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Crew Call With Film Editor Alan Heim

 April 20, 2016 at 10:08 AM PDT

Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I am Beth Accomando. I know some people get all stars truck about meeting celebrities like George Clooney or Brad Pitt. Well. I just got to meet one of my movie idols and chances are you may not even know his name. He is Alan Heim, an academy award winning film editor and president of American Cinema editors. I fell in love with editing when I got to spend a summer with my uncle Richard Inouye. He along with his brother Jack had done the presidential campaign TV ads for John F. Kennedy. So one summer, he let me edit film at his production company. I was 15 years old and he put me in a room with an upright moviola and gave me and his son Russell 35 millimeter footage from a lower scooter’s peanut butter commercial. He told us to cut a 30 second spot. Not a 31 second spot or 29 second spot, but 30 on the dot. It was an exhilarating experience. My cousin Russell Inouye ended up becoming a film editor after that. From that moment on, I too wanted to become a film editor. I idolized film editor Dede Allen who could bonnie and Clyde in dog day afternoon; because I saw that a woman could rise to the top of the editing profession. In ways that seemed easier than for a woman trying to direct or write in Hollywood. She inspired me and so too did Alan Heim, who cut Lenny and all that jazz for Bob Fosse. Editing is one of those professions that I feel audiences don't fully understand or appreciate. So it's with great pleasure and even greater honor that I present this podcast interview with Alan Heim. He was in San Diego for a San Diego filmmaker’s event held at groovy like a movie. With this podcast, I'm going to launch something that I've always wanted to do and that's a series of interviews called crew call, where I highlight a particular craft with someone who's working in the field. So to kick it off, here's Alan Heim talking about film editing. Beth Accomando: I want to tell you that you played a very important part in my life, although you may not know it. I was very interested in editing from the age of about 15 because my uncle worked in commercials in LA and he had let me cut the lower cutters peanut butter commercial on an old upright moviola and I fell in love with editing and then I saw all that jazz, and you actually are in it briefly as an editor. Alan Heim: Briefly is that I could possibly be. Yes. Beth Accomando: For some reason it just kind of crystallized for me that editing was like a possibility for something to do you and Dede Allen, were the two editors that influenced me and made me feel like, yes this is really the field I want to go and so it's not the most glamorous field in filmmaking, so what attracted you to editing? Alan Heim: Well, I went to film school, but my intention was really to become a cinematographer, before that a still photographer and then I just started editing a project with the partner and he and I were the only people in the class who attacked the material differently and I just found it fascinating that we could take the same material and make it so much different, when we completely changed the concept of the material was very old Winterers film school who were using. We had two sequences that we could choose and we chose one with a photographer a model and a tripod and that we made the tripod the star of the little film and I just fell in love with it. So after that I just got fascinated with what you could do editing and I was fortunate enough to be able to start working in the evening and on Saturdays in New York City. While I was still in school, so I could join the two things what I was learning and what was really happening in the world of movie making. Beth Accomando: And what is that about the editing process that you like? Is it that ability to kind of start from scratch and build something new or different? Alan Heim: Well, you know an editor does not really start from scratch. You start with material that's given to you by a director and before that a writer and actors are involved, but then the editing process is kind of the last rewrite of the film and it's the last chance anybody gets to carry out the vision of whoever's in charge, usually not the writer but sometimes, but the director's vision and effect and so I work closely with the director when I deliver my cut, my first cut and then the director comes in and we start throwing things out. Some of which is kind of obvious and some of which only take shape as you begin to form the movie. I spend a lot of time editing a film you spend anywhere from five months to a year in a cutting room with a director. It becomes a very intimate situation, where the way I explain it is as an editor, you're always between the director, the director's view of his material and what he really shot, which I don't mean in a negative sense but new things are always being discovered. Sometimes in a performance, sometimes in story structure, so it's exciting for me and it's in a way. It's not like being a fine artist, I mean I am not on the line in anyway except to make the best product I can, but I'm not starting from scratch. I am starting with other people's material. So I really reshape things, I don't shape them so much sometimes. Beth Accomando: Well one of the things I have always enjoyed about editing too is that usually as an editor you have some kind of solitary time where you can work with the material without somebody looking over your shoulder, I mean the thing about directing as you got a whole cast and crew waiting for you, but as an editor you can try something, see if it works I mean is that part of what you like also? Alan Heim: Yeah. I started editing a long time ago on the upright moviola. It was a mechanical process and it was a time consuming process and it was a process that involved locating things and finding things and filing things and it required several people, an assistant at least one assistant, couple of apprentices, you are always looking for