Who are three editors that you admire, and why?
Billy Weber: He edited for Walter Hill and Terence Malik. He also edited Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure! It's hard to say, “This is an editor who is good at x” because he is good at everything, but I will try.
What strikes me about his work is that he really understands tone. More specifically, how to mix and juxtapose tones to create something new. The gentle music and innocent voice-over mixed with horrible violence in Badlands give the audience new layers of information about the story and characters. The mix of comedian and hard-boiled detective performances in 48hrs became a template for countless other films. He knows how to play various, often opposing, kinds of tones off of one another, balance them, and create more meaningful stories as a result of it.
Gary Dollner: His work on The Thick of It, Veep, and Fleabag is beyond impressive. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all these shows are said to be written in the edit room. He is just so good at finding and manipulating comedic rhythm and emotion. It would be easy for the editing on these shows to be heavy-handed and overdone because it’s very present, but he’s so adept that audiences are along for the ride.
Eric Zumbrunnen: There are the years in a person’s adolescence when they form their likes, dislikes, and general sense of taste. At that stage of my life, 99% of what I was reacting to was coming out of Eric’s work. During his years-long collaboration with Spike Jonze, no matter how idiosyncratic the concept, Eric would mine and craft the most grounded human stories filled with real compassion and relatable emotion. He was amazing.
Please share 3-4 pieces of work that exemplify great editing, and explain why?
Fleabag S2E1: This episode is a masterclass in editing. It shows the years-long back story of 5 characters and introduces a new 6th character, all while evolving and intertwining their conflicts. And none of it is overt. It all plays out in a passive-aggressive subtext, in the margins of conversations and asides as the characters sit at an awkward dinner. Dollner can juggle all this layered story and character information so that the audience clocks every beat even while happening fast. It’s also a comedy! So he’s got to keep landing jokes. It’s a feat of editing, for sure.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Since Paul Rueben’s passing, his movie has been on my mind. It’s not just an iconic movie — literally, every scene in this movie is iconic. There’s a lot going on in this film: it’s a road movie, a horror movie, a biker movie, a love story, a biting satire, and a character vehicle. It could very easily have ended up a mess. Yet, Weber’s editing keeps it grounded, and Pee-Wee pushes against the boundaries of established film tropes. It’s so good!
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, Coffin Flop: I should probably be talking about Dede Allen taking the audio out of that scene in Little Big Man, but I’m not. I’m talking about Coffin Flop. It’s so funny; I nearly had a heart attack the first time I saw it. It is absurdism at its best. I love this kind of comedy editing because it's so relentless. Once it sets the premise and lands the first joke, it just keeps ramping up and up and up. It doesn’t give the audience time to come up for air.
Above: A scene from Fleabag, season 1 episode 2
What do you like most about the work that you do?
When I was a kid, the idea of working in film or TV was so foreign. I thought movies and anything on television just appeared by magic. The fact that my voice can be a part of the broader landscape of film is still crazy to me. I guess I’m just happy to be here?
What was your journey to becoming an editor?
I first worked in production and didn’t really like it, but I knew I wanted to keep working in film. Eventually, I got a runner job at Final Cut and worked my way to assistant and then editor.
What is one thing all editors need?
Above: I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, Coffin Flop
Who was the greatest editor of all time? Why?
This is kind of an impossible question to answer. What we do is so subjective and so dependent on the opportunities we get. Like, give Walter Murch the dailies for the slap-chop infomercial. He’s not making Apocalypse Now out of it. That said, there is a default list of the “best” editors. From that list, I’d pick Anne V. Coates. She could cut anything: Lawrence of Arabia, The Elephant Man, Murder on The Orient Express, a full-on Arnold Schwarzenegger 80s action movie, and the criminally underrated I Love You to Death. I think she even edited What about Bob? (Checks IMDB). Yes, she did! This woman could do it all!
Did you have a mentor? Who was it?
I wouldn’t say I had one mentor per se. Although, I was an assistant in an era where you really had to be present in the editing room, which exposed me to many great editors and their various ways of working. All of whom were very generous with their time and knowledge.
What’s changing in the industry that all editors need to keep up with?
The language of film is always changing and evolving. This isn’t to say that we all need to start editing like Tik-Tokers, but we should absorb as much as we can and have our taste decide what influences our work.