Oliver Harwood understands better than most what it takes to turn a good story into a great story. His work spans the Atlantic, he’s been trained in one of the most exclusive and prestigious film schools in the world, and his talent has been essential to the success of an ever-growing list of award-winning films. So what does it take to make a good story great? It takes the keen eyes and ears of an editor.
Just this year, Share, a film edited by Harwood and directed by Pippa Bianco, premiered at the massive Austin-based SXSW 2015 festival where it won the Special Jury Recognition Award for Narrative Short. Share tells the story of a young girl’s return to school after being in a sex tape that gets shared online.
Harwood fell in love with film-editing inadvertently, when as a teenager he and a friend began filming their own comedy sketches. He became enthralled with cutting, splicing and arranging the clips, and in so doing found that the way stories are told on film come down to decisions made by the editor. Within a few short years, the young Brit was enrolled at the American Film Institute, known the world over for producing some of the biggest names in entertainment and filmmaking.
In 2013, Harwood edited Gala Goliani’s (What the Monkey Saw, Worship) film Red Rider, a dystopian thriller set eight years after a disaster turns the world into a wasteland. The intense action follows Adena, played by Abigail Wilson (Cigarette, The Half Man), as she roams the wastes seeking revenge on a vicious biker gang. A marvelous editing job to say the least, Harwood uses the character’s voice to narrate her thought process as she plans her mission, which gives viewers entry into her world without the overuse of dialogue to explain her plight.
The film was an Official Selection by several film festivals in 2014 including the San Jose International Short Film Festival, the La Femme International Film Festival and the NewFilmmakers New York Winter Festival. It also won the awards for Best Actor and Best Cinematographer at the Los Angeles New Wave Intl’ Film Festival.
After Red Rider, Harwood was tapped by director Leonard LoBiondo (Inheritance) to edit the film Reaver starring Kelly Blatz (Prom Night, 90210, Chicago Fire). A hair-raising chiller, Reaver is the haunting story of two siblings who come face-to-face with the evil specter that spirited-away their father. Reaver won the festival prize for Best Lovecraft Short at the 2014 A Night Of Horror Film Festival.
“Starting Reaver, I was pretty comfortable with myself as an editor, and was ready to experiment with my approach to collaborating with a director,” Harwood said.
A huge part of making a great film comes from knowing how to communicated and collaborate best with your fellow filmmakers. Harwood has been editing films long enough to what he needs to achieve the best possible film, and for him, that has to do with having his own space to create without someone looking over his shoulder. So, when it came time to start editing Reaver, Harwood suggested the use of a separate monitor where the director could view the progress without looking over his shoulder.
That decision really paid off. Harwood recalled, “It helped the director keep a better sense of perspective on the movie… he was much more able to astutely observe how much tension we could bring out from each shot, and how the following shot could be used to further enhance and build on that tension.”
Hot on the heels of Reaver, Harwood began work on Contrapelo in 2014. Directed by Gareth Dunnet Alcocer (Dig!, Exodo), Contrapelo was a huge change of scenery for Harwood. While the film’s dialogue was in Spanish, a language Harwood didn’t speak a word of, he managed not only to do the job, but to edit it into an awe-inspiring and gripping film. Contrapelo focuses on a cartel boss, a barber, a straight razor, and one of the most difficult decisions a person can be forced to make.
“Because I was unable to understand what was being said, I was able to decontextualize the line and turn the dialogue into something like music,” said Harwood, explaining that in a way the language barrier helped him with editing. “The rhythm and tone of the words being spoken helped me guide each cut based on feeling.”
The film’s recognitions included countless awards including Best Indie Short Film and the Audience Award at the 2014 Cine Gear Expo, the Best Short Awards from the Las Vegas International Film Festival and the Los Cortos International Film Festival, as well as nominations for Best Overall Short Film at the Calgary International Film Festival, the German Independence Award for Best Short Film at the 2014 Oldenburg Film Festival, and Best Narrative Short at the world-renowned Tribeca Film Festival.
Harwood’s mastery of his craft is the result of his incredible training, extensive experience and raw, innate talent. He possesses the rare skill to find the exact crossroads between technical genius and creative visionary. His work is certain to leave viewers not just satisfied with the cinematic experience, but contemplating some of the most serious issues facing the world today. And that, after all, is the difference between a good story, and a great story.