Aspects of Editing 2nd Qtr 2019

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2nd Qtr, 2019

I suspect most editors came to the craft in a roundabout way. They discovered it in film school, perhaps, when it became necessary to edit their own films, or maybe stumbled onto it when they found a basic editing program built into their computer. But for a handful of us, becoming an editor was more like going into the family business. Some of us grew up around editing rooms, watching parents, or even some grandparents do their job. Of course, editing looked very different then than it does today.

Back then, we walked into rooms with odd, loud machines and racks of neat, white, labeled boxes, situated around the perimeter of the room, or lined up like library stacks. Editor Artie Schmidt, whose father Arthur P. Schmidt, cut such classics as Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina and Some Like It Hot, recalls visiting his dad only a couple of times. His father paper clipped the cuts together, always with a cigarette dangling from his lips, despite the numerous ‘No Smoking’ signs posted, because the editing was done on highlyflammable nitrate film.

Editing assistants would then hot glue the clipped film pieces together, so that Arthur could take his scene to a projection room and review his work. As children, many of us spent a fair amount of time at parents’ workplaces and found ways to keep ourselves entertained. My dad, Byron “Buzz” Brandt, ACE, who edited such films as Breakheart Pass, Across 110th Street, and the mini-series, QB VII, was divorced from my mom and saw my brother and me on weekends.

Like all editors, sometimes he had to work, so inevitably I found myself spending hours, winding film from one reel, back to the other, having synchronizer races with my brother, or stacking the plastic yellow film cores into towers until they toppled.

Ed Abroms Jr., ACE, on the other hand, preferred rolling the cores down the hallway when he visited his dad, Edward M. Abroms, ACE, editor of such films as The Sugarland Express and The Osterman Weekend, in the Verna Fields Building at Universal. And Darren Holmes, ACE, son of Christopher Holmes, who edited such films as Car Wash, Drive, He Said and Five Easy Pieces, well – Darren preferred kicking the cores, to rolling them.

Clearly, film cores provided endless hours of entertainment. Then there were parents who figured if their kid was there, they might as well be useful. Bill Steinkamp, ACE, son of Fredric (Fritz) Steinkamp, editor of such films as Tootsie, The Firm and Out of Africa, recalls, “There were so many pieces of film in bins that needed to be put away.”

Fritz instructed Bill, who was eight or nine at the time, to sort the trims hanging on the hooks correctly, so the trims would be returned to their proper trim boxes. Emma Hickox, ACE, the daughter of Anne V. Coates, ACE, editor of such films as Lawrence of Arabia, Chaplin and Out of Sight, had a somewhat unique experience, since it was her mother who was the editor and not her father.

Not surprisingly, being a female editor in that era added an extra level of complexity in the juggling of family and career. Emma recalls that, for her mother, Anne, it was “better to kind of pretend the kids didn’t exist while she was at work.” Hickox remembers, “My mother had to deal with men who told her they wouldn’t hire her if she was married or had kids,” and adds, “I am sure she lost jobs because of that.”

Eventually, some of us wanted to learn what actually happened in those rooms and we began to pay attention to the editing process. Ed Abroms Jr. watched his father run film, back and forth over and over, until he found the right cut point. Ed Jr. explains, “Two out of five was the rule,” which meant his father would run a piece of film in the Moviola five times, hitting the hand brake each time, where he felt it was time to cut. He’d mark the frame he stopped on with a grease pencil. If he hit the brake on a grease pencil mark twice out of the five times, it meant that was the place to cut. Ed Abroms Sr. actually saw all three of his children follow him into the film business and then, years later, Ed Jr. would solicit his own son, James – the third generation of Abroms – for James’ opinion on scenes. He’d include his son in his work, regardless of whether directors and producers were present.

James also remembers listening to frequent discussion between his father and grandfather about story, character development and how to build suspense. When James began to edit his own film in school, he recalls, “My grandfather always looked at my final cuts and scenes and gave me feedback.”

Max Goldblatt remembers when he was still pretty young, his father, Mark Goldblatt, ACE (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), began to bounce ideas off him and ask his opinion. They’d discuss performance, continuity and why a certain take worked better than another. This kind of discussion and dissection taught the younger Goldblatt to start thinking critically about how films were constructed.

By contrast, as a kid, Artie Schmidt preferred the sound stages – where the films were being shot – to the editing room, but he still observed enough to wonder how his father, Arthur, “knew when to cut and when not to cut; what angle to use and when; and which performance to use.” His father had a mantra, which he passed along to his son: “Keep it simple.” And when Artie thinks backs to the beginning of his own editing career, he admits, “that it was the hardest thing to do. Keep it simple, honest, find the story.”

Bill Steinkamp remembers thousands of pieces of advice he received from his dad: Always have a good reason why you cut … nothing arbitrary; The best cuts can be felt and not seen; Be careful not to cut your way into a dead end; Have a clear sight of where you’re headed. Not in every case, but often, parents and grandparents become teachers and mentors.

