Podcast Episode 159: Women Editors Discuss The Art, Craft Of Editing
Prep for the Oscars by listening to Thelma Schoonmaker's insights into film editing
Welcome to another edition of the KPBS cinema Junkie podcast. I'm Beth Accomando. Cinema junkie is finishing up a holiday break and here's the last archive episode and it's all about film editing. Oscar nominations come out on January 22nd. So here's a little something to help you understand the art and craft a film editing. I'll be back with a new episode in two weeks all about pre code Hollywood. So enjoy this archive edition of cinema junkie all about Ace editors. OK. How many times have you come out of a movie and said that film was too long. It should have been better cut or walked away from an action film going wow that was well edited. If that's the case then maybe you'd be surprised to know that the editor is also the person who can help craft an actor's performance. The person who go through hours of footage or improvisation to find the minutes or seconds where an actor shines and that's the way we shape this raw material very much the way you a sculptor takes a lump of clay and shapes it in to a portrait of someone. Editing is also a profession where women got to make inroads from early on back in the silent days. Dorothy Eisner proved her worth and her business savvy by using stock footage to embellish Valentino's bullfighting picture Blood and Sand by repeatedly displaying such skill and smarts. She eventually moved into directing. Today I'm going to focus on women in editing by interviewing a pair of women Velma Schoomaker and Janet Chicago who just received Career Achievement honors at the American cinema editors or ACE Eddie Awards the sixty seventh award ceremony took place on January 20 7th at the Beverly Hilton Hotel the ace board of directors noted in a statement regarding their honorees that Janet Oshie Kaga and Thelma Schoomaker have helped create some of the most iconic films and television programs and entertainment. And while their resumes alone are deserving of recognition and celebration their commitment to the film editing community and shining a light on the craft of film editing is also noteworthy in the spirit of shining a light on the craft of film editing. I'll be speaking with both of these women first I speak with Thelma Schoomaker a seven time Academy Award nominee and three time Academy Award winner for Raging Bull The Aviator and the departed. All three directed by Martin Scorsese. She began her editing career working with him in 1967 on who's that knocking on my door and then Woodstock. Last year she edited Scorsese 28 years in the making passion project. Silence. He lost. I'm just praying to silence. Then I wrap up the podcast with an interview with 10 time Emmy Award nominee and four time Emmy Award winner Janet Chicago who worked on such TV shows as Seinfeld and The West Wing. But first let me share my interview with one of my idols Thelma Schoomaker. She along with women editors such as Margaret Boothe DeeDee Allen and Verna Fields inspired me as a teenage girl to see editing as a profession I could succeed in. And to this day I edited all my own TV packages podcasts and radio stories. It's something I love so it's a genuine honoring thrill to speak with Thelma Schoomaker since the ACE Award was her most recent honor. We began talking about that. Well of course it's always wonderful to receive an award from your peers because I I don't think many people understand editing. It's very mysterious craft so it's wonderful to know that the people that are giving me this award are my fellow editors who do understand this craft. You know when when we've received awards for example for the editing of Raging Bull or the aviator or departed it's for the kind of editing which is very dramatic. The fight scenes in Raging Bull the airplane crashes in an aviator and then the sort of gang violence and in departed I think for the general membership of the academy that stuff is is easier to see as anything but a lot of editing is not flashy. And to be really good at it you have to know how to shape actors performances how to build drama in the scene of things like that. Rhythm is very important to get the proper rhythm going between two actors for example you know that that's what takes years of work and learning how to do that kind of thing which is equally as good editing. For example there's a scene in aviator where there's a lunch at which Howard Hughes played by Leo DiCaprio goes to his his girlfriend's family's lunch and the Cate Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn of his intended and or his girlfriend shall I say. And the scene that I love that scene which is really everybody overlapping each other which you're not supposed to do in acting everything everybody talking on top of each other because they're completely insensitive to who he is. They're just more involved in their own little world. What was that. Oh he's a little now hasn't gone down but I think you read Flying Magazine about free journalism on engineering and aviation. We read books that is Alexander well pilot asked to read the Drake piece his mom because he's designing a new airplane really. Joel. Well a. It's quite exciting actually it's a spy plane for the Air Corps a twin engine plane with them. I must admit some rather unique design features you see has these these two booms built a bad house once. Yes I'll admit I tried that. I remember the painting it's called maybe 8a. Anyway go as Vanna liberated all the Spaniards are nonsense because I was saying my urologist it was quite aesthetic really a sacred monster. That's what the cost to raise and care for it much. That's true. That sounds bad speak up here. Nothing. Nothing mishap. Nothing. Then why did you speak. And it was one of the best things I've ever worked on. It was a great joy to work on it. But it's not the kind of thing that gets editing awards if you understand what I mean. That's a very long answer. That's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because I do think people are very confused about what editing is and you constantly hear people come out of a movie that they didn't like and they go Well that should have been better cut it should have been shorter. And and so if you could tell kind of the general film going public something about editing that you feel is a misconception or something that you would like to say about how you define what editing is that might help them understand it better. Yes. Well I think there's a big obsession today with with match cutting you know. Is there a mismatch Jim. Cut. Does somebody have a hat on and one cut and then then the next shot. They don't that's very over over done. But that's not a very good example. But when we're working on Scorsese an eye on performances by actors world will always choose to make a bad match cut if the performance demands it. If something great has just happened in a delivery by an actor. And even though maybe the spoon is in the wrong place on the table and the next cut that shouldn't matter. And so but I think today with people being able to record things replay things over and over again I understand lots of people's stand with their remote control and say well there is a bad cop. And if you look at the great history of filmmaking you'll see bad mismatches all through the great classic films that have ever been made because it wasn't it's just not that important. So that that's a small thing to bring up but it does drive me a little mad. And we're famous for our bad jump cuts for example in films like Goodfellas and somebody a fellow editor at the Academy Awards one day said to me in which Goodfellas was nominated but did not win. Why did you make that jump cut. Where Paul Savino has a cigar in one hand in his hand and then the next cut you see him after cutting away to another actor. You don't see the cigarette the cigar as I said which jump cut. I mean we make so many. So I was very surprised see this but that's not really answering your question and I don't know if I can answer it. It's really taking a lot of raw footage that comes from the set. So you might have six takes of a close up of Andrew Garfield in silence and four takes of the Japanese villager he's talking to. And my job is to take those takes and start integrating them in a way that makes you feel they're really talking to each other that there's a certain rhythm and pace to the scene that it doesn't drag that I'm not spending too much time on one person and sort of on the other. And that's the way we shape this raw material very much the way you a sculptor takes a lump of clay and shapes it in to a portrait of someone. So I think people may not understand how raw the material is that comes to us and what we have to do to manipulate it and cut it to make it work well. And I think people may not realize to how much an editor can craft a performance of an actor through the editing or room it. Who do you have an example. I mean you could ruin an actor's performance. You can you know it's very important to to do the best but when one of the things I feel you know sometimes 250 people make a movie. If you count up everybody from the drivers to the director all the people on the set and it's my job to to do justice to the incredibly hard work they have put in to getting it on film. I have a big responsibility and you certainly have a huge responsibility towards actors. I think one of the reasons that Scorsese is such a good director of actors is that he makes. He says he creates a safe environment in which they feel free to merriment and be very bold because they know that he will never take that footage and if it's not working he wouldn't use it. So they're willing to do very bold and brave things. And it's my job to make sure that when they do that I get it cut to make it work. And in editing also I think another misconception is it's not simply about making cuts or making shortcuts because there's also this sense of if you choose not to make an edit at a certain point and let a shot hold that's as much editing as making the cut definitely. So there's a famous instance and in the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci is asking What's so funny about me of Ray Liotta and he keeps asking it and asking it and finally it was Marty knew this was a true story that had happened actually to Joe Pesci. He was the one who was being tortured and he said to Ray Liotta wait. You know there's going to be a moment when you realize you either have to break this with a joke because things are getting very scary. And the choice you have right now is either to break it with a joke or get killed. What happened in fact is that Marty said to him when you get to that point where you know you have to say Oh come on Tommy wait wait hold for a bit. And we experimented over and over with how long to hold before Ray Liotta says Come on Tommy. We tried ten seconds eight seconds six seconds. I think we finally ended up on six seconds. You know it's funny you're a funny guy. To me the way I talk. But. Just you know you it's you just funny it's the weight of the story and everything. Funny how. I mean it's funny but you know you got Whitney. He's a big boy. He knows what he said. Would you say. You were funny how. It was just you know you're funny. You mean so I mean I understand that you know maybe it's minimal of fucked up maybe but I'm funny how I mean funny like I'm a clown I amuse you I make you laugh. I'm here to fucking amuse you. What do you mean funny. Funny how my funny just you know how you tell a story. No no. I don't know you said it. How do I know you said I'm funny how dumb fuck am I funny what is so funny about me. Tell me tell me which one get the fuck out of here. It's on me. Yes. So that's the kind of thing that is very much part of editing you're quite right. How long you hold. When do you use a close up or not. Marty thinks editors use too many close ups too soon in scenes. It's often important to see the ambience over a room or or to seat two actors in a two shot together. And so it's just made up of a thousand decisions we make every day together. And it would be very hard. Even if you were sitting here to maybe understand what the hell would be and you would get very bored as we go back and forth and back and forth over the same material massaging it. Until we get it right and you get it right. A lot of those films are all beautiful. