The annual A.C.E. Eddie Awards dinner reminds me of the Passover Seder. Each year, when Jewish families celebrate the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt, the youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” (Ritual requires that four answers be given; these responses, each including the words “on this night,” have paradoxically become known as “the four questions.”)
Like Passover repasts, Eddie Awards ceremonies mark a divergence from the norm. On this night, editors get together with a thousand peers to honor excellence in a craft that’s usually unnoticed or misunderstood, even by fellow filmmakers. On this night, editors bask in the limelight. On this night actors and directors seem to feel privileged just to be in the company of editors. On this night editors receive full recognition for their work, even as co-writers and co-creators of performance.
And so, on this night - February 16, 2013 - it was delightful to see 1,000 esteemed colleagues at the Beverly Hilton Hotel celebrating nominees for and winners of A.C.E.’s highest honor. Mingling with such editing luminaries as Alan Heim (NETWORK, ALL THAT JAZZ), Bob Leighton (THIS IS SPINAL TAP, A FEW GOOD MEN), Dody Dorn (MEMENTO, INSOMNIA), Mary Jo Markey and Marianne Brandon (STAR TREK, SUPER 8), Steve Rivkin (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, AVATAR), Kevin Tent (ELECTION, THE DESCENDANTS) and so many others, I felt both humbled and at home. At home with filmmakers who understand what it means to combine several takes in order to create one well-performed line of dialogue! Who know how, oddly enough, a film might improve as a whole when a good or even great scene is deleted to accelerate its pace. Who know, as Paul Hirsch (STAR WARS, RAY) once told me, “The difference between a good cut and a bad one is a twenty-fourth of a second.”
All of the above-named editors have found themselves in the limelight at one time or another, with Academy or Eddie Award recognition. And this year, I found myself sharing the limelight, as co-presenter of the trophy for Best Edited Documentary with Josh Radnor (HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, LIBERAL ARTS). Arriving at the Hilton, I was invited by A.C.E.’s Marika Ellis, event planner extraordinaire, to walk the red carpet. The irony of an editor smiling for paparazzi and fielding questions from journalists was palpable.
But I truly enjoyed sharing the insights that those queries elicited. Asked to name one quality that was essential to good editing, I recalled a moment from early in my career. The producers of a tiny movie I was cutting showed a rough assembly to Jerry Greenberg (KRAMER VS. KRAMER, THE UNTOUCHABLES). He commented that the work “showed some sensitivity.” Sensitivity? This, I thought, from the editor of such testosterone-fueled pictures as THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3! What he meant, I learned, was that editors had to allow themselves to be moved by the raw material – by what was authentic, or beautiful, funny or sad - and that, regardless of literal matches or mismatches of action, good cutting mandated that the deeply affecting pieces of film make their way into the cut.
The notion of sensitivity recurred, putting me in the spotlight once more, as the award presentations began. Jon Voight (MIDNIGHT COWBOY, COMING HOME), with whom I’d worked on ANACONDA, took the stage to announce the nominees for Best Edited Student Film. He’d asked me backstage if he could share a story about the snake movie, which he proceeded to do. From the wings, I heard him recount that, in a shot where the enormous ophidian had spit him out at Jennifer Lopez’s feet, he winked at the camera, but no one on set had seen it. I did see it, of course. And, sensing that the wink was a key to finding ANACONDA’s arch tone, I used it. The moment wound up in the final cut as a signal to the audience that, yes, it was okay to laugh at the movie.
So… this night was different because a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner for Best Actor led the way in shifting focus away from thespians and directors, onto editors. The celebration of “invisible artists” by those with high profiles continued when the winner of last year’s Golden Eddie, director Alexander Payne (ABOUT SCHMIDT, SIDEWAYS), co-presented a Career Achievement Eddie to Richard Marks (APOCALYPSE NOW, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT).
