Career Achievement Honoree Mark Goldblatt
Few of us know what we want to do in life before we hit puberty. Even fewer of us actually accomplish it. Editor Mark Goldblatt, ACE, is one of those rare individuals whose objectives were defined since childhood. While his target may have been somewhat clear, his path to Hollywood was not a straight line.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Goldblatt developed a love for cinema from the moment he saw his first film, Pinocchio. He loved all kinds of film but had a penchant for sci-fi, horror and fantasy that stays with him to this day. “I watched a lot of movies on TV,” he reminisces. “I had a cheap 8mm projector. You could buy 8mm versions of Abbott and Costello, Nosferatu, Battleship Potemkin and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I had a battery-operated 8mm camera too. I would make these little weird movies with cheap special effects. I used a simple editing viewer and splicer to cement splices together that didn’t stay on very well or for very long. Later on, Kodak came out with little Mylar press tapes for 8mm. I was teaching myself how to edit by hand.”
The film buff decided to study philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, where he would write film reviews for the college newspaper and program 35mm films for the Wisconsin Student Union. After graduation, London came calling. Goldblatt shares, “I saved up some money and moved to London, and then applied to the London Film School. Fortunately, I was accepted. There were a lot of professional DPs, editors and directors who were teaching because the MGM-Borehamwood Studio had just shut down. My course director was Mike Leigh. Clive Donner was one of my instructors. My editing instructor and mentor was Frank Clarke. He had been a contract editor for MGM and edited Blow-Up. It was amazing. I thank my parents so much for supporting me through my journey.”
1st Qtr, 2018
By the end of his education in London, Goldblatt was beginning to realize he was gravitating toward editing with an eye toward directing. The tougher choice would be where to set up shop. If he was going to leave and go to Hollywood, he had to leave now or get his papers together to be able to continue working in the U.K.
His first night in Los Angeles was spent at the Holiday Inn in Santa Monica, and he couch surfed for a while thereafter. While he was getting situated, he sent out numerous letters and hunted the studios hoping to get a foot in the door somewhere. Goldblatt found a small gig at the Sherwood Oaks Film Academy which also allowed him to sit in on any classes for free. Coincidentally enough, he sat in on a class taught by ACE’s other 2018 Career Achievement honoree, Leon Ortiz-Gil, ACE. OrtizGil had been working on the Universal lot at the time and was able to get Goldblatt access to observe Alfred Hitchcock direct what would be his last film, Family Plot.
Around this time, Goldblatt went to see the grindhouse flick, Death Race 2000, directed by Paul Bartel and briskly edited by Tina Hirsch, ACE, which turned out to be a catalyst for his career. The dystopian action-adventure about a cross-country car race with fatal consequences for the losers starred David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone. The visceral experience inspired Goldblatt to walk into New World Pictures, Roger Corman’s production company that produced and distributed the movie, to inquireabout work. He was referred to Jon Davison, the head of advertising at New World, who was about to produce his first movie. Davison offered Goldblatt a job as a PA without pay. He leapt at the opportunity. He and Davison immediately took to each other, as they were East Coast boys, film nerds and eclectic horror movie lovers.
The movie was Hollywood Boulevard and it would prove heavily impactful on the rest of Goldblatt’s career. Joe Dante and Allan Arkush were set to direct and edit the picture on a $60,000 budget with a 10-day shooting schedule. Usually, they had fulltime jobs in the New World editing room as trailer editors when they weren’t directing. The schedule felt like they were working seven days a week and 18-hour days. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was showbiz. “It was amazing,” Goldblatt gushes. “The passion for filmmaking by these young untested directors was at a high level. Of course, I was walking into lampposts and stuff because you don’t sleep, but I was inspired.”
Dante hired Goldblatt as his assistant editor for his next feature editing assignment, Grand Theft Auto, Ron Howard’s directorial debut. This time the position was paid and Dante gave him an Associate Editor credit. His tenacity paid off. Yet, the ever-ambitious Goldblatt had a major side hurdle: getting into the union. “In those days, you couldn’t get into the union unless you were on the roster, but you couldn’t get on the roster unless you were in the union. It was a catch-22,” he recalls. “At the same time I was working for New World Pictures, I had another life. I worked as an assistant editor on The American Short Story, [a PBS anthology series]” assisting editors such as Bob Estrin and John Link. There he learned how to edit on a KEM and had more formal training. Goldblatt had again merged the passion project with the practical project.
It was at PBS that Goldblatt came across his own version of insider trading. “I found out that they were going to expand the roster and take video editors into the union. Basically, a lot of people who had been steadily working in the L.A. area were not being accepted to the roster because they had only worked on video. “They didn’t announce it but I heard it through the grapevine and found out how to get on the roster. This was information that I readily shared with my colleagues.
Life was completely different as a union assistant. I was able to work as a staff assistant for Warner Bros. Television and assisted a number of very talented editors, some of whom would let me edit small scenes on my own time.” All of this was happening interspersed with work at New World Pictures where Goldblatt continued his collaboration with Joe Dante and Jon Davison on 1978’s Piranha, which was well received and very successful.
During this time he struck up a friendship with Roger Corman’s assistant, Gale Anne Hurd, who noticed all of his hard work being done on the horror picture, Humanoids from the Deep. Hurd had met a fellow named James Cameron in the art department, and was impressed with his creativity and work ethic. “She recommended me to Jim when she was preparing to produce a script that she and Jim had developed called The Terminator. When I met with Jim, we discussed being enthralled with George Miller and the Mad Max movies. Jim had high hopes to create a world-class movie on a shoestring budget.”
