Claudia Wass (1962 - 2023) "A unique and remarkable person."
David Knight - 14th Mar 2023
Claudia Wass, one of the great British music video editors, sadly passed away in January. We spoke to her husband Pete Cornish, and friends from the music video world, about their memories of Claudia.
Claudia Wass, one of the greatest music video editors, died in January this year. She had been suffering for three years from the rare disease, dermatomyositis, a devastating illness which was a symptom of her failing immune system, that left her vulnerable to cancer which finally took her life.
Pete Cornish, Claudia's husband - and partner for over 35 years - says that Claudia did not complain, despite having been struck by this illness. Her immense bravery, and the fact she did not announce her debilitating condition to longtime colleagues, meant that news of her passing, at the age of just 60, was greeted with shock by the generation of directors, producers, commissioners, record company executives and fellow editors who knew her well – and an outpouring of sadness at the tragic loss of a remarkable woman.
She was one of the best music video editors this country has produced. She was also much-loved, as known for her larger-than-life personality, her fiercely held opinions and razor-sharp wit as her talent and commitment to the craft of music video editing. It made her a unique, indomitable figure within the largely male-dominated environment in which she worked.
Her work, spanning from the late 1980s to just a year ago, was central to the success of many British music videos of numerous different music genres. Her skill and craft was widely admired, and greatly valued, by clients and peers alike.
Claudia - Claude, as she was always known to friends - edited hundreds of music videos during her career, for successive generations of artists of all different stripes: Alison Moyet, Oasis, Coldplay, Leona Lewis, So Solid Crew, Ollie Murs, The Script, One Direction, Little Mix, Emeli Sandé, Sade, Mabel, Harry Styles... to name a few.
And along the way, she built lasting collaborations with numerous directors, including Max & Dania, Charles Mehling, Sophie Muller, WIZ, Ben Winston, Ben & Gabe Turner and Marc Klasfeld.
She emerged as an ‘offline editor’ during the era of two-machine U-Matic editing suites, at a time when it was the norm for successful editors to be freelance, and to rent edit suites in Soho, per job. In that respect, Claudia’s domain, from the late 80s and through the 90s, was usually the top room at edit house Metropolis. This was her place – for the simple reason she was hardly ever not working.
Later in the non-linear editing era, she became best known for her work crafting pop videos for the winners of The X Factor, for the enjoyment of huge audiences, from her base at TVC. In effect, as her career progressed she became the recognised leading editor to whip British pop videos into shape in the edit suite.
She stood her ground when she firmly believed in something. She wouldn’t let anything go if it wasn’t right.
Claudia was born in 1962, in Chiswick, West London – where she lived all her life. She went into work, straight from school, initially as a trainee graphic designer. In the mid-1980s, while at the company CPP, she gravitated to editing.
“The first thing she ever edited was assisting on Storm Thorgeson’s video for Pink Floyd’s Learning To Fly – and that was actual editing on film,” says Pete Cornish, who himself had been an editor for Steve Barron’s early music videos, before becoming a successful music video director. He and Claudia met in 1987. “She cut her first video for me,” he says.
Their personal and professional relationship blossomed together. Despite her initial wariness of leaving paid employment, Pete encouraged Claudia to go freelance. At which point her career really took off.
“She was the only editor I worked with who you could leave to get on with it," he says. "Even if I didn’t see it for a few days, because I was shooting something else, I would always be delighted with what she came up with."
He says her qualities were founded in her real dedication to the job, watching everything that was shot at the telecine stage (when all footage was transferred from film to tape before cutting), and insistence on having enough time to edit the job properly.
“Claudia had this amazing combination of intuitive sensitivity and common sense,” he says. “She stood her ground when she firmly believed in something. She wouldn’t let anything go if it wasn’t right. She was extremely thorough and also great with the record companies. But alongside all the hard work Claudia would always find time for a witty comment and a laugh - and we had a lot of those over the years."
Pete says the job that she cut for him “that I’ll never forget” was a video for Alison Moyet's Love Letters - featuring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. “The label were concerned about the wide shots showing Alison, but Claudia said, ‘I’m not taking the wideshots out – that will mess up the flow of the comedy. I won’t do it.’ When necessary she defended the video she was working on – almost at any cost.
"She won the argument and the relatively relaxed pace of the edit made the video all the funnier. Claudia also excelled at extremely fast paced editing – a great example would be her edit for So Solid Crew’s award winning video, 21 Seconds for Max & Dania."
