EditFest NY II: new season, new episodes / by KirstenStudio

The purpose of EditFest is to share and school other editors in practical aspects of the work and to provide a comfortable and social atmosphere for networking with one another, regardless of your level in the editing world. Most importantly in the mix, however, is the art of storytelling.  Many accomplished editors will say that having acute storytelling skills is vital to becoming a terrific and successful... storyteller.  Taking all the software courses out there (although I can't knock those either, they are valuable) doesn't school you in the thoughtful and considered creative decisions that go into making an emotional narrative happen.  I don't think this is news to anyone but it can be one of those 'easier said than done' kind of things. American Cinema Editors (ACE) and Manhattan Edit Workshop brought EditFest NY back to the DGA Theatre this past Friday and Saturday.  The second of what looks to be an annual event, turned out to be worth the return ticket.  At least for me it did.  Panels weren't reruns of last year. The panels addressed new subject matters for the most part so there was fresh conversation. The talent pool was a made up of just a few editors from last year but mostly new ones on the roster this year too. A nice mix.

Friday night's opening night panel, The Lean Forward Moment boasted panelists Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E (Editor of Nurse Jackie!, 2009), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Junebug 2005), Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Cold Souls, 2009) , Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Editor of Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986 and Manhattan, 1979) and Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (The Wrestler, 2008) The moderator was Norman Hollyn, (a film editor and writer).

For this panel, Mr. Hollyn invited each editor to share a favorite clip from a film they didn't work on.  A film that may have influenced them, that they admired or for some reason it blew them away.  They leaned forward. You get the idea.

Mr. Berenbaum chose a favorite Western of mine (I have a feeling I'm not alone here), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Edited by, Nino Baragli) .  The opening sequence of this film was shown.  It's a long sequence with very little dialogue but rich in visuals, sound. A great example of how sound can move and foreshadow a story just as much as dialogue. It of course also establishes a mood and style, especially in this case.. Mr. Klotz elected to show a clip from Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Edited by Dede Allen). It was noted how this clip seemed to unfold in real time.  That was the feel of the scene and that's how seamless the editing.  Mr. Mondshein's choice was Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Edited again by Dede Allen, of course).  There was discussion of how shocking the death scene was for 1967 and how this was an early sign of the French New Wave concept beginning to spill over into America.  Most wonderful was the clip Ms. Morse's thought to show. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, Edited by Juliette Welfling) is a gorgeous and inventive film that was a fine example of a great collaboration where it's difficult to distinguished what was due to the actor, the direction, the editing, etc.  Ms. Morse also pointed out the importance of an emotional response as an editor as apposed to what should be the next logical cut, to the point that you (being the editor) become a part of the film.  And of course editors do become a part of it, but as Ms. Morse also mentioned, it's vital to balance this with remaining objective. Having someone else in the room watching your cuts helps with this.  As all the editors agreed, just having someone else in the room changes the viewing experience.  I can definitely identify with this phenomenon  myself.  I will really notice particular about something I've edited by having someone sit next to me and watch.  Mr. Weisblum showed The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Edited by Thom Noble). Mr. Weisblum sited this as an excellent example of pure visual storytelling, efficient (that's a feet in and of itself) and wit. He reminded us that every cut has a reason, every shot must have a purpose of course, but it also has to be going somewhere.  Sounds simple but it's easy to get weighed down in details and suddenly you've lost your way.  I guess that's way it's so important to think about the efficiency factor.

Saturday morning's panel was the highlight for me.  The Documentary Edit: Finding the Moment, addresses the larger part of creating a compelling documentary; the moment.  It can be an elusive thing, especially when you're dealing with so many hours of footage. The moment can be found in the most unexpected places and it is sometimes literally a moment.  The documentary panelists were moderated by Lillian Benson, A.C.E. (an editor and on the A.C.E. Board of Directors) and consisted of Geof Bartz, A.C.E (Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, 1998, Boy Interrupted, 2008), Milton Ginsberg, A.C.E. (Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back, 2000), Geoffrey Richman, A.C.E. (The Cove, 2009, Sicko, 2007)and Jean Tsien (Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, 2000, Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing, 2006).

Mr. Bartz showed 'the moment' in a Boy Interrupted clip, when a boy turns the family's camcorder on himself to ask, "Are you good or are you bad?"  A close up on the young boy cross dissolves to a forest and sky. A tree falls.  Mr. Bartz explained how he explored the family's home movie footage and found his shots there.  He then intercut the home movie material with shots of the boy's family cutting a tree down to carve into a memorial for their dead son.  It was a beautiful example of how to effectively use footage, that at first glance wouldn't obviously go together, but turns out it's all very subtly symbolic, providing insight into the boy's struggle as well as what his family has endured as a result of his suicide. At the same time the memorial provides hope and closure for a grim subject matter.