Most editing parents are completely supportive of their children following in their editorial footsteps. Sidney Katz, ACE, father of Ginny (Virginia) Katz, ACE, and editor of such films as Paper Lion and Lovers and Other Strangers, once asked her, “Are you sure you want to do this?” When Ginny assured him she did, he was fully on board. She feels blessed to have had “a tough but loving mentor.” There was a time when Ed Abroms Sr. thought his son should consider cinematography, since Ed Jr. went to school to study photography, but according to Ed Jr., “My dad really always wanted me to follow in his footsteps.”

There were, of course, some less enthusiastic parents. Artie Schmidt recalls, “My father always advised me not to go into the movie business. ‘Go into insurance,’ he said. ‘Something secure.’” Emma Hickox said she was strongly discouraged from going into editing. And my own father, Buzz, wasn’t all that keen about me living a freelance life.

There is no denying that being the child or grandchild of an editor provided opportunities other aspiring editors didn’t have. Almost everyone I spoke with benefited, either directly or indirectly, from having editor parents or grandparents, even if some offspring initially eschewed the help. Ed Abroms Sr. introduced his son to the head of Universal Studios Facility Operations, who eventually started Ed Jr. off in the Universal Film Library.

Bill Steinkamp’s first job was as an apprentice on the film, Three Days of the Condor that his dad, Fritz, was editing. Ginny Katz got her first job as an apprentice in her father’s editing room on the film, Diary of a Mad Housewife.

My first job was as the apprentice on my father’s film, It’s My Turn. I hung around the editing room so much my senior year of college, when the film’s apprentice left the show, a few months after I graduated, the director, Claudia Weill, suggested I take the spot. On my very first day, my dad had to come in early to show me how to reconstitute KEM rolls – the task which constituted 95 percent of my duties on the film.

It was often left to the parents’ assistants to teach their scions the job of the AE. Back then, the union required everyone to spend a total of eight years as an apprentice and assistant before they were allowed to move up to editor. Bill Steinkamp remembers his father’s assistant, Don Guidice, as “the most giving and knowledgeable assistant I ever met.”

By the time Bill began working with them, Don was also editing. Fritz and Don were nominated for an Oscar® for Three Days of the Condor, so it turned out to be a pretty nice first job for Bill. And Christopher Holmes’ assistant, Todd Ramsay, taught Darren Holmes every facet of assisting. Later, Darren spent years assisting his father and remembers, “Even though he was one of the most demanding editors I’ve worked for, Todd had taught me how to do the job perfectly.”

Chris Holmes eventually told his son he was the best assistant he ever had work for him, thanks to Todd’s fine training. Conversely, sometimes it can be difficult to try to make one’s way in a field where a parent made a significant mark. Reputations of elders precede the younger. As Ed Abroms Jr. admits, it is hard to live up to his father’s accomplishments. His father won two Emmys® for editing and was Emmy-nominated twice for directing episodes of the hit TV series, Columbo. That was before he was 38.

Later his father was nominated for an Oscar for editing the film, Blue Thunder. But Ed Jr. adds, “All my dad wanted was for me to be happy and enjoy what I was working on.” Max Goldblatt made
the point that he is very aware he is currently the age that his father Mark was when he cut The Terminator, the film that catapulted his career. Bill Steinkamp feels that early in his career, it was hard to live up to his dad’s reputation. But Fritz reassured his son, that, “Your work will speak for itself. Just wait and be patient.”

Overall, it seems a positive thing to be a second generation editor. Sidney Katz’s reputation helped Ginny get into the union when she moved from New York to Los Angeles. Darren Holmes claims having an editor father is sometimes an icebreaker with older co-workers, who will often share stories about working with his dad. I often have people approach specifically to tell me they thought my dad was one of the nicest men they knew in this business. When Max Goldblatt tells a director or producer, “I showed my dad a rough cut and he had some great ideas,” it might initially be met with some confusion. But if there’s any resistance, I can always pull out, “Well, he did edit The Terminator.”

Of course, when it’s all said and done, those of us who chose to follow parents or grandparents into the craft of editing, must do what every editor strives to do: the best job we can. James Abroms watched two generations before him. “It made me realize how hard you have to work. It wasn’t an easy task, although it seemed more than worth it.” Artie Schmidt adds, “The only pressure was to be as good as I could be, to help make the best movie possible out of the film available. To ‘tell the story.’ And Ed Abroms Jr. asserts, “Becoming an editor had nothing to do with my dad’s connections. I did that all on my own. Just look at my credits and it’s obvious.”

In addition to the editors quoted for this story, the list of multigenerational editors continues. Morgan Halsey, daughter of Richard Halsey, ACE, Oscar winner for the film, Rocky, and Colleen Halsey, ACE, editor of Edward Scissorhands and Sister Act (with Richard), followed both her parents into editing, as did Kaja Fehr, who’s dad, Rudy, edited such classics as Key Largo and Dial M for Murder. Don Zimmerman, ACE, editor of such films as Being There and Coming Home, for which he was Oscar nominated, has three sons – twins Daniel and Dean, and youngest son David.

All three have chosen editing careers. As Emma Hickox eloquently states, “Maybe someone can get you in the door, but you’re not going to get hired if you do not work hard and commit 110 percent, whomever your father/ mother may be. This is the  movie industry and it’s the work that counts – always.”