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of work. Yeah it's a lot of work. Yeah I think a lot of editors are not given enough time these days. Yes it's really important for us to live because you have to live with the film. You have to begin to understand what it's saying to you and where it wants to go. That was really true with Goodfellas I felt like we were riding a horse. That film was so tightly written so beautifully shot and acted and directed that it was really there and we just had to make sure we could stay on top of it and finish it properly. But it. It had a tremendous I want to say thrust. Well you mentioned this time factor because another thing about editing is sometimes you really need the time to kind of like put it away for a little bit and step back so that you can re-evaluate what you've done. Oh very much so and I always tell students because you know sometimes you get very you get very depressed if you can't make something work. And I say to students turn off the machine go home. Have a good night's sleep and come in in the morning and start again because a fresh fresh eye is always helpful. And one of the reasons we screen as much as we do is because even one person in the room makes you start to see the film the way that person is seeing it. You can just feel it you know you can feel it. Are they restless. Why did they laugh at that joke. And you can feel how they're reacting to the film. And that gives you a very fresh eye to it. So we try and screen as 12 times if we can recut in between each screening debrief our audience in between each screening and go back and whack away at it again. But you're quite right it is necessary sometimes to get away from it. But even one person in the room if you're screening it will make you see it a different way you'll you'll see it the way the audience sees it and also do you sometimes face the dilemma of knowing how difficult it was to shoot something and how much effort went into something and then when you're editing the film and looking at it as a whole you feel like wait a minute that scene or that shot really doesn't work is that a painful process. Yes it's a very very painful and it happens a lot. It's one of the reasons I don't spend much time on the set although I love being on the set to watch Marti work with the actors which is a very exciting thing to watch. But it's better for me and he feels this too for me to have a cold eye which comes from not being on the set to see the dailies every morning when they come in before he sees them and and let him know if I think there's anything wrong or which rarely there is but how I think things are developing an actor's performance for example it's good for me not to know what they did on the set but they just you know brought in some incredible Crane and under cranked the shot and it's better for me just to see it and see if I feel it's right for the movie. That's very important discourse the enemy. We often have to drop my favorite scene or Marty's favorite scene in a movie to get it the right length or to get it to move properly in the middle say and it happens on almost every film except Goodfellas. There was only one shot that one set up that we dropped which was a little boy in the beginning learning to drink express or coffee otherwise we dropped nothing in that. No scenes in that movie but we have in many of our movies strapped scenes and that's quite normal. But it's very very painful and as you said if it's a film if it's a sequence in which a lot of money was spent on it that's really painful but it's painful even if it isn't. And so on after hours which was a film that was too long in the writing actually and it needed to be cut down. Marty and I both lost our favorite scenes and we dropped 45 minutes of wonderful funny beautifully improvised scenes from that movie. And finally when the Blu ray came out I said to Marty could we just put those scenes at the end. Not not in the movie not back in the movie but just at the end on the Blu ray. So so people could see them because they were so good. But that's that's the extent to which we sometimes have to go and it is like cutting off your leg. It really is a lot of his films have violence in them. And I'm curious from an editing point of view like how do you approach scenes that have violence what you like when do you hold back and when do you decide to show. I mean what kind of approach do you have when you're editing scenes that contain graphic elements like that. Oh well first of all you should understand that we make that violence here in the editing room it never looks like that when you get it from the set. Because no actor could be hit and have blood shoot out of his face. You can't do that. It's all done with trick shots and and even explosions and everything are you know that's all done without the actor there with a stunt maybe or. Or certainly in a safe way. We have to create it. Here we have to make it believable here in the editing room. But we do censor ourselves for sure if we think it's too much for an audience. And but I think I do think that Marty is one of the few directors these days who uses violence properly. And it's unfortunately a big part of our world as we know now and to ignore it is not right. But you have to know how to do it right. Responsibly for the right reason not just gratuitously to make a film more entertaining because you've got a lot of people being shot up or things exploding. That's that's that's bad. So he never does that. Well the violence is always very effective because there's times when it is graphic and disturbing and then sometimes it's only implied. And it's also disturbing. Yes. You know he uses that he grew up in the neighborhood of much violence and where the parents would be told take your children off the street at 3:00 because there was going to be a killing and they would. And then the kids would go back out and play again. So that's the way he grew up. He has a deep understanding of violence. I as I say said I think he uses it properly. I don't think a lot of people do these days to initially get involved in editing what was the appeal of that to you when you were starting out. It was all accidental but I did have some obviously I must have had some inkling towards it because when I was 15 I used I live I was born and brought up abroad. Both my parents were American. We came back to New Jersey when I was 15 and there was a wonderful show running them on television called Million Dollar Movie where they would run the same movie nine times in one week. And Martin Scorsese he learned a great deal of filmmaking by watching that movie himself. It was until his mother screamed shut that thing off and I unbeknownst I didn't know anything about Scorsese then or filmmaking but I would come home from school and before my mother got home because she was a nursery school teacher she would come home later than me and put her hand on the TV set to see if it had been on I would try and sneak in a little bit of this million dollar movie. And one of the films there just struck me very deeply which turned out to be a film made by the man I married. Much later Michael Powell the great British film director. So obviously there must have been something that was already affecting me but I wanted to become a diplomat. I studied political science and Russian at Cornell University took the State Department exams passed them but was then told I was way too liberal and would be unhappy there. And so I took. They started working for a professor at Columbia University who was running the first Peace Corps program and then I saw an ad in The New York Times and it just said willing to train assistant film editor which you never see nobody does that we all ask each other for assistance. But this editor had come in from Los Angeles and he didn't know anyone in New York. So he put that ad in there for some reason. I read that ad that day I have no idea why and answered it. And he was butchering the great films of European filmmakers like Fellini Antonioni this country. Truffaut do fit in late night television slots so Rocco and His Brothers a great movie by this country he took one real life. I said you can't do that. And he said nobody's looking at these things at one o'clock in the morning. But Martin Scorsese he was. And so it was so awful that I decided to quit. I had just enough money to take a course I read about at New York University six weeks in the summer about filmmaking. And for some reason I decided to do that and there I met Martin Scorsese. And my life changed forever and a wonderful wonderful wonderful way Lola was all accidental it was all accidental it was fate. Yeah I guess so you know I I'm I I've been so lucky in my life and that was one of the longest streaks of and what was that first Michael Powell film that you saw in that it's called The Life and Death of Colonel Blum. Oh wow. It's it's an incredible movie it's still my favorite of all of his and it's very very powerful. I've never forgotten it. It's just so amazing. I'm sure Marty was watching it at the same time. Was there a point that you remember watching a film and being aware that there was a person who was an editor a person who was crafting the film in that way. Not really until I met Marty. I didn't know anything about editing. He taught me everything I know. His first feature film called Who's that knocking and he had edited the first part of it and then run out of money and we all helped him. The people who were at NYU with him we all helped him finish it and shooting it. And we were just a small group of people all volunteering our efforts it was a great great learning experience to see how a movie was made. But then he had to teach me how to edit it. I had no idea. And he's a great editor it's his favorite part of filmmaking. So it was a very wonderful way to learn from such a incredibly talented filmmaker. We could see right away from these student films that Marty habit that he was going to be a significant director even way back then. So what quality do you think someone needs to be a good editor if you didn't have that background to start with. Do you think there's something particular like personality or disposition that helps you to be a good editor. Yes I think there's a lot of things my mother was very eager to. Excite me about all kinds of art literature music theater so I grew up in a an environment that that nurtured art. I think it's very good for someone to have that as a background. Also I was encouraged to play musical instruments and sing in chorus at my university and that. Having learned to be a musician was very helpful. I found later in filmmaking in terms of personality I think it takes someone who first of all is a good collaborator because you usually are working with a director and you have to learn how to work together and not squabble over everything. And that's one of the things I think that's causes he sensed early on about me that I would be a collaborator with him and it wouldn't be an ego battle over who's got the right idea about what kind of cut to make here. And when a director and an editor are fighting over a movie it's very bad for the movie. You have to have tremendous discipline. You have to be a very hard worker and have a lot of stamina and stay be able to stay with something until you get it right. And you have to have a good sense of rhythm which for me it helped very much that I had to have a musical experience in my life and music of course is so important in movies it's very good. Also when you're laying in scores and editing them to know something about how musicians make music. So I would say those are the basic things. Were there any editors that influenced you or any films that you particularly admired. Well because it was not only teaching me about anything it was also teaching me about the history of film and you know there's so many I couldn't even begin. But you know film by carousel for example I remember vividly seeing an extraordinary edit in one of his movies that I saw early on that that stunned me. But I must say that most of my examples have come from Marty. So I'm not as influenced by other editors as perhaps people who grew up in a world where they were working for DV Allen and she was teaching them and so she nurtured a great number of editors who went on to very big careers. But for me it was really Marty. Now there have been a number of really great women editors. It seems like early on women were kind of allowed more into that field than some other fields in film. Right. And I'm wondering was it because they saw this as some sort of like clerical workers. Well yeah I think for me and I I've just bought them. There's a new book out about women editors which I'm very glad to see because I've been fascinated to find out through a couple of articles that I read how early on women were editors and then I think when it became a a career where you could earn some money and also get rewarded when you see your film up there on the screen and people react to it. I think men perhaps nudged their way in and took over and then women rebounded back again after World War 2. But it's quite extraordinary when you read that Cecil B the mills editor was a woman. She