Alan Heim is an Oscar & Emmy winning editor. Many will say that he’s one of the greatest editors in the history of cinema. All you need to do it watch “Network” (1976), and “All that Jazz” (1979) to see the uniqueness of his talent. If you haven’t seen those films I highly suggest you do because they are timeless in their themes and character studies. It was an honor to chat with Alan about his career. A career that’s still going strong at 80 years of age.
Matthew Toffolo: In recent years you’ve worked with director Nick Cassavetes in collaboration (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper, The Other Woman, Alpha Dog). How did you first meet? What makes your working relationship so strong?
Alan Heim: I believe Dede Allen (Editor: The Hustler, Bonnie & Clyde) suggested I cut “The Notebook” and Nick and I have gotten along together very well since. He likes my honesty in assessing the material and I love his rather rebel ways.
MT: You won the Oscar for the amazing “All That Jazz”. A film that still holds up today. How were your experiences working on that film? How did it feel when you went up to accept your Academy Award?
AH: All That Jazz was wonderful to work on because the material was so unusual and Fosse and I had a wonderful collaboration. Every day was a challenge and filled with discovery. Bob had written many of the structural things we had found in the cutting room on ‘Lenny’ into the script of “Jazz” but we discovered that we still had to struggle with certain areas to make the film work as planned.
As far as the Oscar, I was thrilled, as any winner should be. I even forgot to kiss my wife when they called my name. It was also very rewarding to share the stage with so many of my coworkers on the film.
PHOTO: All that Jazz starring Roy Scheider:
MT: What is the key to editing a musical?
AH: The key to editing a musical is to always keep an eye on the story and always try to make the audience follow the flow of the dance. A good script keeps the musical numbers integrated into the structure of the film.
MT: You also worked with Bob Fosse on “Lenny”. How was your working relationship with the iconic musical Choreographer/Movie Director? “Lenny” also appears in “All that Jazz” too! It’s almost like you edited “Lenny” twice!
AH: Bob and I worked together well because we both wanted the very best we could get out of the film. I love working with directors who won’t settle and always want to reach for perfection. I feel the same way about Nick Casavettes.
As far as editing “Lenny” twice….I always like my films to be an adventure of discovery and I’ve been pretty lucky this far.
MT: The film “Network” is a masterpiece that really was ahead of its time. It’s a film with themes and settings that still ring true to today’s world and situations. What are you feelings and memories working on the film as it approaches its 40th anniversary?
AH: “Network” has always been one of my favorites. Paddy Chayefsky was a brilliant, prescient polemicist and wrote a near flawless script, beautifully acted and directed perfectly by Sydney Lumet. What more colds an editor want? Except for some unfortunate clothing choices and sideburns, the film could be released today with great pride and timeliness.
PHOTO: Peter Finch is “Mad as Hell” in Network:
MT: You also edited (and won the Emmy for) the landmark TV mini-series “Holocaust”, which premiered in 1978. It stars a young Meryl Streep and James Woods. Were you aware when editing this series how important it was going to be for the education of many people watching?
AH: I only worked on one of the four episodes and I had to re-edit it. It was the first time I ever “doctored” a film and basically put it back in dailies form and totally recut it. It was very meaningful for me and I’m happy for whatever it has done to retain the Holocaust in peopleès memories.
MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?
AH: I think the answer is the same to both questions. Editors and directors should both try to find a person that they can spend a LOT of time with in close quarters working to get a vision on the screen. One hopes for it to be the same vision or herd will be a lot of tension in those close quarters.
MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?
AH: I’m very happy to have worked on the type of film I’ve worked on, mostly films with emotional reality on a fairly small scale. Few fights and those mostly with fists, not lasers.
MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
AH: Probably “Citizen Kane”, “Casablanca” and lots of older comedies.
MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?
AH: If you really are devoted to becoming an editor try to hang around cutting rooms, look at lots of movies and practice cutting wherever you can.
Don’t neglect reading, listening to all kinds of music, seeing plays and art shows and generally opening your mind to all things cultural. It all helps whe you’re trying to tell a story and that’s what editing is all about..
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.