Monday, May 17, 2010


So you write that great script.  You sell it to Hollywood.  They shoot it with big-named stars and then it lands in the hands of a film editor.  With a delicate splice here, and a snip here, that film editor can technically rewrite your entire script.  It's the final step in the creative process of a movie and one of the most important. 

Editing is a crucial, yet the often overlooked craft and art in movies.  It's not a very glamorous job (a lot like screenwriting)... editors, like writers, get little credit... little recognition for their work... but are often the bookends to making a spectacular movie.  It's the talents of both the screenwriter, and the film editor, that make words meet images and create movie magic.

Do you pay attention to film editors when you see a new movie?  Who edited great movies like  The Graduate?  Or, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

The other night I attended a talk given by Bobbie O'Steen (author of The Invisible Cut: How Editors Make Movie Magic) and film editor John Gilroy (Michael Clayton) held downtown at 92YTribeca.  O'Steen has written about the art of editing and knows all about it firsthand.  She earned an Emmy nomination for editing Best Little Girl in the World.  She not only writes about this skill, but editing is  in her DNA.  Her father, Richard C. Meyer, edited the above mentioned classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Let's face it -- that movie is a gem not only because of William Goldman's witty one-liners and characters, but because of the way the movie is edited -- its pacing and style.  That movie grips us from frame one and never lets go -- right up until the iconic freeze frame at the end when Butch and The Kid come out with guns blazing.  The talk focusing on the editing of Michael Clayton showed what an essential role the film editor has in shaping the movie, assisting the director, and creating the tone and pace of the movie.

By the way, O'Steen's late husband, Sam O'Steen, edited The Graduate.  Not too shabby.  If you want to learn about film editing, I recommend you pick up her book.

It's often said that a movie is rewritten in the editing room.  A great script is rarely shot exactly as it's written on the page.  It can't be -- a director interprets it, then the actors, and finally a film editor.  Editing is often about elimination.  A good editor has an eye for what works and doesn't in a movie -- and just like with a script, usually less is more.  It's amazing how much can be cut from a script, or scene, or movie, and yet the story works even better.  Haven't we all seen movies that begged to be shorter?  A movie that would have had more punch if only the editor would have been allowed to do his job?

As screenwriters, we can learn a lot from great film editors and their collaborations with top directors.  Watch your favorite Martin Scorsese movie, but also thank his film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (pictured below), because she probably edited it (she won Oscars for Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Departed).

Or how about Dede Allen?  She edited many of Sidney Lumet's movies (Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico).  Ms. Dede passed away earlier this year at age 86.

Michael Kahn edited Steven Spielberg films (Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List).

How about Verna Fields who edited Jaws?  Wow.  We all remember the scary music... but also the visual pacing of Jaws kept us riveted to the screen.  Verna Fields won an Oscar for editing that one.  Women film editors have put their stamp on so many American classic movies we have come to love and cherish.

So the next time you watch a film, pay extra close attention to who wrote it... and yes, who edited it.  It's the delicate craft and art of words mixing with images that capture our hearts in the dark. 

Until next time.

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