| By Walter
Anne V. Coates has edited
48 films in as many years. Her first love was horses; as a girl, she
thought she'd be a race-horse trainer. As a teenager, an introduction
to classic literature on film, such as "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering
Heights," changed her mind. She took a job with a small non-union
house, Religious Films, which led to her joining the union and working
as a second assistant at Pinewood Studios. The first film she cut
was "The Pickwick Papers." A self-described intuitive editor, Coates
has edited such films as "The Horse's Mouth," "Lawrence of Arabia"
(for which she won an Academy Award), "Becket," "The Elephant Man,"
"Ragtime," "Chaplin" and, most recently, the Julia Roberts hit "Erin Brockovich".
A generation after Coates began her career, Walter Murch graduated
from the USC School of Cinema-Television
along with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Shunning Hollywood,
the group set up shop in San Francisco, where they opened Zoetrope Studios. "Our idea was to have
an egalitarian studio," Murch says. He worked as a sound recordist
and mixer before taking on his first film as picture editor, "The
Conversation." Since then he has edited such classics as "Apocalypse
Now," the "Godfather" trilogy, "The English Patient," for which he
won the Oscar, and last year's "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
Murch and Coates sat down together recently to talk about their careers,
editing styles and philosophies, directors they have worked with and
the future of editing.
Walter Murch: When editing started out in the early years of the century,
the larger portion of editors were women, and it was with the coming
of sound that men proportionately began to be more involved in editing.
Do you see this, or is it different in your experience in England?
Anne V. Coates: When I first came into the industry in England, there
were quite a lot of women editors. And then slowly they fell by the
wayside. They didn't seem to have the ambition, which I always thought
was strange. When I left in 1986, I think there was only one other
woman doing big features in England. There were quite a few doing
television and commercials and things, but I can't put my finger on
why that was.
But I have a different theory about the beginning. As you rightly
say, most of the editors were women, and they started by cutting negative.
And I think that women were considered more patient and careful and
all those sorts of things.
M: Maybe they didn't smoke as much.
C: And they were more precise. But I was taught, or I must have heard
it somewhere, that as it became a more important job, men started
to get in on it. While it was just a background job, they let the
women do it. But when people realized how interesting and creative
editing could be, then the men elbowed the women out of the way and
kind of took over.
There were some wonderful women editors who helped inspire me to go
into editing in England. In a way, I've never looked at myself as
a woman in the business. I've just looked at myself as an editor.
I mean, I'm sure I've been turned down because I'm a woman, but then
other times I've been used because they wanted a woman editor.
I just think, "I'm an editor," and I never expected to get paid less
because I was a woman. I grew up with three brothers, and I never
thought I would get paid less for anything than they did.
M: When you were growing up, did film interest you in a particular
way, and if it didn't, then how did you get involved in film?
C: I didn't go to the cinema very much as a child. When my parents
divorced, my father used to take us to the cinema for his treat. I
remember seeing films like "Lost Horizon," which I thought was magic,
"Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." I fell madly in love with Laurence
Olivier. When I saw the magic on the screen, what it could do, it
suddenly came alive to me. It held my imagination in a way that made
me become interested in films. When I had my first job, I had never
seen a piece of 35mm film in my life.
C: No. I was a projectionist and sound recordist. I sent the films
out, and when they came back, they were nitrate-filled. I learned
how you do those lovely patches, things like that. And it was kind
of fun. Then I got into the real world of film.
M: How did that happen?
C: Well, they unionized us, and nobody wanted to go into the union
except me. Then I heard there was this job at Pinewood Studios for
a second assistant, so I applied.
But I was not qualified, so I wasn't truthful in my interview. I said
I could make tracks and order opticals and do all these things which
I had never done in my life. Then I had a crash course for a week
with a friend of mine in the editing booth.
The first film I did was
for Michael Powell, who was making "The Red Shoes" at the same time.
