Friday, July 20, 2018

STRIKE!

     As I write, an impending strike threatens to shut down the film and television industries completely. The contract between the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), my union for the past several decades, and the Alliance Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expires on July 31st.  And the two sides aren’t even close to an agreement.

     In addition to editors like myself, IATSE  (known to members as the IA) represents cinematographers, production designers and art directors, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, lighting experts and sound technicians.  AMPTP speaks for the owners and managers of television networks and motion picture studios, along with the heads of streaming entities and executives running smaller production companies.  Those of us who make movies and TV shows, represented by our union, in other words, are at odds with those who finance and/or manage our work.

      The most contentious issues – filmmakers’ demand that the workday not be so long that our health and safety are endangered and our demand that we get the same residuals from streaming services as actors, writers and directors in order to keep our pension and health insurance fund solvent – seem straightforward enough.  But in these times, when union membership is low, when monopolistic corporations behave as though they hold all the cards and when new media have disrupted normal avenues of distribution and broadcasting, nothing is simple.

      In the IA’s 124 years of existence its goals and achievements have, on the contrary, been relatively uncomplicated:  wages commensurate with the rarity of members’ skills, employer contributions to a pension fund substantial enough for members to retire comfortably, affordable high quality health coverage also paid for by employers, overtime pay for overtime work, and provisions for reasonable meal breaks and time off from workday to workday.  Negotiations between the union and studios have sometimes been contentious, of course; there have occasionally been strikes. 

     But in the past half-century labor-management battles never posed an existential threat to the union.  The entities that financed movie production recognized that a unionized workforce was good for them.  Filmmakers’ reasonable compensation package made competition for jobs intense, so producers have always gotten the highest quality work from union crews. 

     My son, Adam Miller, posited early in his editing career that the only way to make a good low budget film is with a big budget crew, because well-paid filmmakers can’t be inefficient.  Wasting time is too costly.  So wise financiers happily pay more - and save money in the long run - by hiring expert and efficient union crews that deliver high quality work, on schedule.

     I was unaware of the union when I fell in love with cinema and still romanticized the starving artist as much as any college student.  But after graduation, starvation was a tough sell.  My very middle class parents had just forked over much more tuition than they could afford.   Becoming aware of union wages (and above scale rates), however, enabled me to tell mom and dad that just like lawyers and doctors, filmmakers are often paid well.  I could work my way up in a field about which I’d become passionate, and the compensation would be good.  It was the union, of course, that made such a claim possible.

      When I joined the New York Editors Guild (IA Local 771) at the start of my career, hourly rates, insurance benefits, guaranteed time away from the workplace at the end of each day, and employer contributions to our pension fund were at an all time high.  But from the early ‘80’s to the present, organized labor has been under attack, so it’s gotten harder and harder for IATSE to negotiate agreements as good as those of the pre-Reagan years. 

     I’m not saying the union was perfect back then.  East and west coast locals hadn’t yet merged and were often at odds.  It was hard to become a member if you didn’t have family already in the IA.  Those of us who struggled to get on union shows even suspected a degree of corruption in addition to the obvious nepotism.  Finally, contracts between the studios and the various film crafts expired at different times, so a picture could be edited even if the cinematographers struck or designed and shot even if the editors were out; we were not a united front.
     But today all of the film crafts’ agreements with the AMPTP terminate on the same date, July 31st.  And this gives the IA true power to negotiate a good deal for us, because if there’s a strike we all go out and the networks are left without programming to start the television season, and movie studios won’t have finished films for “awards season.”

     Knowing we have this strength, it seems like a no-brainer to strike if the AMPTP won’t meet our demands on life and death issues.

     Let’s talk first about the length of the workday.  People outside the movie industry may not be aware that a 12-hour workday is considered normal in Hollywood; we often toil for as many hours in one week as non-filmmakers do in a week and a half.  Sometimes it’s much worse.

     Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the current contract requires only 8 hours between the end of one workday and the start of another.  In other words, if Tuesday’s shoot wraps at midnight there’s no financial penalty for requiring the production crew to be back on set at 8am.  Add commuting time and the need to unwind for a few minutes and what we wind up with is sleep-deprived filmmakers who do nothing but work. This not only wreaks havoc on our family lives, it becomes extremely dangerous.     

