by Dov Kornits

“I loved movies, reading, music, all of the things that movies encompassed,” says Adelaide reared Annette Davey from Hollywood where she now bounces between working on high profile series and feature films.

“I studied social work at university, and we watched tons of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, and I started thinking, ‘you know, this would be a better way to have a voice than actually sitting in an office and giving people $10 extra a week for expenses… I started to really wish that I could do something in the film industry, but I didn’t know how…”

A young Annette Davey thought that the best way to get things going was to apply to a media course at UTS in Sydney.

“On the very first day that I arrived, I went to the dole office,” she says about applying for unemployment benefits. “They said, ‘what kind of work do you want?’ I said, ‘I want to work in film’, thinking that would be the end of any discussion. And they said, ‘we have a job for you.’ There was actually this grant that went for six months of training in filmmaking for women, and there was one spot left.”

After scoring her first gig, Davey learnt all aspects of filmmaking and gravitated towards editing. The editing mentor for the initiative was Rhonda MacGregor.

“At some point, she took me aside and said, ‘I think you should really think about this as a career. You have the right kind of personality, and you seem to have some natural talent’. I took it really seriously after that. And then she helped me get a job at the ABC. Then I went to film school [AFTRS], and she was actually running the editing department. She was a big influence in my life.”

Rhonda MacGregor’s influence on Annette Davey’s career trajectory didn’t stop there.

Following her three years BA in Editing at AFTRS, Davey bumped into MacGregor again. “She said, ‘you should come for lunch today. Gabriella Cristiani is coming for lunch’. I didn’t really even know who that was, but it turned out that she was Bernardo Bertolucci’s editor. We had this lunch, and she was fantastic, great to talk to. And then she asked me if she could see some of my work. I showed her a couple of shorts that I’d done, and then I drove her into the city, and she told me that she was moving to LA next week.

“She had cut The Sheltering Sky on either Avid or Lightworks. I also wanted to go to LA, and I wanted to learn the digital systems. I asked her in the car if I could contact her if I came to LA. The next day I was at the film school again and she was giving a lecture there and I bumped into her, and she said, ‘why don’t you just come and work with me?’ In some ways, Rhonda was responsible for that as well.”

After editing numerous American indies in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, both narrative and documentary, Davey also landed gigs on TV series such as Battlestar Galactica and Hung, which led to more recent shows such as GLOW and Transparent.

And today, we are speaking to her after her highly regarded work on series Pam & Tommy and Maid, along with features Poms, Together Together and the upcoming Dreamin’ Wild, Bill Pohlad’s highly anticipated follow up to Love & Mercy.

“It’s about these brothers who made a record when they were 17,” Davey says about the story of Donnie & Joe Emerson, Dreamin’ Wild, which recently premiered at Venice. “The youngest was this musical genius who wrote all the lyrics, all the songs, played all the instruments. They lived on a little farm in the middle of nowhere and then nothing happened. 35 years later, they get a phone call asking them to a meeting. And it turns out that some record collector had discovered their record in a sale bin somewhere and loved it, and suddenly all these people were listening to their music.

“Bill loves to do flashbacks and he likes to fuck around with time a lot,” she continues about working with Bill Pohlad, a producer who has turned to directing late in his career. “Noah Jupe plays the young Donny and Casey Affleck plays Donny now, 45/50 year old Donny who has to decide what to do about all this interest in his band that he’d put aside for a long time and had another life.”

“I try not to get too boxed into things,” Davey says when we ask why she moves between film and TV so much. “I really enjoy the relationship on a film that you have with the director. It’s collaborative and you’re left alone a lot more; you don’t have 10 writers telling you what to do. I certainly feel like you can contribute a lot more in a film.

“On TV, you have to meet deadlines all the time, and it’s much more of a writer’s perspective. You might see the TV directors for two days, and then the showrunner and writers take over. They’re not as interested in cinematic moments that might tell the story visually, they want the words to be very important. Whereas on a film, I always think that it’s best if you don’t have to say anything, and if the images can tell what’s happening.

“I really like TV because I think there’s really interesting shows being made; they take a lot of chances. Things get made that probably wouldn’t unless they were on a streamer, whereas movies, I feel like have gotten more formulaic.”

One of the more exciting jobs that Annette recently completed was on limited series Pam & Tommy, where she edited the infamous episode with the talking penis!

“Lots of CGI in that,” she laughs. “I actually like that scene. I think it’s very funny and I thought Sebastian [Stan] was fantastic in it.”

What’s her attitude to CGI?

“Editors have to do a lot more effects ourselves these days. We’re always doing things like splitting the screen and getting a different take to put on the other half of the screen… for instance, Sebastian from take one and then Lily [James, from Pam & Tommy] from take four, even though they were together, when it was shot, you can move things around a lot. We do that.

“Also, there’s this thing called Fluid Morph, where you can just nip out like 20 seconds of the actor, just sitting there brooding, and as long as the camera’s still, and the frame is somewhat similar, you can just take out a bunch of time and the effect knits the shot perfectly together.”

Davey is now keen to create her own content, and potentially even work back in Australia. “I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time working on other people’s content, so I understand it pretty well.”

She did get to work on Australian series The End recently. “That came about because I was in Australia, and I met Rachel Gardner who was at See-Saw at the time, and I pitched an idea to her for a TV show that I was hoping to develop. She didn’t take the TV show, but she liked me and then she offered me a job editing The End. At some point they were having a few issues with the series, so she called me up and asked if I could come to Sydney for a while and help fix the show.

“That’s what I always say especially to young women – pay attention to who you meet because they could be opening a door in your career.”

Annette Davey hasn’t forgotten Rhonda MacGregor’s help and guidance. “I consulted on Eden for Vanessa Gazy,” she says of the emerging Australian filmmaker who is now smashing it with the show Echoes.

“I like to mentor young female filmmakers, I was an executive producer on this series It’s Fine, I’m Fine, by young filmmaker Stef Smith. I enjoy it and it’s good to pass the favour on. I certainly had a lot of interesting meetings with people that just happen like coincidence and that’s how you get jobs. Lots of young women, both here and Australia, I don’t know so many editing people in Australia, but I know a lot of young directors that I try and help for that reason, because I think people are incredibly kind to me.”