In 1986, my friend Irving Goldworm was renting out flatbed editing equipment. He decided to honor his clients—film, video, and sound editors—by interviewing them and publishing the interviews in a slick "magazine" called Editing, which he gave away to movie folk. In 1989, he hired me to do that job. I was a photographer, movie fiend, and had interview and edit experience with my book, "Straight Life: the story of Art Pepper." Need I say this was a dream job? This is movie history —Laurie Pepper (coming up: Walter Murch, Francoise Bonnot, Richard Marks, Lynzee Klingman, Malcolm Campbell, Carol Littleton, Ralph Winters, Susan Krutcher, Paul Hirsch (2 parts), etc. etc.)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Editing: Dede Allen, Part Two of Two

Part 2 of a two-part interview with Dede Allen on learning drama, memorizing dailies, and the essence of violence in "Bonnie and Clyde"

"If anybody ever tells you they go in there smug and confident, they've forgotten what it is to be good."

January 1992: Interview by Laurie Pepper
Dede Allen's career is long and her credits are weighty, 
but she's as sincerely and volubly in love with the movies 
as any impassioned film school student. Mention a 
picture she's seen, and she'll compliment and/or criticize 
each and every aspect that struck her. She demurs 
at nonspecific questions, saying that she can't 
intellectualize about the subject, but she'll en
thusiastically engage in detailed speculation about 
why a specific scene or actor or director worked or 
didn't. And her asides (which are many) are as 
fascinating as her direct comments. Speaking of 
violence in film, she breaks off to praise Scott Glenn 
for his work in "The Silence of the Lambs," then veers 
to his fine performance in an HBO series of one-acters, 
and from there goes on to discuss the dramatic structure 
of the stories in the series and to praise cable television 
for supporting quality projects with unusual themes or 
formats - as television used to do in its early days and 
as movies rarely do.

Editing: You've cut epics, drama, action, comedy. Is 
there a type of picture you like best to work on? What 
are your special strengths as an editor?
Allen: I tend to think, when I start a picture, "Gee, will 
I do it justice? Will I really know how to do it? Maybe 
I'm not right for it." But I've learned that's pretty much 
bullshit. Whether it's a drama or an epic, what it needs 
is someone who's gonna dig in and tell the story 
straight. Comedy is some of the hardest stuff to cut- 
if it's strictly comedy. But if it's rooted in drama, 
something I like to do, then the humor comes with the 
extremis of the situation. I think there is a speed, a kind 
of bubbling rhythm, that will go with a little, personal 
picture -like one I did with Paul Newman called' 'Harry 
and Son." It was full of little family scenes. I remember it took on a kind of tripping-over-itself rhythm that was 
funny and still serious. That does, I guess, involve an editing style that I seem to have no difficulty finding. 
And I think that's a matter of training. In New York I 
always try to get the young people I'm working with 
to go to the theater a lot. I was lucky. I studied theater 
and worked around it for periods when I was very 
young - the Actor's Lab. I worked sound, props, stage-managing, everything. That was invaluable training in 
terms of taste. I think it's very important for editors 
to understand where a scene is. What is this scene 
about? What is the director trying to say with this scene? 
What am I trying to say, and how am I going to say it? 
I would advise a young editor to take an acting course. 
While you're trying to rack up those years as an 
assistant, doing all the work that you think is only 
mechanical, nurture yourself by learning: read a lot, 
see plays, take classes, see movies. And it doesn't matter 
if it's a theater or a movie or a documentary. Basically, 
it always has to play.
As far as other strengths, I 'don't know. I guess 
persistence. If something's not quite working, you have 
to be able to keep shaking it up and trying to figure 
out how to make it work, until you get to it. Not just 
settle for, "Oh, yeah, this is fine."
Editing: In terms of training, you told me you felt lucky 
that you started out as a sound editor.
Allen: Well, I feel that what sound gave me was a total 
technical fluidity in dealing with picture and sound 
ultimately when I became a picture editor. When you 
have that experience, you can be very loose and free 
with it, and you have no problem about manipulating 
it technically. You can take all the bits and pieces of 
what you have in the film and not be frightened about 
how you're going to work it.
Editing: What tools do you work with?
Allen: I use two Moviolas and I use a flatbed to show 
people film on. I like to edit on the flatbed for sound 
if I'm doing a narration or a music thing, but I find it 
easier to manipulate the bits and pieces on the Moviola. 
I use the second Moviola really as reference for 
performance. The other tool I love, that I got when we 
were on "Reds," was the Betamax system for recording 
dailies. That's done in a much more sophisticated way 
now, and it has relieved me of hours and hours of 
memorizing to a projector, which is what I used to do. 