     The late cinematographer Haskell Wexler made these dangerous work conditions a cause célèbre after camera assistant Brent Hershman was killed in a car wreck in 1997, falling asleep while driving home from a job at the end of a 19-hour workday (which was preceded by four 15-hour days).  What the IA wants codified in the new contract, as I understand it, is 12 hours between wrap and call, and a maximum 14-hour workday.  Not only does that seem reasonable to anyone outside the motion picture industry, it seems absolutely vital to all of us in it.  The AMPTP seems to disagree.

     The issue of employer contributions to IATSE’s pension and welfare fund is more complicated.  Our pension plan is funded largely by employer contributions for every hour we work.  But as studios have made fewer and fewer films in the past decade, that revenue has diminished. 

     There is an additional source of pension plan funding:  residual payments from distribution in secondary markets – feature films on DVD and Blu-ray or sold to television networks and airlines, for example.  But these traditional forms of revenue are drying up as viewers today stream most content.  And right now, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu don’t pay residuals to the IA pension and welfare fund. 

     Consequently, the solvency of the plan itself is nearing “critical status.”  As of January 1, 2017, it was only 67.4% funded, and under federal law, a pension plan is considered to be in “critical” condition if funding falls below 65%.
    
     No one questions the importance of adequate pension payouts or affordable high quality medical coverage.  But when it comes down to financing pensions and insurance for those of us who work behind the scenes, the AMPTP is pleading poverty.

     Which is crazy!  While the studios complain that profits and attendance are at an all-time low for theatrical films and that TV ratings are way down, projected 2022 income for the film and TV industries, including power players Netflix and Amazon, is  $119.2 billion, up from $64 billion in 2017.   Clearly, then, the industry is making record profits.

     Simply put, my union sisters and brothers and I deserve to share fairly in the revenue. The AMPTP has already granted the Writers, Actors and Directors Guilds  “new media” (streaming service) residuals for their health and pension plans.  We want the same square deal.
  
     Because of streaming, of non-existent anti-trust law enforcement and of windfalls generated by recent corporate tax cuts, media corporations are so flush they’re considering construction of a $100 million tram to the Hollywood sign. How about investing that money in the those of us behind the camera who make the movies and TV shows that generate their mega-profits?  “Instead of a tram,” says a Local 600 spokesperson says, “let’s hike up instead and fund our pension!”

     Of course, I hope a strike can be averted.  Organized work stoppages wreak havoc with the very kind of economic security for which IATSE has struggled.  But at the moment the AMPTP seems intransigent on what, as I said above, are truly existential issues.  If we stay united and recognize our own bargaining power, they will do the right thing!




    







Thursday, June 15, 2017

MONTEREY POP! AT THE HALF CENTURY MARK

     
     The Monterey Pop Festival -- held two years before its better-known stepchild, Woodstock -- was the first weekend-long rock concert.  It turns 50 on June 16th.

     I was too young and too far away to join the west coast hippie devotees who flocked to the event.  So I waited for D.A. Pennebaker’s cinéma vérité documentary MONTEREY POP!, released over a year later, to have my first festival experience. I went to the Kips Bay Cinema on Manhattan’s east side excited to see the bands in the film.  I left feeling that my life had been fundamentally altered, certain I wanted to become a filmmaker (even though I had no idea know what that would entail). 

     True, when you’re in your mid-teens, as I was when I saw the picture, every moment is pivotal.  But the twists and turns of popular culture in the late sixties were sharp and mind-bending regardless of one’s age.                                                                                                                                           

In 1967, Hollywood was knocked off its center by such movies as BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE and Luis Bunuel’s BELLE DE JOUR.  At the same time, in the six months leading up to Monterey, the face of rock ‘n’ roll changed even more radically. 

The Doors, The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience all issued debut albums.  And two weeks before the festival, The Beatles – using orchestral music, shifting time signatures, sitar and tabla solos, and revolutionary recording techniques -- shattered rock ‘n’ roll’s few remaining limits with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” All of these new sounds spread quickly, reaching tens of millions of teenagers like me who listened to FM’s “progressive rock” radio. 

     Disc jockeys pioneering this new format played album cuts that were never released as 45rpm singles.  Such singles, the foundation (and only content) of AM Top 40 programming, were generally superficial.  FM’s darker, more complex tracks – with lyrics about whiskey bars, backdoor men and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds -- became the soundtrack of my adolescence. There were songs about pills that altered your size and made you feel eight miles high.  Songs that asked, “Are you experienced?”  Songs that made me feel supercool indeed!

     As California, New York, London and Liverpool bands were forging a rock ‘n’ roll renaissance, Pennebaker -- with far less fanfare -- was transforming cinema in ways Hollywood hadn’t considered.  On May 17, 1967, DONT LOOK BACK, his film about Bob Dylan’s second British tour, hit theatres.  I had just become a Dylan fan and here was an intimate portrait that made me feel like I was hanging out with my new hero! 

     I experienced the same immediacy, a year and a half later, watching MONTEREY POP!

     Again, that motion picture was life changing.  I couldn’t fully articulate why at the time.  But as I look back 50 years I realize I watched it like a kid at a magic show, so enthralled I needed to find out how the tricks were done. Somehow I knew I could learn moviemaking.  Even now, as I revisit the film, I discover tropes and connections that weren’t apparent to me before.  Half a century later, MONTEREY POP! continues to inspire.

     What was groundbreaking and what enabled D.A Pennebaker to achieve such intimacy was cinéma vérité – a term coined by French documentarians for an array of techniques they had developed and which were refined in the U.S. by Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and the Maysles brothers along with Pennebaker. 

     Common wisdom about this genre, translated as “truthful cinema,” is that lightweight 16 mm. cameras and Nagra tape recorders developed in the sixties enabled moviemakers to be unobtrusive. Consequently their subjects – people like JFK and Hubert Humphrey in PRIMARY, Dylan in DONT LOOK BACK and dozens of musicians and hippies in MONTEREY POP! – were unguarded and unselfconscious as they couldn’t have been in front of Hollywood’s 350-pound Mitchell cameras and cumbersome audio systems.

     But the most important innovation in vérité wasn’t technological; it was a change in the attitude and behavior of directors.  Touring with Bob Dylan and, later, shooting musicians and audience members in Monterey, the filmmaker got subjects to reveal themselves to him by opening up to them.  If Dylan told a joke, Pennebaker laughed then became simultaneously vulnerable and entertaining by telling one of his own. 

     Likewise, during the making of MONTERY POP!,  the director and cinematographers engaged truthfully and openly with festival organizers, with a young woman who seemed incredulous that they hadn’t been to a “love-in,” with dozens of pot-smokers, and with the musicians at the movie’s center.

     Yet there isn’t a trace of dialogue from behind camera in the finished film; it was deleted entirely during post-production.  And this absence of filmmakers as narrators or interlocutors is another defining characteristic of cinéma vérité.  The documentarians’ openheartedness and candor off-camera enables those on camera to speak and act without restraint, while the magic of editing keeps the audience focused exclusively on the subject.

     So despite the genre’s name – “truthful cinema” -- these movies rely upon a great deal of artifice.  In Jean-Luc Godard’s LE PETIT SOLDAT, Bruno Forestier (a photographer played by Michel Subor) says, “Photography is truth. Cinema is truth 24 times a second.” Errol Morris, reflecting on his experience making THE THIN BLUE LINE and on its vérité progenitors, countered: “Film is lies 24 times a second.”   

     Motion pictures like DONT LOOK BACK and MONTEREY POP aren’t merely “windows onto the world,” easily contrasted with fiction features’ “reflection of reality.”  Their creators select what they shoot just as carefully as Hollywood feature directors.  And they use all the resources of theatrical film editing – disjunction of sound and image, sequential rearrangement, deletion, repetition, sound effects and music among them – to tell their stories most dramatically (and with the greatest emotional authenticity).

     Of course, I wasn’t aware of selection and editing when I was a young pup in the late sixties.  All I knew was how good these films made me feel.  How different they were from what I was used to watching on TV and in movie palaces.

     But blades of grass were busting through the concrete sidewalks of suburban America – including those of my working class Queens neighborhood. Changes were afoot not just in music and movies but in writing about society and pop culture. 

     In September ’67, I read an article in The Saturday Evening Post about kids (not much older than I was) who had run away to Haight-Ashbury.  Tens of thousands of them, living communally or on the street, smoking weed every day and tripping every other!  The piece, “Hippies: Slouching Toward Bethlehem” by Joan Didion, went much further than more glib reporting on “The Summer of Love” by television networks and mainstream newsweeklies. 

https://nstearns.edublogs.org/files/2012/.../Slouching-toward-bethlehem

     It complemented and exceeded Scott McKenzie’s hit song, “If You’re Going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”  And it was eye opening!  In The Post, no less – subscription par excellence of my grandparents’ quest to assimilate by reading the most Americana-infused magazine around -- with its Norman Rockwell covers and common sense features.

www.normanrockwellvt.com/boyscouts.htm

     Didion’s piece, a paradigm of New Journalism, is actually a close relative of MONTEREY POP! and its cinéma vérité siblings.  Didion, Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), Norman Mailer (Armies of the Night) and other practitioners of the genre were compelled to create a fresh kind of reportage not just because old methods had become stale, but because their stories were about unprecedented phenomena; unique styles had to be found for the telling. 

