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Rollo Ross

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The Hidden Hero of Hollywood

Posted: 27/08/2012 01:00

I've probably covered around 1000 red carpet events for television in my day and my first rule of editing when it comes around to cutting a showbiz package is to focus on the big name A-listers, as they are the ones people want to see.

Often the director will get a brief cameo in the piece (unless it's an Almodovar, Tarantino, Woody Allen movie), and the producers and screenplay writers at these events will most definitely end up on the cutting room floor.

I've constantly bitched about how unfair this system of movie marketing is, or how unfair the media is as credit really isn't going where credit is due - to the directors, screenwriters and producers. But until I went to a presentation-cum-Q&A at the Aruba International Film Festival, I realised that there's a position that rarely gets any credit at all - they never get to walk the red carpet and yet they are the ones that truly make films magical.

They are the editors.

Pietro Scalia is one of this breed and one of the best. He's been nominated for four Oscars and won two, and was the 'sculptor' of such films as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Good Will Hunting and more recently The Amazing Spider-Man and Prometheus. And it was him who gave this presentation and who enthralled us with exactly what an editor contributes to a movie.

He explained how there are three versions of a script; the screenwriter's; the director's and finally the editor's - but it's the editor's vision that will be the film you actually get to see.

He proved this point by showing us the opening sequences of both JFK and Gladiator - neither of which matched the original screenplay or the director's vision but set the narrative off on its journey with the correct opening notes.

By the end of the hour, all the locals, journalists and a spattering of celebrities (Virginia Madsen, Ray Liotta and Twilight hottie Xavier Samuel) were clamouring to know more about this man that beavers away in a darkened room away from the bright lights of Hollywood.

A few days later, I got the chance to meet my newfound hero to talk more about the hidden art of editing.

"I stumbled into the art of editing, purely because of a love of film. I really love it. I really love the magic that happens. And to me, there are a lot of moments of magic that happen in the cutting room that no-one will see or know how that happens because we are in the dark room".

I notice that Pietro has a bugbear that pops up several times throughout our conversation - how editors are often forced to stick with the screenplay.

"It's not about matching a script - oh he moves from A to B. That's not really editing - editing is the written emotional subtext of what you're trying to express. You know, it's why you choose to go to a close up of the person. Film and sound are very malleable. They're really like clay. You have to think that you're shaping it.

"The reason movies tend to be too long is not because the editors are slow and like to cut slow - editors want to get to the point - it's because the scripts are really really dense in terms of the amount of pages. Sometimes scripts are overwritten. But you know what? I can make that point without saying anything - the actor makes that point. I don't need to explain anything else."

And next time you're sitting in a multiplex watching a film, watch out for who's watching you:-

"It's very good for me to see a film with an audience - with other eyes. You feel the presence and you feel how they react. So it's almost like seeing it again when the audience changes. And it's a great satisfaction when things work in movies and the reaction is always the same, it's a really good feeling. When hundreds of people react at the same time, it's a really good feeling."


For all of you out there who want to try out film editing or even a bit of editing at home, here are Pietro Scalia's top three tips:-

1. Take your home movies or your photographs and put them in an order. Try and find a narrative between those images - What is it about those images that connect in some ways? Then run some music underneath. Then you can experiment by changing around music and that will make you feel different so you start to interact with the material.

2. One of the most important things to do is actually recognise your own reaction to the edit. Be aware of that because that's fundamental. Almost step outside of yourself and thinking 'why did it make me feel like that?' - If you feel it then other people will feel it as well.

3. Go with your instinct. You have to be careful not to think of something as stale because you've seen it over and over again. You have a tendency sometimes to change things because you go "I'm going to change that because I'm tired of that." but then you go back and look at the first edit and you go "It was right the first time. The first instinct is good."

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