The Business of Editing – Part One

The Business of Editing – Part One


Debra: Thanks everybody for coming we do have
a heavy hitter panel. I’m your moderator Debra Kaufmann. I’m a journalist in the industry.
I’ve been a freelance journalist for my whole life except for a couple years at Creative
Cow. You came here to see the editors and a wonderful group it is. Farthest from my
right is Richard Halsey, who’s editor of Rocky and Edward Scissorhands. Next to him we have Norman
Hollyn who’s edited Heathers and Wild Palm. Next to him is Glenn Morgan editor of Project
Runway, Under the Gun, Robocop 2. And finally Tina Hirsch Editor of Gremlins and Dante’s
Peak. So I felt one good way to start it off would
be really interesting to find out from all of them what was their path. Was there one
straight path to becoming an editor or did they get there in a windy twisty way? Do you
want to start Tina? Tina: I always say it was an arranged marriage.
Unlike most people I know I didn’t fall in love with movies as a little kid. I mean I
love movies but I mean I wasn’t a fan or I didn’t study it. But I remember my mother telling me that this girl that I grew up with had become a freelance film editor. I had no idea what
that was I didn’t even know films were edited but the minute I heard those words, “freelance,” “film,” “editor,” I said, “Well,That’s for me.” That’s what I wanted to do. And I knew somebody who
was working at a trailer company and so I went to the head of the company and I said,
“I’d really love to work here for nothing just to learn. “Oh no I just laid off ten
people I can’t possibly have you come and work here.” You know they had no word internship.
That’s what I wanted was an internship. And finally, after about twenty minutes he said,
“Yes,” and so I hung out there and learned how to splice and thread a Moviola because
in New York, Moviolas had arms. And all of a sudden I heard this editor from California
was in the back working on a Robert Downey, Sr. Film and I thought, “Oh, California! They
know how to make movies there.” I’mma go learn from them. And I was lucky because his assistant,
you know once she taught me how to do stuff, she could go off, go shopping and I’d get
to do it. That was kind of the first step. The next thing I knew I stumbled into a job
and when I went in for my interview this guy was asking me questions like, “Do you know
how to code film?” Uh, yeah did you read my resume? Eventually they hired me as their
assistant and of course I was lucky because somebody left and they upgraded me to editor
but it didn’t mean that I was an editor I just got the chance to edit. And then I went
looking for more assistant work. I think that’s when I started working for Roger Corman, the
famous king of the B’s. The first film I did was called “Making Kenny Line.” Debra: Was that a Roger Corman? Tina: No it was AIP, which was the other B
movie place at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never really cut a whole
film before. I can look at it today and say well it’s a little slowly paced by today’s
standards. Debra: So you’ve taken us up to your first
feature film. Tina: Yes so that was it and that got me to
Roger and that was the beginning of everything. Debra: Glenn? What was your path? Glenn: I’m from Tennessee. I got a film degree
from the University of Tennessee, which does not have a film department, but I was in a
special kind of make-your-own, figure out your own program program called College Scholars
that actually worked out great. But I want to say I was inspired in college watching
some of Tina’s early films like Death Race 2000, saw several of her films first round
at the local drive-in while I was in college. I came out here and got work as an assistant
editor mostly in commercials and then was trying to work my way up to editors. Doing
the kind of low end editing jobs that real editors don’t want to take and one of those
was for a music video for an unknown artist that was Borderline by Madonna. So that was
a lucky first music video. Debra: No kidding. Glenn: So that was what kind of launched me
into being a full time editor. Then the director, Mary Lambert, of a bunch of videos I did and
also the guy who shot some of the videos both got feature directing deals and the next couple
of years that’s how I got started doing features. And I did several features low to mid- budget.
Early 90’s that just kinda dried up. I said the middle fell out of that world. It was
either I wasn’t qualified to do studio pictures and then everything else was super low-budget.
