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This past weekend was the first east coast Edit Fest, put on by American Cinema Editors (A.C.E) in conjunction with The Manhattan Edit Workshop. There were a lot of heavy hitters (Thelma Schoonmaker was a no show, unfortunately, but her long time First Assistant Editor, Scott Brock, was there and he was terrific) who provided examples of their work, talked about their process and offered advice for those who were just getting in the business.

I noticed the attendance appeared to be a big mix of people who looked fresh out of school and those with experience. It was evident in the age range of the audience as well as the questions that were being asked at the end of each panel. I also thought it interesting that many of the attendees weren’t from New York. A lot of people seemed to be from surrounding areas, like D.C. and Boston.

The Friday night opening panel consisted of moderator Randy Roberts, A.C.E. (President of American Cinema Editors), Scott Brock, Bill Pankow, A.C.E., Lee Percy, A.C.E., Troy Takaki, A.C.E. and Plummy Tucker, A.C.E. All very impressive and it was nice to hear from a woman at that level in the profession. This first panel mostly addressed topics like, breaking into the editing business and what it takes to succeed.

Saturday was broken into 4 panels. The first, The Art of Cutting Comedy? What’s so Funny. The group gathered for this panel were moderator Josh Apter (filmmaker and founder of The Manhattan Edit Workshop), Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E., Ann McCabe, Stephen Rotter (trained by Dede Allen), Troy Takaki, A.C.E., Jeffrey Wolf, A.C.E. All agreed that when it comes to comedy, screening for multiple audiences is key to finding out or confirming what works and what doesn’t. All showed clips of their work and talked about how they cut it. Ann McCabe showed a great clip from Adventureland. She talked about deciding who to play on for each scene and the accompanying music trials and choices. Jeffrey Wolf played a lovely and poignant clip from Beautiful Girls, so there was a nice variety of genres within a genre to look at and examine.

The second group of speakers of the day was probably my favorite since my professional interests are in documentary filmmaking but also because the moderator, Tom Atkin (founder of the Visual Effects Society) planned well for this panelist discussion. The Documentary Edit: The Process of Discovering the Truth, was made up of Robert Eisenhardt, A.C.E., Tom Haneke, Sam Pollard, Karen Schmeer, A.C.E. (ERROL MORRIS‘ EDITOR!), and Lawrence Silk, A.C.E. Tom Atkin asked the editors to discuss different ways of discovering the truth in their stories. From character to music. Everyone definitely agreed that they spend a lot of time looking at dailies (raw footage) and take extensive notes on them as well as pouring over transcriptions. As Lawrence Silk said, watch all the footage, pay attention to gems, a moment that may deliver. Having worked on documentaries just enough, I know that’s the truth and it’s validating to hear experienced and successful editors work in a similar manner that I was trained. The message was, get to know the footage inside and out.

The clips that were showed had good variety in style. It was fascinating to find out how much interview footage Errol Morris captures and how he shoots certain scenes after interviews. The example was the coffee scene from Mr. Death. Of course once Ms. Schmeer said that he shoots some scenes after extensive interviews, it was obvious that he’d have to, especially in the case of the coffee shop scene. She also said she screens a lot for feedback. Tom Haneke showed a collection of clips to illustrate what footage he started with and what cut he ended up with. All editors talked about the importance of the right music. Sam Pollard played a powerful clip with an accompanying Max Roach drum solo. The editor Robert Eisenhardt showed a piece of his work from Valentino: The Last Emperor. Mr. Eisenhardt talked about the Nino Rota music used and how it paralleled Mr. Valentino’s history. He and another editor also discussed the idea of finding the essence of a scene or piece, because the editor is pulling fragments of a life and story. Finding a truth (whether that truth be the director’s the character’s or yours) and then supporting it. Another editor said he keeps too things in mind when viewing footage and editing, and those are “efficient” and “emotional”. Makes sense. You have an hour in a half or two, if you’re cutting feature length and you really want that time to effective and engaging.

The third panel, entitled Editing Television: Small Screen, Big Picture, and was made up of moderator Bobbie O’Steen (author) and panelists Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E., Ken Eluto A.C.E, Alexander Hall, Meg Reticker and Kate Sanford, A.C.E. Although several of the panelists were from the production of The Wire, they pretty much had different stories as to how they got into the business. It was definitely nice to hear from some more New York based editors and the only panel with more than one female. It was a good discussion and although there wasn’t any time for audience questions, they did cover a lot and made television editing more appealing, although the deadlines sound incredibly tight. I suppose if you have to get it done, you learn to make the turn around time.

The last panel consisted of moderator Vincent LoBrutto (author and instructor), Brian Kates, A.C.E., Craig McKay, A.C.E., Jay Rabinowitz, A.C.E., Tim Squyres, A.C.E. and Chris Tellefsen, A.C.E. All of them, of course, show clips of their work and discussed them. Brian Kates played a scene from The Savages and explained how the car scene was initially filled with dialogue and later was pulled and set to music. He decided to allow the emotion of the previous airplane/airport scene play into the driving sequence and the final result works well. Finding out how the way things started and why they were changed is very educational when it comes to the art of editing. Jay Rabinowitz and Tim Squyres were a real treat to me because of their work on films like Down by Law, I’m Not There, The Ice Storm and Gosford Park, just to name a few.

To say the least, each panel was made up of an impressive line up and each editor at least appeared to be happy to be there and talk about their work. Most of the editors did a great job with illustrating examples of their decision making process. I have found many events I attend are either screenings with a director Q & A (often interesting - I’m not complaining) or technology instruction. Those are valuable of course, but it sure was refreshing and very educational to hear about the art of editing. As far as I’m concerned you can never get enough of that. You can learn the technical stuff all day long and forever, but if you don’t know how to make a film into something efficient and emotional, you’re not really editing.