For Class #10

 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


An Interview with Richie Marks and Larry Jordan
By Erin K. Lauten
October 25, 2001 05:49 PM PDT

Note that this interview contains a lot of discussion about two topics that we have been discussing in class -- how to find and maintain tone, and how the director and editor build and maintain a relationship. I'll highlight those areas in yellow like this.

Over the years, Richie Marks has built up a resume that could double as a list of "Films To Watch." His work includes "Serpico," "The Godfather: Part II," "The Last Tycoon," "Apocalypse Now," "Pennies from Heaven," "Pretty in Pink," "Broadcast News," "Father of the Bride" and "You've Got Mail." One of his most recent films, which earned him his fourth Oscar nomination, is aptly titled "As Good as It Gets." Truly, Marks' career can be described with exactly that phrase.

Larry Jordan worked as Marks' assistant and then as an additional editor on "The War of the Roses" and "Little Man Tate." He earned an ACE Eddie nomination for editing the pilot episode of "N.Y.P.D. Blue," and has gone on to cut films like "Fallen," "Jack Frost," "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo" and "New Port South."

How does Penny Marshall work differently than other directors you've worked with?
Marks: The big difference with Penny is that she shoots an enormous amount of film, probably more than most directors I have worked with. So you are kind of overwhelmed with the amount of material. I also think she is a director that relies very heavily on the editorial process, to start whittling down the story and focussing in.

In terms of footage, is it better to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed?
Marks: Given my druthers, I would rather have more footage than less because I think it expands the parameters of what you can do. But it also makes the process slightly more neurotic because you have so many choices. Ultimately, though, it's worse to be left with fewer choices than with more choices.
Larry, was this more footage than you were used to?
Jordan: I've worked on films with substantial amounts of footage before but having said that, this is unquestionably the most footage I've ever dealt with on a film. This was much different. Like Richard said, the amount of choices we were confronted with in terms of performance and story was huge. So it becomes a matter of having enough hours in the day to go through all the material and make those choices. Obviously, we can do things very fast on digital systems and such. But you still have to look at all the film, you still have to construct it and deconstruct it and construct it again -- and that takes time.
Marks: If I may add, I think the other difficult thing about this film is the structure of the film itself, which consists of a present-day story with a back story. It's incredibly hard to make the present-day and the past story integrate with each other. How you do it and where you do it -- that takes a long time to resolve.

Were a lot of the transitions set forth in the script?
Marks: Certainly, but even though it was in the script, it still becomes an element that is very jugglable. We weren't dealing with a strictly linear story, we were dealing with two linear stories: present-day linear story and past linear story. How and where you integrate those stories is very changeable. The biggest challenge was how each of those stories survived, in what shape they survived, and where you go from the present day into the past, or vice versa, for the most impact. Ultimately, that was the biggest juggle in the movie and the thing that we played around with the most.

In particular how did you face these challenges? Is it very instinctual? Do you do a lot of troubleshooting?
Marks: Film editing is a trial-and-error process. You go with a certain thought or try to interpret the material in terms of that plot, and then you sit back and you look at it and say, "Whoops!" or "Great!" Every path you try leads you to another path, which leads you to find other paths to go down. Eventually, the decisions that are made -- those we make as editors and those made by the directors -- improve the process and that helps you to determine what paths to pursue and what paths not to. The caveat of this is that you are trying to remain true to the original intent of the story. As Larry said, this is a character piece, it's not a plot piece. Our job is always to try to remain true to those characters.

When you are on a picture for such a long time, how do you keep your emotional connection to the story and the characters? How do you keep yourself from getting bored?
Marks: It's hard to maintain objectivity. Ultimately, the only thing you can trust is your initial instincts -- how you felt when you first saw the material and when you first responded emotionally to the character and to her situation. That has to be your touchstone as you go forward. As you start to build the film, you begin to rely on how other people respond. After all, this is a medium where you are trying to get people to respond to what you are trying to say, and you have remain sensitive to that. When you start to see the film with an audience, it gives you a fresh perspective and fresh eyes with which to see it.

Did she spend more time in the cutting room with you because of that reason?
Marks: She spent a lot of time in the cutting room, but Penny always spends a lot of time in the cutting room. In that regard I don't think her time in the cutting room changed on this film. It was just that we spent more time on this film and therefore she was in here more.

How would you characterize the way that you interact when you are working on a scene?
Marks: The nice thing about working with Penny is that you feel free to say whatever you want. I think in some ways she encourages that. Certainly with me, there's an old friendship with Penny, so I am comfortable with her and I don't feel like I have to pull any punches. I also feel that my responsibility as an editor is to say what I think. Whether that gets used or not by the director is another story. I feel that editors are hired to express opinions and to give a point of view.