was nominated for an Academy Award. There were several incredibly important female editors in the 20s and 30s and I think it's because when there was no editing at first there was a 100 foot roll film and they would go out and shoot for example a dream the famous incident of the Lumiere brothers in France shot a train coming into a station. And when people in the theater saw it they jumped back as if the train was coming right out into the room because they'd never seen film before. So there was that was just a hundred foot roll. There were no edits in it. But then while the great as the great filmmakers around the world Eisenstein in Russia William Freese Green in England David Griffith in in America and the Lumiere brothers in France began to experiment with making a cut to say the engineer in the cab of the train coming into the station they needed someone to splice the film together. And so I think they brought there were women rolling the hundreds of roles in the labs and I think they said we'll bring them in and they know how to make a hot splice with you know we used to put a little bit of liquid cement on the splice. They know how to do that. So bring them into the editing room and then they became editors. They learned editing and became editors and very significant ones. And there were studios that hired people like Margaret Booth who oversaw all the editing or all the films being made by that studio. So they were very prominent in the beginning not a lot of them but very very prominent. And then for some reason maybe as I said because it became a lucrative profession and the war intervened maybe not so many of them. But now there are lots of lots and lots of them. Which of your films do you feel provided you with the biggest challenge. Well they all do but for different reasons for different reasons. But the one that I learned the most about how to make a movie was raging bull because it was the first major feature film I had ever worked on. And we were on a Hollywood lot and I had never done that before. I never had an assistant before. I was making documentaries and things in the period when Scorsese he couldn't work with me because I wasn't in the union. So I was working on documentaries and I would put all my own dreams away. I never had an assistant and suddenly there I was with three assistants and all this film pouring in every day this unbelievably strong footage. I couldn't take my eyes off DeNiro. It was so beautifully directed so beautifully acted beautifully shot black and white and absolutely beautiful and the use of music the improvisations it was just fantastic. And so I think I learned the most on that film. And it was just pure gold in my hands. I. Had to kill everybody. You're a tough guy go kill people kill Vicky kill Salvi kill Bonny Como kill me while you're right like killing yourself the way you eat. Yes that what looking at me. I was that we mean to you. Me. Kill me. Kill me. But you fought to save it because you're driving me crazy. You were kill your big shot just kill. You're a killer. Shoot me my you know. So. What does that mean. No I didn't. You don't even know what you meant by you I mean not without my son. You mentioned Tommy you Major Salvi measure you you included you with them. You could have said anybody but you said you won them. If you will let us go ruin your life. Look at you. She really did some job on you know fucking nuts you are. Well she did deal you fuck my wife. What. You fucked my wife how could you ask me a question. How could you ask your brother to ask me that. Where do you get your balls big enough to ask me. I'm not answering my question stupid and you've had this long career working with a single director repeatedly. How is that. Is that something that you feel like over the years you guys have improved that relationship or gotten to the point where you barely need to speak to each other. No no. We speak all the time. I mean after I do the laughter I do the first cut while he's shooting. Then when he comes into the editing when we edit everything together. So every cut is made together and we talk constantly about all kinds of things we're very good friends or longtime friends. You know I've seen his career from the moment when he was just a student at NYU. I've seen him grow and learn and make wonderful movies and challenge himself with each one of them. And I get to go along with that challenge and try and figure out how to make it work. I think that the fact that we collaborate so well that as I said it doesn't become a battle of egos. And the film business is filled with egos. I always tell students one of the first things you have to learn is how to deal with everybody's egos that you're going to be working with and learn how to work with them and not make it a destructive situation. And that's I think why we get along so well. He knows that I'm going to do the best for his movie and that's very important in a working relationship. So it's just one of the greatest things in the world to be in the room with him. He's so incredibly fascinating and brilliant and funny and also very moody. You know I mean he he goes through big ups and downs as he battles with the artistic vision he had for a film. Is he going to get there with it or not. That's an incredible arc to watch. In fact I wish I could keep a diary of it every day. But I work so hard. You mentioned things like making a hot splice and hanging up your trims. These are all things that people starting in editing right now in film school don't have any experience with. So what kinds of changes what kind of changes have you seen in your career and how do you feel that has affected the editing process or or kind of have they all been helpful things have. Has all this digital and computer editing made it a lot easier or do you miss anything from the past. Well I was a very reluctant convert to digital but once I was trained by someone very patient and clicked in I was off and running. But I did hate to give up film. I loved it. We all still love it. We still shoot our movies on film. We edited it digitally and release it digitally but it is edited it is short on film because digital is quite. We're not sure how long it's going to last. It's rather fragile and the film if you keep it properly at the right temperature and right humidity will last 100 years. Digital will not you have to constantly re transfer digital elements every five years