Earlier this year Steve Singleton, ACE, received an American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award for Best Edited Drama Series for Non-Commercial Television on the strength of Bodyguard (Netflix, BBC). This marked both his first ACE Eddie nomination and win.
Bodyguard centers on the fictional story of David Budd (played by Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden), a war vet struggling to cope with everyday life while working as a protection officer for the Royalty and Specialist Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. An assignment to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) finds Budd torn between his duty and his beliefs.
Bodyguard creator/showrunner Jed Mercurio said he wanted to make a political thriller while shying away from a House of Cards rivalry-type scenario. He was drawn to the issue of security, a cat and mouse game, a kind of In the Line of Fire-type drama involving an enigmatic character who, portrayed by Madden, “potentially could be the biggest threat to the person he was assigned to protect.”
Bodyguard continued a collaborative relationship between Singleton and Mercurio which also includes the ongoing BBC series Line of Duty.
Singleton’s work on BBC series The Fall earned him BAFTA TV Craft Award honors in 2014 for fiction editing.
He first established himself at U.K.’s ATV as a film editor, spending 10 years there working on varied popular programs ranging from sitcoms to documentaries to costume dramas.
Singleton later went on to edit films for both TV and cinema, working alongside some of Britain’s leading directors on such projects as:
- Looks and Smiles directed by Ken Loach, which won a major prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
- Birth of a Nation directed by Mike Newell, winner of the Prix Futura at the Berlin Film Festival.
- And Made In Britain directed by Alan Clarke, winner of the top TV award at the Prix Italia.
SHOOT caught up with Singleton who discussed Bodyguard, which is very much in this season’s Emmy conversation. A hit in the U.K. while finding audiences internationally and in the U.S. on Netflix, Bodyguard has thus far earned a BAFTA Award nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, won a Golden Globe for Madden as Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for Non-Commercial Television, and took the aforementioned ACE Award for Singleton.
SHOOT: How did you come to be involved with Bodyguard? What attracted you to it?
Singleton: Fortunately I have collaborated with writer/creator/showrunner Jed Mercurio on numerous occasions, I have always been a great fan of his writing style--evocative, engaging, eloquent, compelling characters. On finally reading all the scripts, I was blown away by how many plot twists there were in this political thriller, from the very first scenes on the train until the end when Nadia is revealed as the bomb maker. It kept me guessing the entire time.
SHOOT: What were the biggest creative and/or technical challenges you faced this first season?
Singleton: The major challenge with any new production (as many of my editor colleagues will testify) is to establish a good working relationship with your director. Having never worked with French director Thomas Vincent before, apart from one transatlantic Skype call and one London meeting, I knew nothing about how he worked on set or in the edit. Before filming began I sought out and viewed a couple of his earlier projects and although they were in French (a language I don’t speak), I was able to perceive how he used the camera and the lenses to tell the story.
Apart from an understanding of the script and all the intricacies of the plot, an editor has to find his way into the director’s headspace very quickly in order to see how he visualizes the subject; as there is no time beforehand, this could only be done by sending out scene assemblies to Thomas as he journeyed home to France on the weekends and then we would discuss (either over the phone or if he could find time during the shoot to pop into the edit) how he perceives it.
SHOOT: How did you address these and other challenges? Could you provide some examples?
Singleton: Another challenge that I faced was, due to logistical issues, the opening scenes in episode one onboard the train were all filmed at the very end of the shoot. These scenes represented approximately one third of the entire first episode, so we had to fine cut the first episode without these scenes, This was something I had never encountered before in an edit and, as an editor who likes to immerse himself into the characterization and the narrative from the very beginning, it was very difficult for me to establish a genuine feel for David Budd and his journey whilst assembling. On many occasions at the end of the day when I would watch through the assemblies on my own, I would read the opening train scenes from script and try to visualize them and then follow through with the assembly edit; this way I was able to feel and understand David’s emotional journey and his state of mind as he returned home with his children to his anxious wife.
During the assembly stage I chose not to read the last three scripts as I didn’t want it to influence the way I was editing the story in the first episodes. This way I was being guided by my emotions and how the material was pulling me one way, then another, as the plot unfolded.
SHOOT: Did you work with different directors/editors? What’s the process?
Singleton: I edited the opening three episodes (of six) which, for me as an editor, was a huge pleasure. Not only did I have a brilliantly tense and suspenseful episode one and an intriguing, plot twisting and dynamic episode two, but it all built to an incredibly amazing climax in episode three with the blowing up at the podium of our leading lady!
My three episodes were all directed by Thomas Vincent who supplied me with some of the most phenomenal material ever to play with. His use of the camera and the lens was brilliant, at times it stuck to David Budd so close it was like looking at the world through his eyes!
Because of the nature of the schedule and time, there were two editors and two directors so, at stage one, it’s myself and Thomas. Then the second director and editor start while Thomas and I work very closely in the edit to fine cut his episodes or at least as much as we could before he had to leave the edit and prepare to film the opening train scenes.
SHOOT: How would you define the tone or style that you have put together for this show?
Singleton: I think the tone and the style was very much set by director Thomas Vincent. His vision was to let the audience get very close and emotionally involved with David Budd. By filming in large close-ups and the use of Steadicam it allowed the viewer to get under his skin and show that although he presented a threat, he was also very vulnerable and physically and mentally scarred.
SHOOT: What are some of the lessons learned on this show? Your biggest takeaways?
Singleton: I think most editors take something away from every show, be it in the way they execute something or the way they read and interpret the script. For me the scripts were raw and uncompromising, but above all, it treated its audience with respect.
SHOOT: What are you working on next?
Singleton: I have just completed the last two episodes on another Jed Mercurio project, Line Of Duty, which is currently receiving amazing reviews and record breaking audience figures--and I am at this moment editing another Netflix project due for release I believe in the autumn.