Reggie Mills, who was his top editor, took the picture over to recut
it. Reggie Mills didn't want the first assistant to go up with the
film, so I went up. And he was wonderful. I mean, he never actually
taught me anything as such, but watching him and the discipline
were so good for me. And, you know, he never spoke. I just used
to hand him the trims and ask for the trims. Then I got into working
on "The Red Shoes" for a little bit, helping out on that, and was
able to go on the set to watch, so it was an interesting time.
M: Digital editing doesn't allow you to have a relationship with
somebody like Reggie Mills in quite the same way. In the old days,
with Moviola, an assistant stood right next to the editor and handed
trims. An assistant was able to watch everything that was going
on and was a minute-by-minute participant in the process. Now there
tends to be a division between what the editor is doing, and all
the requirements, which have ballooned tremendously, that an assistant
has to do, which are administrative in a different sense.
C: And they have to be in another room.
M: What's your feeling about that, and how do you think we can move
forward in training upcoming editors?
C: As opposed to the way I did it, just watching, hoping and learning,
I think we've got to involve them, have them in the cutting rooms
and show them what we're doing. I try to let mine cut some scenes
and then talk to them about it. I don't do it as much as I should.
And I try to be careful not to trample on my own assistants and
stifle their ideas. But I can't actually have somebody watching
me cut -- my first cut, that is. I like to be alone.
M: I remember when I worked with Fred Zinnemann in 1976 on "Julia."
I'd cut the first two or three scenes together. He was shooting
on location up in the Lake District, so he said, "Why don't you
bring what you've cut, and we'll take a look at it?" I did, and
we looked at it. I thought to myself, "This is terrible," but he
thought it was very good. He said, "Remember that editing film is
the most solitary job on a motion picture."
C: I think editing a film is such a personal thing.
M: I took that to heart, and I went back and said, "All right, it's
just me and the film. I'm not going to think about anybody else.
I'm going to tell a story that makes me react in a good way," obviously
hoping that this would please others as well.
It was a liberating experience. Until then I had worked with friends,
Lucas and Coppola. We'd all grown up in film school together, and
we all knew each other. So it was really just a band of jolly fellows.
"Julia" was the first time I'd left that particular nest.
C: Oh, I see. I didn't realize that.
David Lean always used to say, "Have the courage of your conviction,
tell the story your way. I'll respect what you did, although in
certain instances I may want things another way." He would hold
these shots of the desert, and I'd say, "David, you can't hold them
that long." However, he said, "Wait until the music's on, wait until
the whole rhythm is together." And he was right.
M: That's something that you feel (and I think every editor feels)
in the pit of your stomach when you sit down, particularly to cut
the first scene of a film. Because you're not only cutting this
scene, you are establishing your relationship with the project --
how this project is going to be different from other projects that
you worked on. You want to be as true as possible to that difference.
The possibilities are vast, but you have to start somewhere, so
you think, "Where could I begin the scene? Let's open with this
C: Yes, just go for something.
M: And then once you make that first decision, the possibilities
decrease: "If I've begun with this, then I have to do this, and
then it might be interesting to do that." And step by step you find
C: Following a particular line, dictated by the story, the performances,
the way the director shot it and that sort of thing. I find when
I start on a new film, it usually takes me a scene or two to get
into the film and find the particular style or feeling for that
film. I usually cut to two or three scenes and I think, "Oh, God,
I've lost my touch," and then I cut a scene and think, "Wow!" That
gives you the confidence, and you go back to the others, and you've
got the line, you've got the feel for the film.
M: You've worked with so many different directors over the course
of your career. How do you establish the working creative relationship
with the director?
C: I like working with different people, and particularly with young
directors. I talk to them about the film and try to find out what
the director is expecting. Some of them are not very communicative,
and finding that common ground takes a little bit of time, too.
I like to run scenes with a director after I've begun, but Steven
Soderbergh didn't see a foot of "Erin" before we finished. He did
on "Out of Sight."
M: "Out of Sight" was the first time you had collaborated together.
