I went to see Away We Go the other evening. Another Sam Mendes offering about American society, it's expectations and fears. A very sweet and humorous film that I thought was artfully constructed. When I got home later that night, I picked up a copy of Cinema Editor magazine and came across an interview with the editor Tariq Anwar. Mr. Anwar did not cut Away We Go (Sarah Flack did) but he has cut two films for Sam Mendes. American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. All three of these Sam Mendes films share a common and interesting theme so I sat down to read more.
Mr. Anwar sports a long list of impressive credits which include The Madness of King George (1994), The Crucible (1996) and The Good Shepherd (2006) but what he said that really caught my attention was the question of his role and collaboration with directors. Mr. Anwar says, "I think with most editor/director relationships, the editor is the director's closest ally but that does not mean giving blanket support on everything he or she does." He also mentions this, "Humor is important as in any relationship along with a degree of healthy irreverence."
It reminded me of something one of the Edit Fest panelists said last weekend that I have experienced to be an essential practice to hone. It was about the importance of developing a sense of when to speak and when to hold back. The delicate politics of working with a director's creation. Not that the director was the only creator of any given production, but when it comes to the post production, that is most often the primary person an editor is responsible to (of course, depending upon what you're editing, it is often a producer or two as well). Whether it's a fat budget feature or an independent film producer/director's baby, an editor needs to have the right demeanor, both professionally and socially. After all, when you are cutting something, even if you have some independence and valued time alone to do your work, you are still spending a ton of time living with the director. It's important to develop a rapport. Mutual respect is always nice too.
I do believe editing is a craft and sometimes even art, but it's also about practical balance. The balance between diplomacy and opinion and how and when to assert both. Mr. Anwar says, "The film process is very feudal in nature. You have your Emperors (the studio execs), Kings (directors), Lords and Ladies (cast), Noblemen (head of department) and serfs (the rest). For a short period of time we subjugate ourselves to this system and hope we escape with our head and integrity intact.