BOOK REVIEW: ART OF THE CUT
THIS IS A REVIEW I ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE CCEDITORS WEBSITE:
ART OF THE CUT:
Conversations With Film & TV Editors
By Steve Hullfish
Quick Review: Are you an editor? Yes?
Buy this book.
As summer is about to hit and some of us are emerging from our dark edit caves into a bright, Canadian summer, you might be looking for a little inspiration to pack in your pocket as you head out to the cottage or your hammock. If you’re an editor looking for some inspiration, or someone who loves the art of moviemaking, you can’t go wrong with The Art of the Cut by Steve Hullfish.
Art of the Cut cuts to the heart of editing: story. It’s a great read and I wouldn’t be going too far by saying it’s the first thing I would hand a rookie editor looking to learn as well as a good conversation starter with a senior editor and colleague. It’ll be making the trip with me up to the cottage, even though I think I’ve managed to read it several times over now.
If you’re an editor, and I’m going to bet you are – you will appreciate me cutting to the chase (see what I did there?). Just go out and buy Art of the Cut. Do that right now. I’ll wait. The link’s at the bottom of this article.
Done? Great. Now I can give you the why.
During renders or when I’m finished a cut and waiting for a screening. I visit provideocoalition.com. They have a great post section and one of my favourite ongoing series of articles they post are Hullfish’s Art of The Cut. It seems like every week he has another interview posted with an editing legend, a current star cutter or perhaps the editing team behind a show on the frontlines of cable drama. As of this writing he’s just posted an interview with Richard Chew, ACE and while I heard Mr.Chew speak at EditFest L.A. last year, this interview got to some areas of his method and his career (notably cutting Star Wars: A New Hope and Risky Business, among others). An interview with the Canadian editors working on The Handmaid’s Tale has recently come out, which will no doubt be one of my first go-tos on my next break.
Art of the Cut the book, is a curated and compiled collection of –and I’m going to use the blurb on the back rather than paraphase it: “round table discussion with 50 of the top editors from around the globe” discussing everything from overall workflows, how they approach story & performance all the way down to how they prefer their bins laid out and their timelines coloured. From the micro to the macro, the technical to the artistic, this book covers everything you could want to know. Hullfish has managed to compile a deafening amount of expertise into one book. It was a work of passion to bring it all together as he has and that makes for a book you can enter at any chapter (or page for that matter) and get engrossed quickly.
Each chapter has an intro and the best way to compliment his writing is by the same measure you weigh good editing: if you don’t notice the art, then it’s doing it’s job. His writing smoothly takes you in, holds your attention as long as it intends, and then closes the chapters out. I have also read his previous book Avid Uncut and the best way to describe it is he’s mastered the writing skill of sounding like he’s next to you just shooting the breeze, but he’s trimmed the dialogue to the essential.
For those not as familiar with terms like Up To Camera, ADR, or what an “over” is, there is a glossary built into to the chapters as a quick side bar to keep you in the thick of the interview. They layout of the interviews is broken up with just enough images to not overwhelm you with blocks of words, and one of my favourite design elements – are the ‘nuggets’ (his words) of wisdom that jumped out to him as he compiled these interviews. Several of them could make up one of those “inspiration” posters with an artfully done still done well. Or heck, at the very least a good meme I could post to social media when my cut is not working and can’t bear to look at my timeline. Among my favourites were: editor Joe Walker name-checking Scorsese quoting: “your film is never as great as your dailies and never as terrible as your first assembly” and Mary Jo Markey (one of J.J ‘s editors for The Force Awakens “If you can live without them [scenes] you probably should”.
I mentioned this as a summer read because if there’s anything I’d suggest, is that this is a book I suggest digesting in small portions, rather than a large binge. At some points the topics become exhausting. I don’t think I can tackle chapter 1’s Project Organization again for fun, but you can bet that when I find myself cutting a feature, I’m going back to this section and mining it for every bit of information I can get my hands on!
I think at the end of it at all is the fundamental lesson is that there’s no wrong way to do it. Hullfish himself has gleaned this and mention it in his introduction. He underlines this by laying contrasting opinions back to back. Some editors believe to fully cut a scene they have to watch every foot of dailies to make sure they know what they have to work with. Others (especially those in TV) go straight to the selected takes. I’m an editor who goes for what I want and then let’s the newly discovered shots ‘fight’ it out against previously selected clips for which works best. Some editors follow this mentality, other don’t! Some editors make select reels and whittle down their footage. Others just take the selects and go with the directors selects and whittle down. Some prefer to watch the performance in a given scene from the last take backwards, others go for the first take and see how the performance is tweaked to get a better idea of what the director was going for in the scene. It goes on. Every now and again you can mildly freak out that there’s no blue print, but just as quickly you remember that we should each find what works for us.
And because the way these interviews are curated the reader can glean more. I’m sure I’m butchering the saying but with each edit you add meaning. With each intercut more reveals. You can see Hullfish’s editor eye at work. He never lingers too long on a given editors’ take. He knows when to ‘blink’ (to use Murch’s term) and move to the next. It would take far too long, but I would love to hear all these interviews cut together as an audiofile on a per-chapter basis. It would be just awesome to listen to on a morning commute.
As a sidebar: it’s refeshing not to revisit the whole NLE debate that pervades most posted articles online. I’m tired Avid Versus Final Cut X or Premiere. Editors here have cut on everything from Moviolas to Final Cut X, from Flatbeds to Media Composers. Hullfish doesn’t see any more value in this than a carpenter would arguing the type of hammer he uses.
You’re allowed to disagree, and it’s clear the many pros here do. But their methods and style are as individual as the individual themselves. And you as a reader will find yourself muttering “absolutely” or “nope…that does not work for me.” And you find yourself seated at the table as this masterclass is going on. And it’s a really big freakin’ table.
I could name-check all the various contributors, but it would get exhausting. The greats like Schoomaker and (the late) Coates are here. But so are the current blockbuster cutters like Eddie Hamilton (who both online and here shed light on the insane work done on the Mission Impossible and Kingsmen with great specific anecdotes about certain scenes and shares many timeline pics) I think the big missing name would perhaps be Murch, but as he’s the most oft-quoted editor working today and already has several books out, so it’s not something I miss. I love reading about Margaret Sixel (Mad Max Fury Road) and I think that the editor I would most love to read more about Is Michael Kahn, Spielberg’s editor since 1982 (though if that’s your fancy there is a fantastic article on provideocoalition on how he cut both The Post and Ready Player One in one year (though that wasn’t as impressive as him cutting Schindler’s List & Jurassic Park in the same year)
Now and again you miss the natural ebb and flow of discussion between two artists that seems to come out more in the articles and transcripts I read online than in this compiled edition. I think Hullfish realized this and provides a great resource for those ‘editor/readers’ who would prefer to see the “raw rushes” online at Provideocoalition – this is in addition to the companion website that can be found at wwww.routledge.com/cw/Hullfish
There is a lot to go through here, but it’s an enjoyable journey with the best artists and crafted well. I hope that a new addition or perhaps a second volume is in the works, because I know I have many long renders in my future and this would help me pass them learning a lot more! Stephen King wrote in his famous book OnWriting that if you don’t read, you will never be a good writer. I would whether you are currently cutting or just hope to one day: this book is a great read for any level. Whether you’re up at the cottage or stuck in your suite waiting for a render!
So. I hope you’re glad you bought this book. If you’ve bought it and enjoyed it – I would suggest following the author – his twitter handle is: @stevehullfish . He’s quite prolific online and it’s great to keep up to speed with him.