The relationship between directors and editors

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Editor Viola Lawrence (left) with actress Rita Hayworth (right) at Columbia Pictures editing Miss Sadie Thompson in 1953.

Editing was originally “a woman’s job.” It required a lot of patience and acute attention to detail and as gender stereotypes were pretty strong when filmmaking began, most production companies sought out women for the tedious task. They would sort through all the footage and work side-by-side with the directors to bring all the pieces together and create a movie.

For anyone that has ever edited a video, big or small, it can be a daunting task. Whether it is film or digital, people that work in post production have their work cut out for them. Literally. (Excuse the pun).

When celuloid film was used, it had to be developed and then pieces were literally cut with scissors and put back together on a reel side by side. Today most films are shot digitally and editing software mimics the old ways of editing and often uses traditional editing terminology, editors still say they are “in the cutting room” and so on.

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Editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Director Martin Scorsese are a perfect example of the relationship between and Editor and Director. Here they are editing Woodstock in 1969. Photo courtesy of Thelma Schoonmaker.

Editing is known a the second phase of directing and so it makes sense that directors tend to develop a close creative relationship with their editors that sometimes lasts throughout their careers. Both the editor and director need to be compatible and compliment each others styles. Oftentimes directors say that their editors know what they are thinking before they even know themselves.

This is an artistic collaboration so sometimes directors and editors don’t always agree on what should be cut or not. Editors often don’t go on set so that they aren’t influenced by how much time, effort and money was put into a particular shot or scene. For an editor, it’s simple: if it doesn’t fit, it will be cut. Directors can spend weeks on a scene so they can feel conflicted when an editor thinks it should be removed all together. In the end, both the director and editor want what’s best for the film so they need to know when to listen to the other’s opinion to find out how to get the film in its best state.

In the video below jump ahead to 3:21 – 4:02 to hear Spielberg talk about working with his editor, Verna Williams, on Jaws. She went on to win an Oscar for her work on this film.

A lot of famous directors have and editors they work with on all of their films, some other famous editing/directing duos that still work together today are Clint Eastwood and Joel Cox, Woody Allen and Alisa Lepselter, Tim Burton and Chris Lebenzon, Roman Polanski and Herve de Luze, David Cronenberg and Ronald Sanders and more. These editing/directing duos have stood the test of time and have made some great films together and will continue throughout their careers.

Unfortunately there are times when great collaborators are split up against their will. Such is the case of Sally Menke and Quentin Tarintino. Menke died from heat stroke in 2010 while hiking in California. The news was a shock to Tarintino and the people who were close to the famed editor. Tarintino’s directing style is very unique and his films are known for their non-linear editing style that was very ahead of its time. He is a self-proclaimed perfectionist and would have movies play in his head before he even shot them so finding the right match for his personality and directing style was not an easy job. Fortunately he found Menke and the two worked very well together in the time they had. Tarantino was said to be very devoted to his editor, he would sometimes get crew members to say hello to Menke in the camera so that months later she would come across it while editing and it would cheer her up as she worked.

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Editor Sally Menke with Director Quentin Tarintino. Menke and Tarintino started working together on his film Reservoir Dogs and all of Tarintino’s films following it until her untimely death in 2010. Tarantino has maintained that Menke remains his “only, truly genuine collaborator.”

To this day Tarintino still mourns the loss of his right-hand woman in the cutting room. His only film since her passing has been Django Unchained. At the moment he is writing for the series From Dusk Till Dawn and he is set to continue with Kill Bill Vol. 3 in the near future with another editor.

So there you have it! These are just a few examples of directors and editors who work together on various film productions. The next time you are watching a movie, take a look at the credits to see if you start to find pattens.

The Importance of Lighting in Video

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Lighting is so important in ensuring a quality picture in videos. On film sets, there is an entire department dedicated to designing a light setup and they work under the direction of the Gaffer, who works under the direction of the Director of Photography.

In smaller productions (documentaries & videography) you have to be a bit creative and use whatever light is available. Smaller light sets can  be used but depending on what you are doing and where you are, they may not be logical (i.e. shooting out in the woods). Generators can be used but the more equipment you have the more crew you need to lug it around and set it up so there are other ways around it if you don’t have the money to pay for the extra crew members for your video production.

Reflectors are great. These are just two sided pieces of fabric stretched out over a flexible oval/board frame. They are great because they compact, lightweight and cheap. Reflectors don’t have a huge amount of power and they need light to reflect so they are great for just filling in shadows on faces or lighting up details that can be lost when the lighting is too low.

Clip on LED lights. I like these sometimes. Rarely though. I have them but I don’t tend to use them much. The reason being is that they are like a giant flashlight accouncing what the video camera is shooting. I tend to capture a lot of candid video so I don’t like when people know I am shooting them because they will act differently and having a light in their face takes them out of the moment. I understand this and I myself do not enjoy being in-front of the camera, trust me. They are also like a spotlight, so everything around the subject is dark but the subject is well lit. This can be a nice effect if that is what you are looking for but for me I generally avoid it.

Interior lights in houses. These are not usually very flattering. Tungsten lights are usually fairly yellow and come from above or from the side on a lamp so they are low light and can sometimes cast shadows on faces. If you want a dramatic yellow shadowy face then great, but other than that I am not really super fond of them. Fluorescents look green on a  video camera so if you are in a room with both tungsten and fluorescent lights then you will have to be creative. I usually adjust my white balance accordingly and then find one that has a good distribution and shoot around it. Sometimes I will turn certain lights off if they are contrasting other lights in my shot.

Natural light. This is the bees knees. While natural light can be a bit problematic (clouds going over the sun) you can use it to your advantage to create a clear image in your video with the right amount of shadow and light. I love the way it shows up on camera without adding anything extra that needs to be removed in post production. Playing around with different angles of natural light is fun too. Typically people are told to shoot with the light on their backs to it lights up their subjects but if you actually do the opposite you can have a really night lit background with some fun lens flares shooting through. My cinematography teacher in Prague didn’t like that look too much but I personally love it. Natural light changes with the day so it’s always a good idea to know when and where the sun rises and falls so you can work with it instead of fighting it.

There are of course many many more types of lights to use in your video so explore and experiment and see what happens, that’s the best way to learn!

Take a look at this video by Nacho Guzman on how different colors and light angles change this woman’s face: