A Woman’s Touch: A Brief Homage to Female Editors
Retro film begins playing while the narrator voices.
Jacob Wilson: Women have always played a large part in the success of Hollywood films, but since its infancy, the industry has historically been unfair to women and struggles to find equality even today.
Screen shows infographic which reads: In 85 years, only 1 woman has won Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” (2010). Percentage of writers and producers that are women: 1998: 13% of writers, 24% of producers; 2004: 12% of writers, 24% of producers; 2007: 10% of writers, 22% of producers; 2008: 12% of writers, 23% of producers; 2009: 8% of writers, 23% of producers; 2010: 10% of writers, 24% of producers; 2011: 14% of writers, 25% of producers; 2012: 15% of writers, 25% of producers. In the last 5 years, out of 4,475 speaking characters on-screen, only 28.4% have been female.
Jacob: Though, statistically, the present day is an improvement for women in industry, the numbers are still far from equal, and eye-opening revelations like the #MeToo movement show just how bad the environment can be for women even now.
Screen shows news coverage, headlined “Harvey Weinstein in court: new indictment on sex assault charges to be unsealed.”
Jacob: So now I’d like to honor the women who have dealt with the worst Hollywood can offer: female editors.
Screen shows black and white film of female editors. Shows images of the editors, followed by closeups of film canisters and cutting film.
Jacob: We will talk about the women on the ground floor of the Hollywood machine. These women were hired to construct and essentially stitch the film together. This is why women were often editors. The monotonous yet delicate task of cutting film together was seen more as a woman’s job like sewing. Yet these women all rose to prominence in their craft and carved their names in cinema history as foremothers of the art of editing.
Screen shows still of Margaret Booth at her desk and on the phone, pen in hand.
Jacob: Margaret Booth’s film career started in 1915, which she was a patcher editing films for DW Griffith. But things really took off for Booth when in 1924 she worked for MGM as a director’s assistant.
Screen shows logo of Metro Foldwyn Mayer, a lion roaring in the middle of a circle of film.
Jacob: Booth edited a wide range of movies, including 1929’s “Wise Girls.”
Screen shows promotional still of “Wise Girls.”
Jacob: But it was 1935’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” for which she was nominated for the Academy Award.
Screen plays clip from “Mutiny on the Bounty: A man in a pirate outfit enters the room. The group talks, with the following dialogue: “Follow me, please.” “So Joseph, for that, they’ve reached a verdict. Watch the dirk.” “The dirk?” “The midshipman’s dirk will be lying on the table before Lord Hood. If it lies crosswise, you’ve been acquitted. If the point lies toward you, you’ve been condemned. God be with you.”
Jacob: Perhaps her most recognizable work was when she was supervising editor on the 1982 classic, “Annie.”
Screen plays clip from “Annie.” A young redhaired girl is seen speaking to an older man. Dialogue follows: “There’s this song I used to sing in the orphanage when I’d get sad. It always cheered me up. Just thinking about tomorrow, clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow.”
Screen shows black and white photograph of Anne Bachens holding a roll of film.
Jacob: Another pioneer of editing is Anne Bauchens. Bauchens is most noted for her 40-year collaboration with director Cecil deMille.
Screen shows Bachens with deMille, each looking at and smiling at the either.
Jacob: It was famed director deMille that taught her to edit to begin with. Bauchens made history in 1940 when she won the Academy Award for “North West Mounted Police” and became the first woman to win an Oscar in that category.
Screen shows deMille and Bachens with the award.
Screen plays clip from “North West Mounted Police,” showing two men in the woods. Dialogue: “I’ll have my knife back now.” “I give it to you.” “No, no, sunny side up.”
Screen shows promotion from “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Screen shows promotion from “Cleopatra.” Screen plays clip from “The Ten Commandments.” We do not hear any dialogue.
Jacob: Bauchens edited in 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” 1934’s “Cleopatra,” 1923’s “The Ten Commandments.”
Screen shows black and white image of Blanche Sewell holding a canister of film.
Jacob: Another pioneer is Blanche Sewell. In 1922, she worked on our first film when she was assistant cutter at First National Pictures.
Screen shows logo of First National Pictures.
Jacob: After working as an assistant editor, Sewell became a feature film editor and worked on several notable MGM films.
Screen shows black and white photo of Sewell holding a roll of film.
Jacob: Blanche is known for editing films like 1933’s “Tugboat Annie,” 1934’s “The Laughing Boy,” 1934’s “Treasure Island.”
Screen shows silent clip from “Tugboat Annie.” Screen shows promotion from “Laughing Boy.” Screen shows promotion from “Treasure Island.”
