Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Cutting Masterpieces

Piers Fletcher here, jack-of-several-trades on the show. QI Fanatic thought you might want to hear about the editing process on the show.

The edit is very key. What you see on the screen is the 30-minute distillation of at least 90 minutes' material. I know those guys seem just razor-sharp and button-cute on the show, but, trust me, if you and I had an editor following us around cutting out two-thirds of everything we said, we'd all sound like Oscar Wilde. So, imagine what it's like when you take someone who sounds like Oscar Wilde in the first place, and then edit him to be even sharper and quicker than he already is - you end up with the best conversationalist you ever met: Dorothy Parker or Melvyn Bragg, or the Queen of Sheba or somebody.

Or … Stephen Fry. And that's it, in a nutshell.

The topical panel shows like HIGNFY and Mock the Week need to edit on the fly, recording and editing a show a week, but at QI we record all twelve and only then go into the edit suite. First, we get a transcript of the whole recording, from which we make a 'paper cut', a first stab at cutting fairly big chunks out of the recording - bits which clearly didn't work or where there were technical problems. Then we go into editing suite in Soho with director Ian Lorimer and edit wizard Nick King (who moonlights, literally, as an astronomical photographer - check his work at and work through what's left. We aim to cut each show down to about 35 minutes on the first pass, and then we go through it again to trim it to 29 or so, and then again to take out all the coughs and splutters.

The main work is done on that first pass. Sometimes there are painful decisions to be made; we almost always have to cut something we love. The criteria are fairly obvious: if it's interesting and funny, it's in, if it's neither interesting nor funny, it's out, and if it's either interesting or funny but not both it's up for argument. However, in the next series there will be a compilation show at the end of the series with unbroadcast material from all but one of the episodes. That plus a 7 minute online vodcast after each episode has made some of the decisions to cut sections easier.

It's all done digitally, of course, and Nick works the machines with unbelievable speed and skill. Even so, it takes us many weeks to complete all twelve shows - in fact we're only now delivering the E Series to the BBC so that it can start on the 21st September.

I have to say, however long it takes it always feels like time well spent.

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