New York Times on Editing

6 01 2008

There’s actually a pretty good article by Mark Harris in today’s New York Times in which a bunch of editors discuss the Editing Oscar and, by implication, editing in general. The piece, which is available from the NY Times website (you might need to register, I’m not sure since I’m already registered there) talks about how often the editing nominations mirror the Best Picture nominations. I’ve always assumed that’s because most Academy members aren’t really sure what the hell it is that we do, so when they get to Best Editing they say “Hmmm, I liked that picture so I’ll vote for it here.” Mark Goldblatt seems to agree with that:

“What we do is mysterious,” said Mark Goldblatt, an Oscar-nominated editor and member of the Academy’s board of governors. “We’ve got the artistic vision of the director to live up to, the integrity of the performances to maximize, and we have to serve the story.”

Of course, Mark probably had a loftier point in mind, rather than why the two categories bear such a close resemblance to each other.

Harris also talks about what it is that we do.

What exactly editors do in that dark room can vary greatly. At its most basic, editing — a job that can begin almost as soon as the director has shot enough footage to assemble a single scene — involves selecting the shots, angles and takes that will make up the completed movie; choosing when to cut away from one performer or one element of physical action to another; and deciding what should be reaching the viewer’s eye at any given moment. It can also entail eliminating or rearranging lines, exchanges and entire sequences in consultation with the director. But the hand of an experienced editor eventually affects everything in a movie, from its look to the pace of its story, to the shape and weight of each performance.

But two comments hit very close to home for me. I’ve always felt that it is really hard for me to tell how well a film has been editing by looking at the final film. In fact, I should probably have to see all of the dailies to make that determination (something that I’m glad I don’t have to do in many cases).

Thelmas Schoonmaker puts it this way:

“Part of your job is having to be pretty brutal, to let go of something, even if you love it, even if it feels like cutting off a limb, to make a film work better.” But the give and take between a director and editor, by definition, remains private. “You can’t discern what the contribution or ability of an editor is from a list of credits,” Mr. Winborne said. “You’d have to talk to the director and editor to discover what their collaboration was like.”

Chris Rouse puts it the best when he says:

You have to look at what’s there. The award is for best editing, not best editor.

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2 responses

8 01 2008
Variety talks about Editing « H o l l y n - w o o d (Norman, that is)

[…] are a few articles out there in which editors are interviewed talking about their craft. In my blog posting yesterday I mentioned the New York Times’ piece. Today I want to make note of a piece in yesterday’s Daily Variety, in which editors like […]

11 01 2008
A.C.E. Nominations Announced « H o l l y n - w o o d (Norman, that is)

[…] of the Best Picture winner in the Oscars. In last week’s piece in the New York Times (see my blog entry about it), they made the same point, though they gave a much more intelligent set of reasons than I do. They […]

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