Interview With Mark Goldblatt

For Class #7

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

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com

 

NOTE FROM NORMAN: The following interview contains some interesting comments on the similarity and differences between today's editing styles and requirements and those of forty years ago. I've highlighted those areas like this.

Interview with Mark Goldblatt, President, American Cinema Editors By Elif Cercel Wednesday December 9, 1998, 12:14 AM PST. Mark Goldblatt, A.C.E. is the current president of American Cinema Editors. He is also the editor of groundbreaking action/adventure films over the last two decades, among them "Terminator" and "True Lies" directed by James Cameron.

A.C.E. was set up over 45 years ago as an honorary society to advance the interests of the film editing community. The organization primarily draws its members from among working editors, but also includes industry executives and supervisors, as well as retired and non-working professionals. In addition to monthly meetings designed to draw together its members, A.C.E. runs educational programs and gives out industry awards -- known as the "Eddies" at their annual awards dinner. This year's event will be held on March 13, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

In his career as editor, Goldblatt has worked with leading directors, among them Michael Bay, on his most recent editing project, "Armageddon," and Paul Verhoeven for whom he edited "Starship Troopers" and "Showgirls." Goldblatt received an Academy nomination for his work on James Cameron's action feature "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the London Film School, Goldblatt's first editing assignment was as a co-editor on Joe Dante's "Piranha." He has also worked on such films as "The Rock," "Commando" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II."

Goldblatt was elected to head A.C.E. last August and succeeded Tom Rolf.



How and why did you become involved with A.C.E.?

A lot of the work editors do is perceived as "invisible" and it is also very cerebral. I can't tell if the work attracts people who are also cerebral, and sometimes quiet or inward, or whether editing perpetuates this and gets us into such a frame of mind. Whatever it is, I feel it behooves editors to network, to hang out together and to have a framework. I think it is important because so much of the work we do is solitary, in a so-called windowless room. It is important to get outside of those rooms and share experiences, and do what we can to elevate the state or perception of the craft. That is why I got involved.

A.C.E. is a fellowship. It is a selective, honorary organization, not a collective bargaining organization like a union.

I was at an annual meeting when someone asked me if I'd like to join the Board. I said, "I guess so. What do I have to do?" He said, "You have to come to meetings every six weeks." So, I said, "Great! OK."

I got elected to the Board. Immediately, we changed to meeting once a month because six weeks was too long a gap. I was very active in various capacities. I became vice president under Tom Rolf for two terms. I actually got to do some work running the organization while Tom was away on location during his last term. I am very pleased to be in a position to try to do some good.

How do you perceive your role?

Two ways: I perceive my role as a working editor who is actively involved with the officers and Board of Directors of A.C.E. in terms of (a) coordinating and presenting good ideas that we can act on (any board member or member can come up with ideas) and (b) helping the board and the membership do as much as they can to further their ideas. In many ways it's an administrative role.

Certainly there are things I am interested in, but I don't perceive my job as an opportunity to overly push any kind of a personal agenda. That is not my position. We have a managing director, Jenny McCormick, who focuses on the day-to-day operational running of the organization. I chair the meetings and make sure we cooperate on every event and every situation we are trying to deal with.

What are the areas of interest in the editing profession that A.C.E. is concerned with today? What is its objective right now?

Our credo basically talks about the work ethic. We take our jobs seriously and we talk about what it is that we do. We also want people outside of our profession, the rest of the film-making community, to understand what it is we do. That includes the population at large, the filmgoers who watch our work in theaters and on television.

Basically, we want to further the realization that our contribution to the making of a motion picture or a show is pretty enormous. So we are working towards (a) having the work acknowledged, and (b) having the artists who perform the work perceived as such. Very often editors today don't get much acknowledgment, and they deserve it.

For example: if an editor is working with a director, the editor is there to help and serve the director in actualizing his vision, but they are not just a pair of hands for the director. At least, we hope they are not; they shouldn't be.

Our point of view is that a good editor knows a lot about editing and a smart director will hire the best editor he or she can get. The editor will then bring something new to the table in terms of molding the material the director has shot, to help them actualize their vision even better. The editor has an objectivity that the director may or may not have. Because filmmaking is a team sport and a collaborative endeavor, the collaboration is crucial.

