Interview with Oscar Winning Editor Alan Heim (All That Jazz, Network)

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.

alanheimMatthew 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:

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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:

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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..

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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.

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Interview with Editor Crispin Green (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who)

Crispin Green has edited some of the top TV shows in recent times. It was a pleasure to site down with him to talk about the craft of editing and his career.

Interview with Crispin Green: 

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about the “Game of Thrones” experience. How is editing such a unique show where there are 4-7 plots occurring in a single episode?

Crispin Green: It’s an experience quite unlike working on other shows in that the editors are there for the duration of the shoot (about 6 months) rather than blocks of two or three episodes. This can help in the editing process as you get more of a sense of the season as a whole story.

MT: Will you be back to editing the series “Game of Thrones”? How does the process work? Who do you report to and collaborate with? The showrunners? The novelists? The director of the episode?

Yes I’ll be back if the opportunity arises.

CG: When assembling the dailies I work closely with the director, showing him or her cut scenes as the shoot progresses. He or she will give me notes as we go along if needed as they only have limited time for fine cutting when the episodes are complete. Some VFX heavy scenes have to be fine cut early so that the VFX team has a chance to get their work done in time (dragons take a long time to animate!), in these cases the showrunners will get involved with the cutting process. Once the director has presented a fine cut to the producers, the showrunners take over and I will work with them until picture lock.

PHOTO: Game of Thrones Season 5: 

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MT: I have to ask you about editing “Doctor Who”. Another iconic series. Were you a fan of the show before you began editing it? How was your experience working on the show?

CG: Yes I was a fan, I grew up watching the show and couldn’t quite believe it when I got to actually work on it! It was great fun to work on, the showrunners were very open to unusual ideas.

PHOTO: Doctor Who Season 4:

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MT: What’s the key difference between editing a feature film in comparison to editing a TV episode?

CG: I’ve only cut one feature (and co-editor on The Great Rock n Roll Swindle – which wasn’t normal!) so I can’t really comment but I would imagine that TV shows have less time available due to pre-booked transmission dates.

MT: Besides “Game of Thrones”, and “Doctor Who”, do you have a favorite experience and film/TV show that you’re most proud of?

CG: Series one of “Bodies” was a ground-breaking medical drama written by Jed Mercurio where we got to try out some interesting stuff and equally “Misfits” was a pretty cool show to cut the first episodes of.

MT: What are the key qualities to be a great editor?

CG: The ability to get the story across in the most interesting way, understanding the director’s vision and being ready to adapt to what the writer/showrunners want.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director/show runner?

CG: Someone who is good to work alongside (we spend many weeks together in a small room!) and who has an interesting vision of the project.

MT: What is a director/show runner looking for in their editor?

CG: Same answer as above but also it helps if the editor can second guess what the director wants while assembling the scenes.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve work on, have you seen the most times in your life?

CG: It’s a three way tie between “The Blues Brothers”, “Some Like It Hot” and “The Italian Job”!

MT: What advice would you have for people who like to be an editor in the film/TV industry?

CG: I started as a runner and worked my way up and I would recommend this route to anyone, you get to meet lots of people on the way who, more often than not, will be happy to help you on your journey. Also, try and cut as many things as you can to develop your cutting instinct, and watch lots of TV shows/movies to try and understand how to (or how not to!) construct an understandable story.

 

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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.

Interview with Emmy Winning Editor Geoffrey Rowland (Path to 911, The Young Messiah)

Geoffrey Rowland has worked in the film and television industry for over 50 years. We chatted on the phone for 2 hours with topics ranging from our mutual love for baseball, life lessons, being Canadian, and of course film and editing. He was a pure joy to chat with. Enclosed are the highlights of our conversation:

Matthew: “The Young Messiah” is set to hit the theatres this week. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect? How was your experience working on the film?

Geoffrey Rowland: Terrific experience. I worked 77 straight days editing that film. It became a part of me. I gave it my all and I think it’s a very good film.

PHOTO: Still from “The Young Messiah” with actress Sara Lazzaro. Geoffrey called her one of the finest actresses he has ever edited. “Amazing eyes”. He praised. 

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MT: You’ve worked on over 80 productions as an editor in the last 40 years. Do you have a favorite experience? What film/TV episode are you most proud of?

GR: There was a “Cagney & Lacey” episode in 1984 called “Heat”. It was about a hostage situation. The producer of the show called it a movie that was also a TV episode. I’m very proud of that episode because the director Karen Arthur won an Emmy for it. The first time a female won a Best Directing Emmy.

There was a scene where someone gets shot in the episode and instead of showing them get shot down, I focused on the reaction of the husband and let the sound of the gun and his face tell us what happened. That’s editing!

PHOTO: Tyne Daly in “Cagey & Lacey”. Geoffrey edited multiple episodes of the series and considers working with director Karen Arthur as one of his finest working experiences:

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MT: I have to ask about your experience working on “Rocky” early in your career as an assistant editor. The film ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture. What are you memories working on the film?

GR: I was an apprentice editor for Richard Halsey on the TV series “Peyton Place”. One day as I was driving home from work on a show I was assisting for, I realized I forgot my wallet and had to go back to the Production Lot. I ran into Richard who was looking for an assistant editor for this film called “Rocky”. The only reason I got the job was because and I was lucky to run into Richard at the exact time he was going to hire someone. I wasn’t his first choice, but because I was eager to do it, he went with me. That’s faith! If I remembered my wallet my career could have gone in a different direction.

MT: You then moved onto “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. You worked on an Oscar winner to Steven Spielberg! What were your duties working on that production?

GR: I watched, assembled the dailies, and organized the footage. From Memorial Day 1977 to the fall of that year, I had two days off. We worked tirelessly on that film.

Steven was a terrific guy. It was all about the film. That’s what made the working relationship great. No one needs to know anything about you except what you know about the film. A sole focus always leads to the best relationships.

MT: You won an Emmy for the “Path to 911” mini-series. I had a few friends working on that production in Toronto, so I visited the set for a few days. Every shot, no matter what, had at least three cameras rolling, sometimes 4-5 cameras. I remember thinking that the editor and his team are going to have SO much footage – it’s going to be a nightmare. What were your experiences working on that film? You must have had a big team of assistant editors to go over all that footage.

GR: There was almost 3 million feet of film shot on that production. Yes there was a lot of coverage – which is amazing for an editor because you have choice and can really dig into the story.

We had 5-7 editors at a time working on the project editing scenes. The trick on that film was to make it look like it was edited by just one person when it came all together. That was my job. The director David L. Cunningham is a brilliant guy. Shoots the film like it’s a documentary in a very unique style. He reminded me of a young Spielberg.

We were proud to receive the Emmy but it wasn’t us who won it, but the entire production and people who worked on the show.

PHOTO: Still Shot from the mini-series “Path to 911”. A controversial series when it premiered in September 2006. Geoffrey wins his first Emmy after 5 previous nominations: 

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MT: What’s the key difference between working on a TV episode in comparison to working on a feature film?

GR: TV is a Producer’s medium. That’s who you’re working with. They know the show and how the episode needs to fit into the context of the entire season and series. Film is a director’s medium. The director knows the film better than anyone else. In TV, it’s a faster process versus working on a film.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director?

GR: Hand ons. Hands off. Instense. Casual. They are all different and you always learn a ton from them. As long as they are passionate, that’s all that matters.

MT: What is a director looking for in their editor?

GR: Do the job and don’t bring your ego to the film. A director has one focus (to finish the film) and has a 1000 things going on in their head. They want you to be professional. Don’t cross boundaries and tell them your life story or anything for that matter that’s not about the film. When you finish working with them they’ll know whether they want to work with you again and vice/versa. You don’t have to say anything more about it.

In professional situations and when putting a film together, less is always more.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

GR: The Immortal Beloved. Probably seen it 2 to 3 dozen times. When I want a good cry, I watch it.

Great films leave an impression. My daughter Brooke was 15 years old when we went to see the film together. She just quit the piano weeks before, but went right back to it after she saw the film because she was so inspired. And stayed at it. When Gary Oldman (who played Beethoven) heard that story, he wept.

Stories like that is the reason why most of us get into the business. It’s all about leaving an impression in this world.

MT: What type of film would you love to edit that you haven’t worked on yet?

GR: The next project. Whatever the next project is.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

GR: Learn subtext. A great way to do learn is to listen to classical music. Listen to the instruments and how it all comes together. It’s the same way when editing a film.

Get your foot in the door and be a sponge. You have to be obsessed with editing. Nothing else matters.

Also, buy the book: http://www.CUTTINGITINHOLLYWOOD.com

And remember when editing – it’s all in the eyes!

PHOTO: Banner of the book “Cutting it in Hollywood”, where author Mitchell Danton interviews the great film editors, including Geoffrey Rowland. 

cuttingitinhollywood

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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 Fesival 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.

Interview with Editor Jake Roberts (Oscar Nominated film BROOKLYN)

It was a pleasure to sit down with Jake Roberts, the editor of BROOKLYN, which was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay). Jake has already established himself as one of the top editors in the industry. This year alone he cut two Hollywood Productions coming to a cinema near you. COMANCHERIA, starring Chris Pine & Jeff Bridges. And TRESPASS AGAINST US, starring Michael Fassbender & Brenden Gleeson.

Interview with Jake Roberts:

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about your experiences working on “Brooklyn”? How many months do you work on editing the film? How does it feel to be the editor of an Oscar Nominated film?

Jake Roberts: ‘Brooklyn’ was a great experience. There was a really positive energy throughout the shoot and it felt like we might be working on something quite special. It was personal to a lot of the people involved and that seemed to come through in the material and that makes you want to raise your game, especially when you’re watching a performance like Saoirse’s unfold you feel a huge pressure to do it justice. Once John and I were back in London we cut for about 3 months and obviously there was plenty of back and forth but at the same time it was quite a calm and controlled process. We had a very strong first assembly and we never deviated too far from it or went down too many experimental cul-de-sacs. This is largely a testament to Nick’s script which only needed the subtlest of refinements so essentially it was about distillation, making it as tight as possible and all the while carefully calibrating the emotional journey through the performances. As for the Oscars it is all a surreal bonus, like I say you hope as you work on something that it is special and obviously a nomination suggests you did something right but the most thrilling thing is that a wide audience gets to see it and thankfully it seems we managed to strike a chord with a lot of them.

