Over a year ago, Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter write Top Directors Reveal How Female Film Editors Shaped Their Movies. Now that Women in Hollywood has aired on PBS, Feinberg’s article is worth a refresher read.
I am an Australian and my experience of the movie industry is in a country where one sometimes wonders if male regard for the female sex has not advanced much further than “Damned Whores and God’s Police”.
I know too many female filmmakers who have left the country for lack of work or funding. Too many female film school graduates do not enter the industry at all or if they do, it is in menial production assistant jobs with little hope for advancement. Rare are those who power on up the ladder and if they do it is due to a combination of unique personalities, impossible-to-find mentoring, excellent connections, supportive raising, great schooling and often personal wealth.
So what hope then for aspiring female moviemakers if so few of us manage to break in to the directing track or more technical roles like cinematography and sound recording? The answer may be, as Feinberg’s article shows, to become the hand that rocks the cradle and take up movie editing.
Editing began as a menial occupation not unlike the other low-end occupations open to women at the time of filmmaking’s birth in the late 1800s. Editors were originally called cutters and it was menial labor at best, tedious and low-paid. As Feinberg relates, one of those original cutters, Margaret Booth, started with D. W. Griffith as a patcher and joiner then moved over to the studio that helped form MGM where she finally became editor-in-chief.
Feinberg’s article does a good job in listing male director, female editor relationships that have led to some of the most famous Hollywood feature films in history. That list is replete with classics like The Birth of a Nation, The Ten Commandments, Stagecoach and Bonnie & Clyde through to more contemporary hits such as J.J. Abram’s Star Trek and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Every time I see Thelma Schoonmakers’s editing credit on a Martin Scorsese movie my heart skips a beat. Female and with an ethnic surname not to forget talent aplenty. With her innovative work on Woodstock, raised the art and technique of documentary moviemaking to a whole new height.
A very fat book can be written about the essential contribution made by women to moviemaking since its inception but an even bigger tome can be written about the barriers to equal participation in it, I suspect.
If you wish to read more about those issues then I recommend the Indiewire website – type “women in film” into its search box. There is also Women Make Movies and plenty of information elsewhere about remarkable female filmmakers such as Alice Guy-Blaché.
Scott Feinberg’s article is also a great starting point for female editors. Highlight and copy their names then paste them into the Google search box and read away about their amazing achievements and editorial partnerships with great, usually male, directors. Keep an eye out for the rarer female editor, female director partnerships too.
Top Directors Reveal How Female Film Editors Shaped Their Movies
An abbreviated version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue.
None of them are household names, but they literally helped to shape many of the most significant movies ever made, including The Birth of a Nation (1915), Stagecoach (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), All About Eve (1950), An American in Paris (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), Raging Bull (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Juno (2007)—plus this year’s Blue Jasmine, Labor Day, Star Trek Into Darkness and The Wolf of Wall Street. They are female film editors, and if you shine a spotlight into dark cutting rooms the world over, you’ll find a lot of them.
For much of Hollywood history, there were virtually no filmmaking opportunities available to women other than screenwriting and acting—with one major exception. Women have always been welcomed—and in many quarters preferred by male directors—as film editors, or “cutters,” as they were originally known. In the early days, the job was regarded as menial labor, and it largely was. Cutters worked by hand, running film on reels with hand cranks and manually cutting and gluing together strips of it. (Moreover, they almost never received screen credit.) After the advent of the Moviola editing machine in 1924, the process became faster and easier, but was still tedious and low paying, which is why most cutters remained young, working-class women.
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(cover photo credit: snap from The Hollywood Reporter)