Often you read in the paper that a director has been credited for doing the editing on his movie. Yes, the director is involved in the editing of his movie, but the director is not the editor. The director is working with an editor.

Very often the director and the producer are given credit for the overall picture. This is fine because they pull it all together, and hopefully it is a very strong vision. But we want to make sure the editor is acknowledged for their contribution.

What are your other roles within the profession?

We try to be a clearing house for all kinds of new technology in lots of different ways. When possible we may work with a company giving them feedback when someone is developing a new editing system; so perhaps it could be more editor-friendly.

A lot of companies will develop hardware and technology and they may not be actual working editors. They may be engineers or experts in other areas. It is great to have the input from the people who are going to use the equipment before it is locked down.

Can you name any companies you work with?

Encore Nonlinear is a company that helps us. There is DES in the Valley and Sony Pictures Entertainment, CFI Labs in Hollywood, Electric Picture Solutions in North Hollywood and of course, Avid. I actually lectured at an Avid Master Editors Seminar in Rockport, Maine some months ago. We also have affiliate members from a lot of different companies, various labs, post-production departments and studios.

Do you teach or lecture?

I haven't actively done so. This year I have been involved in a couple of events. I participated in an evening at the Academy with Donn Cambern as part of their Editors Series. We sometimes work in tandem with the Motion Picture Editors Guild. A.C.E. in conjunction with the guild sponsored a panel discussion which I moderated at the Wide Screen Film Festival. We had a number of A.C.E. film editors participating including, Richard Francis-Bruce, Tina Hirsch, Anne Coates and Peter Honess.

How do interpret the changes that are taking place in the editing world, especially with the introduction of nonlinear systems?

There have been a number of changes. Probably the greatest single change has been the advent of visual editing technology. Previously, when you edited on film, especially on a large scale motion picture, and you were faced with a very large amount of footage, the process was more complex because you had to actually go through every foot physically and manipulate and edit both picture and sound, physically; kind of like stitching a shoe by hand, piece by piece.

You would hold the film and if you were looking for a piece, you had to physically find it. If you had a little five frame trim you cut it off and filed it, and if it got misplaced, you might have assigned all of your assistants the task of digging through many trim bins and boxes in order to find it. The analog system was a wonderful craft system. I am extremely happy that I lived through being able to become proficient in editing film that way because that is what movies are about -- cutting celluloid. A lot of young editors today may not get to have that experience, and I think that is a shame. Digital is really a representation of what the film is, but without knowing film, editors sometimes may miss certain associations.

Many young assistants today don't have an understanding of the craft of film editing. In fact, we are still shooting on film and conforming film negative, so it is important to understand film, as well as digital editing.

The reality is that now we can deal with the material in a more concise way and we have random access to any piece of film. Today we can have a huge amount of footage on-line for a big picture. We can have multiple editing stations working. It is perceived that it is actually easier and faster to cut movies than it used to be. This is erroneous. It is not easier because there are still the same kinds of decisions that have to be made which are performance decisions and storytelling decisions.

Generally speaking, when one is editing a picture, whether it is on film or not, you would make decisions based on your gut instincts and gut responses. Then you have to step back and be objective. There is a jelling, gestating period when you sit with the film and then detach yourself. It is a formative process.

Now, editors rarely have that opportunity. You don't really have a lot of time to sit with the film because, generally speaking, post-production schedules have really shrunk quite a bit. One of the reasons is the digital technology and the perception that you can now edit a lot quicker.

What we have found is that the digital systems offer us the capability of getting deeper into the material so you can try different approaches that in the past might not have been explored. The very concept of having a scene you have already cut that was complex, tearing it completely apart and trying something completely different was fairly cumbersome not so many years ago.

You would have had to have made either an edit list or, more commonly, a picture dupe and a sound dupe of the old cut which could take a day or overnight, so you would lose the spontaneity right there. Then you would try your next cut. Today on digital systems, you can automatically store your cut and make one cut after another. You can make as many variations as you want in an effort to achieve the best cut.

So digital systems are a great tool. But they can be problematic for editors who have a hard time committing to an approach. They might make twenty cuts and not be sure. That is not necessarily going to result in the best cut if an editor is indecisive. In fact, both editors and directors need to be decisive.

