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Martin Walsh: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Martin Walsh: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Articles - Editing

Martin Walsh
Martin Walsh

Make your own luck.

One thing I learned in my very short career as an

assistant was that there aren’t too many editors prepared to give

up the big chair without a fight, so you’ve got to make your own


I grew up in television, like a lot of my contemporaries,

and back in the ’70s it was big business for film editors. Everything

was shot on film—the glory days before videotape. I worked out that

if you were willing to do the crappy stuff—news, filmed inserts

for live studio shows—the kind of stuff the guy in the big chair

on the BBC drama show wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, chances were

that you could climb the ladder much faster. So I let all the TV

stations know I was a freelance editor and if they had anything

available, to let me know. And the fools did.

Times have changed.

I was a terrible assistant, always losing trims. You

guys have it so easy these days. Switch the Avid on and do the crossword!

My time in TV news taught me to be fast and accurate and I learned

to identify the good bits quickly. Those were the bits to use. The

six o’clock news starts in five minutes and you’ve got the lead

story, still wet from the lab, in your sweaty hands. Better be quick!

Don’t wait to be invited.

The other thing I learned was how to run fast up several

flights of stairs. Why was telecine always a million miles away

from the cutting rooms? And the bar! I guess the point is this:

don’t wait to be invited. Gatecrash.

More hands may make for a better cut.

I’ve never had a problem giving assistants scenes

to cut, even back in the film days. Who’s gonna know? There might

have been a few more re-splices in the print than usual but so what,

get a re-print. With Avid there really is no excuse. Stay late,

fiddle around, experiment. No one has to see it. My kids often come

in and play around. Sometimes they improve the cut!

Challenge every convention.

An editor I once stood behind told me that you should

never cut into a panning shot and that you couldn’t cut together

two panning shots traveling in opposite directions. I believed him

for a while, which made my first couple of days in news editing

quite difficult. So don’t accept that there are rules. In editing

the whole point is to challenge every convention.

Don’t read.

Don’t read any books about film editing, especially

those that theorize about mathematical possibilities and how many

feet of film they had to deal with back in the 20th century. And

blinking. I read one once … I’m still in therapy.

It’s the show-offs that get the attention.

I’m baffled as to why anyone would be remotely interested

in what a film editor’s got to say outside of the cutting room.

Editing is almost impossible to talk about; it’s intangible. You

can see all the other stuff—photography, costumes, hair, etc. But

the whole point of editing is that it’s supposed to be invisible.

The only reason I’m suddenly getting all this attention is because

the editing in Chicago is deliberately part of the show.

I’ve cut 20 or so films before this one, just as carefully

and as scrupulously as Chicago, and for the most part the

editing just did its job. Quietly. As in life, it’s the show-offs

that get all the attention.

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