Interview: Chris King, Editor

“My approach to editing is really part scriptwriter.”

Rebel. Hero. Hustle. God. Diego Maradona presents an unmatched exploration of one of the world’s greatest footballers, constructed from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage. We spoke with award-winning editor Chris King about the making of the film.

In a few words, could you describe your role as an editor?

The role of me as an editor in particular is to work very closely in a collaboration with the director to come up with the story and the style and the entire content of the film. Then find the best way to tell that in cinematic terms.

And how did you approach the editing Diego Maradona?

On a film like Diego Maradona, almost 70% of what I do is like script writing. Asif Kapadia and I sit and we try and work out what the story is actually going to be, by cutting sequences and putting them together. Where should we go next? Where’s an exciting place to go? — it’s just like you’re writing a script. So my approach to editing is really part scriptwriter. And then there’s all the fun of knowing you’ve got the story right but you’re maybe not telling it as well as you could tell it. It’s not fast enough, it’s not exciting enough, it’s too thoughtful, it’s not action packed enough. And that’s when the editing that most people understand editing to be begins, when I’m re-cutting sequences, adding different music, trying different music in there, speeding it up. So my approach is very fluid and organic; it’s about the feeling rather than how it looks.

It’s also important to mention that Diego Maradona is basically a foreign language film, and I only spoke really rudimentary Italian and even more rudimentary Spanish, so without Lina Caicedo and Fiammetta Luino, Diego Maradona wouldn’t exist. They sat in the edit suite, numerous times, with me asking multiple times, everyday ‘can you tell me exactly what this person is saying?’ They were absolutely stupendous. And the film wouldn’t exist without them.

Would you say this process in Diego Maradona was different from working with Asif Kapadia on Senna or Amy?

No, there were different challenges for all those films. With Diego Maradona, the biggest challenge was the fact that he is still alive and so we didn’t have the given of a tragic ending built into it at the beginning — which is a big thing to know that your main character is going to die at the end, as it dictates a lot of the way that you put the film together. For Diego Maradona, we had no idea how much of his life we were going to include, or where the film was going to end because he’s still up and around. Even as we were cutting the film, he was doing things and moving; he was living in Dubai, then he moved to Russia, then Belarus, and then he moved again to Mexico. And for us to determine how we were going to turn this into a film that people actually wanted to see in the cinema, how much can we cram into two hours, that was the biggest challenge. But working with Asif is now a very comfortable and happy collaboration; we like working together an awful lot. We have really a very intuitive sense.

And you had hundreds of hours of footage to work through. How do you even organise something like that?

In terms of the materials coming in in the first place there are numerous ways that we organised it. Just football alone was probably 500 hours; because you’d sometimes get the entire match, that’s two hours of coverage right there and then, and he played in hundreds and hundreds of matches. So we actually had thousands of hours of material. But with a film like Diego Maradona, you start with the very obvious, easiest things to get — from broadcasters and interviews — and then you work your way back and try and get some material that no one has ever seen before, things that were maybe shot by friends or colleagues or in the case of Diego, we were very lucky that we got access to material that was shot on his behest by a couple of cameramen that followed him around for 3 or 4 years — and it provided an incredible close up foot by foot insight of what his life was like in Naples. It’s an enormous archiving job, but I’m lucky to have brilliant archive researchers and assistants who managed to put it all in a form where everything is easily accessible. I can look for things in about 4 different ways: by date, by the person who shot the material, by broadcaster, by whether or not Diego is in it. Is it a professional material? Is it it him at home? Is it personal life? So, we have numerous ways of breaking it down so I can easily access these huge troves of stuff and pull out what’s needed for each different scene or sequence.

And how did you come to focus on Naples?

Whenever we put a rough cut of the film together, which included all his early career, it was all fascinating stuff, it’s full of the politics of Argentina and how it coincided with football and the war, but invariably, the moment we got to Naples, the film became exciting. His time in Naples was the peak of his professional career; he took a completely struggling, unfancied team to be the best team in Italy for a handful of years, one of the best teams in Europe. That 8 years he was in Naples encapsulated all the highs and lows of his life; it was him at his greatest on the field and it’s where the problems that were going to mark the rest of his life started to kick in. After Naples, he was never the same. So, it became obvious to us that was the period we should focus on.

And there are no talking heads in the film. What is the thought process behind that choice?

The moment you stop cutting away from the archive, from the events of the 1980’s, and one of the people that you’re seeing there is a young man, now as a much older person looking back, ruins the moment. So our aim is more like a feature film, more like cutting a drama where you approach each sequence with rushes. And our rushes are simply archive material that we found from loads of different places and we never cut away from that action. You see the people talking as they were then, and then you can hear them now; for instance, you can hear Diego now as a 60 year old man talking about what it was like, but you’re seeing him as a 20 year old. You’re in his head. And it’s a completely different style of film-making and film editing in particular because we never break the moment. You’re pushed into the world of early 80’s Italian football and nothing breaks that moment, everything that happens there is continuous and it is much more like a drama than a conventional documentary. It has a lot of different challenges, it’s much more difficult.

Finally, what advise would you give to someone hoping to become an editor?

Get a camera or your iPhone, make up a little sequence, and just experiment in the cheapest software you’ve got, whether it’s iMovie or not. Find things that make you feel excited, find ways of putting shots together so that they say exactly what you want them to say, just like writing a sentence. It’s not about how it looks, and it’s about what it says. And if you say something in a beautiful way, then it’s beautiful. If you say something in an exciting way then it’s exciting. And the way to do that is just by finding your grammar; unless you know what you’re going to say, you’re not going to make anything that is worth watching. So experiment and find your own voice.

DIEGO MARADONA is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray & Digital!