And so I got a call from a friend to work on this TV show called the Real World, which
was in its third season. And that, that was just talking about how your career goes, that
was like a complete total change of career because I was working with completely different
people in the TV world where there was lots of work for editors. About 10 years ago I
got the opportunity to go a produce on a motorcycle related TV Show because I’m into motorcycles,
So I did that for a few years. When that was done I ended up going back to work as a freelance
editor and then got a call to go back to Burnum-Murray and be the post-producer. Post producer in
our terms is sort of like have creative oversight of all the editing. Deal with all the editors
and liason between all the other people that there’s a post-production supervisor who does
all the nuts and bolts part of it at Alpha Dogs, then I sort of oversee the creative side
of editing. Then in a couple weeks I’m going back to editing on another show so I really
enjoy going back and forth between post producing and editing because they’re it’s completely
different. I say one is kind of a vacation from the other. Debra: Very interesting. Thank you. Norman. Norman: Uh, yeah. So I’ll start off by saying
that most of how I came up is no resemblance to what you are going to be going through.
So I did very much like what Tina was talking about using arcane words like endcode numbers
and upright moviolas. Yeah. I heard one fan of endcode numbers. You’re crazy. Two frame
trims, all that stuff which doesn’t exist today. Appreticeships really don’t exist today.
My main job right now is I run the editing department at the USC film school. I worked
as appretice, music editor, commercials, in music videos, in television, in features,
in all of the above you name it and I did and I think that’s what helped me progress
from one job to the next because there was very little that someone could say, “Did you
do this?” and I would say, “No.” Debra: Did you study film in school? Norman: No, I studied theater actually. Sunnyberg
University, no film school there I couldn’t get a film degree there, so I made as many
flippin films as I could for the professors that would let me do that and when they wouldn’t
let me do it, I convinced them to let me do it. So I was doing a ton of stuff regardless
of whether it was setup for me or not. And that was just the case as we moved, as I moved
out to the industry too. And what also, just don’t be an asshole alright? So. Debra: Richard, how did you create your career
as an editor. Where did you start? Richard: How fast can I give it to you. Let’s
see. Went to Hollywood High with Sally Killerman, John Phillip Law, I mean what else are you
gonna do in Hollywood but get into the film business right? Debra: Yeah, but why editing? Richard: Messenger boy at Warner Brothers,
got into the editing department, music editing, 20th Century Fox music editing, with great
people. It’s pretty boring, you wanna really hear the rest of this? Norman: No, let’s move on. Debra: Were you in a studio most of the time?
Did you freelance, what have you done all that, all of the above? Richard: Yeah, uh. I became a television editor
at a very early age. Went into the army, came out of the army, came back, edited on a television
series Payton Place, the editor died, so I got the job. You know… Debra: Note to self. Richard: And by the way the decision for me
to get the job, was made by the head of the studio. Paul Monash was the executive producer
of Payton Place, he was a tennis player, I was a tennis player, the post supervisor was
a tennis player, and that’s how I got the job to begin with. Um Um Norman: True. Richard: So, I got the. I became an editor
in television after that ended, I wanted to become a feature editor. I wrote a letter
to Ralph Winters. This guy cut Ben Hur. I mean who else could you look up to. Two weeks
after I wrote the letter to him I interviewed with him. He got me a job on Hal Ashby’s first
picture called The Landlord. Okay, so I’m working on The Landlord, the editor’s not
editing any of the film. I’m going, what’s going on? He’s doing sound effects, on another
movie. By the way if you want to edit a few scenes go ahead. So I did. Hal came back from
location, said hey there’s gonna be another editor on the movie. I go in, I said, I want
this job so bad I’m practically crying in front of Hal Ashby. You know who he is as
a director? Okay, Bound for Glory, all these other pictures. Norman: He’s an editor. Richard: Yeah he won the Academy Award. I
said that’s what I want to do. I wanna win the Academy Award. So I go in and I bleed
my heart out to Ashby. No. No, didn’t get it. Heartbroken I quit the job, what can I
say, then I went on got and got another job as an assistant on Five Easy Pieces with Jack
Nicholson, cut half the picture, never took credit. You know, just one thing led to the
other, and, you know. Debra: I think there’s a lot of themes here
that probably still hold true, not the least of which is the heartbreak, Richard: Oh yeah, major, major, oh yeah yeah
yeah. Debra: And the scrambling- Richard: You just move forward, man. Just
keep moving forward. Debra: And it seems also, you know, that you
talk about doing an internship before they even said internship, you were like begging
to work for free. Tina: I just wanted to learn. They didn’t
have film school in my day. That’s how old I am. Debra: I’m also hearing the theme of like
being willing to start anywhere, do anything story in the mailroom, be a messenger. One
that does strike me though is a lot of you got your start in genres that I don’t even
know if they exist anymore, like educational videos. Richard: They don’t! They don’t exist anymore. Debra: Well I think a lot of people are here
because they want to, you know, they’re on maybe in the beginning of their paths as you
once were back in the day, and one of the things I think we should address is the whole
issue of so many of the editors ended up also being business people. Norman: That’s more crucial than ever. I think
when Michael introduced us, introduced the event, and said that a lot of editors kind
of don’t want to come out from behind their machines, I mean that is just useless nowadays.
