By Erin Casper, 2011 Fellow
About a week ago I attended the Los Angeles version of Edit Fest, hosted by American Cinema Editors. As with the New York Edit Fest, the weekend-long event consisted of panels, networking events and Avid demonstrations geared toward anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the editor’s craft. Or, as ACE President Randy Roberts phrased it at the beginning of Friday night’s opening panel: “When we started Edit Fest, we thought our audience would be students, but we’ve found that editors attend because they want to know what other editors do and how they do it.” This couldn’t be more true, especially in light of my own goals.
On Friday night’s panel, “Editors as Storytellers,” the feature editor panelists started off with an engaging discussion about their approach to editing, “Collaboration,” “subtext,” and “compressed schedule” were some of the ideas discussed in detail. The panelists dove deep into these ideas by showing examples of their work. One central approach that came up several times was to make sure to anchor the scene in the character’s point of view and cut for performance. I found myself relating to this because of the vérité doc work I’ve done. These tenets will be good to keep in mind the next time I’m watching dailies for the first time on a project. Farrel Levy (Dirty Dancing, Primal Fear) also talked about saving a performance by subtracting dialogue and using reactions. This was useful to me as well, and reminded me of how I also occasionally work with stories and characters in a reductive manner. Martin Nicholson (Game of Thrones, Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait) furthered the discussion by relating advice he gives his students, which is to borrow the basic questions actors ask themselves in every scene: What is the place? Where am I coming from? What do I want? and What are my goals?
On Saturday, the second and final day of Edit Fest, I went to the “Assistant Editor – The Soul of the Cutting Room” panel which focused on the relationship between assistant editors and editors, and included practical advice on networking and advancing in your career. Moderator Lori Coleman (Covert Affairs, In Plain Sight) humorously advised the audience on everything we needed to know while navigating the working world: Work hard, be nice, join the union, check your personality, educate yourself, and bring donuts.
Later in the day, there was a moving tribute to the late editor, Sally Menke (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds), moderated by author Bobbie O’Steen (Author of The Invisible Cut and Cut to the Chase). Over the course of 90 minutes, Bobbie reminisced with three of Sally’s former assistants—Suzy Elmiger, Tatiana Riegal and Joan Sobel—on Sally’s life and work. They shared stories about Sally’s love of editing (Suzy: Sally liked to work from home and always had interesting people around); her work ethic and rituals (Tatiana: She’d take off all her rings at the start of her day), and her celebrated collaboration with director Quentin Tarantino (Bobby: He called her his co-writer.). The panel was especially meaningful since I grew up watching Sally’s films and was enormously influenced by her work (Scenes from Pulp Fiction were frequently quoted by my brothers and me throughout childhood). Listening to Suzy, Tatiana and Joan illustrate how Sally wove tension, humor and inventive cutting into some of my favorite films was like watching a magician carefully explain their secrets behind close-up magic.
I had a great weekend (it was my first visit to LA), and attending Edit Fest was a perfect way to uncover the LA working world through the panels, demonstrations and one-on-one connections I made with the panelists and attendees.