At first blush, one person wearing both hats may seem cost-efficient, but the loss of a second pair of eyes offers no collaborative advantage and is actually a disservice to the film.
Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. A director can be too close to a project, from concept to production, so an editor provides the much-needed objectivity. After accounting for all the footage actually shot (rather than relying on what a director “remembers”) a veteran editor will open up creative options yet to be considered.
So, does your budget allow for another warm body and a reasonable production schedule? Then here are some traditional protocols and etiquette for a healthy collaborative relationship between director and editor.
Have you ever experienced a particular incident with a group of people, only to have each person describe it differently afterward? This is because each of us interprets a situation with our own personal set of values, history and experience, and it’s something to keep in mind when pairing director and editor. Moviemakers whose creative tastes complement each other are of tremendous aid to any project.
If the old cliché that a film story is told three times is true—first in script, second on set and third in the edit—then a common groove between director and editor is vital, particularly in setting nuances in tone, pacing, subtext and character development. In other words, team up with someone you already hold in high regard. If you respect this person’s past work, it shouldn’t be a chore to decide on a creative direction on your current project.
Dark room contempt can bloom quickly if a director delivers footage without any regard for the editor. Here is a fairly ubiquitous list of industry expectations.
Likewise, a director’s patience will wear thin if stuck in an edit suite with someone who is not a creative equal. Consider the following points.
It goes without saying that the above checklists assume both director and editor are technically proficient in their craft.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take into account the importance of pairing personalities that are congruous at working long hours in small, dark caves. It’s fascinating how subconscious personal habits and quirks reveal themselves over time in a closed environment.
Trust, both creatively and professionally, is a fundamental factor in this partnership. It’s like a marriage: Once you’ve found someone who puts up with your less-desirable traits, you still have to find a way to keep it working. The industry is replete with examples of career-long relationships between director and editor. Starting with those at the top of the food chain: director Steven Spielberg with editor Michael Kahn; director Clint Eastwood with editor Joel Cox; director Lawrence Kasdan with editor Carol Littleton; director Martin Scorsese with editor Thelma Schoonmaker; director Ron Howard with editors Dan P. Hanley and Mike Hill. The list is long and speaks to the strong creative bond between director and editor that’s necessary for great cinema to be achieved. When you’re lucky enough to find this kind of relationship, you’ll want to nurture it. This is a profound alliance with far-reaching implications, and the sooner you find your match, the sooner it will pay off in rich professional dividends. MM
Dennis Ho has been a director, editor, writer and producer of both short- and long-form projects for the last 30 years. An alumnus of ABC, he is a founder and owner of a post-production facility and the creative production company Digital Jungle Pictures, both in Hollywood. His film A Better Place debuted on DVD and online platforms October 25, 2016.
Illustration by Nicole Miles.