Guest Post: Great Director & Editor Combos

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As a film fanatic, I not only pay attention to the stars but also to the people behind the scenes. But usually the directors and writers will get all the attention when it comes to film being a success or failure. So I would like to write about the mostly unseen people in the film industry, the editors. They are probably the most under-appreciated people in the industry. Let’s face it if a film is a success, people will always say it’s the director or writer who was responsible for making a good film, of course when the film fails the director will get all the blame. But rarely you’ll ever hear someone says, wow that was great editing and the editor did such a great job.

Most of time when people say the film has great editing; they would always mention the directors’ name. True that the directors has the final say if the film is a go or not but without a good editor, most of their films will be a mess. Terrence Malick is known to twig with his films even after he handed in his final cut to studio executives. If you have the Criterion edition of The Thin Red Line on DVD or Blu-ray, watch the behind scenes section where they interviewed his three editors of the film. Great stuff there, one of the editors said Malick gave him a bunch of footage from the film and told him if he could make it work by putting all of the sequences together.

All of the successful film directors know they need a good editor and they would always try work with the same editor in each of their films. If they don’t work with an editor who shares their vision then most of the time they’ll get in a fight in the editing room. Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah were notorious for getting into fights with their editors. Stephen Norrington reportedly got into a fist fight with his editor of the first Blade film. Even a couple of famous filmmakers gave advice to film students, Francis Ford Coppola and Paul Verhoven said film directors shouldn’t try to edit their own film, get a good editor and then try to put together a good or great film.

Let’s look at some of the successful teams of director and editor:

  1. Steven Spielberg and Michael Kahn

    These guys have worked together since 1977 when they made Close Encounter of the Third Kind. Ever since then, Spielberg has let Kahn edited each of his films. He trusted Kahn so much that he put him in charge of finishing Jurassic Park in the editing room (George Lucas was there too supervising the editing process) while he went and shot Schindler’s List. Of course we all know how Jurassic Park turned out but we never heard of Kahn’s name when the film was released and made tons of cash, just Spielberg.
  2. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker
    Scorsese and Schoonmaker first film together was Raging Bull and they have been working together ever since. Schoonmaker even edited Michael Jackson’s music video Bad for Scorsese. In every interview with Scorsese, he would always compliment Schoonmaker and her incredible talent. These two have been getting along so well and it shows in their films; you hardly ever heard bad things between them.
  3. Quentin Tarantino and Sally Menke

    QT have worked with Menke since his first film, Reservoir Dogs. Again you hardly ever heard anything bad happened between these two behind the scenes, unfortunately Menke passed away last September so I don’t know who QT will get to edit his upcoming film Django Unchained. If the film turns out to be a disaster, will QT gets the blame or he’ll just blame it on his new editor? I’m very curious to see how things will play out.
  4. Terrence Malick and Billy Weber
    Weber edited three of Malick’s films, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and Tree of Life; the latter two he shared editing credit with a few other editors. In an interview on the Criterion DVD/BD of The Thin Red Line, he said he had to force Malick to watch the first cut of the film, which ran well over 5 hours long. He said Malick kept changing his mind about which sequence to use and how long the film should be. Weber had to bring in another editor, Leslie Jones, to help him cut the film. Even with two editors, Malick decided to hire another editor, Saar Klein, to finish film. Somehow these three editors worked their magic and put together a wonderful film. Rumors has it that Malick still wasn’t satisfied with the final film that he wanted to bring in another editor but because of time constraint, he relented and release the film to the public. If you love learning about how editing process work, watch the behind scenes features of this film, great stuff.

Well those are the great director/editor combos that have made some great films together and hopefully they’ll keep giving us more great films in the future. Now some other directors have made great films with different editors but I think the four I listed above have churned out more consistent work.

Do you have any favorite director/editor combo or you just don’t pay attention much when it comes to film editors?

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57 thoughts on “Guest Post: Great Director & Editor Combos

  1. Fantastic list, Ted. Some really great editor, plus it’s good to see them getting some much needed recognition. If I’d add any to this, it would be Clint Eastwood and Joel Cox. That pairing as done a whole lot a marvelous work together, too. Thanks.

    • Thanks Michael, good call on Eastwood and Cox, they’ve been working together a long time. I almost mention Chris Nolan and Lee Smith but I have to wait and see how The Dark Knight Rises turns out before I can include them on the list. Smith also worked with another great director, Peter Weir, he edited the last three of Weir’s films.

  2. Don’t have a favorite as I only know of the Scorcese/Shoonmaker duo. I guess I can only liken this to the famous collaborators my man Alfred Hitchcock had over the years, the most noted being his wife Alma Reville (writing and continuity).

