Interview With Richard Marks

For Class #5

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at]

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at]

NOTE FROM NORMAN: Play particular attention to Marks’ discussions about finding the pacing of a film, as well as the process of recutting.

Interview with Richard Marks, Editor, "You've Got Mail"

By Elif Cercel

Tuesday January 19, 1999, 12:12 AM PST

Richard Marks, whose achievements as an editor include classics like "Little Big Man" and "Godfather, Part II," recently edited the recent Gary Shandling film "What Planet Are You From?" This interview was conducted right after the release of 1998's "You've Got Mail".

During his career, Marks has worked on several James L. Brooks films and has earned Academy nominations for "Terms of Endearment," "Broadcast News" and "As Good As It Gets." He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on "Apocalypse Now." "You've Got Mail" is Marks' first collaboration with Ephron.

You have worked on many great comedies and dramatic films. What are the differences from an editorial point of view?

Theoretically, none. I think the process is still the same regardless whether it is straight drama, a comedy, or a comedy/drama. My process still remains the same. How the film is cut and what the rhythms are, of course, dependent on the material. The rhythms of a drama will be different than a comedy. But the process itself of how the material is approached is generally the same regardless of what kind of film you do.

How did the theme of this story, of these people meeting in this virtual way, affect the rhythm, tone and style of the film?

One of the biggest issues we all had to face in the film was how to deal with watching someone type on a computer screen, and to make that interesting so people would want to watch it. This was an issue that was addressed not only in post-production, but very early on in the process.

The inclination the director had originally, which bore itself out in the post-production process, was that what would be interesting was not necessarily seeing words on the screen, but seeing the actor's/actress' face and watching the emotions on their face overlayed with voice-over of what they are writing. I think you will notice in the film that the actual cuts to the computer screen are very minimal.

In the scene where Tom Hanks asks Meg Ryan if she wants to meet, you get moments of hesitation where the word on the screen becomes larger than life and it adds to the tension of the question.

How do you like to work with directors? Do you like to do your cut first or do you work closely with them during the first cut?

It has to depend on the relationship with the director. I think there are variations on the theme depending who you are working with and what you both find comfortable for that particular project. My general preference is to be able to screen dailies with the director and get an idea of what their likes and dislikes are. Then, I go in and do a pass at the film, which I would show the director as quickly as possible after the finish of principal photography. Very often there are scenes I will show the director during the course of the film; something he or she might be concerned about, something I might be concerned about, something he or she would want to really take a look at quickly.

In terms of this particular project, were you cutting while they were shooting?

Yes. It is pretty much standard and has been for a very long time now. I know there are a few directors who still want the editor to wait and not do anything until the end of shooting, but that is a two way sword. One, it is a financial luxury few filmmakers have to let the film sit for months without working on it. Two, personally, I think it is dangerous. I think it is much better for an editor to follow along with the shooting, to help short circuit problems which might occur during shooting.

The editor might be able to tell what those problems were as they were assembling the material, and be able to go to the director and suggest some solutions.

Nora Ephron's background has been in writing. Do you notice a lot of differences between filmmakers who come from a writing background versus those whose background is more production oriented?

There is a difference. But, the majority of directors I have worked with are writer/directors. I think the writer/directors are very in tune with what they have put on paper and have a very strong concept of what they want to do with the piece. They are very conscious of their words and the rhythm of the language they write.

It is an interesting process because film editing can be what is often referred to as the "final rewrite." Having the writer, not just the director, in the room with you in the final process is a very interesting experience.

Do you feel they are more tied to the words because they wrote them?

Not necessarily. That is one of those old wives' tales of the film business. I think certain writer/directors are very locked into every syllable they write, and some are exactly the opposite. They are willing to throw out anything or change anything. It just depends on the individual.

How did you get a handle on the rhythm and pacing of this film? Was it through the dailies? When did you start feeling you had a handle on it?

I think it is part of the process of any film where the first thing the editor does is try to interpret the script very literally as it was written, and as it was shot. You put it together and look at it and see whether it needs a little pacing up, and see what moves too slowly and too fast. Once you start to see it as a piece, and start to judge it as a piece, as opposed to a series of individual scenes, you start to get a feeling of the rhythm of a performance and, ultimately, of what the whole film itself demands.

©1999 EditorsNet

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