C: Yes. But on "Erin," he didn't see any of it, due to circumstances:
they were on location.
M: Also, presumably, because he'd worked with you before.
C: I was trying to get him to see things, because I wanted to feel
I was on the right line. But I don't ever cut two or three versions,
like one can do digitally. I show the director one version. Then
if we alter it, that's fine. But you know, I have my feeling about
the film, and I guess I've been lucky that most of the time I've
been in the same direction as the director. I try to work with directors
whose work I like and find interesting. When I was younger, I had
to find work where I could, and I had some not great experiences
I like having a little edge with the director -- you know, discussions
and arguments. I think that's what editors are partly there for,
like a sounding board. When I first worked on "Out of Sight," I
knew that Steven did things in a fairly far-out way. So I said to
him, "Stretch me." We tried a lot of things that we didn't put in
the picture. Steven was always coming up with great ideas. I like
working with him a lot.
M: What are the things that determine your choice of a particular
C: How it moves me. How it involves me. I like films about people,
human stories. I enjoy special effects movies, but I don't enjoy
cutting them that much. Also the director. I like to be challenged
and I like it to be different. The thing I want to do is a cowboy
movie. I'm hoping one of these days it will come along.
M: Also, every film has its own fingerprint or genetic marker that
makes it different from the others. Editors are on the film for
the better part of the year on the average, so you get soaked in
that particular broth.
C: And you want to get it out of your mind. I like to take time
off between films. I think it's important to live your life. I don't
think that if you are just an editor all the time that you are going
to be a good editor. You've got to go out and experience things,
see things and travel.
M: I think that, too. I look at it in ways similar to how an actor
would. You want the part to be recognizably you, otherwise it's
a complete miscast. On the other hand, you want something that is
going to stretch you and take you to a place that you've never been
before. That challenge is an important part of maintaining your
sanity in this business.
C: At one stage of my life, I thought I was getting into rather
empty big pictures, and I made a conscious decision to do smaller,
interesting pictures. I did "The Elephant Man," and that was one
of the best decisions of my life. But it's difficult here because
once you do them for less money, then they don't want to pay your
money again. That doesn't happen in England.
M: Also in England there aren't the barriers between commercials,
television and features, or big and small features.
C: When I first came to the U.S., you had to be an assistant for
eight years or something ridiculous. I cut after about four years.
M: In my case, I never even passed through the assistant phase.
I had done sound editing and mixing, and I'd cut documentaries and
commercials, non-union. I had to be my own assistant. Suddenly I
found myself the editor on "The Conversation."
C: But I think you've got to take the chances when you have them.
M: Yes. Even when I'm hiring somebody and I have a very strong feeling
that they're gilding their resume, I don't hold that against them.
C: Everybody has to sell themselves. My assistants are all film-trained.
None of them comes from computers.
The first film I did digitally was "Congo," and Frank Marshall had
my crew and me trained. We had private teachers, but we were really
the blind leading the blind, and it was an extremely difficult picture.
So I ran screaming and kicking to digital.
M: And that was the early days for digital, because it didn't come
into its own until the mid '90s. When you started out, you obviously
were working with a Moviola?
M: Did you ever go through the Kem/Steenbeck phase?
C: I used both of them. I would do my first cut always on a Moviola,
until I went digital, and then when I got to the next stage, working
with the director, I would work on either a Kem or Steenbeck, and
I found that was a lot better than working on Moviola. You could
sit back and look at it. But I thought I would never do a first
cut on digital. I mean, I thought I'd never get the same feeling
of doing it that I had with my Moviola. But of course you do.
You know, you cut it from the inside out when you're working on
a Moviola, and you cut from the outside in when you're doing it
digitally -- because it's up there and you cut it, and then you
start molding more. With a Moviola, you kind of mold as you do it.
M: I went through all three phases. I started out on the Moviola.
"Julia" was cut on a Moviola. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"
was for the most part assembled on a Moviola and then cut on a flatbed.
Like everything else during that period of the '70s and '80s, "The
Conversation," "Apocalypse Now" and "Ghost" were cut on flatbeds.
C: You preferred it? Or you just evolved to it because that was
what was happening?
M: I certainly liked the viewability of the material on the flatbed,
and it was part of Zoetrope's policy in the early days. We were
going to be a modern company (this was 1969, 1970) and so there
were no Moviolas around. When I got "The Conversation," it was simply
understood that I would cut it on the Kem. I developed this rather
quirky way of working on flatbeds, which is very much what you're
talking about. The Moviola is sculptural in the sense of a clay
sculpture that you're building up from bits, whereas the Kem is
sculptural in the sense that there is a block of marble and you're
C: You get the same thing because it's what's really in your head,
but you just attack it a different way.
M: The big advantage that I found with the Kem is that I didn't
make select rolls. You know, it's technically possible to create
the digital equivalent of daily rolls.
C: I have a Kem roll made if it's a big sequence that we've seen,
and maybe I'm not going to get to cut it for a few days.
M: Right, I do too.
C: How much do you think editing will change now that we're digital?
They carried out a survey where they said there were many more cuts
and certainly more opticals than there were before. But do you feel
your style has changed a lot?
M: After I cut "The English Patient," which is the first full film
that I cut digitally, I was curious to go back and look at something
that I cut 20 years earlier, "Julia" or "The Conversation." But
they looked the same to me. So I think it's more dependent on the
C: I don't think my style has changed particularly, either.
M: I think there is a period whenever new technology comes in that
you get drunk with the potential of it and you overuse it. Look
at when the zoom lens came into wide use in the '60s: there was
all this fast zooming. None of that is left. Yet all films are shot
with zoom lenses for the most part.
C: I think cutting is faster now than it was 20 years ago because
of commercials and the MTVs and things like that.
M: On the other hand, you look at a film like "His Girl Friday,"
the Howard Hawks film with Rosalind Russell…
C: And Cary Grant.
M: There aren't many cuts in that film, but the speed with which
the dialogue is given to you is something that audiences wouldn't
know how to take today. You know the repartee and the need to keep
up with the dialogue back and forth. It's similar to cutting. How
fast you can process information is really all we're talking about.
And in those days there was a style of quick repartee in dialogue
that is almost completely gone now. And it perhaps has been replaced
by a quick repartee in image, certainly in MTV and television-based
things. I think it's less adaptable to the big screen, that extremely
quick style of cutting.
C: I don't like when it's so quick you don't see what's happening.
What's the point in having the shot?
M: Also, when you're looking at the picture, it's taking up a good
30 degrees of your vision at least. Sometimes even more if you're
sitting close to the screen. Whereas a television is something that's
over in the corner and it's maybe two degrees, so it has to be very
aggressive editorially to catch your eye.
C: But going back to what
you were saying about playing the scene in one take, when I first
went into editing, I was always told never to cut -- to hold the
scene as long as it played. With British actors who are pretty good,
you could play those scenes. Even quite small actors were so good
that you didn't feel you had to cut. I still have that feeling,
M: No, I haven't, but I did a small final polish of "The Apostle."
Robert Duvall shot that for about $4 million. Originally they did
not print workprint, to save money. In fact, they didn't even print
the conformed workprint. They got the version they wanted on the Avid
and then cut negative directly from the edit decision list. I think
the first time Duvall actually saw the film on film with an audience
was when it ran at the Toronto Film Festival.
M: So do I.
C: But a lot of directors don't give you masters. Steven (Soderbergh)
doesn't do any masters, so you are never in that position, but even
then I don't cut when I don't feel it's necessary.
M: Exactly. When I'm looking at a shot, and all the story is being
told in this one shot, there's no reason to cut. When that shot
can no longer deliver the information -- it becomes repetitious
or redundant or it simply runs out -- that's where you have to cut.
But it is best if you don't cut if you don't have to.
C: I don't think people are brought up that way today. They're brought
up to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.
However, I do think there are more opticals since we went digital.
I know that on the first film I did digitally, "Congo," I was able
to show Frank (Marshall), the director, these dissolves going through
the jungle and things like that. I think if I had just explained
it to him and had not shown it to him, he probably wouldn't have
liked the idea particularly, but thought it was rather old-fashioned,
the dissolves and things. But on that film, when he saw it worked
so well, we used them. And I think it was directly due to being
on digital and the fact that you could do it. I've always believed
that if it's right to have an optical, you should have it, regardless
of whether it's fashionable or not.
M: Now it's spilling wildly out from simple dissolves and fades
into changing the architecture of the shot, such as getting rid
of a skyline or non-period things. It's easy to send something out,
get it digitized and make the final negative as perfect as you want
it, so I can only see that process accelerating. And ultimately,
if the trends continue, I have no doubt that editors will be working
on a releasable-quality image that you can show in a theater, and
we will be making the answer print and doing some of the simpler
opticals in-house. And I see this happening in sound, too. So it
gets faster, but it does get more and more complicated.
C: It does get complicated. Have you done a film that's gone negative
straight from digital and not had dailies? Because I haven't done
C: My sons, who direct cheaper films, do it that way. They go straight
from the negative into film. But it would worry me if I had to do
M: The resolution is not yet there so that you can detect something
slightly or moderately out of focus. If it's wildly out of focus you
can pick it up, but things that are borderline don't show up.
C: I go back and look at stuff on the Kem. We have one that we're
checking dailies on. I'll go and look at shots when I can't clearly
get the image, the eyes and everything from those pixels.
M: It's gotten so much better though, certainly since when we were
doing "Godfather III." It was extremely difficult to grasp subtle
shifts of expression in somebody's eyes unless it was a big close-up.
And now there are very few surprises like that. I hear that this summer
there will be a big bump up on the Avid; at any rate, AVR6 will be
the equivalent of Betacam quality. So it's all a question of the software,
the memory and the processing speed.
C: Do you work on an Avid
M: As it turns out, it's just been the Avid.
C: Because I did three pictures on Lightworks, and now I've done three
on the Avid. I think I prefer the Avid, though if they said, "You
have to use the Lightworks," it wouldn't really worry me. I used to
think I would like to go back to film, but I wouldn't go back to film
again now. I think we've moved on. My mind's moved on.
M: I agree. But it's an inherent limitation of the digital systems
that the speed a frame is scanned at is set by the computer only,
and you have to work with that. Whereas the Kem or the Steenbeck being
mechanical systems, when you speed up, the time that the frame is
on shrinks. The scanning rate is changeable. So you see every frame.
You just see everything short. It's always amazing to me how much
you can pick up -- you can see people blinking. The human eye, particularly
if it's trained to look for these things, is very fast. However, I
agree with you, because of what can be done with sound and optically,
let alone all the other advantages of digital.
C: I have to say that I enjoyed cutting on film more than I enjoy
cutting digitally. There's a relationship you had with the director
that was so much better -- you could talk to him. You have to concentrate
so much on an Avid, and then you always had the time because you were
hanging up trims or splicing or whatever. I miss that lovely magic.
And I would then take it into the screening room with my crew, so
they were much more involved. I would run my first cut, and we'd all
look at it together. I think you got a marvelous impression that you
never have the chance to have on an Avid because, however much I train
myself, I'm always going back and looking at the cuts. I didn't do
that on film. So I love that first impression. You weren't worried
about the cuts or a few of the matching problems or anything like
that. You saw the film as it was meant to be seen for dramatic impact
-- the acting, the storytelling and everything.
M: It's particularly true for editors of your generation, because
I remember working with William Reynolds on "The Godfather," who also
paper-clipped things together exactly the same.
C: Michael Kahn does, too.
M: And for people of my generation who are about 20 years further
back, the take splicer had already evolved, so when we were at film
school, we just did it.
