By Mary Ann SkweresAlthough cinematography is the only below-the-line craft that the Sundance Film Festival regularly recognizes with an award, this year the American Documentary Jury bestowed a Special Jury Prize for Editing to Murderball editors Geoffrey Richman and Conor O’ Neill.Editors know the important creative contribution that an editor makes to a film, especially when working with inexperienced first- or second-time directors. Although occasionally the editors of indie films are as new to filmmaking as the directors, most often they bring experience in the technical craft, as well as the knowledge of the cinematic storytelling arc, to the collaboration.Editor Billy Fox worked on the Audience Award-winning Hustle and Flow, an uplifting tale about a pimp trying to get out of the game by becoming a rap artist. In addition to feature work, Fox has worked on the TV series Law and Order. He was hired by producer John Singleton to work with director Craig Brewster. Fox’s technical finesse helped the production to proceed smoothly.The film was shot on super 16mm and telecined as data directly to disc with DVD picture quality for editing on an Avid. The film was never on a tape medium. The Avid cut was used for everything, including screenings, which were shown from a DVD output that Fox created using DVD Studio Pro.Fox went to the Memphis location for a week, but the rest of the time he worked in L.A. During production, he kept the director and producers informed of his progress by emailing scenes. In post the method worked for getting versions to sound and music. The film was creatively fulfilling for Fox. Although he did not watch dailies with the director, most of his performance and editing choices were in sync with Brewster. Despite the director also being the writer, Fox was impressed at how well he could draw the line and move on to the next stage of the process, “Writers often think nothing is more sacred than their words. It was astounding what he would cut out. I thought ‘this is bold!’”Commercial and music video editors Eric Pomert, who cut Love, Ludlow, and Nickolas Eramus, editor of Pretty Persuasion, broke into features with their Sundance projects. Despite differences in form, they both felt that their background provided valuable training for cutting a feature.Pomert notes, “The biggest step in editing is a process of selection. Commercials have trained me to sit down and look.” They both liked the fact that they could hold a shot without cutting and nobody would be upset. Eramus, who worked for over five years on short-form projects with Pretty Persuasion director Marcus Siega, shared a part of their history, “We used to talk about Woody Allen films and how he didn’t have to cut. We dreamt about the time we wouldn’t have to cut.”Ludlow, a quirky, comedic love story and Persuasion, a roller-coaster drama about a privileged high-school girl who accuses her teacher of sexual harassment, are both performance-driven films. For Eramus that meant using the editing to highlight the performances. Pomert believes in surrendering to the footage, “It would tell me what to do.”Editor Tim Streeto received his first solo editing credit on The Squid and the Whale, a story about adolescents growing up during their parents’ divorce. He had worked for years as an assistant editor and had an associate editor credit on the feature Splendor. Streeto and his Sundance award-winning director, Noah Baumbach, developed their own method of working. Instead of assembling a rough cut of the picture, he assembled takes so that they could review the footage and select the best performances together. In that way, the first cut was much closer to the director’s cut right from the start.Steve Hamilton and Joe Bini have developed their long-standing collaborations with their directors to the point that, as Hamilton puts it, “We barely have to talk to each other.” Hamilton edited, as well as produced, The Girl From Monday, an experimental sci-fi tale, with Sundance veteran, Hal Hartley.In 1990, when he saw Hartley’s first film, The Unbelievable Truth, Hamilton knew that he wanted to work with the director. He moved from San Francisco to New York to facilitate that possibility. Up to that point, he had had only one editorial job, as an apprentice at Zoetrope, but by the end of the year, he was indeed working with Hartley. He worked his way up, starting as an assistant editor. Along the way Hamilton and Hartley discovered a shared commitment towards experimental film techniques—often informed by the practicality imposed by low-budget filmmaking—and an independent streak that steered them towards projects that afforded them a great degree of creative control.Grizzly Man, about the sensational life and mauling death of environmental activist Timothy Treadwell by the grizzly bears that he sought to protect, is the latest collaboration between famed German director Werner Herzog and editor Bini. Bini was also a fledgling editor when he first worked with the director. Herzog comments, “He grew up with my films, so to speak. And because of that we have had a very easy rapport.”Over the roughly nine years that they collaborated, Bini has learned to cope with Herzog’s impatience Bini explains, “Werner likes to work exceptionally quickly. He’ll say, ‘We edited in five days.’ Really it was three weeks but I guess that’s good because in his mind it means a constructive dense time.” Originally interested in narrative filmmaking, Herzog’s unique perspective opened up the possibilities of documentaries to Bini.If there is common thread to the success of both new and on-going collaborations between editors and their directors, it is a shared aesthetic sense. Add to that the knowledge of, or at least the desire to learn, a variety of technologies. Throw in pacing, structure and a good sense of storytelling and you have the perfect editor.
Written by Mary Ann Skweres