The first draft is always perfect. perfect. Its only job is to exist.
I’ve had my dictaphone since the mid- to late ’90s. In my previous life, I used to record demos on it. Then I ran into some trouble with tendonitis and repetitive stress and it prevented me from writing at my laptop. I got really bummed about it, so I started speaking my scripts out into this dictaphone I had lying around. I realized it was really helpful for my creative process. Having a linear writing machine, where I couldn’t go back and hate myself and edit myself, allowed me to blast through drafts of scripts much more quickly and write from a much more instinctual, as opposed to intellectual, place. It’s a mess when it comes out, but the pacing is really good. So I have Radio Shack to thank for my entire creative process.
For the first time in my life, I’m starting to make more money than I know what to do with. And it’s really weird. What it does is it kind of kills your god. Because your god, as an artist, is to try to find a way to make the art you want to make while being financially sustainable. And to have achieved that murdered my god. So now I look to Warren Buffett — the way he’s still actively excited about achieving career success and making money, and then he throws it all away on people who need it. That is the most inspiring thing that I can imagine.
“The less money you take, the more freedom you have. I’ve never made a film where I don’t have final cut. And I can’t imagine doing that. That just seems like it would be turmoil. I edit because that’s where you learn how to direct, really. All the answers of what you should have done are in the editing. I miss out on being able to be in a conversation with someone, and I can see where that can be a really valuable thing—to have someone with more of a distance to be having a dialogue with. You write alone, and scouting is really lonely. Then you do this really intense thing with a lot of people. Afterwards, I usually feel like I want to hide away with my film again and go through the process of making sure that every possible thing has been tried. I’m a big believer in letting your film be bad for a while, and not trying to get to a good cut too quickly. I just want to be involved and I want that process, because it makes me think of what lens I should have used or what I should have done. It’s such a learning experience that I hate to miss out on it.”
Still from Wendy and Lucy (2008, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Emphasis my own. I love that.
It really got to me when someone asks what I did for a living and I realized I didn’t have a good answer. And it was just, I don’t know, it was like I’m in my apartment alone all day editing this thing that I’m calling a film but it wasn’t actually a film yet. So yeah, there’s a couple of times where I just gave up and decided I was going to go back and get a job and actually have a good answer to what I did for a living. That was going to be that.
It’s so hard with a word processor to know what a revision is.
When I write a script, I lie down–because that’s the opposite of standing up. I stand up to edit, so I lie down to write. I take a little tape recorder and, without being aware of it, go into a light hypnotic trance. I pretend the film is finished and I’m simply describing what was happening. I start out chronologically but then skip around. Anything that occurs to me, I say into the recorder. Because I’m lying down, because my eyes are closed, because I’m not looking at anything, and the ideas are being captured only by this silent scribe–the tape recorder–there’s nothing for me to criticize. It’s just coming out.
That is my way of disarming the editorial side. Putting myself in a situation that is opposite as possible to how I edit–both physically and mentally. To encourage those ideas to come out of the woods like little animals and drink at the pool safely, without feeling that the falcon is going to come down and tear them apart.
So simple, so obvious: if you want to get some ideas out without reflexive self-editing, choose your medium and environment so it’s hard to edit. Use a tape recorder, separate digital vs. analog desks, Sharpies, index cards…
The implication is that viewers brought their own emotional reactions to this sequence of images, and then moreover attributed those reactions to the actor, investing his impassive face with their own feelings. Kuleshov believed this, along with montage, had to be the basis of cinema as an independent art form.
An essay on the hidden, underappreciated geniuses behind great films: the editors.
[Walter] Murch played a vital part in shaping four of Coppola’s most celebrated films — The Godfather, The Godfather, Part ll (1975), The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now — but was noticeably absent from the director’s more ponderous projects in the eighties: One From the Heart (1982), The Cotton Club (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988). Some people might not see that as a coincidence.
On the magic of cuts and juxtapositions in films. They’re like dreams, or like thought.
What is it that makes cutting work? How is it that we accept such a violent transition — whether it be from a wide shot to a close-up, from Paris to the Sahara desert, or from the seventeenth century to the present — as a cut? “Nothing in our day-to-day experience seems to prepare us for such a thing,” Walter Murch observes. “From the moment we get up in the morning until we close our eyes at night, the visual reality we perceive is a continuous stream of linked images: In fact, for millions of years — tens, hundreds of millions of years — life on Earth has experienced the world in this way. Then suddenly, at the beginning of the twentieth century, human beings were confronted with something else — edited film."11 What prepared them for this? Not painting, not theater, not even literature, cinematic as some of Dickens’s scenes now appear. Murch speculates that it was dreams. "We accept the cut because it resembles the way images are juxtaposed in our dreams,” he writes. “In the darkness of the theater, we say to ourselves, in effect, ‘This looks like reality, but it cannot be reality because it is so visually discontinuous; therefore, it must be a dream.’"12 Director John Huston saw it differently. Cinema, he said, was not just a reflection of our dream lives but the very essence of conscious thought, with its fitful jumble of visuals and sound: "To me the perfect film is as though it were unwinding behind your eyes, and your eyes were projecting it themselves, so that you were seeing what you wished to see. It’s like thought. It’s the closest to thought process of any art.”
Also cool sections in there about the Ralph Rosenblum/Woody Allen partnership; the influence of Russians like Eisenstein, who began as editors; how the nature of editing work led to opportunities for women; digital editing; and more.
As an artist you can sit and tinker with stuff forever. You can add and take away but I think that’s kind of the importance of having someone over you saying, “We need this, this is a deadline.” Sometimes those oppositions or those who push and pull are needed because we’ll just sit and tinker forever.
In the moment of playing, the logistics of just hitting the notes distract you somewhat from the continuous choices you are making. In the edit you have nothing but choice. And yet you feel helpless, since everything has already been played.
You can tell when rhetoric is empty — and therefore should be cut — because it would never be possible to say the alternative.