To me that doesn't mean you take the first idea and go with it, without even looking at other alternatives. It means you explore alternatives as fully as possible. You have to have a decisive gut feeling about it all. Otherwise you could edit a picture for five years and perhaps even make it less coherent, because of a loss of objectivity.

We are all up against schedules. Today, pictures very often go into production with a script that may or may not be ready. The writers might be doing rewrites every night, but the release date is set in stone for marketing reasons. You have to get it done and that is that. If the script has problems, you are going to be rewriting that script in your editing. This will be the final rewrite and you have to get it right. There is no back end there. No revisions. You have to get it done.

This puts a lot of responsibility on the editor, on the entire post-production team and certainly on the director as well. Sometimes, in that finite amount of time, the process will come together very smoothly, sometimes it is going to be a race against the clock. This means that every waking hour, every hour available to you, might be used.

That is a big issue for editors because we all know that going into a project, we want to have the best possible result. If we care about our craft, we are going to do whatever it takes to get to that place even if it means working twenty hours a day, seven days a week. Nobody wants to do that, but if that is what it takes, we are going to have to do it. This might require expanding the team and hiring extra editors and assistants, when necessary.

Is there a trend towards using many editors on big projects and why?

A lot of the reason for this is the tight schedules, the vast amounts of material shot, and the tight release dates.

It can work very well if the editors are in sync with each other, and the director. I have done it a number of times and had some great experiences. Sometimes it is not so good because everyone cuts differently. In the best collaborations, people can't tell who cut which sequences.

How are editing styles changing, if at all?

I don't know if there really is a way to say editing styles really change. I wonder about that.

Every time we think we see a new or revolutionary style it has actually been done before. If you look at Abel Gance, the French director of "Napoleon" there are techniques in that picture that are as contemporary as anything we do today. He even had three screens, something like Cinerama and there are some jump cuts in there. Certainly, Eisenstein laid the tenets.

One thing that editors did in the 30's, 40's, and even the 50's that you don't see much anymore is the style of cutting from a wide shot to a slightly tighter wide shot, to a slightly tighter wide shot. Directors sometimes went from one shot to another that was not radically different. Unless you are really looking for it, you might not even see it. But it is something I do not see much today.

Basically, we have the same problems or challenges today that we have always had, which is to make the film work, optimally in terms of narrative clarity, pacing and performance.

Another issue is that in narrative cinema, the scripts for studio films were really pretty tight. Today, scripts are sometimes not polished at the shooting stage. It is a different approach.

Also stylistically, we sometimes have a more visual mise en scene that is not so literary -- in the past cinema often derived from literary or theatrical origins. The script was often based on plays or novels. Today it is not necessarily that way. Filmmakers often think in visual terms initially. There were exceptions though. Eisenstein's films weren't based on novels, they were based on his ideas. Also the film work of surrealists like Bunuel and Dali.

It's hard for me to say what my own style is. I don't know if I would cut a scene differently than I would have ten years ago. All I know is that I sit down with the material and I start cutting.

Given your track record in action films how would you say editing is affected by visual effects?

Digital visual effects are being used in every kind of film possible. It is another way of realizing the conception of the writer and director on the screen. You are not limited to representational reality as shot on the stage or on location, but you can augment it, add to it or create it completely in the computer.

This has always been an element in film. Certainly, animated films were completely created with paint or ink. It really just comes out of the fantasy of the creator. It might be representational and it might be more surreal. Today, with our new technology, we are able to give these concepts more verisimilitude.

We can create images that seem completely three dimensional and real, even though they may exist only in a digital realm. Today we have digitally animated movies that exist solely in their own worlds. We can also integrate seamlessly such visuals with live action.

This was being done for years prior to digital technology -- for example blue screens, green screens, miniatures, hanging miniatures, glass shots, in-camera effects, etc. from Melies forward. Today we give it more of a feeling that it is absolutely happening right in front of us. From the first use of digital characters in "The Abyss" to Jim Cameron's use of morphs in "Terminator." It isn't just the technology, it is the creative force that uses the technology. In Jim's case, he comes up with the effects he wants to create and the technology has to then be created. This is really a great way to do it, instead of someone just getting a PaintBox and saying they can do this and do that. He is a director who comes up with a concept like inventing a color never seen before. Then we have to go and find the means to create that color.

