A View From Behind The Meter
Last night I went to a gathering of editors at Barnsdall Park Gallery Theater hosted by Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group (LAFCPUG). It was held from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM with the doors opening at 6:00 PM. I bought a chili dog for five dollars and after finishing my tube steak I went in about six thirty. Initially there were about 25 to 30 people in the theater, and a discussion began with an offer by three seasoned pros to answer any questions about software or general editing problems. A number of people responded with questions which seemed to deal with mainly the transition from Final Cut Pro editing system to Adobe Premier. There were a number of people confused about this transition and the expert panel answered most inquiries quite sufficiently.
By the time most of the questions were answered the group had swelled to about a hundred and the meeting began in earnest. This is a group formed in 2000 and boasts a membership world wide of 6,000. The highlight of the evening was an appearance by Arthur Schmidt the editor of such great films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Castaway, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, and his first project Jericho Mile. One of the most startling revelations about this very unassuming man was that after fifteen years of working in the shadows at the age of thirty eight he got credit for his first feature production. He apprenticed for eight years and was not guaranteed a job when he was finished with all that time and service. He edited sequences for Jim Clark and Did Allen as well as numerous studio feature editors but was never in all those years offered a feature project. The work he did on Marathon Man got him the attention of Michael Mann, and Michael asked him to edit the running sequences in Jericho Mile which eventually morphed into the key editor position on the project. This television feature was his springboard into an incredible career as a feature editor of box office hits. Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Last of the Mohicans, and Castaway, are only some of the twenty seven feature editing jobs accomplished by this very gifted artist.
These kinds of groups are very informative and allow a unique view into the process of how individuals enter the business as well as remain year after year. Arthur’s father was a professional editor in Hollywood but it was not Arthur’s direction once leaving school and rather by accident he was offered an apprentice position at one of the studios. It was to take him fifteen years of assistant editing positions before he got his first editing credit and from that time on he never looked back. Two Academy awards and numerous Eddies over his career have placed him in an honored position in the Hollywood history books. It was a sublime pleasure to listen to him speak of his interaction with actors and directors which have become household names yet his recollections of them gave such humanity to these icons of our industry. I can not recall him uttering a negative word about any of them and his admiration of the talents of actors like Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones was truly illuminating. It reminded me of the time I worked with Sophia Loren and she called me over to where she was sitting and asked me to place the key-light straight in front of her so that the nose shadow did not reach the upper lip. She knew her business phenomenally well and exactly how to light her face for the camera.
Working with seasoned professionals was always a sheer joy and in moments one discovered why they were such legends in the film making community. I was reminded again listening to his words how much of a pleasure our business can be when you work with people who positively know what they are doing. This consciousness that exists in true professionals comes from many arduous hours over the years working to repair the errors made by people who don’t know what they are doing. Arthur worked in the system for well over a decade and during that time his job usually entailed trying to make sense out of the images he was handed. When a technician, whether they are in acting, lighting, camera, or sound, learns his trade it’s easy for the editor to make a beautiful story.
When there is no understanding of the basic principles of story in pictures and dialogue an editor’s job can become a nightmare. The simple absence of “cut-a-ways” can leave an editor no place to go when the shots don’t cut together and this is a relatively common error made by novice film makers. Listening to the professionals speak at these venues is priceless to the beginner and very enlightening to the seasoned veteran because we all can learn from others experiences. Events such as the LAFCPUG talks and the ASC Breakfasts where one can listen directly to the top pros in our industry are wonderful learning experiences at very reduced costs. This one cost me $5.00 and they have one every month. The breakfast cost me $30.00 and I get coffee and egg sandwiches as well as fruit and yogurt.
Take the time and search for them on the net and attend. It will be well worth your effort and you couldn’t help learning something. Besides the guests that you can listen too the crowd is a natural place to meet fellow film makers who are in the same search for the future as you are. You really never stop learning.
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach