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March 11, 2016

RIP Dream Repairman

There are too many books out there that tell you how to write a screenplay.  In fact, there are more books that tell you the “secret” of selling the Hollywood screenplay than there are working screenwriters.  That’s not to say that screenwriters don’t write their own: Joe Eszterhas, William Goldman, Nora Ephron, George MacDonald Fraser and many others have made their memoirs available, and I’ve read many of these in my local library.

What we might have a lack, however, is the point of view of the editor.    Most editing books concentrate on the technology, and the technique involved in using that technology.  Most of what I’ve read on how to thread film into its spools, or even how to use Final Cut Pro 6, is now irrelevant.  Walter Murch and Jim Clark have bucked that trend and gone beyond a simple “how to” book.

Murch’s book, “In the Blink of An Eye”, is considered a classic.  It outlines the thought process, the philosophy behind his editing and the length of a cut.  Jim Clark’s book “The Dream Repairman” was more of a memoir, the stories of human relationships, but it also touches upon the actual process of film editing.

Clark’s book teaches things are valuable to the aspiring editor, or producer or director, including:

1. “Filmmaking is boring”, or, can be at times.  Clark wrote about pranks he and others played on each other in the editing room, and how some of those pranks ended up being used in films.  These pranks resulted from the tediousness of the job of editing.    If you want an exciting job, perhaps you should be a war reporter instead.

2. Getting jobs is about humility.  Even after gaining experience, Clark had to sometimes take jobs as an assistant, to start at the bottom again.

3. Method Actors are difficult to edit.  It’s great to be spontaneous on the set, to come up with new ideas for each take.  However, if you do that, remember to budget enough extra time in the editing room.

4. Editors can give useful feedback.  Some people wait for the film to be finished before talking to an editor.  Well, if you have someone like Clark available, then don’t wait.  Have him working on the picture when the first rushes are available.  An experienced editor let you know when something appears to be out of pace, and your production can save a lot of hassle by fixing what’s wrong ahead of time.

Murch’s book, and small articles here and there, have told me a lot more about editing.  There’s always the Soviet Classic about film editing and film acting, which goes over the basics.

But, what did Jim Clark do?  Why are editors so important?

Well, let’s say you start with an idea.  This could be a book you want to adapt, or a scene you have in your mind.  Stage one is that you either write this idea as a script, or you hire someone else to write it.  (If you can’t afford to hire someone, write it yourself.  You’ll understand it better.)

Okay, things can go wrong in step one, but then you just fire the writer and do a rewrite, or start afresh, right?

Well, let’s say you end up with the perfect script, then the “film is finished” according to Alfred Hitchcock, right?  Not so.   You might not have the budget to film everything as planned.  That location may be demolished.  Your actors might fumble on their lines, or improvise.

In all likelihood, your rushes will not look anything like the script you started with, especially if you’re using stars who became famous for their looks rather than their memory.  Even if you try to stay true to the screenplay and the storyboard (a comic book like rendition of the script, used in planning), you might not have everything you need in order to be able to.

In comes the “Dream Repairman.”

Yes, there are also a few famous female editors.  Tarantino used a female editor who went to a top film school and editing a Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, until she passed away.  Now, she is replaced by a team of people.   Scorsese and others had female editors.  You probably didn’t know that because you probably don’t know much about editors.

Most of these other editors don’t seem to have written books on their art or experiences, none that I’ve noticed in my local library anyway.

While I still like Walter Murch’s book more useful to working editors, and found Jim Clark’s speculating on the private lives of stars and other people in his life annoying, I’d recommend “The Dream Repairman” to anyone considering editing as a profession.

I’d like to see more memoirs of special effects, make up, carpentry, and other unsung heroes of the film trade.    And of course, I’d like to see more written about the art and not just the technology of film editing.

Rip Jim Clark.