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Abid Khan on ScreenSkills’ Film Forward programme

Jan 24, 2022

The Film Forward initiative is designed to create change in the UK film industry by supporting experienced Black, Asian or minority ethnic professionals to advance into more senior roles.

Abid is stepping up from editor across sectors to film editor.

Fresh from winning a top award at Spain’s Premios Lorca film festival for his debut feature Granada Nights, editor and director Abid Khan has his sights set on even bigger things.

The 41-year-old wrote, produced and directed the movie himself, having had the idea for the filmic “love letter” to Granada some 15 years ago. While working as a freelance editor and motion graphics designer for advertising and design agencies he honed his skills in his spare time by making short films, and slowly assembled a crew.

He raised money from private investors, as well as through crowdfunding and even putting himself forward for medical trials: “I think that helped me convince the investors I was serious,” he laughs.

The film – a story of discovery about a young British tourist in the Spanish city – was shot in 2018. It went on to scoop best breakthrough at Film London Screenings, a Works in Progress showcase at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, best film at the Barnes Film Festival and, most recently, best cinematography at the prestigious Premios Lorca.

It has had successful UK and Spanish releases and is poised for cinemas in Portugal and New York. “The momentum has been pretty incredible,” says Abid.

The success has allowed him to move from ad agency work – for clients including Paramount, Universal, Sony Pictures and Nike – to film editing. He is currently assistant editor on a Film4/BFI feature. “I enjoy directing but what I’m really passionate about is editing and I’d love to work on other people’s films. I feel like I would thrive.”

That’s where ScreenSkills’ new paid placement scheme, Film Forward, also comes in: “Because of my background and not having gone to a traditional film school, I felt I was lacking a bit of support. Knowing I have Film Forward behind me, as well as the success of Granada Nights, has allowed me to move away from the design and ad industry and more into film, which I’ve been trying to do all my life.”

Born and raised in Surrey, of British Pakistani descent, Abid studied for a degree in computing – “the path of good job, good pay” – but soon realised his ambitions lay elsewhere.

The seeds were first sown when, as a teenager, he worked at a local cinema. “I started as usher and was slowly promoted to a manager. I basically spent a lot of time dissecting films – when you see the same films again and again and again you start to look with an analytical eye, what works, what doesn’t…”

At university he realised he had a “creative impulse” that was going unfulfilled: “I guess I had a very visual eye and was always thinking about bringing film and video into my work.” In the end, he swapped the final year of his degree to multimedia and then went on to study for a master’s in interactive multimedia production at Huddesfield.

While making a short film for the course, he was struck in particular by the thrill of the editing process. “You could sit there editing for 14 hours, with nothing but a chocolate bar, and it was such a joy. It didn’t feel like work. I was just really addicted to it. It’s bringing music, sound, atmosphere, visuals all together. For me that was the most fascinating thing. It also felt like I had an intuitive knowledge of film grammar because of having watched so much cinema.”

After leaving university, his freelance work also included music videos for Zena Kitt, and an artist interview series featuring the likes of Paul Smith and Quentin Blake for Under the Influence magazine.

Abid continued taking classes – including ScreenSkills sessions on cinematography and production – in his free time. “I wanted to know about everything.”

He now hopes the Film Forward placement – which is aimed at professionals from backgrounds currently under-represented in UK film – will help to launch a successful full-time career as a film editor.

“There are a lot of little barriers,” he explains. “I come from a slightly different industry. I didn’t go to film school. Being British Pakistani, I don’t see many people like me. I remember going into one production company and this Asian guy was just smiling and came up and shook my hand, he was so surprised. That basically highlights the lack of representation.

“It’s about class, too. There just aren’t that many opportunities for people from other backgrounds to get in. I feel like I’m constantly hunting for an initiative – there’s no path laid out – so when Film Forward came along it was great.”

Abid adds: “Crafting stories is what I love, this is what I’ve always been passionate about. And I can go on to help other people to come up, because I’ve been through that struggle. Film Forward affords the chance to be in the room, and that’s important.”

Film Forward is delivered by ScreenSkills supported by the BFI with National Lottery funds as part of its Future Film Skills strategy.

CV summary

A highly experienced editor and director, Abid Khan has seen his debut feature Granada Nights – which he wrote, produced and directed – secure a string of high profile accolades – including best film at Barnes Film Festival, best breakthrough film at Film London Screenings and best cinematography at Spain’s prestigious Premios Lorca international film festival. He has 15 years ad agency experience working as a freelance editor and motion graphics designer on music videos and promos for clients including Universal Pictures, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Time magazine, Nike, Lacoste and Mercedes Benz. He is keen to focus further on feature film editing.

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