Today, when Schoonmaker and Scorsese are editing, she still arrives at the office before him and leaves after he’s gone. She works in a cheap-looking office chair at a low wooden desk with worn edges, flanked by large speakers. Scorsese sits behind her in a tan-colored armchair, literally looking over her shoulder, watching her work roll on a giant, MTV Cribs–size monitor. He keeps a nearby TV permanently tuned to Turner Classic Movies, running silently in the background. Occasionally he’ll catch a glimpse of something inspiring, perhaps in an old Fellini movie, and he and Schoonmaker will pause to admire and discuss it. Directly in front of the director’s seat is what looks like the rearview mirror from a large truck, duct-taped to a speaker. “That’s so he can see who’s behind him,” Schoonmaker explains. “When his assistants come in, he can see from the look on their faces how serious it is.” (He keeps a bigger one on set, above his monitor.)
Asked how it feels to be the right hand—even a universally admired one—throughout a lifelong career, Schoonmaker shrugs. “I don’t see it that way,” she says. “I don’t think of it as him being in the front and me being behind—it’s just a wonderful collaboration. I love being around great artists, and I’ve been around a few of them.” Here she lets loose a particularly throaty chuckle. “There’s nothing like it, I tell you. It’s an addiction.”
a message from ginasomething
You’re very welcome! Glad to help seeing as I’ve been in your shoes and have needed morale boosts on more than one occasion. I hope all goes well for you on your project. And I know you’ve got loads going on right now, but may I rec The Conversations which has a lot more inspiring editing advice. Here is an excerpt (and another) from the book.
Be the audience
“You have to have an intuition about the craft to begin with: for me, it begins with, Where is the audience looking? What are they thinking? As much as possible, you try to be the audience. At the point of transition from one shot to another, you have to be pretty sure where the audience’s eye is looking, where the focus of attention is. That will either make the cut work or not.
“If you think of the audience’s focus of attention as a dot moving around the screen, the editor’s job is to carry that dot around in an interesting way. If the dot is moving from left to right and then up to the right-hand corner of the frame, when there’s a cut, make sure there’s something to look at in the right-hand corner of the next shot to receive that focus of interest.”
Walter Murch, The Conversations.
I’ve got loads of editing to do before the end of Friday, so I hope you enjoyed these quotes as much as I’ve found them to be helpful. Happy rest of the week!
When I was a student at John Hopkins, a group of us made some short silent films, and I discovered then that editing images had emotionally the same impact for me as editing sound. It was intoxicating. Michael Ondaatje writes eloquently about that in “Anil’s Ghost”, about the state of mind of a doctor in the middle of surgery: You get to a place where time is not an issue at all, and you’re oddly at the centre of things but also you are not. You’re the person doing it, yet the feeling is that you’re not the origin of it, that somehow ‘it’ is happening around you, that you are being used by this thing to help bring it into the world. I felt that way when I was eleven, playing with my tapes. I didn’t know how to interpret it then, but I discovered, when I was twenty, that editing images gave me the same feeling. Then when I got to the University of Southern California as a graduate student, both of those things—sound and picture—came together.
As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old.