When I was starting out, one of the hardest things was not worrying
if the cut didn't work. What was important was to get the ideas in
proximity to each other and get the emotion moving. You'd always find
a way to make the cut work, but you can easily lose an entire day
fretting about some silly thing that's an issue of one or two frames.
There's a wonderful story I heard about John Huston and a film he
made in the '50s or '60s. They had screened the cut in the screening
room, and John had made some notes. The editor was going to go back
to the editing room and asked John to come up and settle it right
then. John was horrified. He said, "What, go into the editing room?
Why, I'd no sooner go into the editing room to watch the film be assembled
than watch my wife getting dressed for an evening gala. I just want
to see the final effects."
C: That's great! I'd never heard that.
M: It's a sensibility that is almost completely gone.
C: I've heard editors saying they didn't like the directors in their
cutting room. I never minded. I was always happy to have them there.
But nowadays, if you said that, you wouldn't get employed.
M: But the idea that the director is somebody who would only sit in
the viewing room and watch the entire film and not be concerned over
the particular architecture of how it got there -- that's an idea
that probably died with John Huston.
C: Well, I worked with John Ford for a brief time.
M: Fred Zinnemann was a bit that way, too.
C: And Ronnie Neame. He didn't want to see any of the cut stuff before.
He wanted to see it all at the end. But I think it's a good idea for
new directors to look at what you're doing. Because, I don't know
about you, but I'm always nervous about what I'm doing. But that's
the exciting thing; I love watching a film come together.
M: There's nothing like it. I think the editor is particularly privileged
to be the midwife of this birth, and you really do see before anyone
else how this thing is actually lumbering into life. Very few other
people on a film…
C: Are in all the way through.
M: The director obviously, but even producers are off preparing some
C: I find that if they like it, they often don't say anything. They
don't even say, "That's great."
M: Silence is a compliment. Have you ever collaborated with another
C: Well, Artie Schmidt came on to "Congo." He is such a great editor
and a great friend of mine. I've always tried not to collaborate with
anybody, though. I like working by myself. As I said earlier, it's
a personal thing to me. You're the same, aren't you?
M: Well, I've collaborated quite a lot: "The Conversation" with Richard
Chew; "Apocalypse Now" with Richie Marks, Jerry Greenberg and Lisa
Fruchtman; "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" with B.J. Sears, Steve
Rotter and Vivien Gilliam; "Godfather III" with Lisa Fruchtman and
Barry Malkin. I came on in the last four months of "Godfather III"
to help meet the deadline.
C: How about the other "Godfathers"?
M: Well, I did the sound on "Godfather I and II." "Godfather I" was
edited by Peter Zinner and Bill Reynolds. And they cut the film right
in half. It was Bill Reynolds up to the trip to Sicily, I think, and
then Peter Zinner from there to the end. Each of them had an hour-and-a-half
feature film to cut.
C: Did they then go back onto each other's work?
M: No, it was completely separate. Whereas on "Godfather II," Peter
Zinner, Barry Malkin and Richie Marks were swapping scenes, and everything
was always completely mixed up.
C: I think it's difficult when you're swapping scenes, because everybody's
going to do things a bit differently. But how have you worked when
you've done that? Have you swapped scenes?
M: In "Apocalypse Now," I came on in August '77 after they finished
shooting, and we didn't know it but we had two years to go -- it was
two years in post-production. Most of the material had already been
assembled. I came on and took over from the beginning through that
massacre in the sampan in the middle, which is roughly halfway through.
With the notable exception of the helicopter battle scene, which Jerry
Greenberg was already working on.
C: Just that scene.
M: Just that scene, which is a feature film in itself. I think there
were 300,000 feet of dailies for that, with many thousand-foot loads
of multiple cameras, eight cameras shooting simultaneously. And then
Jerry left the film in the spring of '78. By that time it was in very
good shape. So I continued to work on it, but in the overall interest
of cutting things down. In the end it was a 25-minute sequence. So
in general, Richie Marks took the second half of the film, and I took
the first half, and Lisa Fruchtman did the Playboy concert and some
of the other scenes here and there.