The amount of interaction that we have to have to continually sell ourselves. And the
fact that you’re here tonight, already separates you from people who were too chicken shit
to come out. The ability to sell yourself is part of a business and not just keeping
track of the dollars and cents but keeping track of what your career path might be and
being aggressive and tenacious about that. Debra: Well they don’t teach you that in school
though. Norman: Oh they do. Debra: Do they? Norman: In my class we do. Because if you
don’t do it then you come out as an awesomely, incredibly talented unemployed editor. So, Debra: Well what are you, I mean you’ve been
a freelancer for much of your career, correct? Tina: Oh totally. Debra: So tell me, I mean, what is, what did
it take for you to realize wait I’ve got a business going here, did you promote yourself,
did you, how did you adjust to that whole thing of having a business really? Tina: I would not survive today because I
don’t have that skill, I am not a salesperson. I’m just not that kind of person. For a while
I would go in for interviews I would always get the job, and then after a while I didn’t
get the job, and then I thought, “Wait a second! They asked me to come in, they didn’t hire
me?” It was.. Debra: So in other words for you its become
a lot more competitive then? Tina: It’s much more competitive now. I think
it’s true that the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to sell yourself.
Because it used to be you only had to do that as like a director or maybe a producer trying
to put a package together. But now you need to do it as an editor as well. I will tell
you how I have survived and that is not spending money. I always save because I always wanted
my vacations. I was exhausted after I finished a film and I wanted to have at least a month
to go somewhere else and be a completely different person. Richard: Let me give you an example of the
way I think the editing world is going. I went to a Starbucks yesterday. I walk in the
Starbucks, I see this guy he’s got headphones on, computer, mousepad, and I go, and he’s
got the color wheels up over here, and I go I’m interested, and I look for about 2 seconds,
is this pornography? and then I realize its Victoria’s Secret. He’s editing like a Victoria’s
Secret thing. I said here’s this guy cutting everything, there it is right there so simple.
G RAID, computer, in today’s world as an editor you’ve gotta have the control. Editing is
control. I wanna be in control. How can you be in control? You gotta have your own space,
your own equipment. Debra: I think today people do have their
own equipment Richard: They do! Debra: It’s all computer based. Richard: That’s it! Debra: And that’s the thing Richard: And that’s where’ it’s going, man.