Pete believes that it was this determination to stick to her principles, as well as her talent, that made her hugely popular with directors – but also with the labels, including some famously hard-to-please execs, such like Simon Cowell.
“She was like a director in her thinking,” he says. “She was thinking about the whole production, all of it. That’s why she was so successful.”
He points out that beyond her X Factor work, Claudia’s workload changed during the Noughties and beyond, largely to make room for other creative pursuits – and she was highly skilled in those too. “She went through seven year cycles with different things – from pottery to sculpture, to photography, and most recently, painting,” says Pete.
In 2006, a photograph that she took while on holiday in Snowdonia won The BBC Countryfile Photography Award.
But he says that her real love was painting. “It was only in the last six years that she started to paint seriously. And when she started working with oils it was remarkable. She was only just beginning to develop a narrative style in her painting. She could have gone on to be a celebrated artist.
"Also Claudia had almost completed writing and illustrating a children’s book, Maud and the Wibblybot, about a small girl who is taken on a fantastic adventure by a fun-loving creature. All the text is in rhyme. Amazing."
Above: an illustration from 'Maud and the Wibblybot', the children's book Claudia was working on before she died.
However, she started to become ill during 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, it took a while for her to be diagnosed with the rare condition of dermatomyositis. That led to a bout of cancer which after treatment, then returned late last year. Claudia died on the 29th January.
“The disease was very cruel,” says Pete. “But she wasn’t angry. She was very stoic about it. Claudia was a truly unique and remarkable person and our son Jake and myself and all our friends and family will miss her enormously.”
We asked friends and colleagues of Claudia to write their own tributes to her, and you can read them below.
For a long time she was one of the few female editors in a very male-dominated part of the industry - but she was also one of the best.
Mike O'Keefe, VP creative, Sony Music
For 20 or so years Claudia was my go-to editor. Her sense of pacing, musicality and shot choice, especially across artist performance, was second to none. She could magically produce an edit out of very little or uninspired footage. She was also incredibly patient, tolerant and diplomatic when it came to working with artists and managers and some very demanding clients.
Most of all though I will remember her for her sense of humour and stoicism, putting up with some unbelievable nonsense that was inevitably part of our job. She was a one-off and I will miss her enormously.
Warren Meneely, editor
I first met Claudia at the end of 1987. I had just arrived in London from Australia and was the online editor of a concert film - Rip it Up, Dead or Alive in Japan - at Carlton Television, but I really wanted to get to do the 'real editing' of offline.
Claudia was probably the first editor I met - she and Guy Morley were the offline editors of the concert - and I was immediately impressed. She was talented and incredibly capable. She would let her opinions be known, but at the same time was always friendly and always enjoyed a good laugh, and she worked hard. For a long time she was one of the few female editors in what was then a very male-dominated part of the industry, but she was also one of the best and was always busy.
After that first project I saw her often, because I was on-lining videos for many directors, including Pete Cornish at Fugitive Films. I didn’t know at first that she and Pete were together, but she was always his editor and so we spent many an hour in the edit suite all together.
During this time, Claude was one of a number of people who encouraged me to make the move and do what I really wanted and ‘offline’ which I did. So we often ran into each other, mostly at Metropolis, because so many promos were being cut there. It was low tech, and they were time intensive and labour intensive long long days - but we all were 110% committed and love the creativity, the music and the friendships that were formed and lasted.
How many videos would we have cut on 2 machine U-matics? Logging by hand in a notebook? Syncing each take up linearly so you would hear the track in its entirety an untold number of times? Having thermal printouts with burnt in timecode plastered over the wall so that you would also be able to remember scenes and work out narratives in your head before committing them to tape.
Non-linear editing arrived in around 1990-1991, but I don’t think any of us regret having done it all ‘the hard way’. We had to know how to actually edit in our heads and think through ideas, structure and concepts, not just arrive at something by accident, and I think we all gained so much from this background.
She was a lovely person, a good editor and a great laugh. I hadn’t seen her for a few years - Covid having a lot to do with that - and her passing has been a massive shock. My thoughts are with Pete and Jake and all her family.
Claudia was smart, funny, witty and ballsy! We talked openly and cracked jokes, as she edited away effortlessly.
Dania Pasquini (of Max & Dania), director
Claudia was literally a tour de force, a master of the edit suite. Her skill and ingenuity was equal to none! No doubt about it, I consider her the best!!
We had the honour of working with Claudia throughout our heyday of music video directing. All of our most notable music videos had Claudia’s magic editor’s touch. She made us look good! From So Solid's 21 Seconds, Craig David's Walking Away, to Jamelia’s Money.
We were a great trio in the edit suite. Us ladies always agreed on everything and poor Max would get the brunt of it. But he took it like a trouper, as he had no choice. Claudia knew her onions! Lol!
Claudia was smart, funny, witty and ballsy! There’s nothing she wouldn’t say with a cheeky smile. Working with her was always a pleasure, like sitting with family. We talked openly and cracked jokes, as she edited away effortlessly. Safe in the knowledge that once Claudia is editing your job you can relax, sit back and watch her magic unfold! She will be truly missed and her work will stand the testament of time!!
Ben Unwin, director/editor
I first met Claude at Metropolis Post in those heady days when you could make a decent living making and editing music videos. She would always have the room with the big window whilst myself and Simon Hilton were in the basement - 'Bella Lugosi's Broom Cupboard' as I christened it - so make of that what you will. Apart from being a master of her craft she was larger than life, and often the voice of sanity as we all rushed around trying to hit crazy deadlines.
If I was stuck or frustrated I would think: 'fuck it, I’ll pop up and see Claude.' We would chew the fat, she would bring her down-to-earth sensibilities to this crazy profession and all would be well. We didn’t always agree, but I loved her for the character that she was - especially at 'Wine O’Clock', when we would giggle like schoolchildren about all the madness of the day.
When her husband Peter asked me to inform many people of her passing I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love for her. If she could see me typing this she would probably be embarrassed, be laughing at me and calling me a soppy sentimental fool.
The last time I saw her I called her a “Pop Tart”, she called me a “Arty Farty Wanker”, we laughed and again she was right on the money. Thanks for the memories, I will miss you mate.
She would say: 'If you want that shot in, you put it in. I’m not doing it’, as she vacated the editor's chair and went for a fag.
Pete Chambers, producer
Claudia Wass edited in the same way as she lived life: full throttle, no prisoners, on the beat (or deliciously just off it), passionately and with a confidence that enthused all around her.
Pete Cornish and I were, pretty much, the busiest director/producer team in the UK in the late 80s/early 90s, shooting everything from Kylie & Rick Astley to Love & Money and Hipsway. Pete was prolific and Claudia edited everything he did. Consequently, for 3 or 4 years, there wasn’t week where I didn’t spend time in her company.
To say that we had a feisty relationship would be an understatement. We laughed - oh, how we laughed - we cried, we argued and we fought. There was nothing that Claudia didn’t have an opinion about and she never held back from letting you know that.
She would regularly say: ‘Well, if you want that shot in, you put it in, because I’m not doing it…’ as she vacated the editor's chair and swept out of the suite for a fag, knowing full well that I had no idea how an RM440 controller worked. By the time she’d returned, I’d have usually come round to her way of looking at it…
That was the thing about Claudia…she cared about the work, she challenged you, made you look at another way of doing things and fought for those ideas. At the same time, she made the edit suite a place of joy, laughter and camaraderie.
Moving on to work with Max & Dania in the late Nineties, she became the ‘go to’ editor for them, cutting videos for Craig David, 5ive, Gareth Gates, Gabrielle and many, many others. Those videos still stand up today - perfect pieces of pop & soul that have you swaying in your seat as you watch them, as much a testament to Claudia’s editing as M&D’s excellent vision.
One that stood out for me was Gabrielle's When a Woman. Perfect, seamless editing for the dance sequences, and then intimate, personal cutting for the performance. Oh, and Jamelia's Money. I could go on and on...
Endless days in edit suites, long nights out in wine bars, stroppy arguments in the street, hugs in the greasy spoon in the morning to apologise…and laughter…always laughter…that’s how I’ll remember her.
God…don’t argue with her…you’ll find out she was right in the end.
She had an amazing eye for a beautiful shot as was evident in her photography.
Nick Allix, editor
Laughing for hours in the early hours in an edit suite.
Changing each other’s settings on the Avid when you went to the loo.
Putting dissolves on every edit of your sequence if you were late in.
Sharing cabs home after late night finishes.
These are just a few of my fond memories of the amazing human Claudia Wass.
We worked closely together at what now seems like the last big movement of music & video in the early 00’s. Her skill, confidence and ability still amaze me. At the time I tried to soak up as much as I could from her. She got me through many a tough job with just a few choice words.
She nailed every edit even if it ended up having to go against her instincts. She cut so many iconic music videos it’s hard to choose one - but Coldplay's God Put A Smile On Your Face, directed by Jamie Thraves, is my fave. I remember her doing it, how chuffed she was to be working on it and how pleased she was when it was finished. A true passion I’ll never forget.
Thanks for the giggles Claude x
Dan Millar, senior video commissioner, Sony Music
I’ve never trusted anyone more than Claudia. Her edit was always the best possible edit. She could take the most difficult jobs, the most stressful situations and stayed the same warm lovely person. I always looked forward to seeing her and I’ll miss her so much.
Her body of work is almost unparalleled, as was her candour and savage wit.
CLAUDIA WASS definitely fits into the class of film warrior. She was hearty, super intelligent and a gifted filmmaker, and I was very fortunate to collaborate with her during her reign at Metropolis Post.
Her healthy philosophy was the embodiment of Nietzsche ‘it’s all so meaningless we might as well be extraordinary’. She was unflappable both in the edit suite and at the bar.
Her body of work is almost unparalleled, as was her candour and savage wit. The industry is majorly poorer without her. God bless you mighty one.
Phil Tidy, producer
I would say this is a summary of the type of conversation messaging I had with Wass..
Claudia Wass:- PIMP TIDDY.
Phil Tidy:- WASSSSSSS
CW: ASPECT RATIO ??
PT: WAS NOT WASS NOT WOZ
PT: SHEEP PHOTOGRAPHER..
It started with ‘ines the Caff and Nicot types.. …. From Cowell-based dirge to Indie Oasis nonsense.. to wrestling with new formats all whilst making an Avid steam… somehow.. Day 1 chat, Day 2 chit, Day 3 and in the glint of an eye there was an edit..
“Claudia I am on set with XYZ director. Can they have a chat….”
“TIDDY.. just get coverage.. tell them to get coverage.. it's Gin O’Clock, Fuck OFF..“
Fond memories.. £500 a day.. of warm good fun.
Quin Williams, editor
Claudia was such a big character in the music video world. You’d always know when she was in the building. She had a loud voice, huge hair and an infectious giggle. She was a brilliant editor and had an amazing eye for a beautiful shot as was evident in her photography.
She had flawless rhythm and musicality in her edits - something I was always in awe of. She had a sharp tongue and always spoke her mind and this earned her a certain respect around the edit suites of Metropolis. She was an amazing mum, something I recognised before I even understood what being a parent was. But what I loved most about Claudia was her glass-half-full attitude to life - no matter how tough things were. I’d ask 'alright Claude - how you doing?' And she’d always answer: “all’s tickety boo Quim”
RIP lovely Claudia x
She had an innate ability to know exactly what the audience would respond to.
Sonny Takhar, Global President of Syco Music
Claudia was simply our go to, always our first choice, and on many occasions when directors were insistent on hiring their own editors, Claudia was the person we called at the eleventh hour to fix it all.
I know we always asked her for the impossible when the footage simply was just not there. Claudia…can you drive more emotion, can you improve the artists’ performances, can you deliver this by tomorrow? Without exception, Claudia always made our work better. She had an innate ability to know exactly what the audience would respond to.
For nearly 20 years, Claudia was part of the secret sauce that made Syco and its artists so successful. Inside the editing suite, she was always so kind but firm and forever patient. I will miss her enormously.
Simon Hilton, director/editor
“Where’s my fags and coffee?” was the regular war cry from the first floor edit suite that meant procrastination was over and serious business was about to commence. The suite with the fancy Fritz Lang poster and the ‘better’ coloured wall.
Claudia Wass was the grand matriarch of our little gang at Metropolis, where every week throughout the Nineties and Noughties we churned out compact and concise edits of consistently creative music videos with relentless innovation - fuelled by fags, fizzy drinks, coffee and crisps. Her acutely intuitive Wonder Woman laser vision meant that whether editing or debating, she could rapidly get to the heart of whatever the action was and dispense with all the bullshit around it. This was always accompanied by her intoxicating chuckles and a hilarious round of semi-reluctant ‘the lady doth protest too much’, ‘oh, go on then’ carry-on, after which she needed to be simply locked away and not allowed to leave until she was done.