pieces of film one inch long that had fallen to the bottom somewhere. So, there was quite a bit of down time and time for you to think about the process as you were working on it, so once you formed a sequence, once I look at the material. When I look at the dailies of the film, I know where I'm going to start. I cut the scene based on that perhaps I'll start this scene and a close up and another scene on a two shot and another scene and a master shot or maybe none of the above, but I will start and then work my way through the whole scene. Then, as you begin to put the scenes together because they're not shot in order for the most part. You begin to put the scenes together you say maybe I can start with the close up maybe I have to start somewhere else and you rethink that. So there's a constant flow of ideas that go through your head and that I do in the first cut process, the editor's cut it's called but none of us like to call it an editor's cut, I mean it's a cut, it's a real cut of the movie, it's long, but, it's going to have everything the director shot it pretty much and then when the director comes in it's my chance to work with him and start publishing his vision, but I always and most editors I know do their cut solitarily on their own in a room, basically, I always have my assistants come in and look at material because I love to have their input and see what they think of the material and how I treated it. Beth Accomando: You mentioned starting editing on upright moviola and at that time, you would have to spend a lot of the process sinking up footage and logging footage, so what kind of changes have you seen and how was it affected your work as an editor with things going digital and you know being able to edit on avids or protools or whatever kind of equipment there is now, has it changed the process much for you made it easier or more difficult? Alan Heim: The process has certainly changed and I entered it. I entered the change period, the learning period reluctantly. I was hoping that I mean Sony was pushing their editing systems and several other companies were and the avid back in the early 90’s, I was offered an opportunity to work on one and it was just a primitive device, the image, moviola as well as small screen but the image was all pixilated and by the end of the day, the eyes were hurt. It was no fun at all and I decided to just stick with the moviola and I did as long as I could and then in the middle 90's, I realized that I would be in effect you know a dinosaur trainer. If I didn't learn no equipment was there and so I did and I've never been reluctant, I mean I'm glad I did it. A lot of people I know didn't want to learn the new technology and retired very early, mostly sound editors. I wanted to keep editing because I loved editing and I realized this was a way to go electronically, so there's much more flexibility. You can look at things, you can make alternate versions, you can keep alternate versions. When we work on film, you would have to either send out for a black and white dupe of the film, which was a day long process or as Dede Allen did. She would have one of her assistants make a mock up of the film on a piece of white leader of her cut and then move on to other changes. Now you can keep alternate versions and you do every day every 15 minutes depending on how you set your avid and I wish I had some earlier versions of things I had worked on now the great teaching tools. A director Nick Asvadi has asked me after we had done the notebook. Nick asked me if I would do his next project on a film and I had read the script, it was alpha dog and I read the script and I said I thought for a moment, because I was still only a couple of years away from editing on moviola, I enjoyed it immensely. Then I looked at Nick and I said not this film and not with you. He said what do you mean and I said will you make a lot of changes and if start making changes, it’s going to take a longtime. . I mean Nick had worked with his dad John Cassavetes in the cutting room as a teenager, but he had fun memories of it, but I knew it would be a nightmare and it would have been, so I am glad I didn't do it and now I probably lost most of that skill. Beth Accomando: Is one of the things you miss from editing on a moviola is the actual that real tactile quality? Alan Heim: Yeah. Yes I have always felt that that film was a little sculptural in a way that you could emotionally bend it and when you had a piece of film in your hands it was tacked and when I first talked about two groups of students and two people learning avid. At the beginning, I really didn't know what to say and I found a piece of film lying on avid bench and I started by talking about film and how there were things that you would always have to know like sinking a picture in track, but it just was not going to happen anymore and it took a while, I mean Steven Spielberg and Michael Kahn worked on a film until very recently and Steven finally gave it up but there is something about that quality of just working with the tools, the physical tools that I don't know maybe some had of its stick urge to be a blacksmith or something like that. Yeah, I still miss it occasionally. I compensate for that by keeping a bunch of old film equipment at home. I have about 70 films slices all different kinds to do a very simple act, but they had so many different things some of which I still can't figure out how to use. You know, until we started using electronic I haven't touched a slicer in years. I haven't got any cuts on my hand, on my arm, which we all use to get all the time reaching across a splicer for a piece of film and slit your wrists basically always look like a suicide, but sometimes you felt like one. So I miss that part of it but not a lot. I mean, the flexibility is well worth the loss of tactile pleasure, really is. Beth Accomando: Yeah. I remember all of us in the editing room, we would make jokes about bleeding on our films because when you reach over this place or there's a razor blade sticking up and you would reach over and all of us have these cuts like on our arms. Alan Heim: And in fact assistance, women assistance when they were rewinding, physically rewinding film which was heavy in its way. They would switch sometimes from left to right and right to left, because they didn't want to build up their muscles on one side, which was a vanity that I was spared but I understood it. Yeah. All of us who worked on the film on some level miss it, but nobody would ever want to go back. Beth Accomando: Yeah I think for the amount of creativity, you get back in terms of the flexibility of the digital editing, it's amazing, but I do every now and then kind of just miss being able to hold film and cut it and place it together. Alan Heim: Yeah. Yeah I mean it's not as if I sit around at home placing together random pieces of film. I just like to look at the technology. You know the movie Allo which was invented about 1922 had about a 75 year run and it was like a locomotive. It was absolutely solid. Noisy. Yes, but solid. I could fix almost everything in a movie on over the screwdriver. So I kept a spare light bulb and a screwdriver in a pair of pliers with me when I traveled, electronic equipment I can't do a thing with that. I mean when something goes down and it doesn't go down as often as it used to, but when something goes down, it's down until a technician comes in and fixes it up and knows what he's doing. So that part I miss and I don't miss at all. Beth Accomando: Are there any misconceptions you think the general public has about editing or editors that you'd like to address? Alan Heim: Well. When I started working in New York City, I was a sound effects music editor. Mostly that work television shows and occasional industrial films and things like that. When I was a sound effects editor, everybody understood what I did in that you know, I put my relative's names on the hospital PA systems and it was a simple thing. If the doorbell rang, if somebody opened the door, you'd put a doorbell ring or knock or something. If somebody picked up a phone, you put in a phone ring, but once I started editing picture nobody knew what I did it. Absolutely nobody understood where you took out the bad parts. Yeah. Yeah but that's easy. Well if you put in the good parts and you know it's not that simple because you read a performance you, you build a performance. There's an enormous amount of flexibility you have even on the simplest material, where do you cut? When do you want to see somebody speak? When you want to see somebody listening to somebody speaking? All of that affects the flow the movie, the rhythm of the movie and all of that is part of what you're doing on the fly as an editor. My own little tricks I overlap sound a little bit just to smooth out cuts and to smooth out transitions. I do that a lot. Hopefully, it's not particularly noticeable, but I do that. Well 10 years or 12 years ago, I guess a friend and I made a documentary on editing called the cutting edge, which I strongly recommend to people who have an interest in editing. Beth Accomando: Edwin Porter, one of Thomas Edison's employees discovered that cutting separate shots together could create a story. Actor: Edwin S Porter really was one with the life of American fireman, I think that started inter cutting and creating an emotional impact on the audience by inter cutting two shots that are not related to each other. One scene is going on in one place, basically, the firemen rushing to the fire with horse drawn wagons and the other scene is the fire, miles away. You have to cut the two and you understand psychologically and emotionally that these people's lives are in danger and these people coming to rescue them and you are routing all of a sudden for that to happen and you're hoping to save the people. I often think about what it must have been like to be there to create the art form as was happening. When we try this that doesn’t make any sense, I mean we are doing every moment now. We cut something's well that doesn't work. Imagine what they might have said 1904. Alan Heim: It’s a feature length film, it was released on Starz the TV network and it's available somewhere in the world. It was used and has been used for teaching purposes all over the world. It's taken me to Moscow and that's because on it in Siberia. Willingly. It's a very good teaching tool. So that's one of the reasons, I made the films, but nobody knew what we did and the American cinema editors, it's an organization I am the president of at the moment. We supported that because we wanted people to understand and we found it kind of amazing because the editors were willing to talk about it. A lot of people were not because you're kind of afraid you're going to offend people. Friend directors and producers that you might be working with in the future or not depending on how much you offend them and I thought we could find a way around that we did, we got the editors to come in with a director they worked with an actor, they work with a writer, producer and we want interview not necessarily together, but we interviewed all of these people. It's a very informative film and it's entertaining. Little dated. I was talking about the moviola, which is 75 years of technology. Suddenly you have the avid, which changes every 6 months. I mean you had different tools. You can color correct on it, you can mix. I don't think theatre quality mixes but you can get pretty close. None of which I want to do. I just want to tell a story, but you know there will be a pressure on editors to do more and more. Kind of glad, I am not going to be part of that because you know, anyway. Beth Accomando: Well another thing that I think people kind of don't understand about editing is not making a cut. Is editing like letting a shot hold or letting silence, play out I mean those are editorial choices too. Alan Heim: Well yeah. Those are key editorial choices. When I edited network, which was really a very simple film for me to cut Sidney Lumet, notoriously does not shoot a lot of material off in one take, I used to and the film just took no time to put together. It was wonderful and