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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?