As I've gotten older, and more committed to a particular vocation (the exact parameters of which I'm still working out), I've accumulated a few professional paths I can imagine I would have pursued in another version of my life: sleep researcher, Kafka scholar, and, most longingly, film editor. For a movie lover who could not possibly bear the stress nor summon the multi-tasking authority required to direct a picture, it seems the perfect job: take the images created by someone else and craft them, frame by frame, into scenes and stories. (Even though I'm a word person, it's actually more appealing to me than screenwriting--maybe because it seems closer to the heart of filmmaking, while screenwriting has an inherently frustrated relationship to the art.)
Would I be any good at it? I really don't know. My biggest character flaw probably would be that I'm a bit of a (a bit of a?) pack rat in terms of both things and ideas: I can see the potential value in almost anything, from an old cereal box to a poorly framed photograph, as long as they somehow reveal the human hand. That might not be the best quality in a film editor, who doubtless needs to be more ruthless. I can imagine, say, sitting at the editing suite with Terry Gilliam and saying, "Gee, you're right, Terry. That stuff is all fascinating. I think this really needs to be a five-hour movie, no matter what the studio says."
I've posted recently about probably the best-known, and certainly the most theoretically articulate, film editor, Walter Murch, and recently, on the Museum of the Moving Image site, I came across a very enjoyable interview with probably the only other celebrity editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, the three-time Oscar winner indentified even more strongly with Martin Scorsese than Murch is with Francis Ford Coppola. It's a fairly old interview, recorded in 2002 after a screening of Raging Bull, and just before Gangs of New York was released. And for me it covered some familiar ground, since listening to the commentary tracks to Raging Bull (there are tons of them on the deluxe DVD), Schoonmaker's among them, was one of my favorite art experiences of the past few years.
But it still seemed fresh, and really, I could listen to her talk for days. I often say that Scorsese, along with Jonathan Lethem, is one of my very favorite talkers, and Schoonmaker, seen above while working on Woodstock, her first major gig, is nearly as appealing: not quite as analytically enthusiastic as he, but close, and with an unperturbable calmness that you can imagine as a useful complement to his more anxious obsessions. I love the way Marty talks, but I also love the way everyone talks about Marty, since clearly his passions are infectious and draw similiarly passionate and hard-working craftspeople to him.
I usually favor interview transcripts over audio, but in this case I'd recommend the recording, to capture some of her aplomb. I tried to skim back through the transcript for a high point to excerpt here, but I think my favorite moment is this small one, which may or may not translate and is probably better experienced in the context of her larger discussion of switching over--reluctantly but inevitably--to digital editing. She's talking about going back to analog editing on film when she worked on a non-Scorsese movie after she and Scorsese had moved on to digital:
Yes; it was funny, because I found after about a week or so, I was enjoying flipping the trims into the bin, because I always used to know how to do that. You know, you have to do it a certain way, so the end of it will get in.
I just love that little workaday detail, "flipping the trims into the bin," one of the simple pleasures of a craftsperson's life (which could apply to almost anyone who learns to do something well, from parking cars to crafting Excel spreadsheets). Meanwhile, there's more traditionally substantive material in the long interview, from lots of detail about shooting and editing the fight sequences in Raging Bull to why she works so well with Scorsese. Podcasts don't usually fit into my life very well, since I usually can't concentrate on other words while I'm working--I envy my wife and my sister who have more space in their working heads for that kind of soundtrack--but I'm going to go back to the museum's site for more: Errol Morris, Jane Campion, and, yes, Terry Gilliam.