Editing: Memorizing?
Allen: I memorize the dailies so that I know every 
performance, every nuance, and every take; it's all there 
in my head. I used to use a small projector for that. Now 
I use a flatbed. And if you have a film with a lot of 
footage, like "Little Big Man" (which had a great deal 
of film and it was before there was any chance of a video 
situation), with dozens and dozens of scenes and four 
cameras, all broken in sequence, somehow your brain 
is like a computer. It will store information. It's like a 
memory bank, and when a problem arises, you're able 
to say, "Hey, wasn't there ... ?" Or, "Isn't there ... ?" 
The memorizing has a lot to do with my own confidence. 
When I'm confident, and I know a scene, I can suddenly 
get an inspiration of how I want to play it. I don't see 
the whole scene, but I know what the characters are 
going to do.
I still memorize, but now, with video, I'm totally free.
You don't have to be afraid of trying things. I can take 
the film apart and never lose the dailies. I can always 
have the original takes at my fingers.
Editing: What editors do you consider your mentors? 
Allen: Anthony Gibbs is one of my favorite editors. He 
was an editor who worked on the' 'angry young men" 
school of English pictures, which were made during the 
late fifties and early sixties. I learned a lot from 
watching all those films: "Look Back in Anger," "The 
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," "The L 
Shaped Room" (which was cut by Anthony Harvey). 
Those pictures had a lot of emotion and anger and 
intensity and they had a cutting style that was ahead 
of its time. That style went from England to New York 
and then came to California. I think it strongly 
influenced Hal Ashby. It came through a whole group 
of us who were impressed by it.
Editing: You're an editor of some renown. How does this recognition change things for you in terms of giving 
you the opportunity to pick and choose jobs? Are there 
any negative aspects?
Allen: As you make more money, you really have less 
to pick and choose. Sometimes there are things I would 
love to do but they just can't afford me, and if you cut 
your price now, that'll cause you trouble later on. And 
if you get too much recognition, everyone assumes 
you're busy and that's not necessarily so.
Editing: Do you have favorites among the films 
you've worked on? What pictures did you most enjoy 
viewing later?
Allen: Well, almost all the pictures I've worked on I 
liked. If I didn't like them I would have wasted a lot 
of time. But I saw' 'The Hustler" once in a theater in Athens, Ohio, at a film festival, and I found it slow, which was interesting. Well, I was aware we had a long 
picture. We didn't have time to cut it down. We had to 
rush it out. And when I go to pictures later, when I have 
to speak somewhere, I always find it very painful and 
frightening. I'm afraid I won't like the picture or it'll 
look different or I won't remember it.
If a scene doesn't work well while I'm cutting a film, 
I cringe every time I get to it. If something is not right, 
I become totally bored and distanced to that particular 
scene and if I can't solve it, then I have a picture that 
has, as most films do, some problems. I've had a few 
where I never got bored. I've seen' 'Bonnie and Clyde" quite a few times. I never got bored with any part of it. 