        • Well, come to think of it, that isn’t terribly surprising for Hitchcock. He was so incredibly meticulous in his planning/storyboarding/layout, and knew exactly how he wanted everything to be put together, that he probably simply saw an editor as simply someone to piece together everything exactly as he already laid it out. There was probably very little creative work for the editor to do in his films.

      • He had a string of films that were edited by George Tomasini, starting with Rear Window and every film until Marine, the golden age of Hitchcock (this includes The Man Whew Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds).

    • Hi Becky, think of an editor as the production artist in the design field. The director is the designer and they would hand over their design work to the production artist to complete their design concepts.

      • Thanks, Ted great analogy. Goody… I’m already a layout/production artist! Can I be a film editor now too?… ! ;-D

        • Hey why not, just remember though most film directors have huge ego so if you don’t mind them standing over your shoulders while you work, then you can be a film editor. :)

  3. I’ve liked most of the films by Kubrick, so i guess i would have to put him and whoever edits his movie.

    This post also makes me wonder if the Coen brothers have stuck with 1 editor for there movies.

    • Kubrick used a few editors to edit his films that’s why he didn’t make my list.

      Not sure if you knew but The Coen Bros. actually edited their own films, they use their pseudonym, Roderick Jaynes, on the credits.

        • On my first short film I shot, I tried editing it by myself and it wasn’t fun. I wanted to keep all the footage I shot, that’s why it’s a good idea to have an editor. For The Coens, since there are two of them, one can focus on editing while the other direct the movie. Of course I’m guessing how they work with each other here, I would love to be on their movie sets and see how their process works.

      • Interestingly, Roderick Jaynes was nominated for an Oscar, one of the few pseudonyms picked for such an honor.

  4. Editors are among the most underrated working folks in Hollywood. Props to you, Ted, for highlighting some of the best out there!

    And Malick is never satisfied with his movies ;) I hear he was tinkering for months on The New World, after it was released.

    • Yeah they’re very underrated in the industry, successful directors would always stick with the same editor if they could.

      Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be an editor on Malick’s films. He actually re-edited The New World before it was released to wider audiences, he felt the version he shown to the executives and press was too long.

      • Hi Castor, that’s exactly what I said when I first got this article. Film editors are the ‘unsung heroes’ if you will of the film industries. Great job for highlighting them, Ted!

  5. Oscar experts always say that one of the best ways to tell which film will win Best Picture is to look at the Editing category, since editors are so often in sync with their directors.

  6. This is prompting me to try and figure out who my favourite filmmakers used in the editing room. Their films might’ve been completely different had they used someone else. I always new about QT and Sally, but the others were new to me. Great job Ted, at highlighting one of the most important jobs in the film industry.

    • Thanks Tyler, film editors doesn’t get enough attention from the public. I’m very curious to know who QT will work with on his new film, Django Unchained.

  7. What an informative post. I really don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that Directors unpaired up with editors and stayed together. That makes total sense now I think.

    DoH!!

    I wonder who QT is going to use now then? I am sure he will choose someone totally fitting to the task ahead!!

  8. Scorsese and Schoomaker are the first pairing I think of when I think of Directors/Editors… and also the only pairing I think of because it’s the only one I know. In other words, this is educational stuff! Great article, Ted.

    • Thanks John.

      Like I mentioned on the article, not people pay attention to the editors but they’re very important part of putting together a film. You’ll probably notice on some films, they credited two or three editors, usually those type of films are either bad ones or the director just couldn’t make up his/her mind. For example, Terrance Malick likes to hire multiple editors on his films.

  9. Brian DePalma and Paul Hirsch
    Paul Thomas Anderson and Dylan Tichenor
    Steven Soderbergh has also edited some of his films under the pseudonym “Mary Ann Bernard”

  10. David Fincher and Angus Wall have proven that they make a good pairing. From Panic Room to the recent GWDT Teaser, The latter is really a good example to the images and pacing coming together in a real harmonious way, can’t wait for the finished film.

  11. Another one I’d add to the list is Wong Kar-Wai and William Chang, especially since Kar-Wai is so known for improvisation and is similar to Malick in basically “finding” his movies in the editing room.

  12. Scorsese and Schoonmaker actually worked together on a little documentary called “Woodstock”, both as editors, although Scorsese did not get screen credit.

    How about the team of Apichatpong Weerasethukul and Lee Chatametikool?

  13. Norman Jewison and Hal Ashby

    Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch and Peter Zinner

    John Woo and Stephen Kemper

    Billy Friedkin and Bud Smith

  14. As a director and editor myself I’m blown away with the Coen Brothers, and especially Akira Kurosawa, directing and editing all their own films. Is a tough job, and they have done it so incredibly well.