     Dan Wakefield, a reporter for The Nation, described new journalism as reporting “charged with the energy of art.”

     Wolfe had to be “on the bus” and write with a novelist’s linguistic virtuosity to capture the “stranger than fiction” quality of hundreds of people taking huge doses of pure LSD-25 together, come what may.  Mailer had to be an insider to paint his compelling, insightful picture of writers, poets, critics, students, university chaplains, Yippies and mystics who marched on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War.  Didion had to live among her Bay area post-beatnik dropouts to give readers the genuine article.

     These writers interacted with their subjects in the same way the new wave of documentarians did.  But they presented their interactions quite differently.  Cinéma vérité directors, as I said earlier, cut themselves out of their movies.  For new journalism, the writer’s presence became a defining characteristic of thee story.

     Being central in their own narratives, new journalists made a clear break from traditional objective reporting.  No “this reporter” or “editorial we” for Wolfe, Mailer and Didion!  Stories written accountably in the first person could go much deeper than dry, deadline-driven, style-less newspaper articles about acid, Vietnam War protests and hippies.

    While seeming to take the opposite approach – deleting themselves from scenes in which they had participated during principal photography -- vérité directors broke with newsreel tradition.  Shown in movie theatres starting in the 1930’s and reborn as the basic format for TV feature stories, newsreels used (usually bombastic) voice-overs and superimposed titles to tell the audience what was important in any given piece.  Their creators imposed drama in the most heavy-handed manner, leaving viewers feeling that all stories were alike and essentially meaningless.

https://archives.sfweekly.com/.../call-it-occupy-haight-street-harry-reasoners-1967

     By making himself invisible, Pennebaker let his subjects speak for themselves and allowed viewers to discover what was dramatic. 

     Which brings us back to MONTEREY POP!  The film begins with a “psychedelic” title sequence in which lights pulsate behind colored paper seen through still-wet enamel paint on glass. Janis Joplin and Big Brother’s “Combination of the Two” roars on the soundtrack. 

     Such artistry – absent from documentaries I’d seen – gave me a sense of the light show that accompanied festival performances as well as concertgoers’ euphoric, hallucinatory experience.  Big Brother’s lyrics evoked “dancing at the Fillmore” and made viewers at the Kips Bay want to jump out of their seats and join in.

     The title sequence holds up to this day.

     And it does so because of artifice!  Showing people tripping can’t capture what they see on acid.  Pennebaker’s (and editor Nina Schulman’s) inventiveness in post-production provides an experience much richer than what “objective” camera work and newscaster narration would have shown.

     The title sequence leads easily into a montage of people arriving in Monterey, underscored by Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”  There are images of hippies smoking, dancing and blowing bubbles.  Of psychedelic school buses and babies.  A candid shot of David Crosby checking audio gear, overjoyed.  “Groovy!” says Crosby, “A good sound system at last!”  A plane flies by and, in post-production, the editors decide not to use a sound effect for it.  We’re immersed in this amazing world, not just watching it from outside.  Because editors selected, rearranged, compressed and otherwise manipulated these images!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73jgeICl6SE

     By following McKenzie’s song with The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming,” Pennebaker eliminates the need for spoken narration.  We see and hear that we’re in California.  That hippies have come from far and wide, as have musicians. That the sound is going to be great. There’s no need for a newscaster to repeat what we already know.

     What knocks me out is that the order in which songs are used in the film feels completely natural even though it’s unrelated to the actual sequence of events.  A band called The Association opened the festival.  The Mamas and Papas were the closing act two nights later, but their set is the first shown in the movie.

     D.A. Pennebaker, you see, found a much more powerful organizing principal than mere chronology: the film’s performance timeline is a genealogy of rock ‘n’ roll.  The Mamas and the Papas lead off with a love song, the foundation of popular music.  Canned Heat plays some Mississippi Delta Blues.  Simon and Garfunkel are up next, representing folk music with a tinge of poetry. They’re followed by the African jazz of Hugh Masakela.

     After Masakela, MONTEREY POP! follows rock to new heights – new directions which were the essence of 1967 rock.  The Airplane marry Lewis Carroll and Ravel in “White Rabbit.” Janis performs “Ball and Chain” with such power the Goddesses of Blues look down and smile. An electric violin solo leads into Eric Burden’s rendition of “Paint It, Black.” Keith Moon redefines rock ‘n’ roll drumming.  Jimi Hendrix descends from another (benign, delightful) planet to perform “Wild Thing.”  Ravi Shankar plays a 15-minute raga shown mostly with thunderstruck cut-aways of listeners, including guitar virtuosi Mike Bloomfield and Hendrix.

     I must admit I didn’t know the extent to which Pennebaker re-ordered the performances until I heard him talk about it.  But the film’s structure is perfect. MONTEREY POP! builds and builds and builds to a point where you want to jump up and give Shankar a standing ovation along with the festival crowd.

     I could go on and on.  Pennebaker’s system for making sure his ten cameramen (yes, all men) knew which songs to shoot and which not to (involving DONT LOOK BACK’S Bob Neuwirth) is fascinating.  That they didn’t roll on Janis Joplin’s only scheduled performance because she hadn’t signed a release (with souls having to be sold to get her to go on again) is probably worthy of its own post.  The reason the film’s climactic raga had to be edited on extremely primitive equipment even though Pennebaker owned a technologically advanced system will captivate postproduction practitioners. 

     But it’s time to wrap up.  Which I’ll do by quoting D.A. Pennebaker's associate Robert Drew, talking in 1962 about what he hoped a nascent cinéma vérité would ultimately be:

     “It would be a theatre without actors; it would be plays without   playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times, from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten by personal experience.”

     MONTERY POP! embodies Drew’s aspirations for the genre.  That’s why it remains as engaging and moving as it was a half century ago. That’s why – a half century later, when pop culture is driven (into the ground) by demographic research and marketing algorithms  MONTEREY POP! can still change lives.

    


















Sunday, November 27, 2016

AN INTERVIEW WITH OLIVER STONE

Three years ago, nearing the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, I interviewed Oliver Stone and  published the piece on Truthout.  Here it is:

The Oliver Stone Interview, Part II: JFK - Truthout

www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/20032-the-oliver-stone-interview-part-ii-jfk

The film remains a masterpiece of writing, directing, acting, cinematography, design and editing (regardless of one's take on what happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963).

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

TEACHING

     I just completed a semester teaching film editing at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and I loved it.  I spent everyday with students of cinema whose enthusiasm was unbridled.  I revisited movies that inspired me when I was their age: THE GRAND ILLUSION, LA STRADA, BREATHLESS, THE GRADUATE, BONNIE AND CLYDE, and THE GODFATHER, to name a few. And I shared anecdotes and assigned published interviews with amazing editors -- all in order to pass along my beloved craft!

     There’s no better place to do that nowadays than a university or conservatory. It was different when motion pictures were edited on celluloid – run through clacking Moviolas or humming Kems and Steenbecks, spliced together with scotch tape.  There was a real master/apprentice system in cutting rooms, with assistant editors learning their craft directly from editors and directors. But that arrangement has changed. 

      When I started in feature post-production in the late seventies, a key part of the assistant editor’s job was to find pieces of film for the director and editor.  Working on MANHATTAN, as Woody Allen and Sandy Morse repeatedly viewed Dianne Keaton’s close-up and the subsequent shot of Michael Murphy, for example, I’d head to a box containing the tail of Keaton’s shot, then to one containing the head of Murphy’s. As scrutiny continued, I’d roll down to the actual frames that might be needed. If I did my job well, I’d have the correct piece in Sandy’s hand as soon as she asked for it.  Of course, such efficiency would have been impossible if I hadn’t been in the room listening.  So I began to learn the craft of editing -- why to trim a given shot or extend another, why to restructure a section of the movie, delete a whole scene, or be wide instead of close -- by eavesdropping.

     But in the mid-nineties, digital systems eliminated finding pieces of film as an assistant editing task.  Now the editor presses a computer key when she and the director need to extend or change a shot; as a rule, the assistant works on sound and visual effects or organizational assignments in a separate space. Thus classrooms, not cutting rooms, have become the best venues for teaching our craft. We try to involve assistants in the process by discussing our cutting choices at the end of each workday or when we turn scenes over to them for temporary sound effects editing.  But these brief chats are no substitute for the fulltime immersion of yesteryear.