When The Terminator premiered in 1984, it was a bona fide blockbuster and everyone’s career got a shot in the arm. Goldblatt followed it with big-budget action flicks like Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando and Predator 2. He was actually getting to select his projects, but this time his eye toward directing demanded to be satiated, too. Goldblatt directed two features in the late ‘80s: Dead Heat and The Punisher. Just before these, however, he was able to do some second-unit directing for Paul Verhoeven and producer Jon Davision on the sci-fi classic, RoboCop. He was a huge fan of Verhoeven’s work in Europe and jumped at the chance to help with his American debut. Goldblatt’s Verhoeven experience would not end there.
Goldblatt’s professional expansion coincided with his personal life expansion. By the late ‘80s, he was already married with a young son. Balancing life and craft would be a delicate tightrope for the next two decades. This was especially true when James Cameron came calling again for the sequel to the hit that put them both on everyone’s radar in Hollywood. Terminator 2: Judgment Day would not have the tight budget of its predecessor. Instead, it would push the special-effects envelope and be the visionary scifi spectacle envisioned in the screenplay. This time, the amount of work called for some additional hands so Goldblatt joined Conrad Buff, ACE, and eventually Richard A. Harris joined them as well to split the duties. “Jim was a great captain at the helm and expertly navigated through cutting-edge technical innovations. He shoots judiciously. The material comes together like butter and he gives you lots of choices. Working with Conrad and Richard was a highlight of my career.”
However, it was on True Lies where Goldblatt’s commitment to his craft and his future were tested. “Jim called and said, ‘I would love for you to come on board, but we’re gonna cut this on Avids. I already bought the machines and you’d need to learn how to use them.’ My initial reaction was, I can’t be left at the wayside. I’d be crazy not to learn it. A world-class director is asking me to work on a project where they’re willing to let me learn first. All that in my head took about five seconds.” Plus, it was a chance to reunite with Conrad and Richard.
The success of True Lies bore new opportunities for Goldblatt now that he was proficient in both modes of editing. He would enter the juggernaut worlds of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay with films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Company and Bad Boys II. Most significantly, it reintroduced him to Paul Verhoeven. Goldblatt would edit three pictures for Verhoeven: Showgirls, Hollow Man and Starship Troopers – with Troopers being one of his personal favorites.
The 21st century maintained Goldblatt’s VFX-heavy action cred with a hint of sci-fi in movies like X-Men: The Last Stand, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Chappie.
Along the way, Goldblatt served as ACE president in the late ‘90s. “My years on the ACE Board of Directors serving as ACE vice president under past president Tom Rolf [ACE] and eventually as president were very meaningful to me. They enabled me as a member of ACE to give something back to the editing community and to collectively participate in raising consciousness of our craft amongst ourselves and to motion picture audiences around the world.”
He’s currently starting his 11th year on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “It’s been fabulous working alongside some of the most brilliant people in the film business,” effuses Goldblatt. “I love the Academy. It’s humbling. I think we’re making a difference. We are working to get Academy members all over the world to build a great global film community. We are at the forefront of film preservation, restoration, education and cinematic technological research with our vast film archive, library and Science and Technology Council. As our Academy Museum heads tow
ard completion to assume its position as the world’s preeminent museum dedicated to motion picture arts and sciences, I am very proud to have served on the Board during this time of exponential growth.”
In looking back on his career and thinking about the work and all of the time spent, Goldblatt has three major takeaways from it. In his approach to the material, he explains, “I realize editing is such a fluid art form. In collaboration with our directors, we can, if we choose, alter pacing, heighten performances and completely rearrange the structure of the narrative. This really harkens back to the concept that ‘editing is the final rewrite.’ We do whatever it takes to produce a final version of our films that works optimally for the audience. The possibilities are endless. The script is your guide. Let the footage speak to you. The footage represents the intention of the director and the actors. You have to make sure the timing is right and that the overall larger POVs and themes are represented eloquently.”
With regard to his role as a leader in the editing bay, Goldblatt feels his first assistant should be his right hand. “I feel it’s incumbent upon us to embrace the first AE on an emotional and creative level with shared ownership of the film because we hired him or her for a reason. I respect them enough as individuals and filmmakers to want to collaborate with them. I’ve been blessed with great assistants. Many are now top editors which makes me feel good. I encourage my assistants to edit. Sometimes someone does so much editing, I’m able to get them a co-editor credit. Joe Dante was a great mentor to me. He didn’t have to be so nice, but he was. I try to follow in that tradition.
Here are some of my past assistant editors, many of whom went on to become successful editors in their own right:
Kent Beyda, ACE*
Mark Helfrich, ACE*
Alan Baumgarten, ACE*
Jim Stewart, ACE
Caroline (Ross) Solberg*
Elliot Graham, ACE
Jim May, ACE
My apologies to anyone whom I may have inadvertently omitted.
Goldblatt’s latest is Eli Roth’s reboot of the Charles Bronson franchise, Death Wish, starring Bruce Willis and Vincent D’Onofrio, set in Chicago. Goldblatt describes the experience as terrific and feels Roth was a lot of fun to work with. After 40 years in the industry, perhaps that is the best indication of a positive work environment. “Every editing situation is a differ- ent situation. Not only is it predicated on the material you’re editing, it’s very much predicated on the players. You’re there to help guide the director. Sometimes that may mean giving input they may not want to hear. Always do what’s best for the movie. It’s tricky to know when to chime in and how much to push, and when to keep your opinion to yourself. Just remember to respect your collaborators. You never know where the best ideas will come from.