Jacob: The most notable is the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Screen plays clip from “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy is holding her dog, Toto. She sees a floating bubble over the yellow brick road. Bubble turns into Glinda, the good witch, wearing a tulled pink dress and crown. Dialogue: “Now, I- I know we’re not in Kansas.”
Jacob: Viola Lawrence is considered to be by many the first female editor and Hollywood.
Screen shows black and white photograph of Viola Lawrence.
Jacob: She began working on film at the age of 11, where she was a messenger for Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn.
Screen shows logo of Vitagraph Studios. Screen shows black and white photograph of an older Lawrence.
Jacob: She’d eventually move to Hollywood where she would work for major studios like First National, Universal, and Columbia Pictures.
Screen shows logo of Columbia Pictures Corporation.
Jacob: She became Colombia’s head editor and supervising editor. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing twice. Once for “Pepe,” in 1960 and for “Pal Joey” in 1957.
Screen shows promotion of “Pepe.” Screen plays clip of “Pal Joey.” A suited man sits down on stage to play the piano. He begins to sing: “She gets too hungry. for dinner at 8. She likes the theater, never comes late. She’d never bother with people she’d hate. That’s why the lady is a tramp.”
Screen shows a photograph of Dorothy Spencer.
Jacob: Dorothy Spencer entered the film industry in 1924, later moving to Fox.
Screen shows logo of 20th Century Studios.
Jacob: She became a member of the editorial department.
Screen shows black and white photograph of Spencer editing film.
Jacob: Spencer was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, winning for her final nomination, “Earthquake.”
Screen plays clip from “Earthquake.” We don’t hear dialogue but see buildings shaking and people running.
Jacob: Maybe Spencer’s greatest achievement was editing the John Ford classic, “Stage Coach.”
Screen plays clip of “Stagecoach,” showing a man in a cowboy hat shooting a rifle.
Jacob: Barbara McLean got her start in the film industry when she and her husband moved to Hollywood.
Screen shows a black and white photography of Barbara “Bobbie” McLean.
Jacob: In 1933, she’d received her first editing credit for “The Gallant Lady.”
Screen shows promotion for “Gallant Lady.”
Jacob: Just two years after, she’d be nominated for the Academy Award for “Les Miserables.”
Screen shows promotion for “Les Miserable.”
Jacob: McLean worked extensively with Henry King, the director.
Screen shows headshot of Henry King. Screen plays clip from “12 O’Clock High.”
Jacob: Together, they’d do over 29 films together, including 1949’s classic, “12 O’Clock High,” showing airplanes in the sky.
Jacob: McLean received seven nominations for best editing, including her nomination for 1950’s “All about Eve.”
Screen shows clip from “All Above Eve.” A woman stands on the stairs in an evening gown. Dialogue:”Put me to bed. Take my clothes off. Over my head. Tuck me in, turn out the lights and tiptoe out. Eve would, wouldn’t you, Eve.” “If you’d like.” “I wouldn’t like.”
Screen shows black and white photo of Adrienne Fazan, followed by the MGM logo and another photo of Fazan.
Jacob: Adrienne Fazan started working in film in 1933 when she worked at MGM. Over a five-decade long career, she won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing in 1958 for “GiGi.”
Screen shows promotion for “GiGi.”
Jacob: But it was musical classics like “Anchors Aweigh” and “Singing in the Rain” that cemented Fazan in cinema history.
Screen plays clip of “Singing in the Rain,” showing a man skipping down a street in a thunderstorm. Dialogue: “I’m singing in the rain, yes, singing in the rain.” What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again, I’m laughing at clouds. So dark up above, the sun’s in my heart, and I’m ready for love.”
Screen shows photograph of Dede Allen.
Jacob: Dede Allen worked her way up through Columbia Pictures, working several jobs before becoming an assistant film editor. In her edits, Allen brought style and emotion to the films, such as 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon” and 1961’s “The Hustler.” ”
Screen shows promotion of “Bonnie and Clyde.” Screen shows promotion of “Dog Day Afternoon.” Screen plays clip from “The Hustler.” A man is playing pool in a bar while another suited man watches. Dialogue: “You shoot a good stick.” “Thanks.” “Do you shoot straight pool, mister?” “Now and then, you know how it is.” “You’re uh, you’re Minnesota Fats, aren’t you? You, know, they say Minnesota Fats is the best in the country out where I come from.” “Is that a fact?” “Yes, sir, yes, they say that old Fats just shoots the eyes right off them balls.” “Where do you come from?” “California, Oakland.” “California. Is your name Felsen, Eddie Felsen?” “That’s right.” “I hear you been looking for me.” “Yeah. That’s right, too.” “Big John? You think this boy is a hustler?”
