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Over a career spanning two decades, Dana Glauberman has worked on films as diverse as The Birdcage and Juno to Pirates of the Caribbean and, most recently, Young Adult. Here she exclusively writes about the joy she finds in fitting the pieces of a film together.
A productive director/editor relationship has to have a certain level of comfort and friendship; you have to be able to enjoy the person you are working with, especially when you spend hours upon hours in a room with each other, week after week. My working relationship with [Young Adult director] Jason Reitman is based on complete trust. I know that he is going to give me amazing footage to work with, and he knows I will take that material, make it look great and help bring his vision to the screen. We often don’t talk during production, and I rarely go to set. I think there are several advantages to this, one being that he is really focused on production during shooting and then changes gears to focus on post when the time comes. Another is that I can approach a scene with a clean slate, not being influenced by what his intent is or was for any particular scene. This allows us to really collaborate and bring fresh ideas to one another, ideas that we might not have otherwise thought of.
On Young Adult, screenwriter Diablo Cody also continued to work with us during the post-production stage. Since we were editing in New York and she was in Los Angeles it was a bit of a challenge, but she always came to the screenings that we had and always had input on our progress.
One of the important moments in Diablo’s script is where Mavis [played by Charlize Theron] spends her day preparing for an evening out with Buddy [played by Patrick Wilson]. There was a ton of footage from all of these sequences, and much of it was left on the cutting room floor. Not because we didn’t like it or it was unusable, but because they had to be snappy montages using a lot of jumpcuts. In my very first cut of some of these sequences, I think I used almost every angle and every shot. As a woman, I was fascinated by watching every little detail of how she put on her make-up! In the end, when you’re trying to keep the movie interesting and keep the audience engaged, there is no reason to extend the shots longer than they are in the finished film.
With a movie like Young Adult, it was also a challenge to find the right balance between the comedy and the emotionally flawed characteristics of the main character. Charlize was beyond amazing in her portrayal of Mavis, which gave Jason and I great material to work with. Jason is such a strong director with a very distinct point of view, and he was able to help mould a character who the audience can feel empathy for. A great part of my job is to embrace his vision and use it to set the right tone and pace. So much about editing a comedy is about the timing and delivery, and many people actually ask me how I know where to cut to a reaction shot or a punchline. For me, it’s a certain instinct that I have which can’t really be described; it’s just a feel that I have while I’m in front of the Avid, working. But a lot of it also has to do with the feeling I get when I screen either a scene to people in my cutting room or the entire feature in a big theatre during recruited test screenings. A roomful of people never fails you; the response is immediate and you will know if your instincts were spot on.
When I edit, I usually do not add music to the scenes unless, of course, it’s written into the script or the director asks for something specific. Through the years, as both an assistant editor as well as editor, I have found that the wrong music placed into a scene can affect a particular screening experience. I also find that putting music into a scene can hide, or camouflage, problem areas. If a scene can play well without music, then it will only be enhanced by adding music later on.
During my career I’ve worked on both small films like Juno and Young Adult and blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and they present very different challenges. On a personal level, the main difference is that I was an assistant editor on Pirates and I was the editor on Juno and Young Adult, so my job responsibilities were completely different. On a production level, the differences were more about the budget and the size of the editorial crew. On Pirates there were three editors, three Avid assistants, two film assistants, two production assistants, and a visual effects editor. On Juno and Young Adult, I had only one assistant and one production assistant. I prefer to have two assistants as well as a production assistant, which is my normal crew. But all types of scenarios bring on challenges in their own way. I certainly don’t pick which movie I want to work on based on whether it’s an independent feature or a big Hollywood blockbuster. My choice is based on the script and the people who are involved; it’s much more important for me to respond to the story and the characters, and to get along with the people who I will be spending most of my time with.
I’ve been editing for around 20 years and have seen so many changes, starting with the move from film to digital editing. But some of the biggest changes I have seen are shortened schedules, lower budgets, and more responsibility put on the editorial team, including music and sound effect editing, colour-timing, and visual effects. Just because we are digital, doesn’t mean that it takes less time to edit a movie. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions in the digital age. In reality, our schedules are getting tighter and expectations are getting greater. We may be able to explore more versions of a scene, but we have to be able to take a step back and look at the overall picture. Something is lost when creative minds are robbed of the opportunity to gain perspective.
If you think about it, a film is basically written three times: once in the script phase; a second time during production; and the final time during post-production and editing. We are not only editors, simply cutting and pasting the images together, but we are also writers and directors in our own right. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Jigsaws have pieces to put together in order to complete a picture. In filmmaking, particularly in editing, you have hundreds of pieces to put together in order to tell a story. The main difference is that there is only one way to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, but there is an indefinite number of ways to put the pieces of the movie together. The way I do that is instinctual. •
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 26 (Jan/Feb 2012)