The relationship between directors and editors

viola larewnce

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.

thelma scorsese

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.

sally quintin

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.