Being a film aficionado (i.e. nerd), I not only like watching movies, I like watching movies about making movies. I recently revisited a really interesting film called The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. (Thanks for loaning it to me, Myra!) The film is a behind-the-scenes look at the editing process and the incredible influence editing has on the creation of a motion picture. I can’t recommend it enough.
A variety of well-respected film editors are interviewed, including Michael Kahn (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), Sally Menke (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction) Dylan Tichenor (There Will be Blood, Brokeback Mountain), and Thelma Schoonmaker (pretty much every Scorsese film ever made). I think it’s Kevin Tent (the editor on Sideways and Election) who equates the director first arriving at the editing bay to a shipwreck victim being washed ashore – the editing bay is the antidote to all of the madness and mayhem that comes from being on set for months. This isn’t to say that sifting through hours and hours AND HOURS of footage isn’t a painstaking undertaking in itself – for all seem to agree that it is during the editing process that the film actually gets made.
There are two interviews that really stood out to me. One is with Anne Coates who continues to edit at the age of 85. Some of her notable films include a little one you may have heard of called Lawrence of Arabia. What About Bob?, In the Line of Fire, and Erin Brokovich are a few others on her extensive resume. But in The Cutting Edge, she discusses what I think is one of the best love scenes ever crafted on film. When Coates was 74, she edited Out of Sight for director Steven Soderbergh. There’s a great sequence late in the film when the two leads on opposite sides of the law (George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) give in to their mutual attraction and meet up at a hotel for one sexy night. It’s a gorgeously shot sequence, but what really works about it is the way the editing builds up the sense of anticipation we, the audience, have in watching these two beautiful people finally come together. It’s hard to explain, so let me share via the power of You Tube. The fancy editing starts to happen about two-and-a-half minutes in, but go ahead and savor every second of this sequence. JLo should be forever grateful she got to be a part of this terrific film.
My other favorite interview was with director extraordinaire (and father of the summer blockbuster) Steven Spielberg. The brilliance of JAWS goes without saying, but it’s fascinating to hear him talk about the significant impact the late-great editor Verna Fields had on the film. According to Spielberg, everyone called Fields “Mother Cutter” and she was a very earthy and nurturing person. However, all of the disagreements that they had while editing JAWS revolved around the shark. Spielberg was coming off of an extremely challenging shoot on a film that he thought might end his still-budding career. After all of the trouble he and the special effects team expended to make that uncooperative mechanical shark work, he was determined to feature it as much as possible in the film. Mother Cutter, however, argued that less is more – the shark would be more terrifying in the imagination of the audience versus them seeing it too soon. Theses arguments between director and editor would come down to the minutiae of frames – Spielberg would beg for 38 frames of the shark while Fields insisted on 36 frames. But, in the end, Spielberg conceded that Verna Fields was right. As he puts it so hilariously, “…the sad fact was the shark would only look real in 36 frames, not 38 frames. And that two frame difference was the difference between something really scary and something that looked like a great white floating turd.”
All hail the editor!
NEXT UP: Let’s all be surprised! 😉