Learn the Art of Editing at EditFest NY


Directors are revered, actors are put on a pedestals, screenwriters are praised, but editors–the ones responsible for putting together what we actually see on-screen–get very little credit for the large artistic role they play in the moviemaking process. At EditFest NY, created and run by American Cinema Editors (ACE), editors and their craft are celebrated and studied. The event features panel discussions with industry professionals ranging from editors to studio executives, all focused on the craft of editing. This year’s EditFest NY takes place on June 10th and 11th, and is a must-attend event for all editors, whether they’re just starting out or are long-time industry professionals.

MovieMaker spoke with Jenni McCormick of ACE and Josh Apter, founder of Manhattan Edit Workshop (which co-produces the event), about this year’s EditFest NY. For more information, and to register, visit www.editfestny.com.

Samantha Husik (MM): A large part of EditFest NY is being able to interact with other editors about the creative and technical aspects of editing. Since EditFest started in 2009, have any changing ideas or new trends about editing come to your attention?

Jenni McCormick (JM): Technology is always changing, but storytelling has remained constant, and storytelling is one of the most important aspects of what an editor does.

Josh Apter (JA): Sometimes I feel that the expectation of speed has changed as software has made the technical process faster. The ideas and the artistry required to tell an amazing story are the part of the equation that are harder to accelerate. Great ideas and inventive approaches to problem-solving happen at their own pace. Always will.

MM: You have some amazing editors scheduled for this year’s EditFest NY, including Craig McKay (The Conspirator, Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs) and Ken Schretzmann (Toy Story 3, Cars). Is there any event or speaker that you’re particularly looking forward to?

JM: I’m really looking forward to the opening night panel, moderated by author and professor Norman Hollyn. He has asked his panelists to show a scene which inspired them to become editors; I find that incredibly interesting. All of this year’s panelists are wonderful. Many who have purchased tickets have expressed their excitement about the documentary panel this year, as several ACE Award-nominated editors will be featured.

JA: I’ve worked with another great Pixar editor, David Salter, and I think their process is truly unique. Ken’s insight into the making of Toy Story 3 is of specific interest to me, as the work an editor does for those particular films is so completely all-inclusive ([it’s been] described as spokes of a wheel, with editorial at the center). I’m also looking forward to the panel focusing on great under-seen films. These works that somehow escaped a wider audience are all great films and deserving of the celebration and analysis EditFest offers.

MM: In your opinion, what was the highlight of last year’s EditFest NY?

JM: This is a tough question, because last year there were so many great moments. Alan Heim, A.C.E., editor of All That Jazz, Network and Star 80, recounted wonderful stories about working with Bob Fosse. He and moderator Bobbie O’Steen chatted so freely it made the time slip right by. Another great moment was the “Cutting Yourself Out of a Corner” panel, which included the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker, A.C.E.. She eloquently spoke about her work with Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull. Even more inspiring was watching Thelma’s interest in the stories of her fellow editors/panelists. I love the camaraderie I see in the editing community. Perhaps my favorite moment was at the end of the weekend last year, when it was time to wrap up the Avatar panel with editors Stephen Rivkin and John Refoua. The audience collectively agreed they wanted to hear more stories, and we kept the panel going for an additional half hour. The audience couldn’t get enough!

JA: Hard to top that one, but my highlight moment was hearing the documentary editors discuss how they discover story and character in their work. Some of the films were really heart-wrenching stories of pain and loss–really difficult films like Boy Interrupted and Travis. It was enlightening to understand both their sensitivity to the material and their need to confront emotionally raw moments in the honest service of story.

MM: The topics of this year’s panel discussions include editing for narratives, documentaries and animation. Do one of these tend to be more difficult than the others? Is the process for editing all three fairly similar?

JM: One thing I’ve learned is that core principles of the craft of editing are always the same: Serve the story and push the narrative forward. Obviously, different genres are approached in different ways. I’ve learned that editing animation begins much earlier than with traditional films, as the editors are brought in during the storyboarding and early writing phases of the films. This is more rare in live action films. Of course, I’m not an expert, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from Ken Schretzmann about how it is done. Documentaries present really interesting challenges, as they often blend various elements like interviews, news footage and animated sequences. Because traditional docs do not rely on a scene-for-scene script, docs are often “written” in the editing room. Ultimately though, editing–like all elements of the crafts–serves the story, so in that respect, they are all quite similar.

JA: Perhaps rather than degrees of difficulty, one could look at these genres in terms of malleability and control. Where, in animation editing, a moment might be created out of the blue to fit or alter a certain story beat, the process by which a narrative editor manipulates performance, shot selection, sound and music to achieve a certain feeling is based more on using the available footage than generating it after the fact (though we all know about re-shoots). And in non-fiction, I feel like that scene in Grease sums it up perfectly, where before the big drag race they say “The rules are, there ain’t no rules.” Which isn’t say there’s not an ethical code at work in documentary, but there’s a feeling that any and all shot footage is fair game and can be cut together in an almost infinite number of ways to best achieve the emotional goal of the story being told.

MM: Of all the people involved in making a film, the director, writer and actors usually get the most credit if it becomes successful. Do you think that editors get enough appreciation for their artistic contributions to a film? If not, why do you think that is?

JM: Editors often do not get enough credit for their artistic contributions to filmmaking. Perhaps that’s because editing is often mistakenly thought of as a “technology,” when the truth is that the technology is only a tool that’s used to tell the story. If you give an uncut scene to ten different editors, you will likely end up with ten different versions of that scene with significant differences in tone, rhythm and emotion. If it was just technology, anyone could master it and become a film editor. But it’s so much more. Editors need keen instincts, supreme storytelling capabilities and the ability to interpret a director’s vision. Those characteristics can’t really be taught. One of the main goals of EditFest and of American Cinema Editors is to give editors an opportunity to get out of their dark rooms and to spotlight their contributions to the art of filmmaking. The ACE board of directors have been overwhelmed by the positive response, so maybe folks are beginning to sit up and take notice of editors and their work.

JA: Jenni hit the nail right on the head.

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