Editors Gather To Discuss Their Trade

Cannes Film Festival


What does it take to be an editor today?  That was the primary discussion at this year’s EditFest LA.  With a room comprised primarily of working editors mixed with a healthy dose of students and editing assistants, panels of professional editors from the world of television and motion pictures met to discuss the art of editing and dissect techniques important to narrative, reality, and comedic styles.

During the opening night panel, moderator Randy Roberts, A.C.E. led panelists Ed Abroms, A.C.E., Sally Menke, A.C.E., Matt Chesse. A.C.E., and Pam Wise, A.C.E., through a discussion focusing on the effect of the changing economic climate for editors.  The panelists felt there was a large divide occurring between television and motion pictures.   Abroms, who began his editing career in the 50s, described the changing values between studios and employees.

"In the major studios it was like a family," said Abroms.  "You grew up with, lunched with, picnicked and bowled with the studio heads.  On the weekends you’d shoot movies for fun to explore new techniques.  The fun part is gone now.  The golden age has died."

Wise agreed.  "People with no money are taking over now.  Digital editing has been a benefit to indies.  We have a loss of the contracts we had with the major studios."

In addition to less lucrative contracts and budgets affecting the quantity of theatrical releases, editors are finding it difficult to get work in the type of genre they specialize in.  The panel stressed the need to take on any job, just to keep working and keep their skills visible.

"Don’t let money trip you up.  Cut anybody’s anything, " said Menke, who worked for $300 a week on “Pulp Fiction.”  "You don’t know who you are extending yourself to.  You don’t know where they are going to take you."

"Take an assistant job even if you’re already editing, just keep working," said Wise.

The weekend continued with Jerry Greenberg, A.C.E. and Carol Littleton, A.C.E. exploring the trailblazing editing of Dede Allen and Sam O’Steen.  Both editors were based in New York, away from the California movie systems, allowing their unique styles and visions to be explored more freely.  Clips from "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate" were studied to reveal how these two editors changed the landscape for decades to come.

"Both editors felt there was a truth buried in contradiction," said Littleton.  "They were extremely engrossed in plot, characterization, and narrative flow.  Both films were done at a time that captured the zeitgeist of the Vietnam War."

In "Bonnie and Clyde," Allen was able to capture the sexuality and nuances of the relationship between the two leads through revealing details, such as carefully placed cuts that made Bonnie appear like a caged animal in her family’s house.  O’Steen focused on integrating the rhythm of his cuts with the film’s score as well as highlighting Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin during "power point" scenes – scenes where Ann Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson is in emotional and physical control, to more fully punctuate her dominance over Benjamin.

The weekend also featured a conversation with assistant editors, reality television editors, and an exploration of educator Norman Hollyn’s term "The Lean Forward Moment": the point in a film where the audience is forced to notice a change in the story.  A panel of well-known editorial experts including Zack Arnold, Lisa Lassek, Joe Leonard, Ken Schretzmann, and James Haygood, A.C.E., shared scenes they felt were exceptionally edited that illustrated the lean forward moment.  These included scenes from "Memento," "The Conversation," "Out of Sight," "Raising Arizona," and "The Graduate."

To learn more about American Cinema Editors,  EditFest LA and EditFest NY, please visit: