really quickly, as I want to go on my first instinct–which is the most valuable–then give myself more time just before delivery. I like to have a few days at the end to go through every scene and be able to re-work what I need to. Then you have a much better feel for the story and where it’s going. If you feel something, the viewer usually feels something as well.

CK: You’ve worked with many fellow alumni through the years, do you find the bonds from your cohort the strongest or are you creating AFTRS connections as the industry grows and new generations cross your path?

AD: When I was at AFTRS we were such a small group, so whenever we see each other, we pick up where we left off. Our bond from those three intense years together is strong.

I love getting to know younger filmmakers – for example, Vanessa Gazy (Master of Arts Screen: Directing, 2014) – sometimes sends me scripts or cuts and I give her feedback.

CK: You recently told IF Magazine that you were “really drawn to Maid in lots of ways” because you “really care about the material and think it’s important to see those kinds of stories. What kinds of stories were you referring to?

AD: It’s good to see stories about women that aren’t just centred on romance. The characters were complex, not black and white. They didn’t paint the boyfriend as evil and one-dimensional. We’re all reacting and responding to our world and our life experiences as we go along, and that was conveyed so well in this series.

CK: The Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated series shows the reality of domestic violence and poverty in modern-day America with depth, nuance and humour. How much of that was in the script you received?

AD: An awful lot was in the script. The combination of light and dark was there. I responded to the emotion in the scripts. We had three female editors on the show and we all tried to communicate and bring that emotion out in symbiotic ways.

CK: Editing is such an immersive experience; do you find yourself taking stories home with you?

AD: All the time! I used to be married to a sound designer/mixer and we often used to work on the same projects. If we heard someone say something that was similar to a line of dialogue we had cut, we’d continue the dialogue from the script, saying it out loud to each other.

Further on the theme of ‘taking things home with you’, one thing I like about working from home is that I can jump on the computer when I have an idea or write something down during the night and action it straight away in the morning, there’s no waiting to get to the office. So sometimes it’s great having stories ‘at home with you’.

CK: Pam and Tommy gave life to a salacious headline about Pamela Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee. Were you proud to bring the female perspective to those traumatic events to life?

AD: Yes, that was a big attraction to me. When my agent pitched it to me I didn’t know anything about the story at the time. I thought the writers handled the difference between Tommy and Pam’s experiences so well. I’m glad I was able to bring forward how invasive the experience was for Pam. The events that took place coincided with the early days of the internet, so it was an interesting time to look back on. Editing this show made me love Pamela a lot. The acting was superb, in fact so much so I referred to the leads by their character names only. Usually, I refer to the actors’ real names while working on a project. Lily and Stan got their dialogue right 99% of the time and really nailed every take, which made it a joy to put together.

CK: You often mentor up-and-coming editors, particularly those that are female-identifying. Have you been heartened seeing them take on your advice and find success?

AD: Yes, I’m very proud of the talents I’ve mentored. I recently was sent a teenager’s short film to watch and give notes and it was fantastic. It was a wonderful, funny and refreshing take on the teenage world. I loved it and found it so inspiring to see a new voice. It’s refreshing to see what younger generations are creating, it makes you see things from a different perspective.

CK: What kinds of projects are we going to see next from you?

AD: I’ve just finished two feature films: Dreamin’ Wild starring Casey Affleck, Beau Bridges, Zooey Deschanel which just premiered at Venice Film Festival. It’s about music and angst and finding yourself creatively. Then there’s The Estate from the mind of Dean Craig (writer of Death At A Funeral) starring Tony Collette, David Duchovny, and Anna Farris as cousins fighting for the estate of their dying aunt Kathleen Turner. And I’ve just started work on My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. It looks so beautiful and it’s a lot of fun. And hopefully, we get to premiere it in Greece!