Jacob: Allen showed off even more versatility editing cult classic, “Slap Shot.”
Screen plays clip of “Slap Shot.” Men skate in a hockey rink. They get into a fight. Dialogue: “And there’s no one to stop it because there are no officials on the ice. What has come over the Charlestown Chiefs?” Screen shows the team listening to the opening song. Referee says: “I got my eye on the three of you guys, you pull one thing, you’re out of this game. I run a clean game here, and if I have any trouble, I’ll suspend you.”
Screen shows photograph of Anne V. Coates.
Jacob: Anne V. Coates was a British film editor that worked for over six decades in the film industry. She’s best known as editor of David Lean’s 1962 epic, “Lawrence of Arabia,” for which she won the Oscar for film editing.
Screen shows clip of “Lawrence of Arabia.” People ride camels across the desert on screen.
Jacob: Coates was nominated five times for the Academy Award, including for 1998’s “Out of Sight,” which gave us this delightful scene.
Screen shows another photo of Coates. Screen shows promotion for “Out of Sight.” Screen shows brief clip from “Out of Sight.” No dialogue is heard.
Jacob: And of course, for the 1980 classic, “The Elephant Man.”
Screen shows clip of “The Elephant Man.” No dialogue is heard.
Screen show black and white photograph of Verna Fields editing.
Jacob: Verna Fields began her career in the film industry working as a sound engineer. She would edit two classics in the year of 1973 in “American Graffiti” and “Paper Moon,” followed by editing Steven Spielberg’s directorial feature debut, “Sugarland Express” in 1974.
Screen shows promotion of “American Graffiti” and “Paper Moon.” Screen shows black and white photograph of Fields and Steven Spielberg holding a roll of film.
Jacob: But nothing epitomizes her talent like 1975’s classic Steven Spielberg film “Jaws,” a film that would win her an Oscar and usher in the new wave of blockbuster films.
Screen shows promotion of “Jaws.” Screen plays clip from “Jaws.” Dialogue: “Stop playing with yourself, Hooper. Slow ahead, if you please.” “You heard him, slow ahead.” “Slow ahead, I can go slow ahead, come on down and chum some of this shit. We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Screen shows photograph of Marcia Lucas.
Jacob: Marcia Lucas started in Hollywood in 1964, where she worked for Sandler Films as an assistant editor, editing promotional films and trailers. She would eventually go on to be assistant editor underneath Verna Fields in 1969’s “medium cool” and later co-edit with Fields on 1973’s “American Graffiti,” directed by her eventual husband, George Lucas.
Screen shows photo of Fields, followed by promotion of “medium cool.” Screen shows picture of Lucas and her husband, then Martin Scorsese. Screen shows promotion of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”
Jacob: She then started collaborating with a young Martin Scorsese in the early ’70s, working as editor on “Alice Doesn’t Live Hera Anymore” in 1974 and supervising editor on 1976’s classic, “Taxi Driver.”
Screen shows clip of “Taxi Driver.” Dialogue: “Oh yeah, all the animals come out at night: Whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come down and wash all this scum off the streets.”
Jacob: But it was 1977’s “Star Wars” that changed cinema forever.
Screen shows clip of “Star Wars.”
Screen shows photograph of Margaret Sixel holding an award, followed by one of her with her husband, George Miller. Screen shows promotion of “Babe, Pig in the City.” Screen shows clip of penguins jumping in “Happy Feet.” Screen shows a photo of Sixel holding an award. Screen plays clip of “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Jacob: Margaret Sixel has a various body of work, extending across animated comedies and documentary features. She’s best known for editing the work of her director husband George Miller, such as 1998’s “Babe, Pig in the City,” 2006’s “Happy Feet,” and of course, what won her the Oscar, “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015.
Screen shows George Miller being interviewed.
Jacob: George Miller had this to say on working with his wife: “A lot. She did say to me, ‘I’m here to stop you embarrassing yourself.’ She’s got a much lower boredom threshold than I have, so she’ll get very bored with repetition. And it’s not just stringing whole bits of action together because it can become very boring. It’s looking for some very strong causal connection. Causal connection, one shot to the next, very much like a composer would put, would put the music together looking at chordal, you know, chordal progression, melodic line, tempo and all those things.”
Screen shows photograph of Sally Menke.
Jacob: Sally Menke started her career editing documentaries for CBS.
Screen shows promotion of “Heaven and Earth.” Screen shows promotion of “Mulholland Falls.” Screen plays clip from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Jacob: She would work more in the ’90s landing “Heaven and Earth,” “Muholland Falls” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” But everything changed for Menke when she met Quentin Tarantino when he was interviewing editors for “Reservoir Dogs.”
