FRONTRUNNER Film Editor Csilla Tornallyay: An Introduction

Writer’s block brushed against my heels as I was asked – and then said yes to – a monthly editorial. About me. I adore writing, hearing people’s stories, attempting to see the world through their eyes, learning about our planet, then putting pen to paper and telling the audience how mind-blowingly spectacular they are. Eventually, this task found me. Now, I have the pleasure to do as some of the people I work with do: make an entire article about myself, without asking a single question (of someone else). So, we can’t call it a surprise that, suddenly, I feel not a single word formulating. It’s similar to being asked if I feel starstruck around famous people, I laugh and say, “Obviously not.”

Then I met Nicole Kidman and I went mute for, what I think was, days. I thought, “I do nothing extraordinary.” Yet, here I am, giving my best shot to make you believe otherwise.

I am an introvert, can be quiet for days, and I won’t even notice. Despite knowing the answer, as a child, I would pretend not to exist in a classroom. I’ve recently learned that I don’t do well at comedy shows. I need a Xanax on standby in case the comedian picks on me. I find unforeseeable change exhausting, if someone or something messes up my routine. This works perfectly well when I called myself a writer. But in the real world – where I was told I, apparently, have to exist – every day is a challenge to come up with topics for small talk. There are only so many Mondays that you can start with, “How was your weekend?” or, “It went by so fast, didn’t it?”

I work on film sets in London. My introverted personality and my work are not exactly a match made in heaven. Yet, I still love what I do. I still lose sleep at the beginning of each project, where I must learn names, familiarise myself with the hierarchy and unspoken politics of the industry, and try to not get lost in a place (or an actual town), like Warner Bros. Studios.

I never went to film school. At university in Scotland, I began working as a Supporting Artist,  and sometimes-model, to finance my expensive habits and taste. Once again, being an introvert and being on camera is…not my thing. I went back to Hungary, where I lived briefly, when I was little. Budapest was to be my open door, as many major motion pictures and TV shows are filmed there. It took me a year to get close. I felt the breeze, but not the wind. Whenever I got hold of the handle, I was told I had too little experience and that I was too young. That line is almost as good as, “We’ll keep your CV on file.” So, I just said, “This is what I want to do. So, watch me.” A month later, I was in Madrid working on Terminator: Dark Fate as an Assistant Director running around unit base with A-class actors, pretending I knew what I was doing, feeling somewhere between eternally terrified and floating in pink clouds.

I will forever be grateful to the woman who kickstarted my career, let me through that “open” door, and allowed me to create more work for her – versus solutions – in the initial weeks of the job. She said that we would find our rhythms, and I kept thinking, “But what if I’m tone deaf and have no rhythm?” Six years later, I’m still stuck in this industry, with which you’ll have an inevitable love-hate relationship. The “hate” is sometimes understandable. Once you learn how some people use or abuse their power on productions, when your pick-up time for work is somewhere in the third hour of the morning, you miss a wedding or funeral here and there, or you spend the entire day planning ahead only to realise that everything will change in the final minutes of the filming day. Luckily the “love” list is much longer. I must pinch myself when I see movies and shows such as Dune, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, House of the Dragon, Aquaman 2, or the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent come together throughout production.

It’s surreal to have done these things.

I’ve held BB-8 in my lap. Travelled to a Star Wars set in a park. Heard Anne Hathaway spontaneously sing while rigged to the ceiling dressed as a witch. Ended up at Jason Momoa’s birthday party in Shoreditch. Had Nicolas Cage open his trailer door with a different neon-coloured fur on every morning. Nicole Kidman told me that if she ever had another daughter she’d call her Csilla. Discussed the amount of blood that needs to be smeared on a carpet in You. Finished a day of filming on a George Clooney film atop of a glacier in Iceland, then saw the Northern Lights en route to my hotel. Watched Linda Hamilton devour a box of pizza with her hair and make-up team in the middle of Unit Base in rural Hungary.

It all sounds surreal and magical at first, but it comes down to the people who surround you on the journey. It doesn’t matter which film you’re working on, or who the famous people are on the set. You have to have real people around you who you’ll want to call after a 70-hour work week. These people are there to hold you back when you’ve had enough and want to go sell coconuts on some tropical island.

I’m lucky to have had those people around me, and grateful for every day being a step closer to the stories I truly want to tell.

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