And the technology’s unbelievable. Glenn: I actually worked freelance the first
18 years I was working and after a few of those years I had a very similar thing where
I when I was cutting music videos and other things I was working on horrible piece of
video equipment one week and then another horrible one the next week. So I, a couple
of friends of mine actually funded me and we set up a boutique editing place in Hollywood
that was mainly for me to work out of. So made my whole life so much easier to have
my own place to work out of. Debra: I mean it sounds like a really great
idea to have a space that you share with other editors. I mean that seems like such a great model that could really work today. In house somewhere you’re still Norman: Right, right, but I actually like
to expand what we mean by business also because I think there’s um besides the room, besides
the equipment, besides the invoicing, there’s also stuff about how do you work with clients,
how do you build a reputation, how do you keep clients, and this is true at all levels,
so I think the idea of how you collaborate how you keep people who you’re working with
happy and understand that they are in the, that you are on the side as they are is crucial
for what we do, and is also part of the business. But it’s true whether you’re working freelance
or staffed. Debra: And I mean that’s gotta be the toughest,
in some ways. You have a different boss every time, usually, and Norman: Sometimes you hope that Debra: Yes. Right exactly. So are there cautionary
tales here? I mean it must be, there must be times when, you know, it’s impossible to
get along with somebody or do you just feel like it’s the editor’s job to just make the
effort to get along with every producer director who they work with. You’re saying yes. Tina: I always had a rule, which was I’ll
say it once, if you don’t like it, I’m not a nag, I’m not gonna fight for it, it’s your
movie, you can’t see the brilliance of my idea, that’s your problem. Debra: But then didn’t you get the feeling
like you know that the movie was turning into something that you couldn’t be proud of? Tina: You know, it’s really funny how after
a while you can do what they want you to do that’s not such a good idea and still save
it somehow. Glenn: I was working with a director one time
who I got along with okay, not one of my favorite relationships, and I had been hired by the
producer, not by the director. And there was one time when we were kinda going back and
forth and he said to me, “Glenn, I want to know, are you working for me or are you working
for the producer?” and I said, “I’m working for the film.” Every decision I make is for
the film. If I like his idea, I’ll do it, but it’s like, I don’t care whose idea it
is, I just want what’s best for the film. Debra: Did he accept that? Glenn: Yeah, yeah, no, I think he was impressed
with that. Debra: So in other words, that’s the right
answer. Remember that answer. Norman: Well I figure, I have like ten weeks
in the director’s cut on a feature to make sure that the director knows that I’m on the
side of the film and I’m working with them on it. And then when the producers start coming
in after that, then if I disagree with something the director’s saying at least we have ten
weeks of him knowing that I’m not an asshole, and that I’m not just doing it for ego. And
it doesn’t work with everybody. My rule also is if I’ve done one film with someone who
is an asshole then that’s the last film I’ll do with them. So I agreed to do it, you do
the best job you can with them, and then don’t make that mistake again. Debra: What about you Richard, do you have
any Richard: Okay let me just give you an example
of a day in the halls of the editing room. Okay here this is the god’s truth, this is
today. We do, we’re in independent field we have been for ten years. Independent field
is tough. You gotta really be on it, man. Right now we’re working on four projects at
the same time. We just finished a film for a writer/ director. She’d been editing her
own movie for a year. Couldn’t get it together. Hired us, my wife and I. Colleen does the
editing, I do the supervising, okay? Three weeks we finish the picture. Meanwhile we’re
working on other movies. Debra: And how was your relationship with
the director during all this, I mean this is kind of her baby right? Richard: Wow, high energy, unbelievable. Unbelievable! I said, Ally, give us the notes and get outta here. Leave us alone. And then come back.