Editing: "Bonnie and Clyde," like many films you've 
cut, had a lot of violence in it.
Allen: The violence in that picture is intrinsically American. Arthur [Penn) was shook up by the Kennedy assassination. He's saying that we are a very violent 
nation. People accused Arthur of being exploitive, and 
it's possible that he was dramatically a little exploitive, 
but it was all grounded in the period, the characters, 
and the desperation. But I think the meaningless macho 
violence in a lot of pictures today is the biggest bore 
on earth.
Editing: I recently saw "Die Hard" on video.
Allen: But that was a beautifully done picture. Very 
impressive. It's a true action ripper-mystery, danger. 
It shows the sort of peril everybody can think of 
themselves as being in -' 'Jesus, what if I got caught 
in this situation," sort of thing. "GoodFellas" was violent in a stylish way, but it was human and personal and funny and the performances were wonderful.
I hate cruel violence, pictures that exploit children, women. I absolutely hated "Blue Velvet" when I first 
saw it. Now I understand David Lynch's style a little better, but at the time, I thought it totally demeaned women; the Isabella Rossellini character was embarrassing, and I was embarrassed for her as an 
actress. "Last Exit to Brooklyn" showed violence toward women, but in this case, the character was sympathetic. I thought Jennifer Jason Leigh was just 
sensational (I was extremely impressed by the theatricality of that picture; it wasn't a movie, it was 
a stage play).
There's another kind of violence, the violence of the 
mind, you know, which can be marvelous if it's well 
done. "Dead Ringers," for instance, was much more 
violent than I would like a film to be, but Jeremy Irons 
was so wonderful and so believable. That was by far 
one of the top performances I've seen in years, 
incredibly intricate. "The Silence of the Lambs" had 
real violence in it as well, but basically it was a 
fascinating story of mind manipulation. All the 
performances were fantastic, but I can't even imagine 
how bad that picture could have been if it had been 
directed by someone who is less of a humanist than 
Jonathan Demme. He's not a mean-spirited person, and 
that's a mean-spirited story.
Editing: Do you handle violent scenes in a special way? 
Allen: No. Violence is part suspense, part action. And 
I find action so much easier to cut than complicated
human relation scenes - where you have to know a lot 
more, you have to be better than a craftsman. Those 
are the scenes that will stick with you.
In "Bonnie and 
Clyde," the scene with the two brothers trying to 
communicate. I remember very, very well the day I cut 
it and how I cut it. Buck and Clyde haven't gotten together in a while and they're doing all that awkward "good ol’ boy" stuff, and that, of course, was before anybody knew Hackman, and it was such a joy to cut because it was so full of exciting, wonderful moments. 
Editing: What do you consider the greatest rewards to 
you from your career at this stage?
Allen: The rewards are what the work gives you in terms of your excitement about living. And if you do 
something well, and you're appreciated, you are a fulfilled person, obviously.
The downside is that I've worked so much, so steadily.
I think my children would have a lot of opinions as to 
what a full-time working parent in our kind of industry 
is. I think kids not only need to be constantly parented 
when they're little. They need it especially when 
they're teenagers, and that's something I don't think 
I quite foresaw. It's hard to keep a marriage, a life going 
when you're working the kind of hours that editors do. 
So you have to be lucky enough to have hooked up with
someone special who understands it or is complemented by it. And your children have to just take it as it comes, because you're their parents, right?
I guess the greatest reward is the feeling, when you're working, of being part of a unit, a group. Actors on a
stage, on a set, have that kind of bonding. In the cutting 
room you have an even longer range bonding. If it's a 
bad experience, it can be a torturous bonding. If it's a 
good experience, it's very rewarding, very enriching. 
It just thrills me when people I have worked with have 
the same kind of excitement about their work that I 
feel. It's basically what we all pass on to each other, 
and I got it from the people who had it before me - in 
other words, the people who encouraged me in the way, 
say, Bob Wise did, or Carl Lerner, Arthur Penn. That's 
the kind of experience one doesn't always have. I've 
been very, very lucky.
Editing: What challenges are left? What inspires and renews you?
Allen: The opportunity to do another film that can be, again, a whole life experience. The thrill of making it work. Hoping it will work. Because if anybody ever tells you they go in there smug and confident, they've 
forgotten what it is to be good. I don't think anyone 
can go in without a certain amount of fear. Am I going 
to be able to pull it off?
Editing: How do you overcome that fear?
Allen: Usually by starting (laughs). You have a bad experience. And you wonder, "Have I so changed?" 
Then you do it again, and you realize that you haven't 
changed. It was just a bad experience. And most 
experiences are good. Relationships within the picture 
are difficult at times, but it usually turns out in the end 
that you're really not fighting about each other. You're 
just working toward the best. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Editing: Dede Allen, Part One of Two

Part 1 of an interview with Dede Allen on the dialectics of editing, constructing a first cut, and juggling scenes in "The Hustler."