      It was exciting, then, to share the invisible art at North Carolina’s prestigious film conservatory. I began by teaching the fundamentals of cutting I learned so long ago when, filled with misconceptions, I found myself retrieving pieces of celluloid for editors and directors. Back then I believed, as most lay people do, that the primary goal of editing was to fix mistakes. It isn’t.  As I told my students, the more essential (and more exciting) task is to make sure great moments wind up in the finished film. Forget perfect match cuts.  Forget anything but allowing yourself to be moved by the best material, then figuring out how to use it.

     We read an interview with Thom Rolfe, co-editor (with Marcia Lucas) of TAXI DRIVER.  In it, Rolfe talks about Robert DeNiro’s iconic “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. When the editor viewed dailies, DeNiro’s performance blew him away, but the scene’s lack of coverage – of other angles to cut to – seemed problematic.  Yet Rolfe couldn’t not use the actor’s brilliant work.  So use it he did!  And, to this day, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the way this brilliant scene is put together.

     The TAXI DRIVER monologue provided a perfect segue to classes I taught on the primacy of performance itself.  Before I actually worked in the industry, I’d read theoretical writings on editing by filmmaking pioneers Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and I knew that movies with great chase sequences won Academy Awards. Thus I came to the craft thinking it was, first and foremost, about picking shots that would produce some sort of cool effect when juxtaposed. That’s why I was surprised, on my first feature film, to see Woody Allen and Sandy Morse invariably consider performance above all else when selecting takes.

     In class, I explored such issues as emotional complexity and authenticity – keys to performance selection - using interviews with film editors Dede Allen, Anne Coates and Sidney Levin.  I screened clips of awe-inspiring work by Marlon Brando and Vivienne Leigh, Al Pacino and John Cazale, and Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina.  We even discussed photos and paintings of great, expressive faces.  I taught what I had learned in cutting rooms:  when constructing a movie’s first assembly, great acting trumps great camera movement, great composition… everything!

     Once I’d gotten across the idea that excellent performance is the most important criterion when selecting takes for a first cut, I pulled the rug out from under my students by telling them that after the first assembly of a motion picture, its pace might become even more important than what the actors are doing.  I assigned an interview with Dede Allen about Robert Rossen’s THE HUSTLER, in which the legendary editor talked about how painful it was to lift one of Paul Newman’s best moments from the film. The deletion was necessary because THE HUSTLER’s audience had already garnered the scene’s information from an earlier bit that couldn’t be removed; Dede and her director discovered the movie was more engaging when it ceased to be redundant; the audience would never miss a performance of which it was unaware.  

     And I talked about similar experiences of my own: as an assistant, I watched Sandy Morse and Woody Allen eliminate an entire character from STARDUST MEMORIES because the film as a whole had already said everything the additional character might.  Years later, Josh Radnor and I also removed a character’s plotline – one that seemed important in the script but not in the rough cut - while working on his movie, LIBERAL ARTS.

     There were so many delights in sharing the craft of editing: talking about uses of sound effects and music, about the difference between pace and rhythm, about intentionally breaking hard and fast rules… And more! 

     I got to work with extremely capable student editors on their senior films and advise others on independent projects. I brought Editor’s Guild and ACE president Alan Heim to campus, where he screened ALL THAT JAZZ for an ecstatic crowd, and watched students mature right before my eyes as he worked with them one-on-one. I had the privilege of teaching alongside brilliant and dedicated editing colleagues and pedagogues from all filmmaking crafts and areas of cinema studies.

     Most surprising to me, though, was the realization that teaching makes me a better editor. Having to articulate what I know and how I know it enables me to focus more sharply. And at times, it helps me come up with creative solutions to cutting problems more quickly. 

     Other editors tell me they’ve had similar experiences.  David Bondelevich, film professor at University of Colorado Denver and past president of Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) and Cinema Audio Society (CAS), shared this quote: “To teach is to learn twice.” (Joseph Joubert). David sees his need to state complicated ideas in simple terms as an exercise that has enhanced his craftsmanship.

     Norman Hollyn, ACE, esteemed author, editor and professor of cinematic arts at University of Southern California, agrees, and adds that he learns from those he’s instructing. “Questions that our good students ask,” he says, “help me to question my built-in assumptions about editing, open me up to other forms, and (perhaps most importantly) teach me how to better question myself.”

     Norm’s insight resonates deeply for me. It captures not just how dazzled I was when a student showed me her favorite K-pop videos – the first I’d ever seen - or when she and other students showed me truly original work.  It also reminds me of what a living, breathing entity the student/teacher relationship is, and how, consequently, filmmaking itself continues to evolve and inspire!