Screen shows photograph of Menke with Quentin Tarantino. Screen plays clip from “Reservoir Dogs.” Dialogue: “Look, I’m blind man., I’m fucking blind.” “You’re not blind, you’ve just got blood in your eyes, all right?”
Jacob: Menke would become Quentin Tarantino’s editor all of his films up until her tragic death in 2010. The last film she would work on with him would be “Inglourious Basterds,” 2009.
Screen plays clip from “Inglourious Basterds.” Dialogue: “Now, if you’ve heard of Aldo the Apache, you’ve gotta have heard of the Bear Jew?” “I heard.” “What’d you hear?” “That he beats German soldiers with a club.” “He bashes their brains in with a baseball bat, that’s what he does.” “Now, Warner, I’m going to ask you one last goddamn time, and if you still ‘respectively refuse,’ I’m calling the Bear Jew. He’s going to take that big bat of his, and he’s going to be beat your ass to death with it. Take your weiner-schnitzel-lickin’ fingers and point out on this map what I want to know.” “Fuck you. And your Jew dogs.” “Actually, Werner, we’re all tickled to hear you say that, Quite frankly, watching Donny beat Nazis to death is as close as we get to going to the movies. Donny!” “Yeah.” “Got us a German here who wants to die for his country. Oblige him.” “Yeah.” “You get that for killing Jews?” “Bravery.” Donny hits the officer with a baseball bat.
Screen shows photographs of Thelma Schoonmaker editing.
Jacob: Thelma Schoonmaker began her career in Hollywood, working at the New York Times as an assistant film editor, mostly cutting out frames of classic films to fit broadcast running times. Schoonmaker’s big break would come when she signed up for a course in filmmaking at New York University, where she would meet a young Martin Scorsese who was having editing issues with his film, “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?”
Screen shows text from “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” Screen shows photograph of Schoonmaker editing film at a computer.
Jacob: Schoonmaker would edit Scorsese’s first feature film, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” in 1967.
Screen shows promotion of “Who’s That Knocking at My Door.”
Jacob: And they would develop an incredible working relationship, a collaboration that would help Schoonmaker receive eight Academy Award nominations.
Screen shows clip of the Academy Awards, rotating between Schoonmaker and Scorsese in the crowd.
Jacob: She would win first for a 1980s “Raging Bull.”
Screen shows two men in a boxing ring in “Raging Bull.” We don’t hear dialogue.
Jacob: She would win again in 2004 for “The Aviator” and in 2006, for “The Departed.”
Screen plays clip of “The Departed.” Two men converse in a bar. Dialogue: “What are you doing? You don’t need the money and they will catch you.” “I haven’t needed the money since I took Archie’s milk money in the third grade. Tell you the true, I don’t need pussy anymore either. But I like it. Point I’m making here is I got this rat, right, this gnawing, cheese- eating, fucking rat, right? And it brings up questions. See, Bill, you’re the new guy and the girlfriend. Why don’t you stay in the bar when I go get your numbers. Social security numbers. Everybody’s fucking numbers.” “Is there just something that you just want to go ahead and ask me because I’ll give you the fucking answer, all right? Frank, look at me. Look at me. I’m not the fucking rat. Okay? I’m not the fucking rat.” “Start with, you agree there is a rat?” “You said there is one, all right?” “I base most of what I do on the idea that you’re pretty fucking good at what you do?” “Sure, sure, but you, Bill, what would you do?” “Frank, how many of these guys have been with you long enough to be disgruntled, huh? Think about it. You don’t pay much, you know, it’s almost a fucking feudal enterprise. The question is — and this is the only question: Who thinks that they can do what you do better than you?” “The only one who can do what I do is me. Do you know how many people had to die for me to be me. You want to be me?” “I probably could be you. Yeah. Yeah. I know that much. But I don’t want to be you, Frank. I don’t want to be you.” “Heavy lies the crown sort of thing.”
Screen plays rotating photos of the aforementioned women and films.
Jacob: All these women and many more are the unsung heroes to your favorite films. They’ve contributed their artistic style and direction to their edits, from the silent film era to musicals, to contemporary dramas, women have shaped the media we consume. It is important to remember and appreciate these women for the editors in cinema that they are.
This short documentary by Jacob Wilson honors the work of female editors in Hollywood. Taking a look at the career achievements of some of the most profound and accomplished women to ever edit, “A Woman’s Touch: A Brief Homage to Female Editors” compiles and highlights the technical ability and cinematic vision held by true pioneers of their craft.