Editing The Mists of Avalon

For Class #11

 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

Editing 'The Mists of Avalon'

A Conversation with Michael Friedlander

By Erin K. Lauten for EditorsNet

Jul 16 2001 03:15:00:000PM

Michael Friedlander's first gig as assistant editor was working with Oscar-winning editor Neil Travis, A.C.E., on the film "Bopha!" in 1992. On his whirlwind foray into assistant editing, Friedlander went on to work with editors Robert Lambert, A.C.E., Augie Hess, A.C.E., and Chip Matsumitsu on "Blue Chips," William B. Stitch, A.C.E., on "Texas Justice" and Debra Kane on "Streets of Laredo."

One day, the very busy Friedlander found himself in-between projects, and Benjamin Weissman, A.C.E., found himself in need of a Lightworks assistant for a film called "A Promise to Carolyn." Over the ensuing five years, Friedlander has been Weissman's assistant editor on a number of critically applauded television movies and miniseries, including "Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy," "Calm at Sunset," "Mandela and DeKlerk," "Kiss the Sky" and "Secret Agent Man," and he was Weissman's second editor on "To Serve and Protect" and "Jesus."

After "Jesus," Friedlander needed a break. "I needed a rest because 'Jesus' was a yearlong project," he remembered. "It took a lot out of me. I hadn't had any time off in four years, so after that movie, I decided to take the summer off." But when Weissman offered him the chance to co-edit "The Mists of Avalon," Friedlander couldn't resist.


Were you overwhelmed by the number of story lines and characters in "The Mists of Avalon"?

If you take it scene by scene, it's not so bad. Each scene has its own working. By the time I came on board, some scenes in the second half were already in good shape. When Morgaine and Viviane come back to Camelot for the final face-off versus Morgause and Mordred -- from that moment to the end is where we spent most of our time. There were so many nuances and so many choices that Uli had gotten on film.

It was just you and Uli in the cutting room?

Just me and Uli. Afterwards, Mark Wolper, Uli and I worked on it together. Once the second half was okayed by Mark and Uli, Ben took a look at it to find any cuts that he thought could be smoother. There were a few cuts that he went ahead and changed.

How did you and Uli work together?

He would sit next to me as we went through each scene. For the first week and half, I did two passes where he just gave me notes, and I got it to a point where he was ready to look at it. Once we reached that point, we worked on the battle sequence. We actually worked backwards and jumped around. We usually went quickly through most of the beginning of the second half, because he felt it was in pretty good shape. We really hit the confrontation between Viviane and Morgause, which was a big climatic scene.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in cutting the second half of the film?

It's a tie between the battle sequence and the final confrontation between Viviane and Morgause, because the amount of coverage that Uli had gotten provided unlimited choices. It was a matter of going through it and finding all the best moments.

Would you say you had a strategy for that, or was it mainly a matter of time and trouble shooting?

The strategy I had going in was doing Uli's notes first. Then I went through the footage and mapped out in my head what we had seen and what we hadn't seen, and showed Uli what hadn't been used so that we could pick out bits and pieces and use them in the show. Then we went through and said, "This works, this doesn't work" -- and that's where the trouble shooting came in. It got to the point where it was a matter of what is repetitive and what isn't repetitive, how to keep it flowing, and getting it to where all the moments that he felt needed to be there were there. Then we whittled it down so that it didn't stop the pace, or in some cases so that it sped up the pace and made it flow as one montage.

How would you describe your strategy for pacing the second half of the film?

The pacing strategy was in the beginning of the second half because you have to set everything up. You know you're going to start off slow while you're getting the audience back into the show. But once Morgaine starts having her problems and finds out that Mordred is a threat, then you have to hit -- and drive through to the end of the show. You have to get it to the point where the anticipation has built up, and then just go right through it. That's basically what Uli had in mind. Once I understood that, it was a matter of going toward that goal. We spent so much time on the end of the movie because that's where it really needed to be paced right and really hit hard. That's the last thing the audience sees. The worst thing is having a great opening and leaving the audience hanging or lulled at the end.

On past projects where you were either assisting Ben or acting as second editor, what kind of a collaboration did you have?

I would take a scene and cut it. Ben would look at it and give me notes to change the scene so it would fit within the context of the show. That would allow him extra time to go through the show and fine-tune it before running it for the director.

How do you see things playing out from this point on? Will you do more assistant editing, or do you plan to go after more co-editing and editing credits?

An executive I met with over at Paramount told me that moving from assistant editor to editor is probably one of the single hardest jumps to make. There are a lot of people doing it and there are not many jobs. What I've been doing is looking at each offer as it comes along in terms of how much I'll be able to cut. That is the number one thing. For instance, I did the pilot to "Say Yes" for Warner Bros. with the idea that if it got picked up, I would have an opportunity to possibly cut on the series. Unfortunately, it didn't get picked up. But I got to meet a lot of people and say, "I'm cutting, I'm cutting, I'm cutting." That's my philosophy at this point -- taking things that give me the most opportunity to cut, whether it's as an assistant or as a second editor.

Did you read the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley?

No. I find that you have to take the footage and the coverage and the director's vision and tell the story. You can't go back and try to weave together a story from what you have read from another source. Once it's on film, that's where your story comes from. That's what you have to work with, and you have to make it work there. What was in the book or what the story was based on doesn't matter. It's its own being at that point.

What editing system did you use?

We used two Avid systems which were linked together using fibre channel, a shared storage system in which both Avids could access all the footage at the same time. This way, I could be cutting scenes or laying off to tape a sequence while Ben was still working on another sequence which may have shared the same media.

© 2001 EditorsNet


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