  15. Pingback: Hit List: July 20, 2011 « IMDb: All the Latest

  16. great idea. great list. however, this article was in need of its own editor. the grammar within this piece is absurd and if someone had bothered to review this, even once, you’d find more grammatical errors than a 1st grade research paper.

    also, BTW – it’s “sally menke”…”MENKE” with an “E”…NOT an “A”…way to show class.

    • Thanks and I do apologize for my poor grammar. I should’ve let someone read it over before publishing it online.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Let’s not forget Sam Raimi and Bob Murawski. They’ve worked together since the first “Evil Dead” movie.

  18. Baz Luhrmann and Jill Bilcock have done great work together, as well as Alfred Hitchcock and George Tomasini. Great article, by the way! I’ve found director/composer teams to be some of the greatest partnerships ever, such as Spielberg and Williams, and director/cinematographer teams, such as Spielberg and Kaminski or Nolan and Pfister.

  19. Great article but I might go so far as saying editors are idols compared to sound editors/designers. If a film is edited well, everyone praises it. For the most part people only bring up the sound if it was done poorly.

    • I actually think the same could be said about visual editing. If it’s done right, the film was masterfully directed. If it’s done poorly, THEN people start to notice the editing. :)

      But that might apply to more general audiences and the perception you’re referring to might be of those in the industry.

  20. Thanks everyone for stopping by and list your favorite director/editor combos.

    @ Bob Alexander, I might write another article about director and cinematographer combos real soon. Thanks for the suggestion.

  21. I have a few I can think of…

    Sergio Leone & Nino Baragli (The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America)

    Alfonso Cuaron & Alex Rodriguez (Y Tu Mama Tambien & Children of Men)

    Todd Haynes & the late James Lyons (Poison, Dottie Gets Spanked, Safe, Velvet Goldmine, & Far from Heaven)

    Bernardo Bertolucci & Franco Arcalli (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, & 1900)

  22. Ted,

    So-so article. While I appreciate you throwing some light on the craft of film editing, once again I have to ask (and this is certainly not limited to you): where is your sense of history? No director/editor teams before the 1970s? The four you list are the ones who “have churned out more consistent work”? Please. Go back, do more research, and you’ll be stunned with the teams you missed.
    Here’s a primer:
    Alfred Hitchcock & George Tomasini – already mentioned in the comments (which had better choices than half of your list);eight movies. 1950s – 1960s
    Billy Wilder & Doane Harrison – as editor/supervisor, 10 movies. 1940s – 1960s
    Alan Parker & Gerry Hambling – more than a dozen. 1970s – 2000s!
    Francis Ford Coppola & Barry Malkin – at least a dozen projects. 1960s – 1990s
    John Ford & Jack Murray – more than a dozen movies. 1940s – 1960s
    It seems that too many movie bloggers seem to think movies began when they began to watch movies. Add historical context to your blogs and I guaranty your postings will improve.

    • Hi Damian,

      Thanks for your comments and yes I know I didn’t name some of the combos from the early days of cinemas. I’m in my early 30s and I tend to watch films from 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and today; so I know I’ve missed some of the great combos from the 60s and earlier.

      Thanks for stopping by and list some of the ones I missed.

  23. Ted,

    Wow the critics are out in force. Spelling (tsk tsk) and no sense of history (for shame). lol. I want to just thank you for bringing the topic up. You can’t list everybody otherwise there would be no need for us to comment and list our favorites. Right? You can’t be expected to see and know everything. You listed 4 teams and somehow Damien thinks “you’ll be stunned with the teams you missed???” We’re you really stunned!!! Because Ted it’s your moral obligation to your fellow bloggers to be Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese, Pauline Kael, Robert Osborne, William Goldman and Alexander Walker wrapped up all-in-one. What is the matter with you Ted?

    To make it up your penance is to watch Shoah, Berlin Alexanderplatz and The Decalogue back to back to back. Then write a 1000 word blog detailing why Dumb and Dumberer is actually dumberer than Dumb and Dumber. Lastly direct a five minute short using Lars Von Trier’s Dogme 95 rules of filmmaking with the Fisher Price PXL-2000 camera that Harmonie Korine used to film Gummo. Then… you may post again.

    BTW Damien… what would “the boy” say about your spelling of “guaranty”??? Unfortunately your spelling gaffe renders your entire opinion moot!!! You are the weakest link. Goodbye. Oh well… I guess nevermind about the penance Ted. Post as usual. Carry on.

    Got your back.

    Dave W

    • LOL, thanks Dave, I guess that’s what happen when the article made the IMDB hit list, we’d get a lot of other critics to the forum.

      Thanks again for stopping by and hope you stick around and keep reading our future articles. I’ll try to get an editor to fix my poor grammar. Ha ha.

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