where I did cut away was mostly because an actor might have flubbed their line or something or I really wanted to see the other actors face for a moment. Actor: I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and Stick your head out and yell, I was mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore. I want you to get up right now, get up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell, I was mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore things, I have got change the price. Beth Accomando: How many stations that this go? Alan Heim: 6 to 7. Actor: I am not going to take this anymore, then we will figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and they all try this, but first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out and yell and say I was mad as I. I am not going to take this anymore. Alan Heim: The film could Stanley Kaufman, mentioned that the editing was such that the audience was always were they wanted to be watching even if they didn't know it at the time and I thought that was a brilliant insight and I wanted to meet Stanley Kaufman, who was pointed out that I just shouldn't just let it lie, because you don't want to get involved in those things, but I thought that was such an insight into what an editor does. You guide the audience. It's kind of a powerful position which I like to talk about because people don't think of it on the same plane as a cinematographer or costume designer because it's not that visible. Some films are more visible than others like recently The Big Shot, which had some pretty jarring stylistical things, which I loved, but the idea of breaking the fourth wall and inter posing stuff; I have always liked to do that where I can in a movie. Not just stay with the story, but fiddle with time you can do so many things in the cutting room and they did so, its fun. Beth Accomando: Can you give an example of kind of both extremes, of directors in the sense of one who like you mentioned Lumet gave you less flexibility in terms of the amount of footage that was shot and then another director who maybe kind of gave you a lot of flexibility in terms of providing a lot of footage or a lot of choices for you to make. Alan Heim: I can't really talk in my own experiences. I work with mostly moderate directors and when they do a lot of takes it because their performance was not right or perhaps something in the camera move was not right, but I did on one occasion I was waiting for dailies one evening. Waiting for the crew to show up in New York, this was on all that jazz and the projectionist was running Dailies on a different film. That was directed by Arthur Hiller, the in-laws, a very sweet comedy and I just popped in on the projection as that projection is of course other guides to whether you're working on a good movie or not. They tell you immediately. I popped in I looked into the screening room and they were on take 3 let's say over 2 shot of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in the back of a taxi cab and at one point, Peter Falk grabs Alan Arkin and pushes him into the ground to the bottom of the cab and that was take 3. So I went out and I was talking to my crew and we're still waiting for the shooting crew to show up and I popped in again to see where they were and they were on take 54, of the same exact material. So I thought that's crazy, I mean what nuance can you discover after that when he takes but this usually a reason. It depends on the project. I prefer fewer takes simply because it's less to look at, less to remember, but again with the average you can just quickly go through things and you don't have to physically handle it all and set it up. So on that level it's easier on the other level, when we used to have dailies every night, which we don't do pretty much. Everybody gets a DVD to take home. So I am the only person who's seen the material, me and my staff. You don't quite get so familiar with their material that way unless you carve out some time to really look at it. I tend to cut on my first feelings so, I put something together and then I look and when I am not happy with I will change, go to other takes look for other readings mostly I mean I forget what question you asked me to start. Beth Accomando: Oh. Well I was just curious about, you know it seems like there are some films like Alfred Hitchcock very tight an editor doesn't have a whole lot of choices as to how to put that film together, but it feels like from the viewer's point of view, a film like hair or film like all that jazz it seems like there would be a little more interaction between the editor and the director because it seems like that the narrative isn't quite as linear and structured as something else. I'm just curious like which of the films you have cut, you felt like you had the most influence in that process? Alan Heim: Ah well. The place where I really grew up as an editor was on Lenny with Bob Fosse, bob approached me our producer, I knew approached me to work with Bob on a TV special called lies with Z, which was in my memory shot with nine cameras, 16 mm cameras a live concert with a black tie audience. We put that together and then Bob asked me, new script for Lenny, which I thought was a best script I ever read, just incredibly complex, filled with time changes and into weaving the stories and then we got into the cutting room. We both were in very strong agreement that Dustin Hoffman was just not mean enough. He didn't have an edge and comics always have an edge what they used to and Dustin couldn't do it because actors want to be liked. So he gave a great performance and he was nominated for academy award, but he hated what we did with the performance because we started, I suggested to Bob that we intercut the routines with his life that the original structure. I remember how and when exactly, but the original structure was you would have an incident from his life and then the comedy routine that he based it on over his vice versa and we discovered that by cutting into cutting the much more, breaking up sometimes is routines into single