to make sure that they're not just going to vanish which they can do and because we just love the look of film is why Marty's still shoots on film many big directors today are still shooting on film as long as they can hold on to it. We don't know how long film will even be made unfortunately but many many directors today are insisting on shooting on film even though we then finished the entire film digitally. Even though I was very reluctant to give it up it was became quite clear to me that I could suddenly make four or five versions of a of a cut of a scene to show Marnie winning comes in instead of one. And if I wanted if I was on film I would have had to take it apart hang it in the bin. Remember how I did it recut it a different way. And then if we didn't like it go back to put back together the film the way I originally did it. Oh that's very time consuming. So now I can do that and not worry I always have the original cut I can have four different versions of it to show him. And that's very very good. So I experiment a lot much more than I ever would have dared to do previously because of that flexibility. And we came in just visual effects. We can slow film down speed it up just do it. We can have 24 soundtracks instead of two which is all we could have on film when we're editing there would be many more tracks when we do some things but not in the editing room we could only run two tracks and now I can have 24. So is that all that is a very big step up. There's no going back I'm afraid to editing on film. I had to at one point to help the filmmaker out and it was fun. I enjoyed it. If you could give advice to people that want to become editors now what would you tell them is the best thing to kind of prep yourself for editing features is it going to film schools it just making your own films. What kind of things can they do. I don't know I'm not going to film school is enough. I think mainly I found I just learned on the job you know I think going to film school I would love it if everyone would study the history of film which is how Scorsese he became the director. He is because he learned and watched endless numbers of great movies that had been made since the beginning of filmmaking. And he learned how to direct from that. But a lot of students today do not do that and that's very very sad. I would strongly encourage people to see as many classic films as you can. It's really as if a painter started to paint without ever having gone to a museum and seeing a Van Gogh painting or something like that. I think that's madness. That's the first thing I would say is learn what you can from films that have been the great classic films that have been made and fortunately on TCM the classic movie station you can watch them. But also I just say try and get your foot in the door do whatever it takes. Run go get the milk for the coffee drive the car pick up packages whatever you can get your foot in the door so people see you and if you're someone they think is worthwhile encouraging then you will move on. But making your own films which is still possible today is obviously a great thing to do. So I hope I've answered the question. Yes. Well with all things related to film there's never any clear cut path for what you can guarantee yourself entry into the industry line was completely accidental. Yeah. So. Well I want to thank you very much for your time. It's been a real thrill talking to. I wish I could like go over individual films with you but I know you have other things to do. Well thank you so much. I'm very grateful thank you for your questions which were very good. Yeah. It was a real thrill. Thank you very much. Now let's say you win you'll be Janeiro which you definitely should beat him right. Yeah right. They still gotta give you a shot at the title. You know why. Why. Cause the same thing as before is nobody left doing nobody around. They got to give you the shot. You understand if you win you win if you lose you still win. There's no way you can lose and you do it on your own just the way you wanted to do without any help from anybody. That was Thelma Schoomaker who just received the ace career achievement award. Schoomaker has worked in feature films but Janet Chicago has made her mark in television. I asked her how she felt about receiving the ACE Award. I'm just so delighted to receive it because it really makes you that guy you hear the people that you've worked with over the years and what really affected you most and all of that. So it's really one of those great moments to just think that and ponder and to get into editing was that something you had always been interested in or what attracted you to it. No it wasn't him. It's part of my acceptance speech is the fact that I grew up in New York City in a pretty dysfunctional family and they kind of put me on a fast track to failure. And but one of the things that they did you say body television. Well I watched Father Knows Best and Flash Gordon and Make Room For Daddy in any of a number of them. And what I discovered was that people were just treating each other with a lot of dignity and respect. And I thought that was a lifestyle that I really wanted to emulate and what I also realized was that I was fascinated with television and the fact that you have television in your house literally every day that TV people became your friends and they influenced you a great deal. And by watching television they suddenly realized the power that it had to really just be able to affect you by the use of a close up or sound effects or music or whatever it might be. And so the visuals as storytelling became something that I I fell in love with and discovered later on in that editing was something that I really enjoyed. Because you could really spend a lot of time by yourself and don't just solve problems that way. So it was a great deal of it really was. It just affected me as a young kid and helped me develop in a direction that I never really anticipated. And I I think about it and I think about how much effect you know just for us Mary Tyler Moore. How about a lot of women that it really helps them in their career choices and the parts that they were going to go on in life. Then I think that television just really inspired you to be somebody that maybe at first blush you really thought you could be so you're being honored along with Thelma Schoomaker for these career achievement honors. She's primarily