"Collaboration involves competing in a positive way."

NOVEMBER 1991: Interview by Laurie Pepper

Dede Allen is famous. Most film editors aren't. She says she's been lucky - in the progress of her career, in the directors she's been teamed with, in the projects she's been offered. Benjamin Franklin said that diligence is the mother of good luck. Dede Allen has been phenomenally diligent. She's also been passionately committed to the art of making great movies and is outspoken about the circumstances that help or hinder filmmaking as a whole. Her luck is that she's been blessed with charm, character, intelligence, and wit. Without which diligence (and talent) may be barren.

Her credits to date are "Woman from the Year 2000," "Odds Against Tomorrow," "The Hustler," "America, America," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Rachel, Rachel," "Alice's Restaurant," "Little Big Man," "Slaughterhouse Five," "Serpico," "Visions of Eight," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Night Moves," "The Missouri Breaks' , (with Jerry Greenberg and Steve Rotter), "Slap Shot," "The Wiz," "Reds" (with Craig McKay), "Mike's Murder" (with Jeff Gourson), "Harry and Son," "The Breakfast Club," "Off Beat," "The Milagro Beanfield War," "Let It Ride" (with Jim Miller), "Henry and June" (with Vivien Hillgrove and William Scharf), and' 'The Addams Family."

Editing: What do you consider the greatest rewards to you from your career at this stage, and then what are your pet peeves? 
: That's two sides of the coin, right? In relationship to the career? 
Editing: Yes. You can talk about life, also.
Allen: It all mixes. It's an old word that one was afraid to use for a long time - dialectic. That's what editing's all about.
Editing: Editing is dialectic? Please expound on that.
Allen: Well, if you make a tiny change in something, it usually affects everything else. If you switch a scene around, it can cause reverberations on story, on rhythm, on emotion, on understanding. This is true of any cut. How you choose to play a love scene: You have two people. Who makes the first move? This can change something to do with one of the characters and that can progress into another scene. It can sometimes adversely affect a character.