She was a phenomenally intuitive, instinctive and intelligent editor, a kind and patient therapist, a ray of sunshine in a very cloudy room, and hilarious queen of the ironic kvetch. She was immensely talented and kind-hearted, and modest about both until it was wine o’clock, at which point all bets were off, and hilarity ensued.
Claudia edited the John Lennon video ’Stand By Me’ for me in 2003 and I absolutely love her edit and she knew I would. It reminds me of her cheeky laugh whenever I watch it.
She was greatly loved and is probably already complaining about how much all of us are not missing her enough.
Simon Ward, TVC
It's difficult to write about Claude without writing 'little cocked bender boy cock face' - which is how she would lovingly refer to me.
I worked with Claudia long enough for her to become a very good friend, she probably cut over 100 promos at TVC and each one was lucky to have her swearing and sticking two fingers up at the screens late into the night.
She was brilliant because she cared, put so much effort into every job and it showed time after time - film after film. I'm just thankful I managed to spend so many years working, laughing, and being shouted at by her. The industry has lost someone very special.
Her eye for impactful photography and framing allowed her the speed and freedom to select all the very best magic moments.
Tom Lindsay, editor
Claud had an energy you couldn’t ignore. Always ready with a quip and a joke, she was the possessor of the heartiest of laughs. We spent many an evening at Metropolis & TVC putting the world to rights. And beneath the banter, she was a very kind and generous person, who cared about others.
Her editing was always so on point. Up there with the very best music video editors. She had a brilliant ear for musical structure, perfect rhythm and great taste. And personally, I learnt so much from her, not only the craft but also the wider world of freelancing, which was all so new to me at the time. I’ll miss her very much.
Phil Barnes, producer
I had the absolute pleasure of working with Claudia over a number of years. She was much more than just a great editor - she was an integral part of our team; an ally and a cherished friend.
Her brutal honesty, amazing sense of dry humour, diligent hard-work ethic and thinking-round-corners talent for problem-solving made her an utterly unique personalty and a total joy to work with, even when she quite rightly moaned and griped to me about the appalling budgets and insane schedules often offered to her.
So sad to have lost such a wonderful person and tremendous talent. One of a kind; RIP Clauds.
JT Thomas, director
I was told to work with her by Mike O'Keefe on editing a Leona Lewis X Factor winner video. Sonny and Simon Cowell wouldn’t work with anyone else and raved about her so I went down to the edit to meet this genius!
On day one she’d already cut half the video with hardly any input from me and continued to cut it together while smoking and chit-chatting away with me about everything but the video itself.
Claude was making me crack up all day long while casually making the performance come to life - musically and visually hitting the mark. We had a completed edit within 2 days (as opposed to the usual 4-5) and no changes from the usually picky and hard to please Mr Cowell. Done and down the pub :)
On working with Claud more and more I learnt about her love for photography and we talked endlessly about film stock, lenses, weird and wonderful locations and Leica cameras (her and my fave). Her style of editing was raw and instinctive and I quickly learnt to trust her eye and intuition and then pretty much left her to edit while I worked on another shoot or project.
I realised her eye for impactful photography and framing allowed her the speed and freedom to select all the very best magic moments and climactic looks, perfectly reflecting the tone and emotion of the music for the highest dramatic effect - that’s why her work was so strong. All this seemed effortless to her. I’d not seen her for several years unfortunately but I will miss that dirty laugh, that energy and that big smile of hers very much. Godspeed and safe travels Claude.
You had to be ready to respond properly or you got the withering, pitying look...
Tony Kearns, editor
My fondest memories of Claudia were at the regular meetings of the Fellowship of The Cut, a social group of music video editors, which were held at The Star and Garter on Poland Street, Soho some years ago. She described herself as Sister Claude in her responses to invitations (I was Brother Tone) and she enjoyed the sparkling repartee (aka jovial but merciless slagging off) that was a feature of those evenings.
She was great fun and wonderful company, but could become serious in an instant and you had to be ready to respond properly or you got the withering, pitying look that she could blaze at you. All in a spirit of fun and camaraderie of course. Claudia loved her craft, she loved cutting music videos and was very passionate about her role in making them bloody good. It is with a heavy heart that I write these words as I cannot believe that she is gone from us.
Rest in peace, Sister Claud.
• Our thanks to Ben Unwin for his help with this tribute to Claudia. And thanks and deepest condolences to Pete Cornish. DK
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David Knight - 14th Mar 2023
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