sentences. We gave it a pace that it didn't have before. We gave it an edge and never had before and we improved. The back stories also by making them less complete. The audience had a hang on them and follow what was going on. I have always felt the audience if you make them follow something will get it. People underestimate audiences I think they are mostly very smart enough to go see a movie I worked on at least since. That's good. So, in that film that's where I really learned the power of editing. I mean I had been given some location lesion by a director or 2 who was not even in films. I was working how they come look when I was a sound editor. They would look over my shoulder and I was cutting I remember a dinner scene just two people having dinner in close up. An editor actually would become a director and he never walked in. He looked over my shoulder and he said when did I get and ran again and he said it's a marvelous cut. I said why it is a marvelous cut? He said keep looking at it. So, I kept looking at it and finally I asked him for the key the clue and he said watch where the fork goes when she's eating and the fork led you from screen left to screen right and then in the shot going back on the other side, the next action took you from right to left. So you are moving the audience's eyes very subtly and I just got it. It all came very clear to me that you have to watch the actor's eyes and you have to move the audience's eyes and that's my career in a nutshell. I mean that and working with Fosse was just open me up. At the end of Lenny, we had to show the film to the producer. We had been fiddling with it a long time and we did not like the ending and we knew it was in trouble and we took my whole crew and we all went out to good dinner. Came back to the editing room at about 9 o'clock at night and prepared to work all night on the film. I hate working and I absolutely hate it I still do and I turn to fast in the elevator and I said why don't we just kills another bit and he said what do you mean. I said well, when Dustin Lenny is dragged out of the courtroom and he is yelling at the judge, you're trying to stop the information. We had 20 minutes of material between that and his dead body on the floor and in effect the movie was over. I mean it was not all that clear to me when I said it, but we had a scene of him saying goodbye to his daughter and a scene of him talking to his lawyer on the phone and a scene of him wandering around his house, which was now being taken over by the banks and none of that was really very important. So we went back to the cutting room, we took out 20 minutes of material. It took half an hour and we went home. Knowing that we were going to go back and put in a fragment of him saying goodbye to his daughter, but, just picture no words. A fragment of him walking around his house, a fragment of the empty file cabinets, a fragment of it, but we basically put all of that. We went from him being dragged out to the dead body and then he went into some flashbacks. Actor: Continue. You are trying to stop the information. Actor: Enough, will you please remove this. Actor: You can’t stop the information because the information keeps the country strong. You mean to deviate. Don’t shut up mouth. You need that mad man to stand up and tell you when you borrowing it, in the high you coming down and deviate, the more you need him. Please, don’t take him on words that is worst and I am not hurting anybody. Actor: He was found guilty in New York and sentenced 4 months is that right? Actor: Yes. Actor: He was very frightened to be in confined it wasn’t? Actor: Yes. Actor: Among his belonging, after he died, he found a letter from the bank; Bank of America said he lost the house. You suppose those things and that letter had anything do with his debts. Actor: I don’t know what you mean? Actor: I get some sleep and do something about that way 2. Actor: Yeah you right. I am going on a bank, bye, bye. Alan Heim: And then we went into the end of the movie. It was magic and I took part in that, I just felt great. It was nice. Beth Accomando: You have cut some recent films like Alpha Dog and American History X, which have violence. Alan Heim: Recent you mean in this century. Beth Accomando: That contains violence in them. Depicting violence in films as something that's always interested me in terms of how you cut that, how much you show, do you have an approach to that or a way that you tackled it in those films that you would want to talk about in terms of how you see trying to make it the most effective. Alan Heim: Yeah, I have been fortunate and that I haven't done that many films that involve bloodshed and violence. Alfa Dog was verbally violent, but there's really not much you see in it that's physically violent. A lot of it takes place off screen. The thing about terror and scary movies or violent movies, what's not seen is as important and maybe more important as what is seen. Then the audience will translate it into the gore if necessary. I did a film called a Fan with Lauren Bacall a long time ago, first time director and he had me replaced someone else because the producer wanted more blood. The script I read was a thriller where instead of killing a woman that instead of the killer actually killing her, he shaves her head, ties her up and shaves her head, so when she's discovered there, she is all tied up in a chair with her head shaved and her mouth gagged, so that's scary. To see somebody get their throat cut that's so scary and that's what we ended up doing. The director didn't want to do it either. We had to shoot a lot of inserts later with fake blood, which never works, but yeah I have worked on that sometimes it's very disturbing. Alpha Dog changed my vocabulary for years because the follow language was so constant. People came down the hall from the Bookkeeping Department when we were shooting and they said could you people do you always talk like this and we said no, it's not us, it's the movie. My assistant was pregnant at the time and I felt really guilty for her kid. Gave her a Mozart record right