   In "The Hustler," we had to drop one of Newman's best scenes (I thought he was great in that movie. I still think it's one of the his best pieces of work and this was by far the best solar star moment) because it really said the same thing as another scene, and when they were put closer together, you realized it was redundant. Which scene could be lost and not injure the picture? We had to lose it. One of the great things about Robert Rossen, one of the reasons I loved working with him, he was very much a story person. So none of my work with him on "The Hustler" was nitpicking (He would go absolutely crazy if! wanted to fine-tune a scene that he felt was playing. He said, "Why are you pishing in the mustard?" He said, "Leave it alone, you're gonna improve it into a disaster"), but we took what was 14 reels, I think, at the time, and we switched scenes around to an extent I'd never seen before. And it's fascinating the kinds of things that come out of a story, particularly in terms of characters, when you start rearranging things a little. Now, for somebody frightened and new and not knowing what they're doing that could be calamitous. It has to be somebody who's grounded in writing, as Rossen was, and the reason for doing it is story.
   You will sometimes find scripts are overwritten. Everything is overstated. In the editing, it becomes glaringly evident. Certain scenes don't have to be as long as they are. Maybe just a look can say something that is duplicated in a long speech. Well, that is where you have to be very astute about story and character. You have to know what the film is about in order to make it tight. 
   Audiences are smart, and they're used to absorbing a great deal in a hurry. You have to make sure you don't underestimate them. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to do what is often done these days, which is to get MTVish (which is fine for MTV), where you just do images and get arty. In a story, this doesn't work unless that sequence of images belongs in that story. 
   Motion pictures start with the writing. First the writer says and then the director says and then the actor says. It's not just a matter of putting pictures together in the prettiest or most stylish way. I've often had cuts that were sensational but they loused up a scene; I had to get rid of them. You can have a wonderful cut, a wonderful line, a wonderful moment but does it ... ? That's part of what I meant by the dialectics overall. It has to work. You can have a great screenplay, however, which can go totally awry if the acting is wrong. 
   "Dog Day Afternoon" was a wonderful movie, but a very difficult movie to decide to do, because it was dangerous. It could have been a devastatingly camp, embarrassing kind of picture if it had been done with anything but the kind of care and taste with which it was played. It's a story of unappealing people in an unappealing situation, a challenging story, but very exciting when you have performances like Pacino's and a director like Sidney Lumet. The tonality of it was sympathetic, entertaining, so that you liked or cared about this character, Sonny, in his crazy desperation. 
Editing: You've mentioned "The Hustler" and "Dog Day Afternoon." In both those pictures, time is an important element: time passing. Both convey the tension and exhaustion inherent in that without ever lagging. How'd you do it?   
Allen: Gee. I don't know if I know how to answer that. You do it by doing what you do. 
Editing: That's a good answer. 
Allen: Thats the stupidest answer I ever ... You do it with the same rules you cut anything with. You make a scene play, then you make a series of scenes play, and then you make an entire film play. And if tension or time is part of what's involved in the film, then that plays. I don't do it by saying, "Ah, this is a film in which time is involved, and I have to be very careful, put a montage in here," and so on. I do not do an Eisenstein board, which is what I call "talking a good cut," intellectualizing. I feel my way through characters. And you become part of the tension, I think.
Editing: In "Bonnie and Clyde," in the impotence scene, there is a quick arrhythmic series of closeups and two-shots. The characters are dismayed and uncomfortable and because of the way that's shown, the audience shares their discomfort.
Allen: Again, that was not thought out or done intentionally. You just viscerally, emotionally feel the way the characters feel. You basically become so involved in a scene that you become moved or excited or amused. And every film is a life experience. You learn about people. 
    Actors say they have to become the part. The editor has to become part of the part. You live in the world of what that story is. Which doesn't mean that I don't have a method or I don't know how to go about it. I had a lot of training. You have to know the rules to break them, and for years, when I was learning, one of my great insecurities was that I didn't feel that I knew all those rules, and some of what I knew I didn't particularly like. I've broken many rules in my time.
Editing: Any examples? 
Allen: Oh, "Bonnie and Clyde." I remember Jack Warner, looking at the streamers (you mark the film with grease pencil to indicate a fade or a dissolve) asking Arthur Penn, "You mean you're going to fade out and cut in?" Arthur said, "That's what we're going to do." Arthur wanted a certain kind of tempo, and in that case, in order to get it, the more rules I broke, the better the scene or the picture played. The mismatches made in order to speed the tempo did not necessarily make the cuts look great. In fact, they sometimes looked ridiculously bad. Many aficionados thought that was the worst-cut picture they ever saw. But later it almost became stylish to imitate the so-called technique. 
   "Slaughterhouse Five" looks very much like a tricky editor's picture. Initially, George Roy Hill had carefully worked out each transition, even the progressions from one scene to another. But when we got into it, we discovered that it wouldn't work unless we broke some of the rules that had been set up for that picture. We broke the rules to always playoff the characters. It worked when we played off Billy Pilgrim. 
