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.