PHOTO: Still shot from BROOKLN:

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Matthew: You have worked on many documentaries. Is this something you like to continue to do?

Jake: In theory yes as documentary is so much of an editor’s medium but having fought for so long to get into features it’s difficult to turn your back on them. Certainly as a viewer I’d rather watch a great documentary than a fictional film so if the right one came along it’d be hard to say no.

Matthew: What is the key difference between working on a narrative film in comparison to a documentary?

Jake: In documentary you are creating the narrative as you go, effectively writing the script in the edit, but at the same time you are obviously constrained by your material so you have to know both how to tell the story but also how best to illustrate that within the limitations of the footage you have available. Someone once said that it’s like being given a bag of sentences and being asked to write a novel. The fact that in narrative film you get to follow a script that has been very carefully written and developed means that all that heavy lifting has been done for you and your role is just tell that story as effectively as possible.

PHOTO: Documentary film LONG WAY AROUND, starring Ewan McGregor:

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Matthew: How did you transition from working on short films to features?

Jake: The very first short film I ever cut was for the director David Mackenzie after which we made a low budget feature together, I was 23 at the time, but then David went on to make a bigger film with actual film stars and the producers insisted on a more experienced editor so I lost that relationship. I then spent years cutting every kind of project that came my way, documentaries, commercials, music videos, shorts, television drama, you name it. Basically I honed my craft and just tried to become the best editor I could always hoping I could return to features one day. Many years later David was preparing his sixth feature film and his regular editor was unavailable so we reconnected and fortunately I had gained enough experience to be given a chance by the financiers. We have now made 5 features together.

Matthew: In the last 16 years you’ve worked as an editor on over 20 productions. What film has been your favorite working experience so far?

Jake: Films are like children and like any parent you can’t really pick favourites but each has their own unique qualities. Being involved in ‘Long Way Round’ Ewan McGregor’s round the world motorbike trip was a great communal experience, working out of a garage in Shepherd’s Bush in the months before they set off we were cutting upstairs as they prepped the bikes downstairs. Everyone involved stayed up all night helping pack up the equipment the night before they left and then months later we were flown to New York to be there when they arrived. We shot ‘Tonight You’re Mine’ in 4 days at a music festival working 22 hour days which was a very intense and disorientating but bonding process. ‘Starred Up’ was shot over four weeks in Belfast but was similarly intense as David was insisting that we have all the scenes fully cut within hours of them being filmed. We were shooting completely sequentially and he wanted to have as clear an idea as possible about the shape of the film up to the scene he would be filming the next day so we basically made the film as we went. We eventually screened the entire movie at the wrap party and locked the picture 3 weeks later so it was ultimately very short and sweet. Just recently I was cutting in a log cabin in New Mexico and every Sunday we would have a barbecue and screen assemblies for the entire cast and crew, Jeff Bridges would bring his guitar. That was a lot of fun.

Matthew: What is an editor looking for in their director?

Jake: Work. No seriously I think a coherent vision that hopefully translates into the dailies and then a sense of collaboration in the cutting room. It’s definitely a conversation and I think I would struggle to work with someone who insisted on doing all the talking.

Matthew: What is a director looking for in their editor?

Jake: You’d have to ask them but I would imagine someone who brings ideas and solutions to the table but doesn’t force their agenda, merely offers it. Ultimately someone who makes them look good, which we usually do.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Jake: Probably Jaws or This Is Spinal Tap.

Matthew: What type of film would you love to edit that you haven’t worked on yet?

Jake: I’d love to do a kids film so that my children might be allowed to see what I do for a living.

Matthew: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

Jake: Start early. I can only speak from my own experience but if you’re clear about what you want to do then I wouldn’t waste time getting a media studies degree, you’re going to have to work for nothing to get started anyway so better to do it at 18 than 22. Get any practical experience you can, firstly to make sure this is really something you want to do, it’s going to take a lot of work and sacrifice so make sure you’re suited to it. Approach established professionals directly and tell them you want to do what they do, most will try and help in some way even if it’s just a cup of coffee and some advice, I always do. Try to edit rather than assist. Personally I think you’d learn more cutting a zero budget music video than you would assisting on a big budget feature. Even if you’re at the bottom of the ladder doing very basic tasks do them as well as humanly possible, listen to any instructions very carefully and never think of anything as beneath you or not worth trying over. Care. I once had to edit 9 hours of obese women discussing their bras in a focus group but I treated it like I was making art. You never know where the contacts who can ultimately give you a break might come from. It might be the guy directing the corporate video you’re working on? He might be making a feature in a few years so do an incredible job and he might remember you. If you are always creative, reliable, conscientious and good company doors will eventually open I promise.

PHOTO: Saorse Ronan in BROOKLYN: 

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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 Fesival 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.