Contender – Editor Michael Kahn, War Horse
Starting his career editing the comedy series, Hogan’s Heroes, editor Michael Kahn, A.C.E. has become one of the most honored editors in motion picture history with seven Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins for editing Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan – all of which were directed by Steven Spielberg. War Horse is Kahn’s most recently released collaboration with the esteemed director. He is currently working with the director on Lincoln.
To facilitate a smooth editorial workflow, Kahn has had a trailer on the set during productions for quite a while. From the way he speaks of his editing on-set, it is obvious that the working relationship he has shared with Spielberg of over 30 years is a very comfortable and established one. “For that show [War Horse], I think a special trailer was built for us. We still have it. We’re still using it right on the set with the editing equipment, so Steve can run in when he has a moment and look at some footage. It really pays of for us to have that,” says Kahn. “It saves a lot of time.”
According to Kahn, the most challenging aspect of the show was trying to get Steven into that trailer so that he could edit. It would take several runs between the set and the trailer before the editor and director had chosen all of the selects of a particular scene so that Kahn could then edit. By the time they finish production, Kahn has a cut that is closer to a fine cut than a rough assembly.
Working with animals on a motion picture always adds another degree of difficulty to a production, so it is not too surprising that editing the horses was the main difficulty Kahn had on this particular picture. “From cut to cut I never had so many problems matching horses’ heads,” laughs Kahn. “I had to match heads and I had to be cognizant of the fact that the horses were going to be moving around a lot. We still had to make some cuts for dramatic purposes. It all worked out very well.”
Converting late to non-linear editing, Kahn and Spielberg switched from cutting film using a Moviola to working digitally on Avid with the production of Tin Tin, which came shortly before War Horse. “We all love the Moviola, that’s what got us were we are. Steve even loved the smell of it, the feel of it. He really enjoyed it,” reveals Kahn. “But when you sit down on an Avid and you want a trim right away, you don’t have to go to a box to get it, you just push a button and the trim is there. It is really quite an amazing machine and I wonder how they can build such a thing!” Kahn admits that he was fairly quick editing on film, but that Avid is ten times quicker for him. Film had given him the eye to quickly see matches, a skill which translated over to working on the computer.
Spielberg also got hooked on the non-linear editing. Kahn shares, “After that show, Steve said, ‘Maybe we aught to stay with this for War Horse, and after War Horse he said, ‘We’ll stay with it!’ So it worked out well.”
Kahn credits the great artisans that work on Spielberg’s films. “They all do their work on set, and it’s all exemplary work, just great work, and it all comes to us. It comes to me and it comes to Steven. We sit there. All that work is right in front of us; all that labor. Steven selects his takes and I go ahead and edit it. That is the normal procedure on every show. Except on Avid, it goes so darn fast!”