Cutting film

Unlike Jerry Lewis, I never licked celluloid, so my love of film was not quite a fetish. Steven Poster, ACE, whom I spoke to recently, recalled trying to load a magazine as a youngster and the core coming out of the reel in the changing bag — he was fumbling about in the bag, trying to wind hundreds of feet of film by hand. I had similar experiences in the edit, but at least the film in question was a disposable cutting copy, not valuable negative. In a way, cutting film was quite suited to a slob like me, because you didn’t have to look after the stuff, except in the sense of knowing where every piece of it was. In that sense, film editing was a terrible job for me. Turning the room upside down in search of four frames of the tail of somebody’s closeup wasn’t a lot of fun.

Reading, too, in Glenn Kenny’s Made Men, about Thelma Schoonmaker learning how to properly set up a cutting room for a feature film, something I NEVER learned. Nowadays all the scenes are logged on the computer, and backed up, and so on… and most of my projects involve taking feature films apart (and creating new-ish entities from the material) rather than putting them together.

Walter Murch, at the transition from film to digital editing, insisted that editing should be done standing up, like dancing, cooking and surgery, an interesting argument. Though he put his computer table up on blocks, I’m unaware of anyone else who followed his lead. But it would be healthier, especially since we no longer have to walk to the trim bin to retrieve an off-cut, or to a stack of cans to retrieve an unused take. Maybe having a desk that rises and falls would be good, so you can alternate between sitting and standing. Does sedentary editing have a different quality from the upright kind, I mean aesthetically?

There are still good reasons for shooting on film, but I’m not sure if anything can be said for cutting on film, outside of nostalgia. I could do it quite fast in my day — a twelve-minute short was cut in a day, at the end of which the Steenbeck caught fire and the film had to be rescued and the fire brigade called. But digital cutting removes most of the labour of finding things and getting to the right spot in the reel — activities that Murch felt were useful both for letting the brain decompress, and for accidentally finding things that weren’t what you were looking for but possibly better. At any rate, if I’d taken the trouble to learn Avid or Lightworks (which makes me sound older than celluloid) or something, I’m sure it’d be faster. But less exciting.

One Response to “Cutting film”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    One hears that Ernest Hemingway typed his manuscripts standing up. Rigorous investigation, that is to say a quick glimpse at Google, says that Dickens and Kierkegaard also wrote standing up.

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