I got to meet with the legendary Anne Coates this month, editor of Laurence of Arabia, and many other films you've heard of. She is 90 years old and has worked on a film nearly every year since her career began. She has worked on over 60 films, racking up 6 Academy Awards and 14 nominations, and still continues to work in the industry. In a very difficult time for women, she proved herself over and over to be one of the best editors in the world. I learned SO much from he. And am so thankful that I got to meet her.
Here are 5 things I learned from her.
1. "Shorter isn't always faster."
The theatrical edit of Laurence of Arabia is 3 Hours and 36 Minutes. Anne struggled with this mentally, she knew it was a longer run time, and she tried to shorten some scenes, but they just "Didn't feel right" When she was called back a few years later to do a TV edit (for which she charged more than the original edit) She mercilessly cut it down to two hours. She hated the result, she said of this cut, It felt so long and boring. She said, "When you are not involved with the character, it can feel so much longer because you're not invested"
When another editor who was there inquired why TV was taking over and people were leaving the Cinema, she frankly answered, "I would much rather watch TV than these movies they have out now. Those things that change from one thing to another", "Transformers?" Bobbie O'Steen Offered, "Yes, I don't like them." Everyone Laughed
Breaking Bad was 62 hours long, and yet, I've never heard anyone complain about it's length. When we are engaged and involved with a character, we don't think about time in the same way. Inversely, I found shorter modern movies can feel so much longer, because they are edited, not for character, but for wonderment. Movie's need to stop selling sizzle, without the steak. The sizzle is fine, as long as the steak comes with it.
2. "If you don't get a scene right the first time, you often get it wronger and wronger."
When Anne was working for David Lynch on Elephant Man, which Mel Brooks secretly produced, Lynch and Brooks disagreed on how to introduce the titular character. Brooks said to Lynch " You may be a Genius, but I expect you to do as you're asked, please just try it" apparently Lynch didn't even blink when Brooks called him a Genius, he also flat out ignored Brooks which created quite a difficult time in the editing room. Lynch was being a brat. Multiple scenes had to be pasted together, flipped, rearranged, completely invented. This created more and more problems, Nothing worked at all. It was just getting worse, not better. Finally Anne said, "I can't do anything with what you have", Lynch, egotistically sticking to his guns, told her, "I'm not going to shoot it, if you want it, you direct it!" So she did. She completely reshot one of the most critical scenes, and got no credit for it, but it gave her fresh material to start over with.
3. "I would rather work as a second than not work."
Anne has edited over 60 movies in her lifetime. There have been times when she took a step back in "career titles" because she felt that working made her better, and that if she didn't work, she worried that she would "loose the touch" She's gone from editor to second assistant editor, and she's ok with that, she was very reluctant to bring up her gender whatsoever, she said she never thought of herself as a female editor, but just an editor, however, she didn't not hesitate to call out misogynists, by name, in public, with curse words.
4. "At the end of the day, you're just telling a story, and we're just using different tools"
She found the transition from physical film to digital difficult. When cutting on the Moviola, it was just her and the eyepiece (only one person can look at a time) she was physically inches away from the puzzle. The most difficult thing for her in digital was the distance from the material. She said, "Editing on film is like editing from the inside out, editing digitally is like editing from the outside in" she admitted, I have no idea what that means, but I know it's right. I agree with her, I also wouldn't be able to explain it, but it's right. She successfully edits on Avid, and has done do for years. Her last film was 50 Shades of Grey (which she says she hated working on, too many cooks in the kitchen she said)
5. "Have some courage"
Probably the most important thing I learned from Anne is her example, her story, her journey. At 90 years old she continues to work in the industry, she's producing projects, She's worked on a movie nearly every year of her career, movies you've all seen, but never even knew you saw them, and movies that you saw that were so good you can never forget them. She's won 6 Academy Awards, and 14 nominations. Her most inspiring attribute. Grit, work ethic, her can't stop, won't stop attitude which she still maintains. She takes a blue collar approach to a white collar job, and can speak both languages fluently (she frequently curses) I also Identified with her history, she started her career working on religious films, short promos for events, ect. Her big break, she wasn't sure she could accomplish the task, but she tried anyway, failed and then tried again, and succeeded. Have courage, keep moving.
CUT by CUT is a blog about the art of film editing. It challenges norms, catalyzes ideas, and uses science, social psychology, and art history to think about filmmaking.
Aaron is a full time film editor based on the east coast. He thinks a lot, drinks a lot of rockstar, only wears black and red, and works everyday to become better at the art of film editing.