I mean she was high strung like whoa! Debra: So bottom line is you just deal with
whatever the situation is that arises. Richard: Yeah. Debra: Well how often is it that you feel
to some degree you’re this psycologist in the room. Richard: Oh yeah, big time. Norman: Always. Debra: Always? These are all young people
in the beginning of their careers so I thought also, you know, it might be interesting. Norman: No not Michael. Debra: No, not all of them? Yeah. Let me start
with you Norm, because actually you’re with young people all the time. What advice do
you give them. What do you encourage them to do. Norman: I think that most of our paths are
not valid at all now. There’s so much out there that has nothing to do with the studio
system. The network’s business models field’s They’re dead, they just don’t know it yet. So I think
it’s just going to take a while for them to catch up with the new business model in my opinion. Debra: And the new business model being? Norman: Well I think the new business model
is making four films at one time if you’re an editor, working internationally, really
what I encourage all of my students to do is to know every editing system. What I say
is any that begins with the letter “A” do. But I do think that they need to know all
of that stuff and be comfortable with it be able to work, find work, in places that never
existed before. When the system now is shattered, so you really have to be very creative and
innovative about the way you sell yourself, meet people, convince people that you know
what you’re doing. The last three films I’ve cut, I haven’t been in the same continent
or city as the director. So I think that requires different ways of saying I understand the
kind of movie that you want to make. Debra: And yet there are still people cutting
movies, there are still people cutting TV shows, reality TV, so those jobs still exist, Norman: Ask me that question in five years. Debra: Ah! You think they’re not gonna exist,
right? Norman: I think there will be a lot fewer
of them, and there’s gonna be the people up here who are doing those films, but the bulk
of my students are either going to be assistant on those things, or they’re going to be editors
on web series, music videos, much smaller stuff that they’ll band together with people. Debra: Well after the break when we get to
Q & A we’ll get to talk a little bit about the economics of web and what this means for
their careers but what would you say to a young upcoming editor, what would your advice
be? Tina: The way I came up by being an assistant,
but I think it’s, for me anyway, it’s the only way it could’ve worked, I could not have
been an entrepreneur, I could not have Norman: But you were, you were a freelancer. Tina: Yeah. Norman: That means you were constantly selling
yourself that’s entrepreneurship. Debra: Was it more relationships then than
it is now? I mean, if you were an assistant for an editor that editor would take you with
him, right? Richard: You come into the hall of the editing
room, we train you. We give them a lot of responsibility. Debra: So are you training young people to
be editors? Richard: Yeah, all the time. Yeah they last
like two, three pictures, then we get them in the union, and they’re gone. Debra: So how do you find these Richard: Oh, Jenny at ACE. Or somebody else
recommends somebody else. Debra: You’re a good person to know if you
want to move your career. Richard: Yeah we are. Debra: Everybody take note. Richard: It’s a hand me down craft on a certain
level. Glenn: I was gonna say something about relationships
too. It’s really about a working relationship. I think it’s great you guys come here and
we’ll meet you and meeting people like this and going to networking groups is fine, but
where you really learn is what you did, you have an apprenticeship, you said I’ll work
for free or I’ll get in there and I’ll do something. I can meet somebody a million times,
it’s like, well they seem like a nice person but if someone comes in and works with me
for half a day, I get a really strong sense of what kind of sensibilities they have, what
kind of attitude they have and everything. Working for somebody for one day is better
than a year’s worth of networking where you’re not working. Debra: So are any of you in a position where
if one of these people come up to you and say I’ll work for you for free Norman: Sounds like Richard is. Richard: I never I don’t believe in work for
free. We pay. Nobody should work for free. I mean, you know, f*** that. Get paid. You
know what I mean? We don’t work for free. Debra: Right, and yet you know some of the
people Tina: I worked for free- Debra: She worked for free Richard: Those days are gone, man. Tina: I went to school for free, that’s how
I look at it. Debra: I think that it’s a great idea and
I think that fits into what you were saying about tenacity and not taking no for an answer,
really just hanging in there, and I think Norman: Actually when I started there was
actual, in the union apprenticeships. That’s gone. And in fact, some films I’ve worked
on my assistant comes in at night and I’m there during the day, so that so much of that
has changed. Debra: The non-linear editing changed everything a lot of course. Norman: Absolutely. The digital movement around
like you say you can work from coffee shops, where’s the assistant there? Debra: Well your job as an assistant is totally
different too. Norman: My feeling is and this is what I committed
to when I went to USC, is that I believe that the new apprentice programs are in the universities
and the colleges. Where you build those relationships, where you work with someone right next to
you and you do that for four years and by the end of that they have exactly what you’re
talking about. But it’s so much harder to do on most levels in the industry nowadays
that it’s gotta have this as well. Debra: Well we do have a lot of questions
coming up and a half an hour break we’ll be back in a half an hour for your questions.
Thank you.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

1 Comment

  1. So good! Valuable insight on how the industry is changing and how editors must be prepared to market themselves. Thanks for recording and sharing this!!

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