There are a lot of applications for digital effects. Digital effects are expensive, so if we are doing a motion picture about dinosaurs or flying saucers, we have to basically be pretty well planned out going in. Every frame of digital animation costs a lot of money so you have to be pretty controlled. You don't want to improvise very much if you can avoid it.

What that means for the editor is that there are certain shots we conceptually want to lock. We want to lock the first frame and the last frame we are going to use. Generally, there are two ways to do it. On some Jim Cameron pictures he actually had shots go into production where he knew he was going to use the given length of the shot prior to actually cutting the scene together or shooting the rest of the elements for the scene to cut together. He really did know what to use and what not to use.

More often than not, when you are cutting a scene, the visual effects creators may be on the set and working with the director on a technical level to make sure that everything is just right for the given shot which had been planned.

As soon as enough material exists, you can cut the shots together with the live action material that isn't visual-effects oriented. The editor must cut it together pretty quickly and then work with the director and lock it.

"Starship Troopers" is a good example of a picture where we had to be very scrupulous in terms of logging shots. This was important in order to figure out where the giant insects would be in relation to the actors before they were actually incorporated into the shots.

It was a complicated and time-consuming process. In order to make the release date, the editor had to cut these scenes together very fast and they had to be locked very fast. You may look at it six months later and have a different idea, but there are only so many changes you can make at that point unless you throw the shots out and start again, which you don't want to do.

It really means you have to do your homework and know what the intentions are. You just really have to study the material and make sure you put it together the best possible way you can.

How are editors adapting and is there a new area of expertise emerging within the profession?

Some of it is terribly mystifying. You just need to know how to do it. I learned a lot of whatever I know from just being a film fan since I was a little kid and studying films. I had a personal interest in visual effects. I knew a lot of the older effects like stop-motion and composite shots. In terms of learning the stuff, assistant and apprentice editors who are working with you and are lucky enough to get in the room with you, can pick up quite a bit.

One of the problems today is the cost of the digital editing systems and the whole process requires so much work. For instance, you have a whole crew of Avid assistants who are digitizing and are responsible for getting the telecine done. They may also be synching the film up, cataloging or conforming the workprint, etc. There is a tendency for a lot of these people not to be able to work as closely with the editor as they used to. I am finding that it is more difficult today not only to train editors, but to train assistants by having them be your right hand.

The assistants are generally too busy with other tasks to actually sit in the room and work with the editor. They therefore miss out on observing the editing process. There are also not enough Avids for everyone. Therefore, my assistant might be building sound effects tracks for me, before I come to work, or after I leave. Or during these times they may try editing their own versions of scenes, because the best way to become a better editor is by editing more and more.

It is difficult today to get a full training. You learn the visual effects just by being around them and the ones who really want to do it are going to find a way to learn it all.

Another point is that although editors may not necessarily be able to create a visual effect, we are much more in the loop in terms of the final look of the effects. On the Avid, we can take elements that have been shot, blow them up, shrink them, turn them upside-down, reposition them in the frame, and make composite green screen shots to get an idea of what the shot is going to be.

We can actually formulate a shot in many cases. In some cases we actually line the shot up, which was much harder to do with the actual work print, where you would have to spend money on "temp" opticals, to get a feel for what the film's visual effects might look like.

How is the integration of Web entertainment affecting work opportunities?

It is certainly creating new outlets.

When I started out, I intended to work in features, but today there are so many extrapolations: you will have the music video, the making of the film, the trailer, the teasers, the TV spots, and you will have the Web sites. There are many, many more places where your work can wind up.

Today, when we are making a theatrical feature we know it is going to end up on video tape, DVD, laser disc, cable, satellite and eventually HDTV. I love the theatrical experience, that is what I am into but the whole process is going through an incredible metamorphosis partly because of digital technology.

It is hard to predict where it will all end but we know that with the computer, everything is constantly changing. I foresee a time, at least in terms of home entertainment when we will go beyond Web TV. We are going to have high-definition wall screens, which will also be computers. We will view a movie, play games based on the movie, have chats with the filmmakers and with people watching the movie, and be able to do our shopping as well.

The more media that are available, the more markets that will exist for the editors' work. I am for the communication and the feedback between users. But in some ways, I hope the work is not interactive. I don't want to edit a film and then have it recut by whoever wants to recut it.

© EditorsNet, 1998





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