Thursday, April 17, 2014

A TRIBUTE TO DEDE ALLEN

            A tribute to Dede Allen, editor of such groundbreaking films as THE HUSTLER, BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, was long overdue.  So on Saturday, April 5, the Motion Picture Editors Guild inaugurated its Dede Allen Seminar Room.  The space is a perfect memorial for the late dean of New York editing, because she loved teaching her craft to others and she loved the guild.   Local 700 president Allen Heim (ALL THAT JAZZ, VALMONT, AMERICAN HISTORY X) used a good old-fashioned splicer to cut the “ribbon,” a piece of 70mm. celluloid.  

       Dede deeply affected everyone she mentored.  And several of her former assistants who became brilliant cutters in their own right – “Dede’s boys” as they were known –attended the ceremony.  Richard Marks (APOCALYPSE NOW, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) and Jerry Greenberg (THE FRENCH CONNECTION, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, THE UNTOUCHABLES) and others credit her with being an inspiration as well as a great teacher.

       I never had the privilege of assisting Dede.  But she had a profound influence on every editor I know, and certainly on me.  Her cutting of, say, the bank vault scene in DOG DAY AFTERNOON continues to offer fresh insights into when to “match action” (or not), which character to be on during exchanges of dialogue, and shot-to-shot rhythms in general.

      Dede often had very large crews, in which collegial spirit abounded.  How large were they, Johnny?  Well…  I was once at a dinner party with David Lynch’s editor, Mary Sweeny.  Trying to figure out where we might have met before, we realized we’d both been assistant editors in New York in the 1980’s.  “Did you work on REDS?” Mary asked.  I hadn’t.  “Ah!” she said, “you’re the one.”

      I met Dede Allen while she was cutting REDS, when I happened to walk past her cutting room at Trans Audio on St. Patrick’s Day, 1981, just as she was taking a break.  She graciously invited me to share an Irish coffee with her.  (A more Irish punim than Dede’s I’ve never seen.)   At the time, I didn’t consider myself new to post-production, but I hadn’t met the dean.  And Dede wanted to welcome me to her amazing world.  Best cuppa Joe I ever had!

      Subsequently, I would run into her at union meetings or in the sacred corridors of Trans Audio and the Brill Building’s Sound One.  No matter how busy, she always showed a genuine interest in what I was up to and how I was enjoying the ride.

     That ride took me, in the 1990’s, to Warner Bros., where Dede had become an executive.  Studio brass realized they needed someone who understood what could and couldn’t be done to help a picture in post-production.  And they needed someone who was able to communicate with cutters in a way that they couldn’t.  Dede was the perfect person for them, and a gift to me.  She encouraged risk-taking for the good of the picture -- especially with mainstream material -- while also teaching me a bit about studio politics.

     During her tenure at Warners, technological changes began to transform editing.  Dede kept up with them and eventually returned to the cutting room, receiving an Oscar nomination for WONDER BOYS in 2001.  Right until the end she had and was eager to share filmmaking wisdom.  She’s been gone for four years now.  But when faced with an editing problem, I still ask, as do dozens of editors, “What would Dede do?”

     Dede’s children, extraordinary re-recording mixer Tom Fleishman (DO THE RIGHT THING, PHILADELPHIA, GOODFELLAS) and Ramey Ward, a “civilian,” both flew in to attend the dedication of the seminar room.  Ramey talked about why she chose not to work in the film industry: in less than one day in a cutting room, she realized post-production required much more anal retentiveness than she’d bargained for. 


      Tom spoke glowingly about his mom’s love of our craft, of her love for the women and men who practice it and for working people in general. He’s quite fortunate to have inherited those passions from Dede. And it’s always great to see him in L.A. for any reason.

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