Do you think that's more the case now than it was in the past?
Marks: One hopes it was always looked at that way. I don't know if things have changed very much. I think there is a little more recognition of editors' contributions now. But the definitions of the relationship between the editor and the director have always been defined by the directors and the editors themselves. There are certain directors who don't like input and just want someone to put the film together the way they want it put together. Then there are directors who really welcome the editor in the process and make it much more collaborative. Penny is a person who enjoys the collaborative process.

How does this compare to other experiences that you have had?
Jordan: I have been lucky in that I've worked with a lot of directors that were looking for an editor who can contribute ideas. Frankly, it's being shortsighted if you hire an editor and you don't want to hear their ideas, because you can hire an assistant to assemble a film, or for that matter, anyone who knows how to work an Avid. What a director should be looking for is an editor with the wealth of experience that, say, Richie brings to a film, having cut films like "Apocalypse Now" and "Godfather II." Again, this experience was very enjoyable in that Richie and I got to really work the film.

How did you split up scenes?
Marks: We each just sort of grabbed stuff as scenes finished shooting. I don't think there was any rhyme or reason. The only executive decision I made was not to give Larry the wedding scene with 100,000 feet of film. That was an act of mercy.
Jordan: One of the more important things that I learned from Richie on this film, being lucky enough to work with an editor of his experience, is that the idea of being entirely proprietary about a scene or about a film is sort of ridiculous. You really have to put your ego aside and come to terms with the fact that you are working with a lot of people on a film, unless you are dealing with an "auteur" who is not interested in letting anyone else into the process. Frankly, at first I was a little bit nervous about re-cutting Richie's stuff. But he was very encouraging about it, saying, "Go ahead, re-cut this, rework that." So it was very freeing to just go in there and re-cut, try new ideas. As editors, we each bring our own set of life experiences to every cut we make, so I was able to shed light on things that he had cut, and he was able to shed light on things that I had cut. Ultimately, I think that made for a better film.

Tell me about the drowning scene.
Jordan: The drowning scene is about a woman questioning motherhood, questioning her love of her child. We had a range of performances for that scene, from very broad to very melodramatic. We cut all those versions and screened many of them in preview. What I might have initially thought would have played better for an audience didn't turn out to be so when we got closer to finding the ultimate tone of the film. So it was just a matter of having the time and stamina to go through all of the material, looking at it with a fresh eye in the context of how the film was playing in each particular version.

For that scene, did you lean more toward the subtle performance or more toward the melodramatic performance?
Jordan: This scene takes place in the '60s, and the girls take a drug before this conversation. We never quite say what the drug is because being modern-day America we have to be somewhat politically correct in what we present to audiences for a PG-13 movie. So we had to find the balance, and that was the key to making that scene work for us. We couldn't go too melodramatic because it would have been like a soap opera. We also couldn't go too broad because we were dealing with something as serious as questioning the love of your child. In any case, they are worked up and they are laughing, but they are also getting very close to their core feelings. So the challenge became finding the right balance between something where they were totally disregarding their feelings by laughing too much, seeming too loaded or where they were going too much in the other direction, being too weepy and melodramatic.

Is it frustrating for you to cater to the audience?
Jordan: It depends on the material. If you are doing a broad comedy, you want the audience to laugh, so sure, you want to cater to them. But on a project like this, you want to be truer to the characters and the story. I remember working with Danny DeVito and Jim Brooks on "The War of the Roses," and the big question was -- do the Roses die at the end, or do they wake up again and live? Jim Brooks' projects have never been ones to roll over and play dead to audiences' whims, and I think he has been more successful as a director and a producer because of that. Penny's also no pushover. She respects the audience and garners a tremendous amount of input from the preview process. But I think that there are some fundamental things that you have to stay true to.
Marks: I don't know if the decision-making is initially is based on that, but I think you always have to have the audience, and the idea of clarity, in the back of your head. Any person involved in the film comes to the project with a certain amount of built-in back story. The danger in editing is that you assume that everyone knows what you know. I think you keep an audience in mind only in the sense that you are telling the story and that story has to be coherent to them.

This is an excerpt from a longer interview on EditorsNet. For the complete interview go to their website by clicking here.

Though I've tried to accomodate other browsers THIS SITE IS DESIGNED FOR BEST USE WITH IE for the PC, SAFARI for the Mac, and FIREFOX for both the PC and the Mac. It also looks reasonably good on the iPhone. Lucked out on that!

All material, except where noted, ©1999-2008 by Norman Hollyn. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send me an e-mail at my office
Last Modified - September 30, 2008