What Directors Look For In An Editor

For Class #8

 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

What Directors Look for When Choosing an Editor

by Keith Brachmann

Choosing Choosing an editor is one of the most significant decisions a director makes. Accordingly, his considerations are many. Beyond mere technical proficiency, a film editor is often expected to display abilities ranging from diplomacy to prophecy. However, after asking several directors, it seems the talent most consistently sought after appears to be creative thinking.
Jon Turtletaub "The editor is there to do the brilliant thing you wouldn't have thought of," says director Jon Turteltaub ('While You Were Sleeping,' 'Phenomenon'). "What he brings creatively can mean the difference between a good film and a great film." To this end, Turteltaub considers it essential that he and his editor share an understanding of "the heart of the script." He looks for this in the interview by asking a prospective editor what the film is about. In the case of 'Cool Runnings,' for example, this not only assured a common vision between director and editor, but helped him refine his own sense of the project: "He told me, 'It's about dignity,'" recalls Turteltaub. "I had known what kind of film I wanted to make, but the word itself had not occurred to me. I thought, 'That's right, it is about dignity,' and that helped set the tone for the film."
Michael Pressman Michael Pressman ('Picket Fences,' 'To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday') also insists upon a mutual perception of the project, looking for an editor with a desire to "get into the director's head - not only to understand his vision of the film, but to enhance it." He finds that discerning this in an interview is often a matter of gut feeling, and typically spends an hour and a half with candidates looking for the "personal click" that leads to a good working rapport.
Mark Rocco For Marc Rocco ('Where the Day Takes You,' 'Murder in the First'), who believes that controlling a movie too strictly prevents it from realizing its full potential, the search for rapport often takes a couple of interviews; he prefers to talk to a candidate again after he or she has had a chance to read the script and think about it. His editor, in turn, has an opportunity to become involved in a unique collaborative process. "I want an editor who can top me, who will bring new ideas to the film," says Rocco, "..someone who is willing to push the envelope." Rocco also relies on his editor to help with scouting, to research music, and to understand his actors' performances - to be, beside himself, "the closest person to the film."
William Bickley Television producer/director William Bickley ('Happy Days,' 'Step by Step,' 'Kirk') also views the creative process as a collaborative effort, one in which, "Ideally, everyone would be involved in everything." He sees his editors as people who, like himself, want to make a movie or tell a story, and values their perspective as such. "The response I like to get from an editor is, 'I see, but what about this..' It drives me nuts when someone just tells me what they think I would do. If I didn't want an opinion, I wouldn't ask." So adamant is Bickley that his editors bring a creative point of view to the job, that he cites lack of opinion as the primary circumstance under which he would consider firing one.
Jon Avnet Another proponent of editors with something to say is Jon Avnet ('Fried Green Tomatoes,' 'Up Close and Personal') who prefers to surround himself with "strong people with opinions." In keeping with his goal of getting the best out of the people he works with, he doesn't mind being challenged, as long as the debate serves the film; egos, he maintains, cannot get in the way.
Check Your Ego At The Door This perspective on ego was echoed by many. Pressman looks for "curious balance between passion for the work and an ability to check the ego at the door," professing admiration for the editor who will rethink something and make it better, rather than becoming defensive. For Turteltaub, this means an editor who understands that criticism is not personal and "doesn't pout." This allows his editing process to be a forum for experimentation without the hindrance of bruised egos when an idea doesn't work. In fact, he and his current editor have evolved a vernacular that seems to deliberately mock the notion of wounded feelings: "I can say, 'That is absolutely the worst piece of editing I've ever seen,' and he'll know that I mean to try the other angle."

In Avnet's case, this communication takes a minimalist twist. "I can just say, 'I need you to fix that thing,' and she knows what I mean. Sometimes I don't even have to say a word." Rocco refers to this "verbal shorthand" as one of the benefits of working with the same editor again and again. Also important to these directors were such factors as an editor's sense of humor, the way he or she treats their assistants, and even whether or not he or she'd be fun to go bowling with. It seemed that they were looking for partners, not just hiring employees.



Reprinted from The Motion Picture Editors Guild Newsletter March/April 1996
© 1996, The Motion Picture Editors Guild, IATSE Local 776

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