after that. It does have an effect on you when you work on something like that. I know as a sound effects editor working on the pawnbroker, really depressed me and I never even saw the whole movie until I got into the theater, but just every day working on something so downbeat and so I would say negative, but it's a wonderful movie, but it's about a subject that so painful that I found it hard to work on every day. Yeah. I really given my druthers I would have avoid that. I mean it's fun to scare an audience, it's fun to do anything with an audience, it's fun to me trying to get people to laugh, it's fun to get people to cry and I don't mean a cruel way that at the end of the notebook the room was filled with giant globs of wet tissue looked like enormous gargantuan popcorn was all over the theater. You know we didn't know what the response was going to be and as soon as we saw, we heard the sobbing and we saw that he said no it's going to be good, it's going to work. Beth Accomando: Do you have a memory of a scene or a film that you cut where you were not quite sure if what you had in mind was going to work on the audience or have the effect you wanted and screening it for the first time proved you right or proved you wrong? Alan Heim: Interesting question. I mean that goes into the question of a test audience and what the response of an audience are. I find that when I started working in New York. They left us alone and when I say the studio people left us alone, we had a producer to deal with and deal with this and took their share the process with, but for the most part the executives were here in California and we didn't do test screenings. It was very rare and if we did we did them locally, but mostly we screen for friends, took notes, had coffee with them, talked about it and either took the notes or didn't. So, I remember one bafflement John Hughes film I did, she's having a baby. We thought the ending of the film was absolutely stunning and we screened it for an audience. It was in the morning in California, we screened it for an audience and they hated the ending. They absolutely hated it. We had a Kate Bush song on it that was just emotionally lovely, it was about a woman going into premature labor and the question was the baby going to live and the audience was just hold to it. So we asked the people in the test group and fortunately there were a couple of nurses in the test group and they said, you know a nurse would never say to the husband that your wife may lose the baby and we said oh, we didn't think of that and I went right back to the cutting room after we took the notes. Went right back to the cutting, re-cut the film so that I was able to put that line on the back of a nurse, changed the line to something more medically proper as it were. I don't remember what we changed it to, but suddenly the whole ending of the film was now emotionally rewarding for the audience, they didn't feel cheated, because by saying, you might lose the baby, we were setting up a red herring that we didn't deliver on and we didn't realize it. Maybe because we were all guys I don't know. None of us had thought of this. Not the director, not me, not my crew. We were very moved by the ending, but changing it that way made a tremendous difference. Another really awful film I did. We screened out here in Tarzana, it was one of the first times I ever flew to California and the film was very funny for 45 minutes maybe an hour and then it got really mean spirited and it was at the time of the aids crisis beginning, but 1980 1981 and it dealt with some fairly innocent homosexual bashing and serious stuff but serious enough to leave a bad taste and I was very much in favor of minimizing that and it was I don't know why, because nobody really knew the extent of the aids epidemic but even then there were people I know dancers and all that jazz, who had died and you know it was around and if you read the papers, you knew what was going on around the country. So, we came out here to screen it and for the first 45 minutes to an hour, the audience was roaring with laughter and at one point the producer leaned over and nudged me and he said, see, see and I said wait and by the end of it we all want to crawl out of that. There were people who hated the movie. We were able to go back and make reshoot a whole new scene. I already had five endings and this was in my opinion the best. The head of production had a post-production at the studio that send me all the other endings so I did and he said yeah you're right this is the best one what shall we do and I said well, shoot a new ending and the head of the studio then asked me, called me to his office in New York and to its feet up on a chair and put his arm around my shoulder and he said what should I do with this and I said either you're through away the movie or you shoot a new ending. Then I shot a new ending, it was much better, but he shot a new ending. So you know, I knew what was going to happen. I was not happy that the audience didn't like it. There was no sense of shoot in the Florida you know, but sometimes an editor will know what's going to happen, sometimes you don't. You cannot figure what the audience is going to say, you can figure what the critics are going to say and you can't really let it get you down unless you can put it in front of an audience and see what's working. Beth Accomando: So can you tell us the name of that film? Alan Heim: Oh that one was called bear. Actor: Secret of the successful bear. You are about to enter the dynamic high pressure world of advertising. Actor: You are all yes man. Whenever I ask you a question, you are always going to say yes, what good is that. I need man who will tell me that they think am I right? Yes. You fired get out. Don’t look back, press the down button. Actor: Here creative people team up to exchange brilliant ideas. Ideas that influence everything from what we drive. Actor: Okay, honey do you step to what we put in on our minds. Actor: How about this? Actor: Longer canes. I hate it. Smile, creative director. You think you can know