Monday, December 21, 2009

Silver Screen Dreams

If you couldn't write, what would your creative outlet be?

Finally, an easy question! If I couldn’t write, I would do the same kind of storytelling as what goes on inside my head and during my dreams. I would become a film editor.

Most people don’t notice the editing that goes on in movies, but I do. A few seconds lingering too long at the end of a scene, a too-quick cut-a-way from a character’s reaction, a jumbled montage sequence….they can all throw me out of a movie just as easily as bad acting or a poorly written script can.

Editing can make or break a movie. In fact 2/3 of the Best Picture Oscars have also won Best Editing Oscars as well. And every film nominated for Best Picture in the last thirty years has also been nominated for Best Editing.

To me, Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Fatal Attraction, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Anne Coates (Out of Sight, In the Line of Fire, The Elephant Man), and Walter Murch (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Ghost) are names to be remembered just as much as George Lucas, Peter Jackson, or Steven Spielberg.

What would Slumdog Millionaire have been without Chris Dickens’ brilliant editing? Or The Sixth Sense’s Andrew Mondshein, who lost out on an Oscar in 1999 to Zach Staenberg and The Matrix.

Think of how different your favorite movies might be if not for a judicious editor with a strong sense of story-telling and dramatic tension. Film editors must be as talented “vision-smiths” as literary editors are word-smiths, bringing the director and author’s dream come to life.

So, what movie would you most like to re-edit? Or to have been on the set during the making of, sharing your vision with the director?

And here's my holiday greeting to everyone--edited not by me, but by the computers at Animoto (but they did a pretty nice job, didn't they?):

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, October, 2009. Contact her at


Jen Forbus said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure what I would want to re-edit. I do know it takes a meticulous person to work with movie editing. I learned some basic editing skills when I was teaching and we had a grant to develop "video on demand" for state mandated tests. I became the building specialist because I loved to play with it and learn it and try to get every little detail right. It actually has more to do with OCD, though, I think! ;)

CJ, you continue to amaze me! From doctoring to writing to editing. I love that you have so many interests.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Great idea CJ! I toyed with editing as a career. Too ADHD for it though, I think. Or maybe I thought I'd never be as good as Thelma Schoonmacher, so why try?

I took an editing class, we cut old Gunsmoke episodes, and I cut my own 8mm film. It's incredible what a difference a single frame can make.

I'd love to edit out the excess from a ton of movies that start too early, or go on too long. But you never know if that was an editor who lost to the director or star or studio, or what...

Thanks for keeping Monday fresh and fun!

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

P.S. I translated the Chinese hoping it was John Woo or Lau Kar Lung but it's just a tasteful ad for porn. Darn!

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow, CJ, you never cease to amaze me! I had no idea you were an editing fan ... though given the tight, intense power of your writing, no surprise! :)

I find myself wanting to take the scissors to a lot of films these days, so I'll just mention a couple of examples of what I think was sublime and strangely unheralded editing :

High Noon (Elmo Williams, who according to IMDB is still alive) -- he also edited Follow Me Quietly, a terrific B noir directed by Richard Fleischer ... and Casablanca (Owen Marks, who edited White Heat and Treasure of the Sierra Madre). Thinking of those cuts at the end of the film--from Bergman to Bogart to Rains, back to Bogart, etc.--just gives me chills. :)

Now to go back home and actually watch some movies! ;)


CJ Lyons said...

Wow, Jen! You're the one who amazes me!

The only editing I've done (and it's been very limited!!!) is on the computer, but I did enjoy looking at a scene visually to see what would reveal the story and add impact.

Happy holidays,

CJ Lyons said...

Hey Mysti! I know what you mean about ADHD--a requirement for us ER docs, lol!

I am so in awe of folks who edited on actual film or video as opposed to computer-aided editing. Talk about patience!

Happy holidays,

CJ Lyons said...

Don't get me started on some of those old classics--editing is truly what made them! And the editors had to collaborate so closely with directors because film was so expensive that they couldn't go back and re-shoot something with a different angle or lighting to "get it right" about creative vision!

I'm off to indulge in one of my favs, but little known holiday classics, Meet John Doe--Gary Cooper and Loretta Young and just as timely today as it was back then!

CJ Lyons said...

Whoops! Not Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck, my bad!!!

Kelli Stanley said...

Yes!! I love that movie!! Actually, I don't think I've ever seen a Frank Capra film I didn't love. :)

His themes never date, do they?

Enjoy!! And if you get a chance, I highly recommend another holiday favorite that's kind of off the radar ... the ever-delightful Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh--a romantic and wonderful movie! :)


CJ Lyons said...

Yes! I love that one, too! It's harder to find--for years I called cereal for supper a "bachelor's steak" and no one knew what I was talking about, lol!

Don't bother with the remake, it stinks :(

Kelli Stanley said...

Remakes are dreadful in general ... I hated what they did to Christmas in Connecticut, too! (the original is another Barbara Stanwyck favorite!) :)

And then there's Meet Me in St. Louis. Sigh ... such great movies then! :)


CJ Lyons said...

I can top that one--how about Adam Sandler's remake of Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town??!?

I like Adam Sandler but he's no Gary Cooper and they missed the entire point of the movie instead turned it into a slapstick slushy....

Shane Gericke said...

I'd like to re-edit most director's cuts of movies. The originals were the best, being tightly edited and focused. Director's cuts let in more of the stuff that was--and should have been--cut in the first place.

A good example is Das Boot, perhaps my favorite movie of all time. The original German version is exquisite and perfect the way it is. The director's cut brings back 20-30 minutes that didn't need to be there in the first place, and there was no good reason to bring it back except additional DVD $$$.

Which is why editing is so important in books, too. Almost all writing--including my own--has bulge and fat and slop that should be excised by a gimlet-eyed editor. I am fortunate in that I have one of those, and she makes my books zing where before they went shhhluck in too many places :-)

GOOD editors are the great unsung heroes of this business. Bad ones, like bad directors, can kill you. And we've all heard THOSE stories.

Shane Gericke said...

P.S. Barbara Stanwyck. Sigh .... I love Barbara Stanwuck. Particularly in Double Indemnity. Was she in The High Chaparral, too, on TV?

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, Barbara was in The Big Valley on TV -- played the matriarch with panache, as she did everything.

She's one of my favorite actresses--I'll watch her in anything, because she could literally play any role -- comedy, noir, drama--seamlessly.

If you like her in Double Indemnity, watch her in Baby Face ... a pre-code classic! She plays a girl who "climbs the ladder of success--wrong by wrong"! ;)


CJ Lyons said...

Shane, totally agree--a good editor is worth their weight in gold!

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I would really like editing. I feel more comfortable working with the elements that are already there (i.e., filmed scenes) and create that way than to create from scratch.
I've worked on a couple films but only from the production office side of things. Lots of fun, long hours, and hard work.

Joshua Corin said...


I totally agree with you. Everyone talks about the cinema being a director's medium, but it's such a collaborative art.

And pity the poor editor, whose very job requirement demands that their work be invisible, because nothing is as look-at-me jarring as bad editing.