Archive for September, 2010

An LA editor’s story

September 28th, 2010

Sally Menke, famed for editing all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, died yesterday on a hike near the Hollywood sign, apparently due to the record breaking heat. Touchingly, the search team that discovered her body found that her dog stayed with her. As a hiker prone to heat exhaustion and ignoring it myself, I am paying heed to the nature of her death and hope you will too. And I wish to pay tribute to her.

I have quoted Menke before and by way of saluting her accomplishments, have gathered a few quotes and videos that honor her.


“…I do feel there’s an internal rhythm in every person which is reflected in your work. Somehow a painting looks like its painter. There’s an innate response to footage that I feel is very much mine. Sometimes it’s not at all what Quentin or another director wants, so I change it. I approach the footage in a detailed way, SallyMenke looking at mannerisms as much as I listen to the dialogue- what their body is saying.”

“I don’t do match cuts really. That’s a ridiculous thing to say – I do. But we always explore how we can propel a scene, and that’s including dialogue, without doing match cuts. Because the audience is really willing to accept a lot of discontinuity.”

“I’ve learnt so much from every film and every director – a new perspective, a greater appreciation of the art.”

“We [Tarantino and I] muse over everything for a long time. Nothing is simply connected for the sake of connecting.”

All quotes and photo from “Cutting For Quentin, An Interview with Sally Menke” by Garrett Gilchrist.

Video tributes

In The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing the unequalled doc on Hollywood editing, Tarantino and Menke talk about their collaboration. Start watching at six minutes in. Tarantino really lets loose.

I can’t think of too many directors that have gone as far out of their way to appreciate their female editor than Quentin Tarantino. This has got to be a huge loss for him. Here he talks about how they write the film together during editing.

How many editors get recognized on set, let alone beyond anywhere else? Here’s a light hearted tribute to her from the director, cast and crew of Inglourious Basterds, her last Tarantino movie.

So long Sally and condolences to your family, friends, and film community.

Editing & life, Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role

Blogging, blogging, and more blogging: 090909 – One year hence

September 23rd, 2010

Figuring September 9, 2009 to be an auspicious-sounding day, I launched this blog and the whole Joy of Film Editing website.  Ever since the year anniversary has been approaching and now dopplered past, I’ve been thinking about what to say about it. And therein lies the key to blogging – thinking is like speaking and it’s out of your brain and on to the ‘Net before you can say “upload.”

Well, not exactly true in my case. I write these a few days ahead – that’s pressure enough – unless there a time reason (usually an awards show) that requires them to get out asap. I am not creating news bulletins here for the most part, rather a series of what I hope are reflective, stimulating essays.

So what has happened in a year here?

Unbelievably this blog received recognition from Moviemaker magazine as one of the top 50 film blogs after three months, a rating that I didn’t even know existed. I hope the mag extends it this year! But that alone has not been enough to keep me going. Hearing from you all means a lot: I always fear being like Father McKenzie (from the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby), writing the sermons, er, blogs that nobody reads. So I appreciate any and all comments and contributions. And I would love some more photos and text from you for the Your Cutting Room View feature.

The time that blogging takes is my main complaint. I compose pieces in my head and wish that they then poured right out of my head onto the page without having to be typed. At times I’ve felt this way about editing; that the envisioned cuts (especially change notes) would vault, like the Venus of myth being birthed out of Zeus’s head, onto to the screen and the show would play perfectly. In both cases the visualized piece is usually far loftier than the actual achievement.

“… the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.” Author-reporter-editor Andrew Sullivan award-winner for his blog The Daily Dish“Why I blog”

Finally, the struggle to get the flow and to ferret out the right words from my ever recalcitrant middle-aged brain at last wreaks a finished post. Then my everlovin,’ indispensible webmeister embeds the videos, makes the links work, and whisks it off to all you in the blogosphere. So thank you all for reading.

Here’s to another year of paddling!


Films that inspire and influence – Part II

September 20th, 2010

In the last post I probed the subject of films that influence filmmakers. In this concluding post I’ll look at the film that most influenced me. And the film is… The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I saw it seven times in my twenties during the 1970s, long after it debuted in 1969. And I intend to re-view it this winter when the nights are long and cold and the TV set is warm and glowing. I’ll let you know how I react then.

Basic story
Jean Brodie, (played by Maggie Smith who won the Oscar for the role) teaches at a private girls’ school in Edinburgh, Scotland and annually creates a set of special girls from her classes. Jean Brodie Movie PosterIn the year the movie covers, this set includes Jenny (Diana Grayson), Sandy (Pamela Franklin), and Mary (Jane Carr). The conventional view of the film is that Brodie’s romantic fantasies and manipulations lead to Mary’s misguided death and as a result, Brodie’s dismissal.

I think there’s a lot more to the film. To me it is a universal fable.

The nature of the Brodie character

Brodie is a strong teacher/parent figure, the type who influences you in many positive ways but from whom you have to escape eventually to live you your own life or you will lose your mind, drive and sense of self and begin to fossilize.

“I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the crème de la crème,” she states, and indeed she does, exhorting her charges to devote themselves to beauty in all things, romantic love, goodness, truth, and life on their own terms, as she believes she does.

Brodie’s problem

Brodie likes to pre-determine her students’ life paths. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”  She determines that the clearly conventional Jenny will be an artist’s muse and lover and that the smart, questioning Sandy will become a spy. Brodie inspires dim-witted Mary to leave school and join Franco’s fascist forces instead of opposing them. When Mary is killed on the way to Spain, Sandy acts.

She acts to annihilate the non-reality that her teacher lives in and to prevent her from harming girls in the future. She accomplishes this by reporting Brodie’s actions to the headmistress Emmeline Mackay (Celia Johnson, memorable as ever). Miss Mackay is a wretchedly conventional, unimaginative, stultifying character who relishes firing Brodie after years of plotting against her.

How many times, in order to move forward, do we annihilate the parts of ourselves that have dwelt too long in non-reality? And how many times have many of us had to leave (or at least distance) ourselves from people who seek to snuff our candles.


The movie ends with Brodie on her own without a job and showing no remorse. Sandy walks down the school’s hall one last time as Brodie’s accusatory scream “Assassin” reverberates behind her. Hopefully Sandy exits to a new life and is able to free herself from Brodie’s myopic, limiting assessments and cut a clear-sighted path of self sufficiency and independence –the traits Brodie models – and to goodness, beauty, and truth – the values Brodie espouses.

Editing & life, Joy goes to the movies

Films that inspire and influence – Part I

September 15th, 2010

I was away on a road trip which took me to Park City, Utah among other places. I happened to be there for Sundance Institute’s free monthly public screening. At first, the power of dialogue and effects was evident as the projector only played the music track. Once the film on the projection platter was rewound, I was finally able to see Rocket Science, a decent, character-driven drama which won the Sundance Film Festival directing award in 2007.

What impressed me most was hearing writer-director Jeffrey Blitz riff and take questions during the projector debacle. I’ve been to a lot of screenings and heard a lot of filmmakers – well known and unknown – speak about their work and future projects. I’ve heard it all and usually am up the aisle before the Q & A begins. Jeffrey Blitz impressed me with his honesty and made me root for him in the future. I loved his doc Spellbound, which pierced the world of kids competing in a national spelling bee and had a national theatrical run as well as garnering an Oscar nomination in 2002. And I have heard good things about Lucky, where he interviewed lottery winners and which played this July on HBO.

So what was impressive about Jeffrey? His humanity, his fidgeting, and his honest, non-calculated answers despite being on the inside track (Hollywood, USC, Sundance). When asked what movies inspired him to be a filmmaker he responded (and I paraphrase): “The films that inspire you to be a filmmaker are not necessarily like the ones you make.”

This made me think about what films have inspired me. Taking film history courses from film historian Peter Scarlett (who went on to run the SF film festival for years, then the Tribeca festival and currently the Middle East festival) was what sent me into filmmaking. Many films have awed and enthused me. But the film that influenced my writing and my life the most is…Stay tuned for Part II where I will look at the movie that has been both personal and inspiring.

In the meantime, let me know about the movies that have inspired you and how they have figured into your filmmaking. Is it their stories? Their back stories? Their characters? Their editing? Or what?

Editing & life, Joy goes to the movies

Soap editor Lugh Powers

September 10th, 2010

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

VO line that begins each Days of Our Lives episode.

Another post in my continuing series of editor interviews. I am grateful to each and every editor for their sharing their time, experience, and insights.

Following on the Emmy awards, this editor/interviewee has won two daytime Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Multiple Camera Editing for a Drama Series and been nominated four other times for Days of Our Lives, which has run since 1965 and he’s been cutting for eight years. Lugh Powers is also an Avid trainer and engineer extraordinaire for many years, which is how I first crossed paths with him. He enthusiastically consented to a dinner interview after a long day (at work since 6 a.m.) on.

The different and familiar world of soap editing

So what unique about soaps? The time frame, for one thing. Lugh and his post crew, composed of an assistant editor, associate editor, sound mixer, music supervisor, and online editor, start and finish a new one-hour show each day, five times a week.

How do they do it?

To start, a fast film crew shoots 135 pages at 30”/page daily on digi beta, using two redundant stages with dedicated sets. One set is prepped and lit while the other’s being filmed, in a constant rotation. “We move the actors to the lights, instead of the lights to the actors,” Lugh, who as an AD also directs on occasion, explained. The show uses three primary cameras and, as needed, a floating camera or a gib camera.

As far as post production, Lugh asserts that” technology is there to serve the story.” The editorial crew employs four Avid Symphonys utilizing the multi-cam set-up. Typically the associate editor puts together the first cut and gets notes from the producer before Lugh, as lead editor, makes the final cut. Like other TV editors, he does sound work and visual effects, and like a multi-cam comedy editor, he uses the director’s line cut and the lined script as a guide for cutting. However, there are no pre-laps on the show because, as with most soaps, “Dialogue is driving the show so we stay on the actor speaking.”


Lugh is strongly passionate about editing and believes it to be the “best job because you get to create. Where else do you get to indulge that five year old child who sees a castle or a spaceship, not a cardboard box?” Further, he firmly believes that it is the [film] industry’s responsibility to entertain, inspire, and teach. “We are the bards,” he maintains, making it a wrap to our dinner and discussion.

Awards, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process, Television