for all that effect. Actor: We get a bunch of guys, they work in construction and after a hard day's work, they reached them or they could be here. They all reach here. Each one gets a bear and then they hold them up. Actor: You are fired. Get out. Mr. Tucker. Actor: I am putting together a concept, we and my buddies drinking, we don’t like being disturbed, no back a pills have one. I want much, god has bear. Alan Heim: It was a troubled production from the beginning and it's hard to find on video, but it is still a funny movie that's summer or the next summer, I was on location in Vermont and somebody sent me a small case of heart of jokes. So I decided that I would invite my crew and our projection is to come up to fix something for me, piece of equipment. Make them dinner and they know they had seen a copy of bear in the local store and Vermont which amazed me. So they rented the copy of bear and we watched the movie in a native, very good chicken dinner. The chicken dinner being the best part chickens well I choked, but I used to cook them and for 45 minutes they thought it was a hilarious movie and then by the end of it they don't speak to me any more either. So yeah I did all of $400 or something in the Denver boulder area and it's opening and closing weekend. Beth Accomando: You have got on a variety of different films in terms of very serious drama, musicals, and comedies. Is there a difference in editing? Different genres or is it all just about storytelling? Alan Heim: I don't really think there's a difference. We get typecast. Sometimes there are editors or this guy's of comedy editor. Well I don't really believe that. There are things you learn. When I first began editing picture, a friend of mine who is a marvelous documentary editor, this was in New York. He was given an opportunity to edit a dramatic film and one day he called me and he said, you know the actor in this film is really terrible. Is it possible to edit a whole film on the back of the actor? And I said, I don't think so, but you know if you feel that's what you have to do give it a shot. Well he tried and that did not work and it was a pretty awful movie, all in all, but I treat every film pretty much the same way. I just look in and see the best way to tell the story of my mind and try and do that. If it's a comedy, you know sometimes, one of the things about movie comedies as opposed to something on the stage. When, you have got a joke, I like to go through things really quickly and if you have a joke and the audience gets it, that's great. If they don't get it you're really embarrassed and if you are on stage, and you are an actor, you can pick up the pace, you could get over the place we don't get the laugh, but once you put it on a film, you are stuck with it. You are stuck with it forever. You are stuck with a DVD. People watch it. So comedies are a little different and when you test with an audience you say, I am not getting a laugh there. I'm not, but we will usually know, sometimes you know and you find out pretty quickly, so yeah, changing, but you know musicals are fun and I like music also really fairly easy to cut, because the material all of the material is coded to a common sound number and so you just sort of go through and you say well I want to be here and I want to be here and I want to be here and you don't have to mess around with finessing anything and only after you finish the cut, you discover that perhaps in the take you pick the dancers. Hand is in the wrong position of the foot and then you fix it, but no. I think it's editing is editing and it's storytelling, it really is. Beth Accomando: What do you think makes a good or a great editor? Alan Heim: Patience. A fairly wide knowledge of things other than movies. I mean a lot of references of people make today are. Well we did this in that movie or they did this in that movie, let's do it again and I don't get my information mostly from movies. I always have gone to the theater and the concerts and Operas night. I go to look at paintings and cameraman do, I know cameraman really look at paintings a lot. I just think the material this goes back to the plasticity of it. If you're open to the material, it will tell you what you have to do with it. You can force a piece of film, a piece of story into a line where you want it to be, into a place you want to be in a movie and it has to be organic. It's just very important I think to realize that no matter what John or you're working at. It's just important to let the material flow over you and to kind of jump in and swim with the material and see where that takes you. Beth Accomando: And what advice would you have for students that want to go into editing? What kind of things should they be doing to home their skills before they maybe turn professional? Alan Heim: Well. There's a lot of students out there in high school, certainly in colleges. There are not nearly that many jobs in the world, but anybody who wants to stick with the goal meet, find out whether film programs like the American cinematic does has as an intern program that's very successful where we take students who just finished film school. We take only a few every year, but they will spend a month in Los Angeles with a week with a feature editor, a week in a television cutting room, a week in a reality show cutting room and an another week just doing stuff going to laboratories and mixing stages and seeing where things happen, and meet people. You have to meet people in the business and don't be a pain in the neck, but keep talking to people and at some point, if you stick with it, there'll be some kind of job and then it's up to you. In my case I always let my assistants cut. For two reasons, one take some of the pressure of time off and I am intrinsically lazy, but also it's a way to let people learn how to do things. The last film I did, I started off four weeks later, I was hired four weeks into the project and I had a lot of catching up to do. So, one day my assistant whom I had never worked with before, he came with the project. Anyway my assistant came to me one