Milton Ginsberg worked with about 150 hours worth of footage for the documentary Catwalk (1996) and attested to the fact that if editors didn't have to go through footage and selects, film editing would be the best job in the world. Nevertheless, he did mentioned that Catwalk was his favorite documentary that he's worked on. Mr. Richman said that the definition of a good shot changes, depending on what you need and from my experience, that's so true. Jean Tsien backed Mr. Richman's comment by stating that an editor should really watch ever frame in the selection process because even the bad shots might turn out to be that moment you're looking for. Geoffery Richman explained how The Cove initially had no central goal and to begin with the director wanted a broad range of topics covered.  The story line later became the Ric O'Barry led mission.  Still there was apparently a lot of discussion about mission as apposed to educational. Mr. Richman also echoed something similar to what Ms. Morse mentioned about having someone else in the room, and that is having an audience is valuable. You know what the feedback will be because you can feel it while it's happening. Ms. Tsien discussed different aspects of storytelling. Historical versus vérité as well as tracking a single character versus multiple main characters.  With a historical piece, She also mentioned that an editor will be working off script, but is also heavily reliant on the archivist, the composer and the writer. With vérité an editor doesn't even necessarily know if they have a scene in front of them.  Four editors worked on Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing, a multi-character story, and Ms. Tsien highly recommended collaboration. One reason being if a cut feels flat another editor can take a crack at it.  They might see something else.  What everyone did talk about in one form or another is how the emotional line of the film is the real key.  All roads lead to the emotional impact.

Anatomy of a Scene consisted of one editor and one moderator. Alan Heim, A.C.E. and Bobbie O'Steen (film writer) talked about Mr. Heim's collaboration with director and choreographer, Bob FosseMr. Heim cut Liza with a Z (1972), Lenny (1974), All That Jazz (1979), and Star 80 (1983) for Mr. Fosse and also edited Network (1976) somewhere in between among others in a long list of notable credits.  This panel offered a number of clips from Mr. Heim's work, with discussion around his collaboration with Bob Fosse and their artistic like-mindedness. Mr. Heim talked about Fosse’s consistent symbolism and his approach to editing through all his films. From the use of mirrors in revealing a character’s inner voice to playing with time in the edit room. Sound also played a big roll in all the Fosse films and that of course makes sense considering Mr. Fosse was a long time choreographer.  An example of his creative use of audio is the shutter sound that accompanied the still photographs in Star 80. That shutter sound creates a unique rhythm and that sound and rhythm transitions from the camera shutter with the photos to the sound of the cocking gun the husband uses to kill his wife.

Following lunch (compliments of MEWSHOP. Thanks.), Cutting Yourself Out of a Corner was an event in and of itself simply due to the fact that Thelma Schoonmaker, A.C.E. (Do you really need some credit samples here?) was on the panel.  Other worthy participants included Mark Livolsi, A.C.E. (Almost Famous, 2000, Pieces of April, 2003), Sabrina Plisco, A.C.E.(Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, 2007, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, 2008) David Ian Salter, A.C.E. (Finding Nemo, 2003, one of the editors on Standard Operating Procedure, 2008) and Allan Title (Dog the Bounty Hunter, 2004, America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero, 2002), This group was moderated by Josh Apter (MEWSHOP’s founder, an editor himself and a really good moderator).

Two clips of the same scene from Almost Famous were shown as a terrific example of Cutting Yourself Out of a Corner.  Mr. Livolsi's long and short version displayed the art of cutting down to the essence.  The short one made the final cut, but it was fascinating to see how fast an editor can get in and out of a scene.  Efficient and effective.  The longer version created a logical build to the mother changing her mind, but it took too long to get there. Mr. Lovolsi admitted loosing the mother's motivation for switching gears seemed illogical, but the long version messed with the pace and momentum.  So the quick version worked. Mr. Lovolsi also had to remove two characters from the scene entirely. Ms Schoonmaker presented two clips of the same scene from Raging Bull, 1980, explaining that it was the most challenging scene she'd ever cut.  Some of the obstacles being that it was a one camera shoot (only one camera could fit in the kitchen at a time) and it was entirely improvised.  The camera recorded 2 hours on Robert Deniro and then 2 hours on Joe Pesci during their kitchen table exchange. Ms. Schoonmaker mentioned how glad she was to have had documentary cutting experience before tackling that scene. Allen Title's example was by far the most humorous and totally creative. Mr. Title showed a clip from a docu-series where he cut a less than dramatic situation into a fully dramatic scenario.

crappy iPhone photo from EditFest NYThe last panel of the day was on Avatar.  The editors, John Refoua, A.C.E. (Ghosts of the Abyss, 2003, Ally McBeal, 1997) and Stephen Rivkin, A.C.E. (Co-editor on Ali, 2001, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) were guided through a discussion on the many aspects of this film by moderator Vincent LoBrutto (film writer).  This all went down after the mob scene around Thelma Schoonmaker when the previous panel dismantled.  The Editors of Avatar was probably the one panel I didn't really care about because I'm not really into learning about 3-D or image capture, etc or so I thought, but I was pleasantly surprised and was sucked into the phenomenon of Avatar.  The panel went overtime and most of the audience opted for staying over rushing downstairs for the first serve on pizza and beer.

I don't know of another event in New York City that's completely devoted to editors and that hosts a group of panelists and moderators of that caliber.  EditFest also offers an industry environment where the experienced, inexperienced and everyone in between have a chance  to talk shop in s relatively unpretentious atmosphere and that has a lot of value on its own. The EditFest NY worked a second time around.