   I never begin a picture with any specific rules in my head. I don't systematically start a scene with a long shot or a close-up. Sometimes the director shot it in such a way that it's crying for a certain thing to be first, but that's rare. I've never worked on a picture that was shot in the camera; I get the hard ones (laughs). I do get called in on pictures that are supposed to be hard, and these days, as I'm getting older, I sometimes get matched up with first-time directors. 
Editing: Which leads into one of my questions. How do you work with directors and producers to create the best possible film? Do you have a philosophy of collaboration that makes the process easier and more successful?
Allen: Collaboration involves competing in a positive way. It involves trust and respect. It takes a director who has a lot of confidence and a lot of patience—with me. Because I ask a lot of questions. I want to know what they have in mind, so sometimes I get a little rambunctious trying to find out. Sometimes I push them into thinking about something they haven't thought through. And they don't necessarily want to. That can get you into a bit of trouble. But most directors I've worked with don't feel threatened, and when you have a confident human being it's a great experience. One of the most wonderful. 
Editing: So that's one of the rewards I asked you about at first. 
Allen: Absolutely. That was the kind of thing I formed with John Hughes right away. I had a ball with him. I came on "The Breakfast Club" when they were two weeks into shooting. I had an intensive eight- to ten-hour screening of all the material one Sunday. It's a picture about relationships between these five kids and one - kind of - teacher. I wore Hughes out. All I did was talk about the kids, the characters. Which was no different from how I'd worked with Kazan on "America America," which was to discuss the characters and the story. 
   Of course Hughes is a writer, and Kazan was a writer, too (I think "America America" was his first screenplay). I spend a lot of time with my directors trying to get a total feeling of what the director feels about the characters and the story. I did that with George Hill. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Arthur Penn; I had no hesitation about calling to discuss character, motivation. And the editor is definitely a sounding board for the director. 
   One thing I learned, by the way, and this was with Arthur Penn, was not to leave anything out. Even if a scene doesn't work, a director always kind of wants to see what it was. You may be a step or many steps ahead of the director at the time he or she sees the first cut, because you've been living with it much longer. It doesn't matter. You still have to go through that awful period where there's too much. But that's not an "assembly." What it is is a very carefully constructed first cut. 
Editing: What's an "assembly'? 
Allen: It's an insulting term. You asked about pet peeves. That is my pet-est peeve. An assembly's supposed to be the first general putting together of a film. For the benefit of the studio or people who basically don't understand what you're doing. "What's the big deal? You paste the damn stuff together." Quick and dirty. I don't know how to do something quick and dirty. I don't work that way, and I have a hunch most other editors don't either. I have worked scenes out to the point where they may be long, they may be redundant, you may find that you have it here, here, and here, or you may have taken a character too far, and it's hurt something in a subsequent scene. But they are anything but assemblies. An assembly is counterproductive. You can't just slap it together, because if you slap it together then you have to undo it all. Anything that takes away from the process of making a picture the best it can be annoys me, and this is a helluva thing, to ask someone to take the film and chop it up, in effect, only to put it back together and start all over. And you might never have as fresh a view. 
   But I'm very practical. If the studio is going to pull the plug, and the reason for making the assembly is to keep the picture going, I can understand that. 
   On "The Hustler," we had to throw something together because the studio was giving Rossen so much trouble. We pinned all the masters together-with a couple of closeups thrown in. It quieted them down; they left us alone. But, generally, the pressure for a fast assembly is their tool, a way to prod you, to make you go faster, and all it does is slow you down. It's a need to control. There's an arrogance now about some people in the studios-who don't really know what you do. They're in charge of a situation and have no idea what that entails or what's the best way to work. 
   Making a film is very much like raising a child. You have to nurture it on every level. It has to be cast well. (I think casting is extremely important, and I think directors who find casting important are usually the ones who, over the years, have done the best work. That's kind of hard, now, because these packages are being put together ... ). It has to be directed well and it has to be finished well. I've been lucky to have been working in mostly autonomous situations or where I have a director who has some clout or a strong, good producer. If you don't have that, then it's just mayhem. You've got every arrogant person afraid of their job, thinking they know how to do it, trying to get their little digs in, and that doesn't work. It's unpleasant. 
   A good producer is very valuable. I've seen a good director in the hands of a bad producer not have the same confidence and not do his best work. I think Warren Beatty is one of the best producers I ever had. On "Bonnie and Clyde" he put the right person with the right picture and he fought all the right fights to get it the way he wanted it. 
Editing: A good editor is very valuable, too. In which productions on which you've worked do you feel the editing made a major difference in the success of the picture? 
Allen: (Laughs.) I'd like to think it made a difference in every picture.