The Write Offs: Editor Radek Sienski Speaks about this Moving Tale of Triumph

The weight of responsibility for editing a film rests heavily on Radek Sienski, though it’s not what he carries with him after he finishes his work; it’s the fulfillment of knowing that he actually can create a real difference in the world by moving the hearts of audiences. During the pandemic when so many were focused on a world in daily fear, Radek chose to instead turn his focus onto the subject of director Richard Mears’ The Write Offs which displays the struggle for literacy in modern day. It’s been said that by turning our gaze upon helping those who might be in a more dire situation than ourselves, we receive respite. In Mr. Sienski’s case he achieved this as well as the most prestigious recognition of becoming nominated for a British Academy of Film and TV Arts Award. Toiling in a solitary state due to the effect of Covid on the entire planet, Radek found the heart of this film amongst the one hundred-fifty hours filmed for two forty-five minute episodes. Recognized with the industry’s highest honor for his work, Mr. Sienski communicates, “Being nominated for a BAFTA was extremely gratifying as it is the highest recognition in the UK for any editor or filmmaker. I didn’t edit this series thinking of rewards but it does make me feel like all those months of hard work paid off and because of my deep involvement in the project I was selected to be one of the team representatives. It was extremely rewarding.”

There is no more impactful collaborator for a director than their editor. When director Richard Mears took on duties for The Write Offs, following a successful stint on the BAFTA Award-Winning series First Dates, he was adamant about using Radek as the editor of this meaningful new project. Mr. Mears states, ‘’He has strong opinions but is always very collaborative. I love working with him because he, like me, is always keen to try experimenting to elevate any program we work on. But he’s also mature and honest and will tell me if an idea isn’t working. He never gives up — there is ALWAYS a solution. I know for sure that without him we wouldn’t have been nominated for a BAFTA’’. Having worked with Radek on a number of prior productions, Mr Mears was convinced that he remained unsurpassed in bringing out the emotional dimension of such a difficult and delicate topic. Mr. Sienski relates, “Being an editor on projects like this requires total trust, which I’m grateful for. Richard trusts that I get the best out of material as often there is no time to re-watch everything that was shot. I’d liken being Richard’s editor to being a doctor — the film is his baby, but I’m the specialist who can advise on the best way of delivering it.”

It’s evident how well the director’s placement of trust was in the very first scenes of The Write Offs. As the central participants are tested and introduced in these initial moments of the documentary, it’s essential that the viewers become invested in them and their personal stories. For stay-at-home dad Craig, who succumbs to pressure and walks out of the test, the drama wasn’t easily depicted. Radek informs, “As often happens in a documentary, coverage wasn’t great and you can’t do multiple takes if you want real authenticity. To show how the tension is mounting up, I took a few very carefully selected close-ups of Craig’s reactions and along with the precise use of music, we achieved a dramatic crescendo which allows viewers to feel what Craig was feeling. It also made them want to continue watching to uncover why he was so deeply affected.” The intensity of this scene is balanced against one later in the documentary in which Craig reads a bedtime story to his daughter, eliciting tears from his wife and himself. For the character Tommy, Radek created moments of humor and darker instances to illustrate this man’s very real struggle with reading. This juxtaposition delivers a greater impact due to the editing choices. There are stories in the lives of most people but it’s the great storytellers who steer our emotions in a way which captivates us. For artists like Radek, the real compensation comes in transmitting those great stories to the public. He imparts, “For me, the most rewarding part of being involved in such an important and amazing project is of emotional value on a few levels. First of all, it raises awareness of the issue and it’s for an important cause so I took utmost care to represent the contributors in the most faithful way. Secondarily, it’s a great feeling after months of work, when the film suddenly ‘clicks’ and starts working as an emotionally evoking piece of art. As an editor I always try to convey the emotions I felt when watching the footage for the first time and it’s extremely challenging to faithfully represent 75 hours in 45 mins. The challenge is to keep the heart and emotions of the story, but through storytelling skills and editing techniques take the audience through a range of these emotions — from laughter to tears, to compassion, in a condensed and digestible form.”

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Kelly King

Kelly King

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An LA based writer with more than a decade as a staff writer for NYC based Drumhead magazine, Kelly is also a contributor to a number of outlets.