Paper Cuts – The Making of a Motion Picture Editor


2nd Qtr, 2019

When I was working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles  at Lucasfilm, Avid inventors and ambassadors Tom Ohanian and Michael Phillips visited to talk with our editorial team about the EditDroid, especially because it was able to deal with 3:2 pull down, which at the time was a big barrier between 24fps film and 30fps video.

Ohanian and Phillips were filmmakers trying to make Avid editing software more user-friendly for motion picture editors. They were crisscrossing the editing rooms of the film industry on a listening and educating tour to find out how editors did their jobs, what they were missing and what Avid needed to do to make the Media Composer perfect.

To me, that ‘perfection’ was reached with Media Composer 5.8 in the late ‘90s. Avid has, of course, improved vastly since then, but the basic editing platform never changed and that’s why veterans like me still use it to this day.

The pair had visited and built relationships with the most heralded, famous and awarded editors in the business and had a treasure trove of insights into how editors looked at their jobs, what their challenges were and how they devised the most admired sequences in modern filmmaking.

More recently, Tom started to contact them and the result is an enticing expedition into the who’s who of successful Oscar®- and Emmy®-nominated and awarded editors from the ‘70s until 2018.

The book begins with a short explanation of the origins and developments of editing from film through video to digital. As the ultimate expert of the editing software, he explains the sometimes-confusing nomenclature of the many terms used in the editing rooms around the Hollywood film culture.

It is a quick guide for the young generation that only knows editing as an art performed on a computer and hopefully it instills a kind of awe for the timeless cinematic masterpieces that were composed in editing rooms with the physical and mechanical challenges of countless reels of film. It also clears the way to talk about what film editing really is: the art of storytelling with moving images and sound.

Ohanian interviewed the late Anne Coates, ACE, as well as Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE, Michael Kahn, ACE, and Walter Murch, ACE. In all, he interviewed 51 editors. An interesting catch is the interview with the seemingly-enigmatic Marcia Lucas, an editor of American Graffiti and the first Star Wars trilogy and, of course, the first spouse of George Lucas. She disappeared completely out of the editing room and the film business after her breakup with Lucas.

In the interview she appears to be a very astute and open woman who shaped so many famous and influential movies in the ‘70s. When she talks about her work and the films she participated in, it is a genuine who’s who of famous filmmakers of that era like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg to name a few.

The legendary Verna Fields was her educator and mentor in breaking into the editing room. She collaborated with many now-famous editors like Walter Murch, ACE; Richard Marks, ACE; Paul Hirsch, ACE; and Richard Chew, ACE. Apart from all the other fine editors and really interesting stories, Marcia Lucas’ interview alone is worth the purchase of this important book.