known for editing feature films with Martin Scorsese. You are primarily known for working in television. Do you feel there's any fundamental difference between editing feature films and television. Is that the time frame that you're on for editing TV. Does that make what you do much different from what feature film editors do. Well I think the fact that you do have a very short schedule in television means that you do have to make decisions a lot more rapidly your budgets are a lot more constrained. So a lot of times you have to do things with a lot less. I think that the format of television is also one that's very very different from the feature and a lot of times with teachers. But when you're screening them and going through a whole process you're looking at them in a larger format or a theater or something. But television has that immediacy right now is one that's probably about 15 feet away from me. That's on the room that we're in. And so just the fact that it's so close to all the time if it really affects things. But I think budgets are a big restriction. But I think it's also that the fact that you might be working on our show or a half hour show and knowing that you may be on following week talking about the same story your storytelling is going to be a lot different. The fact that you're doing a series you have people that are watching that series because they enjoy the people they're spending time with. And I think a lot of that affects the way the Iraqis tell the story because after a while you can shorten things like when Kramer entered the room he would get a laugh just because he entered the room on Seinfeld. To. Garner. Didn't have to do any kind of setup because everybody was already familiar with that character. So there is a certain degree of familiarity that you develop so that you can take shortcuts sometimes I think with your storytelling that you don't have that luxury as if you're doing a feature. There are significant difference between editing something that's a comedy and editing something that's serious drama. Or is that the skill set still exactly the same. I think the skill set is the same but I think the way that you approach them may be different. One of the things that I discovered was that comedy is very musical and that it has a specific rhythm to each person that's doing it comedy has a different rhythm but it's definitely there and you need to respect it. And it's that rhythm or that time that an audience is reacting to. It's like if somebody tells you a joke and they step on the punchline too early it just doesn't really work well it's like that. It's evident that there is some music to it. You have to respect with drama. There's a different rhythm and sometimes you're establishing rhythm with the way that you're doing the editing. A good example would be if you look at the teacher. The Sixth Sense Can you compare that to The Matrix and both of those were up for Best Editing for an Oscar. Those styles were so specific to those stories that were being told and a lot of that was just in the editing room how they how they developed that both of them were dramas. But it was just very appropriate to the story that they were telling. I think most people who go to movies or watch television tend to be more impressed by flashy editing where it's quick cuts or it's an action scene or maybe a musical number. But can you talk a little bit about some of the skills or some of the challenges that an editor faces that maybe people aren't quite as aware of. Like maybe cutting a dialogue scene just going back for a moment and talking about film like The Sixth Sense That was why is that ninety nine percent of people didn't get the story what it actually happened but when they looked back on it they thought well I was told everything that happened I just didn't pay attention. But if you had added a few extra frames to every cut it would have given you enough time probably to think about what you were just seen. The question is to the point that you would say OK I know what this is about. So in that instance the story is right in front of you that the editing was so delicate and so specific that it propelled this story along at exactly the right place. So that's one that I look at and say that that was extraordinarily challenged and that's what I've read it was a flash through the office as it was just straight up storytelling. And for you What do you what kind of scenes tend to pose the biggest challenges for you. I see it sometimes if the story is really clearly thought out and you have to manufacture something in the editing room. Maybe it was on the page or was it in the first one is or was thought out by a director. I think those are the challenges where you have to manufacture something because when I got to interview Thelma Schoomaker she talked about how an editor can help craft a performance. How do you see that as part of the editor's job. I think it's a big part of the job. And I think that the biggest job that we have says is to make everybody look good. And one of the things that we're doing is we're all doing the storytelling. We have one particular style of storytelling that that we're doing. So you could take an actor that maybe has a very measured low deliberate performance and you just know that that's not going to work for the scene and you just elevate you have to do a lot of editing. You have to do a lot of pull ups. You have to do a lot of kind of wait to see all of that to just try a case of the performance to make it what you have inefficient and I know of one situation where the actors saw the performance in the final cut and said to the director that was just great. I just really nailed it. It's not if you're acting totally things that everything that they had to work magic to get the performance to it. Wait what do you feel that there are any misconceptions that people have about what it is that you do. I think a lot of times people don't know what they're doing it. People ask you Well what is your job. Tell them and they're not in the business of editing. It's just it is it is done really well. A lot of times you don't notice it. Somebody has to tell you you know that every film that you see a close up or wide shot that you have to do that work. What do you feel or what of the shows that you've worked on which do you feel most proud of or did you have the most satisfaction working on. Well I would have to say sports studio is master control here up on rider seven. Will show me Denver and I think 15 points of sound on Kansas City Denver is up. Yes it is. Give me green back fan my audience and my VTR Georgia don't cost you're hot Atlanta somebody Arrowhead then back the mile high. Is that how it goes in 60 seconds. Somebody anybody needs to nail their head down to smile. Hi. Thank you. Time to change. I. Just messed with your head. Getting Judy in Oakland Alameda when you get right down to it. What I'm saying is this case. I think you you start getting out of the House. We'll go to our head first then Dennis. Got it. Just out of your house. I am out of my house but out of my house for six months. To live in my house. We're coming to the studio with 90 seconds. Remaining. Jack. Is in the house. Natalie you. Can make it. 43. Just make sure the guys have the change. In Denmark. Natalie if you shout into a microphone not wearing an earpiece it poses the question is there a decibel level in which the human handle just you not explode. Is he in a better mood than he was this morning or is this going to be another crappy show. Casey Isaac wants to know kind of better. Pretty crappy ass roll tape. Let's show everybody. I know sports night show you what comes back. Casey you were on your sixth circuit. Excuse me. Dad's got his head right. Why are we quoting high level sources the Switzerland video Helsinki before 2010. What's the problem. Helsinki is in Finland. Really. Yes. Door I got. Are you sure. Sure that Helsinki. Finland. Yeah. I thought I was in Sweden. Says unnamed Swiss Olympic official graphics which is in Sweden or Switzerland. It's in Finland. Get something other. Than what you need. We think he'll think he might be in Finland. Yeah we think there's a pretty good chance coming in alive and changing on the telephone call. We can go in after the show. You just take my place. Whatever you need whatever you need I'm getting a divorce. I need to cruise with. My father. I said. In five. Four. Three. Two. One. Good evening everybody from New York City I'm Dan Rideout alongside KC McCall. Those stories and more plus we'll take you live to the locker room at Arrowhead. All that coming up after this. You're watching Sports Night on CSC. So stick around. We're up in 60 and settling the national bird is the whopping swan. That was Aaron Sorkin's first television show. We worked for the studios. We had eight six. We were literally getting to work the whole building because of the way that it was shot. You could open your door out if you're editing really this is shooting in the hallway or maybe it is. Is that the elevator since if anything is possible or it was just so much fun. It were just creating a whole new world and a whole new language and just having the best time ever and Aaron Sorkin's office was right across the hallway for me. And he would come into my room and just sit on the sofa and just say hey show me something. And we just were like a bunch of kids in a candy store having a great I would have to say that was probably my favorite because quite frankly the shows that you are now working in television that you have to deal with. If not censorship at least with some of the studios and the networks looking over your shoulder to a certain degree about what can and can't be shown and how do you view that. Is that something that is kind of a challenge or is that something that's a frustration when you first hear about it. It's frustrating because it's just yet another bunch of no source changes or is somebody else trying to get on why it's done. That's the more you think about it the more it really forces you to be more creative and dig deep and find a different way of doing things. Sometimes the challenge is liberating but well I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk to me about editing and congratulations on your award. Well thank you so much I really appreciate that. Thanks for listening to another archive edition of KPBS cinema Junkie podcast. I'll be back with new episodes in two weeks. Cinema junkie comes out every other Friday till our next film FIX ON BETH Accomando. Your resident cinema junkie.
How many times have you come out of a movie and said, "That film was too long. It should have been better cut?" or walked away from an action film saying, "Wow, that was well edited?"
If that’s the case, then maybe you’d be surprised to know that the editor is also the person who can help craft an actor’s performance, the person who will go through hours of footage or improvisation to find the minutes or seconds where an actor shines.
Editing is also a profession where women were able to make inroads from early on. Back in the silent days, Dorothy Arzner proved her worth and her business savvy by using stock footage to embellish Valentino’s bullfighting picture "Blood and Sand." By repeatedly displaying such skill and smarts, she eventually moved into directing.
Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Emmy-winning editor Janet Ashikaga received Career Achievement Honors at the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Awards in 2017. On this archive edition podcast, they talk about the art of editing.
The ACE Board of Directors noted in a statement regarding their honorees that “Janet Ashikaga and Thelma Schoonmaker have helped create some of the most iconic films and television programs in entertainment, and while their resumes alone are deserving of recognition and celebration, their commitment to the film editing community and shining a light on the craft of film editing is also noteworthy.”
Schoonmaker is a seven-time Academy Award nominee and a three-time Academy Award winner for "Raging Bull," "The Aviator" and "The Departed," all directed by Martin Scorsese. She began her editing career working with him in 1967 editing "Who’s That Knocking on My Door?" and then "Woodstock." Last year she edited Scorsese’s 28 years-in-the-making passion project "Silence."
Ashikaga is a 10-time Emmy Award nominee and four-time Emmy Award-winning editor who has worked on such TV shows as "Seinfeld" and "The West Wing."
Schoonmaker, along with women editors such as Margaret Booth, Dede Allen and Verna Fields, inspired me as a teenage girl to see editing as a profession I could succeed in. To this day, I edit all my TV packages, podcasts and radio stories. It's something I love, so it was a genuine honor and thrill to speak with Schoonmaker.