C: I think it's good if you can do that, but with swapping scenes
back and forth, I would feel odd about altering somebody else's work.
M: That's one of the potential perils of the digital age. Now, in
a few hours, the entire drives of what you have can be cloned, and
the studio can put their own editor on the film, cut it the way they
want it and then use that to nudge or shove the film in a certain
direction. Whereas that was never even technically possible in the
days of 35mm films.
With "Erin Brockovich," how long was your first assembly and how easy
was it to get it down to the length that you have it now?
C: It was quite long, because some of the montages were very loose.
I guess it was about three hours. But it was easy to get out the first
amount of time, then getting out the last bits. They wanted it to
run just over two hours, which it does. We did have a tight schedule
at one time. We were going to open before Christmas, and then they
decided not to do that because Julia (Roberts) had two successful
films last year. Then we had an easy schedule. It was one of the easiest,
most pleasant films I've ever worked on. Steven said how great it
had been, and everybody was very high on it. But being British, I'm
always nervous until it opens and you actually see it.
We always had in the schedule two or three days of extra shots, which
we took advantage of and did this scene with Julia and Albert (Finney)
at the end.
M: With a $2 million check.
C: That's right. As I'm sure you know, often when you don't have a
scene you really need toward the end, and it's written later, it stands
out like a sore thumb, because it's not very good, and it doesn't
do what you want. But this scene, which was written by Richard LaGravenese,
did exactly what we wanted in exactly the right place. And they both
played it so beautifully. It made the difference to the film, I think.
M: When you're assembling the first scenes and trying to get that
magic moment where you say, "OK, now I get it," where do you get the
clues to do that? From the actors? From the camera work?
C: I would say mostly the actors, particularly in a film like "Erin,"
which is very much...
C: By the performances.
M: That's what I've found. You search out, and it's not always obvious
at first glance, this vein of gold, that rhythmic pulse. It's what
a conductor does when he has to conduct a symphony and tries to find
out how he is going to do this. All the notes are written down, but
you have to know how you're going to do it. And then once you find
it, you can find ways to extend that into areas where there are no
actors, even -- for example, how long you are going to hold this long
shot of the landscape. You can hold it forever, like David Lean, and
make a point about that, or you can hold it just long enough to get
the idea across that it's a horizontal landscape or...
C: That you're going into a bad district...
M: Or somewhere in between. So it's that dodgy area of somewhere in
C: Those are the difficult scenes to cut. Like when Julia comes into
Hinkley (in Calif.) for the first time and is looking around. That
was quite a large sequence at one time. She drives in, looking, turning,
stopping and all that kind of thing. In the end it was about six shots,
I think, before she arrives at Donna's house.
But as you say, those are difficult scenes to cut for the pacing and
the rhythm -- more difficult sometimes than the dialogue scenes, which
have their own rhythm. We didn't bring them down in one fell swoop;
we nibbled at them.
M: Yeah, I've seen two different approaches to cutting down a film.
One of them is the nibbling approach, which is to make all the obvious
changes and then look at it. And now that it's shorter, you will see
things that you didn't see when it was longer, and now you nibble
away a little bit more. Then there's the opposite approach, which
is almost to brutally whack it down to very close to the length you
want it to be for release, and then look at what is admittedly a bleeding
patient on the stretcher and say, "All right, what do we have to do
now to fix this?" Have you found this with different directors?
C: I've found the first approach more often, and I've always advised
that you go slowly at it, that you don't start slashing at it and
throw the baby out with the bath water or whatever that expression
M: Right, because sometimes you can't tell the baby from the bath
water. Well, this has been fascinating for me.
C: Yes, it was nice talking to you.
EditorsNet May 2000
Original URL http://www.editorsnet.com/article/mainv/0,7220,121767,00.html