evening and he said, you know before you go home tonight, I have been practicing and I wonder if you'd look at something, practicing, I never heard that. Okay what you mean? So he showed me a scene he had cut and I said, well I looked at, it was really well cut. I had a couple of notes, gave him the notes and I said to him I would like you to practice some more because I'm never going to catch up. I mean I was catching up but, I was not spending a lot of time with the material, I was just trying to get it together and he did about 10 scenes in the movie. He did them all quite well. So you know, if you hang around the cutting room stuff will stick to you and you meet people. I mean that's the important thing is just to meet people and hope you meet the right person, hope you meet someone who needs somebody at that moment and will consider finding your place in the cutting room. Beth Accomando: Do you also think for an editor having someone else like an assistant cut scenes is also that other set of eyes looking at it and that sometimes maybe taking a different tact on it because when you are editing sometimes you get so kind of drilled in to what you are looking at that you keep going one direction. Alan Heim: No you are right. I always show my assistants my cuts. Sometimes, before I see them, I mean at the same time that I see them, in the case of network, I thought I try something I had heard about, which was I never splice anything together, I just made my cuts and pin them together with paper clips and at the end of the day where editors used to work that way and at the end of the day, I give and partly this was possible because a limit didn't shoot a lot of material, but at the end of the day, I give my assistant an hour or so to splice everything together and about 5 ‘o'clock, I would look at all the material, the real for the most part I was cutting really quickly on that film. And I would look at whatever I had cut for the day and make a couple of notes, because there was always a couple of small changes to be made but it was a great way to work and my assistants would be watching it with me at the same time and throwing out some ideas to which I would incorporate. If I felt they were good ones and they often are. There's nothing magical about being the editor as it's all along in the slogging process, but you know, I have had a lot of fun with it for a long time. Beth Accomando: And do you have a favorite memory, either favorite film or a film that you are happiest with or the working relationship was most satisfying? Alain Heim: Well. In this century, I mean, I have loved working with Nick Cassavetes, we have done before films together. Starting with the notebook and I mean this always embarrass Nick, but my favorite director work with who is Bob Fosse because he was incredibly open to whatever came up in the cutting room and I mean he was a stickler for a perfection. Nick is too in his way and I like people who really will fight for their visions and you know I am right there to fight with them. So yeah and Nick and Bob Fosse were my favorite people. Beth Accomando: All I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Alan Heim: Thank you very much. My pleasure. Beth Accomando: Thanks for listening to another edition of the KBPS cinema junkie podcast. I hope you enjoyed my talk with Editor Alan Heim, as much as I did. I will be having podcast later this month for Monsterpalooza and turner classic movies film festival. If you don't want to miss any of those episodes, please subscribe to the podcast on I tunes or check it out online at So till our next film fix, I am Beth Accomando, your residence cinema junkie.

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Academy Award-winning film editor Alan Heim was at Groovy Like a Movie for a San Diego Filmmakers event on April 12. Cinema Junkie sits down with the veteran craftsman for a master class in how to cut a film.

Companion viewing

"Lenny" (1974)

"Network" (1976)

"All That Jazz" (1979)

"American History X" (1998)

Academy Award-winning film editor Alan Heim was at Groovy Like a Movie for a San Diego Filmmakers event on April 12. Cinema Junkie sat down with the veteran craftsman for a master class in how to cut a film.

I know some people get starstruck meeting celebrities like George Clooney or Brad Pitt. And I just got to meet one of my movie idols and got starstruck. Chances are you don’t even know his name, but you should. He is Alan Heim, Oscar-winning film editor and current president of American Cinema Editors.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a film editor. Before sound came in, editing used to be deemed "women's work" at studios — probably because it seemed like a clerical job keeping track of all the footage and organizing it. But as the years passed, editing remained a field where women excelled regularly. One woman editor I idolized was Dede Allen, who cut "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Dog Day Afternoon."

I was also inspired by Alan Heim, who cut "Lenny" and "All That Jazz" for Bob Fosse, winning an Oscar for the latter. I remember being impressed that not only did he cut the dazzling "All That Jazz" but he briefly appears in it as the film editor for the film within a film directed by Fosse's onscreen alter ego Joe Gideon (played by Roy Scheider). Seeing a real editor demonstrating for a brief moment what went on in the editing room delighted me and made the idea of becoming an editor so much more real.

So it is with great pleasure and honor that I present this podcast interview with Alan Heim. With this podcast, I’m also going to launch something I’ve always wanted to do, which is a series of interviews called Crew Call where I highlight a particular craft with someone working in the field. And there's no better way to kick this off than with Heim, an acclaimed veteran craftsman.

Here's the documentary "The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing," which he helped put together for ACE to explain what a film editor does. There are some revealing interviews with both editors and directors.