Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity

“It’s all who you know.” Everyone has heard that old
saw about Hollywood, and at least in  the case of editor Saar Klein (The Bourne Identity),
it couldn’t be more true. After working in industrial films and
television in New York, Klein moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of directing-but quickly realized that he wasn’t
alone in his pursuit.

 “My mom had a friend who had a son who was an editor
for Oliver Stone. She said ‘You should call this guy.’ Well, I didn’t
want to call this guy. I didn’t want to call her friend’s son; it
just sounded so embarrassing. Eventually, though, out of desperation,
I called him. Joe Hutshing turned out to be a great guy; he’s still
a friend of mine. He was cutting The Doors at the time. He
took me out to lunch and straight-talked me. He said ‘Get yourself
an apartment in the city and a reliable car, because you’re going
to be running around for the next few years.’ And he was right about

In 1991, Hutshing asked Klein to be the post-production
intern on JFK-a chance Klein jumped at. Since then, Klein’s
resume has grown to include collaborations with some of the film
industry’s most celebrated directors, including Terrence Malick
on The Thin Red Line and Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous. Most recently, Klein teamed up with director Doug Liman to cut
the eagerly awaited The Bourne Identity, a spy thriller starring
Matt Damon and Franka Potente. In this recent interview with MM,
Klein talks about the benefits and drawbacks of working with multiple
editors, why a good director can rarely overcome a bad script and
how an editor is more than just a pair of hands.

Jennifer Wood (MM): How did you come to
be involved with
The Bourne Identity?

Saar Klein (SK): What happened with The Bourne Identity was that it started
at a party-it always seems to start at a party. A few years before
I had met a woman named Allison Brecker, now Allison Schermer, and
she’s an executive at Universal. We met about 6 or 7 years ago at
a party and just kept running into each other. She sort of followed
my editing career and would call me up at least annually and say
‘Hey, would you want to work on this movie or that?’ And it was
really never the kind of movie that I was interested in. On this
one she told me the background of the whole story and she really
wanted me to cut it. She thought I would make a good match for the
director. As for me, I knew that it was going to shoot in Paris,
which was kind of enticing, as well as New York.

She also knew that I had an interest in directing
and thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be involved.
It was the kind of situation where the director allows a lot of
people to be creatively involved.

MM: What was it like in the editing room
with Doug Liman, a director who has had so much control over his past
films, often serving as both director and cinematographer?

SK: I don’t think he necessarily has more control
than others. I think every situation is different and it usually
has to do with personality rather than what specifically the person
did. I think Doug was very open. He had his original vision, but
he’s definitely open to influence. Some directors come in and they
know exactly what they want. I think Doug likes to improvise a lot
more, even on the set. He doesn’t necessarily come to the editing
room with a specific idea. I think it’s more of a dialogue and bouncing
things back and forth. I think a lot of the director-editor relationship
comes out of personality and how people work.

MM: How do you generally choose projects?

SK: The most important thing to
me is the script. If it’s a bad script then I think there’s no point
in doing it.

MM: Are there any particular elements in
the script that you are looking for? A lot of action, for example?

SK: I don’t necessarily look for action. I’m
looking for any sort of honest approach, and it doesn’t have to
reinvent a genre. Whenever I hear someone tell me that they have
a really hip script, that it’s the newest thing, I’m always a bit
concerned. But I think if there’s any sort of honesty in it or it’s
an intriguing story, that’s what I look at. The other thing is if
it’s visual.

If it’s purely dialogue-driven, it could be a great
film that I’d like to watch, but as an editor it may not be necessarily
the thing I want to do if it’s a bunch of talking heads. Because
that’s usually not enjoyable as an editor, and it’s also incredibly
difficult. To really pull off a static dialogue scene requires a
lot of care and time. It’s the hardest thing to cut. But anything
I read and think ‘God, I wish I wrote that’ is good.

MM: Is the script more important than the
director? If you know a particular director is attached to the script,
can that make the project more interesting to you?

SK: Sometimes you try to convince yourself
that the director can take the script and make it something else.
And there are some directors that don’t really believe in scripts,
and if it’s a bad script that’s probably a good sign. But on the
whole I feel like you can have the greatest sort of Mario Andretti,
but if he’s driving a beat-up Volkswagen he’s not going to win the
race. It’s so easy to screw up a good script that if it’s a bad
script you’re really starting from a point you can’t get out of.

MM: The Bourne Identity is the first
time you’ve worked as the sole editor. Was that a better or worse
experience for you?

SK: Well I
did a movie called Endurance pretty much as a sole editor.
It’s a lonelier experience. This is what it comes down to: if you’re
working with another editor, like I worked with Joe [Hutshing] on Almost Famous, it’s a great experience in that you’re not
working in a vacuum. And if you have a true friendship you can sort
of bounce things back and forth-you can excite each other, I think.
Because other than that, for anybody that needs some kind of creative
feedback, you’re going to go wherever you can get it. In a situation
like this, I tend to go more to my assistants, because that’s who
I have available to me.

I guess the con of it is that you are alone, but I
think you hit a certain situation at times where you have strong
opinions, and if you work with somebody else there’s always a sort
of clashing at some point. And out of that, there’s a creativity
that happens, where you reach a higher level. But you can always
find friction with a director or producer-that’s not a hard thing
to find on a film set. I kind of enjoyed [working alone] actually,
because I pretty much know what I want and so it’s easier that way.
I had an additional editor who was on TBI for a while, Chris
Rouse, who sort of served the purpose of a partner. He wasn’t there
the whole time, but he was really an accomplice in a way. With him,
though, we mostly seemed to be on the same page, whereas in the
past there’s been more of what I call positive friction;
it’s never been negative. So that’s what it comes down to: it’s
a little bit easier in a way because you know what you want. You’re
eliminating any kind of dialogue. The good thing about working with
other editors is that if the situation is right, I think you can
be pushed. It’s like going for a run alone versus going for a run
with somebody: there’s a competitiveness that I think at times can

MM: You’ve been enormously lucky to work
with some of the film industry’s most celebrated directors, including
Oliver Stone, Terrence Malick and Cameron Crowe. Who is the one director
you would love to collaborate with?

SK: The problem is that there are a lot of directors that I think
are incredibly talented out there, but if they’re real sort of control
people then it doesn’t necessarily make the process enjoyable for
me. That’s why the director is really the second most important
thing about it. If it’s a director who really just wants a pair
of hands, then I have no interest. For example, I’d love to work
for Scorsese, but he’s got the greatest editor working for him from
the beginning and I’m sure he’s the kind of guy who’s incredibly
detail-oriented and controlled. I don’t think he walks in in the
morning and then says ‘Okay, I’ll see you after lunch.’ I’m kind
of selfish in that I put my own personal experience first; it’s

MM: I’d guess it should be, as you’re
agreeing to be stuck in a room with that person for several months.

SK: I think guys like Wes Anderson
are incredibly interesting, both story-wise and visually, and P.T.
Anderson I think is just incredible. His films, regardless of some
of the flaws I see, are incredibly courageous and interesting visually.
It would be really interesting, as an editor, to work with him.

MM: So are you still looking to direct?

SK: Yeah, I do have plans to direct. I’m actually
going to direct some spec commercial work with Doug Liman’s company,
Hypnotic, and then I’m just looking to start developing material.
I mean I think that the biggest problem-as a director or an editor
or a DP or any part of filmmaking-is finding material that’s really
good. It’s rare to find a really good script and that’s a big problem.

MM: What’s up next for you, editing-wise?

SK: I’m not working on anything. I’ve worked
on The Bourne Identity for two years, so I’m planning to
take a big break-like reading and writing and walking around. and
talking to people. You never know when something just sort of comes
to you that’s irresistible. If something comes that feels like ‘I just have to do this!’ then I will, but no plans yet.