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Wendy Hallam Martin

Sheridan grad Wendy Hallam Martin

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design

Degree: Media Arts

Year of graduation: 1987

Creative cuts
How Wendy Hallam Martin shapes stories

It’s been an exciting year for Wendy Hallam Martin.

The multiple award-winning editor picked up additional hardware for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, including her first Canadian Cinema Editors Award, American Cinema Editors Award and, in September, a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series category.

It makes sense that Hallam Martin has been able to work with source material from acclaimed author Margaret Atwood so seamlessly — after all, Martin is a storyteller herself.

In her role as editor on the show shot in Toronto, Hamilton and Cambridge, Hallam Martin is responsible for taking the footage shot for the series and assembling it to create a cohesive and compelling episode. Alongside taking out-of-sequence scenes and putting them in order based on a script, editors must also take into account what story is being told, the best performances, and the motivations of each character, all while staying true to the show’s aesthetic.

“Anyone can push the buttons and put the images together, but there’s a certain internal rhythm and understanding of character and narrative that’s necessary for an editor to have” says Hallam Martin. “You need to understand what images will best tell the story, what the audience wants or needs to see and when. With experience, you instinctually know when to cut to a character or a reaction, or not cut at all. It’s in your gut.”

When it came to the Handmaid’s Tale, Hallam Martin needed that strong instinct. She says the show challenged many principles and guiding rules for editing. For a more straightforward series, says Hallam Martin, there’s a general formula that editors tend to follow. For example, a scene would traditionally start on a wide shot to set the scene, then cut in to the characters’ closer shots. After almost every line of dialogue, an editor may be inclined to cut to a reactionary shot, before returning to the person talking.

“It takes a lot of time and experience to build up trust in your own ability to feel your way through the material,” she says. “Eventually, you trust where you’re going, and you cut with your gut.”
In Handmaid’s, Hallam Martin says the footage was so beautiful that she would hang on to shots far longer than she ever would on a regular television show. Similarly, she would often choose extended close-ups for June, the central character, to effectively show her perspective.

“It’s very much a point-of-view show, so you want to be in June’s head at all times,” she explains. “I would stay on her face longer because I wanted to the viewer to understand her thought process and know exactly how June is feeling in that moment. ”

Over the years, Hallam Martin has gained the experience to inform her creative and editing decisions. But although Hallam Martin has credits on a number of Canadian series today, she was initially drawn to Sheridan’s Media Arts program because of a love of music. While completing the program, Hallam Martin began volunteering on music video sets, intending to eventually produce and direct her own videos. However, when the selection for a co-op placement came about, Martin had the opportunity to work with acclaimed editor Steven Lawrence, who mentored her and guided her towards her current career editing for film and television. She cut her teeth editing Showtime movies and various dramatic series, and honed her craft in the years that followed, editing series including the award-winning The Tudors, Queer as Folk and The Borgias.

She now finds herself preparing for work on the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale. She also just completed editing episodes of the second season of American Gods — an American series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. Although she’s hit her stride, Hallam Martin’s mantra remains the same as when she first graduated from Sheridan: stay challenged, and don’t get complacent.

“Even though we’re in the third season of Handmaid’s, we’re always adjusting and refining — it’s never easy,” she says. “You never want to phone it in. You need challenge yourself and do the best job you can every time.”
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