In a callback to his hilarious yet touching Golden Eddie acceptance speech, Alexander Payne overemphasized the American Cinema Editors acronym when referring to Richard Marks, A.C.E. as he had when praising his longtime collaborator, Kevin Tent, A.C.E. (Kevin was 2012’s winner for Best Edited Feature, Payne’s THE DESCENDANTS.) The director spoke almost reverently of Marks, his former film instructor at UCLA. It was wonderful for a roomful of cutters to hear Alexander Payne state unequivocally that he’d learned most of what he knows about filmmaking from one of our own.
And how could an aspiring filmmaker not learn from Richard Marks, A.C.E.? His credits include LITTLE BIG MAN, SERPICO, THE GODFATHER: PART II and APOCALYPSE NOW!, ST. ELMO’S FIRE and PRETTY IN PINK, BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS, DICK TRACY, SAY ANYTHING, YOU’VE GOT MAIL, JULIA AND JULIA and more. Obviously, American Cinema Editors doesn’t mess around when giving a career achievement award.
During Marks’ acceptance speech, which he re-edited right down to the wire, he, too, mentioned sensitivity as an important attribute for cutters. He said that as a student, Alexander Payne was “performance sensitive.” That same quality in Richard Marks himself is what makes his films he so vibrant. “Although I always try to protect the original intentions of the script,” he says, “a film has a life of its own and it evolves.”
Documentaries, as a rule, are made without a script. So on this night, legendary non-fiction editor, Larry Silk (MARJOE, PUMPING IRON) was acknowledged for career achievement in shaping compelling stories from hundreds of hours of film on each project. Doc icon Barbara Kopple (HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A.; MY GENERATION), presenting Silk with his trophy, talked about how honored she felt when he agreed to edit her Woody Allen piece, WILD MAN BLUES. And who wouldn’t have been? His work – on the CBS series THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (with Walter Cronkite), JOHNNY CASH! THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC, the aforementioned MARJOE and PUMPING IRON, and so many other projects – has always been groundbreaking. Speaking of their collaboration, Kopple shared her awe as she watched Silk whittle her raw material down from hundreds of hours to fifteen hours, to five and, finally, to an hour and forty-five riveting minutes.
And on this night, 2013 Golden Eddie-recipient Steven Spielberg (JAWS, LINCOLN and everything in between), exuding a kind of humility borne of true greatness, also acknowledged editors as storytellers and close collaborators. He spun a wonderful yarn about being on the Universal lot as a wide-eyed 19 year old, watching a television editor work with abysmal dailies of a courtroom summation. The lead actor couldn’t remember two consecutive lines, spewing expletives more often than scripted dialogue. So the cutter tossed out visuals of the star floundering. He then deleted all flubs and swearing from the sound track, creating a serviceable audio version of the previously mangled monologue. Next he strung together shots from throughout the show that illustrated the speech he’d rescued, creating an effective summation montage to go along with the salvaged performance. Spielberg was duly amazed. Always the gifted raconteur, however, he finished his story with a twist: the network hated the editor’s solution and reshot the scene as scripted.
But the esteemed director moved easily from irony to love and gratitude. Of his three decades-long collaboration with Michael Kahn, A.C.E., he simply said, “Without you, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.” His remarks about the cutting room itself – that it’s a “safe haven” in which you can try anything with your film in the utmost privacy – bespoke a profound understanding and appreciation of the process of editing. And illustrating the kind of family-like closeness that develops in post-production, Spielberg said he’s been following the editing career of Michael Kahn’s former assistant, Billy Goldenberg, who, minutes later, won the Eddie for Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic), for ARGO.
The Passover Seder ends with a dessert known as the afikomen. My Eddie Award dinner afikomen was presenting the Best Edited Television Documentary statuette to Pamela Arnold for AMERICAN MASTERS “PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE.” Pam and I started our editing careers together in New York, cutting “after school specials.” At the time, I’m not sure we even knew Eddies existed.
Of course, I congratulate all the award winners and nominees. They should be extremely proud of their excellent work. As should Jenni McCormick (a force of nature), Marika Ellis and Tami Flannery, producers of the 63d Annual Eddie Awards.