EditFest 2023 — Trailer Editing Competition

This year I got targeted enough on social media to try my hand at an editing competition. Organised by stock footage bank FilmSupply, EditFest attracts around 600 - 1,000 entries every year. There are three creative categories: Trailer, Commercial, and Title Sequence. 

As with any competition, rules abounded: a 60-second limit, at least 51% stock footage, at least one music piece from Musicbed (their sister sound library), no borrowed footage, sounds or images. I mulled over it for a fortnight, before deciding to do it 10 days before the deadline. I had another project on, but also had an idea. So cue late nights and cancelled plans. But in the name of storytelling, it's all worth it. 

The Premise

Brighton is all hills and valleys, and atop one of those hills sticks out an ominous, though perfectly utilitarian, communications tower. I'd been pilgrimaging to the view from there for years, and always felt it'd make a good symbol for a story. On a particularly windy Saturday morning, as I held onto my coffee, I wondered what kind of messages pass through this equipment, and what would happen if it was compromised. We're so attached to our digital lives that I wondered how vulnerable this leaves us should it stop working, or worse still, get hijacked for other purposes... Bore-snore! We've seen this in film a gazillion times: malevolent foreign actors (always speaking in some forced Slavic accent) take over national infrastructure to control, blackmail, punish. But what if a rogue but benign actor makes use of this equipment from within, to the betterment of democratic society? So there I had it, a premise:

A senior civil servant takes control of the National Alert System to expose large-scale government corruption. 

To hijack national infrastructure is a crime. So the protagonist is risking not only their job, but the potential of prison at least, and upsetting intelligence services at worst. All this to expose some information that has the potential of shifting the balance, and empowering an economically hard-pressed population into long overdue political action. 


After the premise, I took half a day to try the idea out with some visuals from FilmSupply, and decided it's got legs. So I immediately got in touch with my fellow filmmaker Catalina Balan to work together on the script and beyond. She was associate producer on Lizzie Thynne's Brighton: Symphony of a City (2016), contributed to Independent Miss Craigie (2020), and has a mighty creative capacity. 

The idea was to centre the trailer's structure around one main scene between the protagonist and her partner. Everything else was to happen either via phone or in off-screen speech. We found all the reverse shots in the stock library: moody listening shots of the partner and other characters she interacts with. For this to work though, we needed to match their angle, lighting and blocking in our filmed coverage.

As expected, the variety of shots from the UK was limited even on a large bank like FilmSupply. I spent hours searching for a shot of the BT Tower but to no avail. I did, however, find a great night external of the Shell-Mex House which has the right look for a departmental government building, complete with a foreboding clockface.

To test the script, we put all the chosen stock visuals with dummy VO (thank you text-to-speech) over music. Pre-visualising in this way took up time but really helped. After each rewrite, all we had to do is generate new robot VO. Once happy with the lines, we sourced some voice actors to read the smaller parts. But we still needed to film someone for the protagonist scenes. Time was short, so we decided to keep it achievable, and cast Catalina as the protagonist. I love my friend's bountiful energy and will of thought, so could totally imagine her as that character. Not to mention her endless resourcefulness. Thankfully, despite usually being found behind the camera, she agreed.


The shoot happened over 3 hours on a mid-week evening after we'd both done full work days. It was focused and quick, and we got what we needed. We filmed on a Sony FX6 with a couple of Zeiss prime lenses, and Dedo LED light heads bounced off reflectors or soft-boxed. We totally maximised use of the location, including the carpark, lecture hall, photography studio and staff offices. Being what it was — moonlighting — shooting time slipped quickly, the light waned, and in some places we had to run and gun, using only available light sources. 

Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) peruses secret dossier in TTSS (2011)
Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) peruses secret dossier in TTSS (2011)
A checkers piece close-up in Whisper Not, utilising similar palette.
A checkers piece close-up in Whisper Not, utilising similar palette.
Edit & Grade

The structure of the edit follows the protagonist in different conversations as the fateful time approaches. Masterminds advise her on the repercussions, close confidants raise concerns, academics paint a bleak societal picture, intelligence officials catch a whiff of the plan — all as the clock is ticking ever closer to 8pm. Full admission, I was heavily inspired by this powerful trailer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which actually uses music from another film), and tried to create the same feeling of quietly unfolding events but of enormous proportions. On the surface it's just people talking, but the subtext is life and death, social progress or spiralling hardship. 

The sound design reflects that, and although I couldn't find music as good as Danny Elfman's Wolf Suite, the cue used still has the desired unrelenting pressure-building quality. Hand on heart, in retrospect I think the whole edit needed more breathers but I got so excited by the story of insidious revolution, that I forgot to think about cold audience perceptions. 

The grade borrows from the looks of political drama like House of Cards, and of course from TTSS. I tried to keep the overall tone cyan-cold, with solid and murky-brown mids, and rare red accents to really pierce the visual oppressiveness of the story world. The monotonous face of power needed to be ever-present and impenetrable like earth, yet inconspicuous. 

The EditFest 2023 Competition

Some hours before the deadline, we called it a day and submitted our creation. Turned out, most people compete in the Trailer category — a whopping 600 of us. While our Whisper Not didn't get shortlisted or win anything, we did get contacted by fellow contestants with kind words. This was all the recognition I personally needed. We had created a finished trailer, with an interesting political story, multiple characters and all the trimmings, in the nick of time whilst working full-time. I was proud and pleased. 

I enjoyed taking part in the competition, but have some observations. The website's UI was terrible: while we were on the top page, browsing through the entries was difficult, often reverted you back to page one, so people further up in the results were disadvantaged. In terms of judging, I noticed that most judges aren't actually involved in feature film, but come from the short-form / advertising industry. Trailers are of course short, but I believe there was a double impetus on certain genres and aesthetic — more bombastic, colourful, VFX-heavy, ostentatious... the complete opposite of our understated brooding trailer. I also have the feeling that in their secret judging criteria, use of EditSupply's most "coolest" genre shots brought extra points. I guess it makes sense since this whole competition is first and foremost a marketing tool for EditSupply, so they want to show off their best material. 

Finalists and Winner

Which brings me to the finalists and winning trailer. Well done to the creatives for getting selected from 600+ entries! It is a big thing whichever way you look at it. But personally I was very disappointed with the winning trailer, titled Wild. It's a well-put together piece of the suburb/gang/sci-fi/boxing/crime/thriller-comedy genre, but more style(s) over substance for me. 

The grapes aren't sour though. I would have been very happy if the winner was Reunited, which got some laughs from me, or The Gate which connected with my fascination with the Great Blue Hole, or even Casper, which is not my cup of tea but is genuinely creepy in its sing-songy way. 

But hey, each to their own. I still love that we had the opportunity to try our ideas and discuss them, and learn something along the way. 💙

The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize.

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