2010 SAGE Acronym Recipient

  1. 1.SAGE: What was it that inspired you to become an editor?

I don’t ever remember having a clear vision to become an editor.  I somehow fell into it when I was finishing up my Film & Television degree at Baylor University in Texas.  I was actually crazy about cinematography and always felt so sorry for the editors spooling through reams of endless footage in dark rooms… it didn’t appeal to me at all!  I remember being annoyed that we had to do Editing 101 as a course requirement, and so I left it as one of the last classes I did! 

Our film department was one of the first to use Avids in the mid-nineties, so based on this, Michael Brandt (screenwriter of “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Wanted”) wrote his Masters thesis on the use of computers in editing… and for his prac. he used our class as guinea pigs!  We had rushes from “NYPD Blue” from which we had to cut a scene.  I remember being frustrated that we had to do this and so of course I wanted to do it as quickly as possible.  I watched all the footage and then blocked the scene out on a piece of paper… you know, the camera setups and lighting, because I had no idea how to cut this scene together.  So I did it the only way I knew how… from a camera perspective and actually ended up having a lot of fun putting the scene together.  Michael then sent off all the class edits to half a dozen of the best editors in the country to grade… all of them ACE editors.  A few weeks later, I got a call from one of them offering me a job when I graduated!  I remember being cheeky enough to refuse… saying I wanted to shoot to get into filmmaking, not edit.  My professors nearly had a collective hernia!  I took the job when I saw their reaction.  I guess I had no idea how lucky I was! 

  1. 2.SAGE: How did you get started in editing?

I started by assisting Tony Black, ACE in Washington DC, and we just clicked from the beginning.  After a year, he gave me my own cutting room and started pushing his clients to cut with me.  It was an amazing start to my career.  I cut with him for over six years. 

He was an unbelievable mentor and so incredibly patient with me.  I learned so much from him.  Obviously I learned to cut, and he was considered a “great” so I was really lucky, but what I only realized later on in life was how important that time was watching Tony interact with his clients.  In other words… the dynamic of the Editor/Producer relationship (Producer in the Documentary genre is the Director or Author of the film).  I really think that jump-started my ‘groundedness’ or ability to calm the underlying tension regarding the edit when the Producer feels out of control. You know, there are always difficult moments in the cutting room because everyone in there becomes emotionally bonded to the film.  What I learned from watching Tony battle through those moments as the consummate professional has helped me through tense moments in my own cutting room.  I actually find myself thinking “Sheesh!  What on earth would Tony do here?” and it really helps! 

Without a doubt, I can point to my mentoring process with Tony as the single most important career defining moment in my life.  Even more than my four years at university. 

  1. 3.SAGE: “My job as an editor is to…” (please complete in your own words)

My job as an editor is to bring to fruition the Producer’s vision of her/his film. 

It’s pretty simple.  That’s it.  There should be no power struggle in the cutting room.  The Producer is the author of the film, and apart from pushing them as well as keeping them motivated, it’s your job to bring their vision to life in the best possible way you know how. 

  1. 4.SAGE: What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?

I really enjoyed cutting “Dolphin Army” for Billi-Jean Parker and Peter Lamberti (an Aquavision/National Geographic Channel production) as it was such beautiful underwater footage and I kept joking with Billi saying it was like butter, so easy to cut! 

But this past project I’ve been working on with Dereck and Beverly Joubert has to rate as my favorite so far.  They are considered the best wildlife filmmakers in the world and not only has the footage lived up to expectations, but the time they spend crafting the film has been everything I expected from filmmakers of their calibre.  They are the real deal, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to cut for them.  Seriously. 

  1. 5.SAGE: Which genres have you worked in?  Are there noticeable differences between those ways of editing?

I’ve cut documentaries, dramas, commercials, corporates, music videos, psa’s, infomercials, multicam operas, heck even political spots for the Republicans!  (Lots of fun actually!)  And yes, of course there are differences between them.  But editing is basic, anyone can do it.  You just put the shots together, play it back and if it feels awkward, trim or change the shots.  Have the strength to go with your gut.

  1. 6.SAGE: Which editors do you admire?

Ja, tough one, because the famous ones like Walter Murch, Ralph Rosenblum, Thelma Schoomaker, Michael Kahn and so on are easy to admire.  They have huge freaking film budgets, loads of assistants, and lets be honest, really really good directors who have tons of experience in the cutting room… so they’re bound to get the stuff that will cut. 

I’m not saying they’re not great, it’s just that I think we need to consciously admire normal career editors that struggle with half decent footage to make a sequence understandable.  There are many many editors out there who should be admired for making ‘shit’ work.  And of course, they have to be silent about that, or else they won’t get work again!

  1. 7.SAGE: Do you think there is a particular style to describe you?

No, I don’t think so.  I used to want desperately to be a classical ‘no-dissolves’ kind of editor.  But I don’t think there is a style that any one editor can have… it comes from the project itself.  What might happen is that you might be more drawn to cutting on a traditionally shot film that say doesn’t need frantic, choppy cuts to set the tension.  Or you might find the brief a director gives you of a snappy, effects heavy film more appealing to work on than something slower… so I firmly believe that the Producer or Director informs the style of the film and you’re drawn to that. 

Plus, you should know how to cut those different “styles”… because even on a performance heavy film like “Babel” (Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione: ACE Eddie Award Winners 2007) where there are long silent dramatic scenes between actors, there are also hectically paced scenes set in Mexico and Morocco where you’d better know how to cut montages and vector movement into your sequences to get that restless out-of-control feeling.


  1. 8.SAGE: Do you have any words of inspiration or advice for someone who is interested in film editing?

It’s not going to sound great I’m afraid…. Get yourself sitting behind an editor of calibre.  Do anything to get there… I had to make endless tape labels and do hundreds of Starbucks runs for my editor and his clients, but I did them quickly and efficiently so I could get back in the cutting room to watch him work.  That’s where you’ll learn to be an editor, and you’ll learn faster than your contemporaries.

Copyright SAGE and Susan Scott