Swink

Hal Ashby, in Directors in Action (a 1973 collection of pieces from Action, the Directors Guild of America’s official magazine) tells of the pep talk he got from William Wyler’s editor, Robert Swink, when he was starting as a junior cutter:

“Once the film is in hand, forget about the script, throw away all of the so-called rules, and don’t try to second-guess the director. Just look at the film and let it guide you. It will turn you on all by itself, and you’ll have more ideas on how to cut it than you ever dreamed possible. And use your instincts! Don’t be afraid of them! Rely on them! After all, with the exception of a little knowledge, instincts are all we’ve got. Also, don’t be afraid of the film. You can cut it together 26 different ways, and if none of those works, you can always put it back into daily form, and start over.”

Swink would have been forty years old and the movie would have been THE BIG COUNTRY in 1958, so the language here is undoubtedly Ashby’s hippy-inflected speech. And some of the editorial philosophy may likewise be Ashby’s — but Swink cut for both William Wyler — minimal coverage but an insane number of takes — and George Stevens — multiple shot sizes from every conceivable direction — and he cut inventively and boldly, so I do believe a lot of what Ashby is passing on came from him. It’s good advice, whoever came up with it.

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