Inclusivity In The Film Industry – Nigel G Honey

Ability Post Production Academy Ltd.

Nigel G Honey is a film editor and a CEO at Ability Post Production Academy Ltd. He’s a Film / TV Editor with 25 years experience, and an invisible disability. He was told he’d never be a film editor because of his disability – but went on to edit feature films for Cannes, Edinburgh International and BAFTA film festivals, and is now the Only AVID Certified and Resolve Instructor in Scotland.

He spoke to us about inclusivity in the film editing industry and the initiative he has undertaken to increase employability of people from a disability background.

You are interested in inclusivity, because you are saying crews have to feature more people. Does that make better programs, in your opinion?

I think so, because otherwise you are just going to get the same kind of program in films and TV. I think that the BBC and broadcasters have now realised the importance of diversity, in the film industry. Without diversity there wouldn’t be any change in the whole broadcasting landscape. Nowadays there are many opportunities because there are so many more channels. Netflix and Amazon aren’t like regular TV. It’s about consuming it on laptops and mobile devices now. There was a new statistic that said the majority of 16 to 24 years old don’t actually watch telly, instead they are watching on their phones and iPads. The way we consume media has changed as well. 

Well, the way that we used to watch TV shows was through specific TV channels with scheduled programmes. People can now make their own schedules and their own decisions about when they watch programs. I’m still with it (laughs). I am old school and I watch the news at 10:00 o’clock. But that’s just because I’ve grown up in that sort of generation. Nowadays, a lot more people consume YouTube videos. I’ve found that in terms of attention spans, people just can’t seem to sit still. When I started, I was working on things like Horizon, 60-minute documentaries. I think maybe for an older generation that’s still okay, but for younger people, twenty-four minutes is more than enough.

I think that it just could be a generational gap (laughs). You are trying to enable students with visual, hearing conditions, and mental health conditions to learn the latest video and film editing software.

What’s your classroom like? How do you support them?

Well, what has changed is that since March, I haven’t physically taught in a classroom. I’ve just taught some students at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland and that was completely remote. They were actually in a classroom themselves, but I was literally teaching from home. The great thing is that you can share your screen now and you can teach remotely. They also had a technician on site, so if the students actually had any issues, there was someone there to help. I’m also currently teaching students in China remotely and besides the language barrier, one of the problems we have been facing is the fact that there is often no one available to help with any tech related issues. 

The good thing is now that even with Google they’ve got transcription software. So, you don’t even need to have someone writing. Sometimes, it can get things slightly wrong. For example once it wrote “Obama” even though I didn’t say that (laughs). Technology now is enabling me to be able to offer training to students with visual and hearing impairments.

When I was teaching at Edinburgh College, some of my best students had autism. Often they would get let down by the school system, which I experienced myself as well.

Just because you may not be good at maths and science does not mean that you can’t be good at film editing, which is a very creative skill. I try to show them that they can work in this creative industry. Many people don’t realise that it is actually the third largest industry in Scotland.

Do you have to adjust your methods if it’s a person who’s partially sighted?

Yeah, what I can do in my settings is to make the screen and fonts slightly bigger, so that it is easier to read. I can also teach them how to set up their own system. I have been working with disability companies to take this forward. I’m trying to speak to people like Enable Scotland Scope, because they’re trying to decrease the employment barrier. They have found that people with disabilities can actually be much more qualified than other people, however, their disability is like a barrier and it’s stopping them from working in certain industries.

I believe that it shouldn’t matter now with technology whether someone has a visible or invisible disability, especially in the creative industries. That’s why I started my initiative. 

I’ve actually spoken to the new general director at the BBC and I have done some training for them. I’ve also done some training for the National Film School. Partnerships are probably the way to move forward because I’m not just a one-man band.

OK, are you actively looking for either sort of collaborations or funding?

I would like to work with broadcasters, tech companies, and disability companies to move it forward. Eventually I’d like to offer more courses and employ extra trainers to teach, hopefully from a disabled background as well. Unfortunately, my initiative is still in a start-up stage now.

What do you think is the future of teaching, filmmaking and film editing? Do you think that Covid has changed things?

Covid has changed both teaching, the film, and TV industry. My friend actually works on MasterChef and he’s editing from home now. So what’s happening now actually is that remote editing is becoming much more prevalent. So, people are going to need these skills in the future. I actually teach both the old version of the software and the new one. I think I’m the only one in the UK that’s actually doing that at the moment. Now, because of COVID, I can deliver the training completely online. Whether you are in China, America, or India, I can still teach you as long as you have the software. I have started pre-recording stuff so that I can help deliver the training. We’ve literally just signed a contract to become the first Avid learning partner in Scotland. We can now deliver the official Avid courses. About 95% of films and TV programmes are still made with this software.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that a person from a disability background has to face in the beginning of their career? And do you think that traditional education is good enough to actually provide them with opportunities?

I’ve got an invisible disability myself and I know I shouldn’t say this, but school for me was totally useless. I actually said I wanted to work in TV and they thought I wanted to repair TV, so that was about as good as their careers service was. I want to get more people from the film and TV industry going into schools and saying “look, these are the opportunities available.” The great thing is it’s a growing industry as well.

Personally, I think that academies will be just as good as schools. What I’m trying to do is bring back the apprenticeship scheme so that students spend some time being taught, but also get some hands-on real-life experience. It doesn’t matter if you have got a three- or four-year degree in media if you don’t have the skills that the industry wants. I can teach them these practical skills that are in demand right now. It is funny because one of my students said that he learned more in a day about film editing with me than in a four-year degree.

Have you seen any changes in the industry when it comes to accessibility over the last few years? Has the problem remained, or do we see an improvement?

It is gradually changing. Actually, next week, there’s a big conference about diversity and disability in film and TV. I’m actually going along to find out what they’re doing because for too long they’ve been talking about diversity and disability, but they haven’t really put much into a plan.

There’s only five percent of the film and TV industry crewed by people with disabilities and that hasn’t changed in 15 years. 

We also have to change our own education about disabilities and realise that these people can have the skills to do things. What annoys me is that people pay attention to a disability and not to the actual person. What I’m trying to say is look at their ability rather than their disability. From my experience of having bipolar disorder, I’ve had to work harder because I have had periods where I couldn’t work at all.

In a way, I had to overcome my disability, being in an industry which is quite competitive at the same time. But the great thing is that nowadays people are talking about it, whereas mental health wasn’t talked about 20 years ago. It used to be actually such a stigma. We need to look after people’s physical and mental health as well as their employment. What people are realising now is that they have to give people that balance and let them work from home for four rather than five days a week. I think that we are going to work in a more blended mode in the future, because I think there are going to be many more people, especially from the editing sector, that can work from home.

You have already mentioned your personal experience. If you could give some advice to a person who struggles similarly to you what would it be?

Well, the problem is that the industry is very competitive. You will get knock backs and you’ll get rejection. I used to take that very personally but whatI’ve realised over the years is that it’s not personal at all. You may not have the right skills at that period in time. For example, I applied for a job a few years ago and didn’t get it. I think it was about six months or a year later that they suddenly out of the blue they phoned me up and offered me a job. Networking will really help you.

Initially I really hated networking events but I then realised that it is the part of this industry. I would suggest that people join groups on social media platforms, like Facebook. There are social media groups for disabled people in film and TV. I have recently joined a few Facebook groups because I really believe that it helps. When I started out, there was nothing like that. I think that people are starting to be a bit more inclusive in the industry, whereas 20 years ago no one talked about it and they didn’t care if you had a disability or not.

And then you have autistic people like Mark Zuckerberg. I believe that he has what used to be called Asperger’s. What you’re doing is very noble.

I’ve been doing this for 25 years but it’s only been the last three years that I’ve actually gained traction with my academy. At one point I was just going to give it in completely because I was getting no help at all. I have actually got some support by a company called First Port who has given me funding. I’ve also worked with a company called Unlimited, which is trying to reduce the disability employment gap.

There are a lot of people who are actually very well qualified, but because of their disability they are not given the opportunities that they deserve. What frustrates me is that they are even sometimes paid lower wages. That’s why I do stuff for See Me Scotland, a mental health charity. I feel that often disabled people are kind of pushed to one side. It’s like with me at school, when they basically said that one day I am going to end up in a factory. Guess what? I’ve just done my master’s degree. So, they were all wrong.