The Amazing Film Editor

I was finally in post production on the educational film I was directing. The all important task of editing was now at hand and I considered myself lucky to have a guy like Dom editing my film. Dom already had a real job in big time Hollywood cutting serious movies. Getting this talented film editor to work on my little project was a pretty big deal. However, this experience introduced me to an incredible young film editor who would one day have a major impact on Hollywood film making. However, we’ll get to that interesting story in a moment.

I usually avoided director’s duties at our little motion picture production house. I left that often sought after assignment for the more ambitious to squabble over. However, this time around I found myself in the director’s chair simply because no one else was available. I’ve always had a theory that film directing is not the job you seek. It’s the job you get stuck with. Luckily this time around, the task proved less a hassle than expected and with all the shooting completed we were finally moving toward post production. If you know anything about movie making you’ll know that movies are often made in the editorial phase of production. This is where all the random bits and pieces you’ve photographed are given structure and hopefully a compelling narrative begins to take shape. This particular film was a documentary on the life of jazz legend, W.C. Handy. We had finally been granted permission by the Handy estate to produce the educational motion picture and we wanted to honor the life of the famous musician. The Handy family hated the Hollywood version of the composer’s life starring Nat “King” Cole and Eartha Kitt. The shabby, sorry screenplay was the usual Tinsel Town fabrication and a sad insult to the jazz musician.

Because work on other projects took all our daylight hours, Dom and I put in long nights at the studio. Fortified by coffee and donuts we often spent the night in the edit bay. On occasion we would drive north to Dom’s Hollywood office and on one such stop he invited me in for a brief tour. Dom’s office was on the first level of a lovely Spanish Mediterranean building near Melrose Avenue. This evening, he took me upstairs to proudly show me his editorial department. Keep in mind this was back in the old days when motion pictures were edited on noisy, ancient machines called Moviolas. It was here I observed the rows and rows of film editors working away on their machines. There was the usual clatter of the metal machines as motion picture film rolled back and forth through the film gate. Todays’ movie editing is totally silent as virtual film rolls through a computer and the entire process is digital. However in the sixties the editorial process had changed little since Hollywood in the twenties and thirties and cutting film was very much a hands on process. When film was cut, the physical media was literally sliced through. The butt end of one piece of film was joined to the next by strip of adhesive tape. It might appear to simply be an arduous task of cutting and splicing but it was creative as well. The narrative and the emotional content of a motion picture would be affected by how well these strips of film were put together.

Dom’s editors were certainly capable, but one editor excelled at her task and had a particular eye for effective cutting. She also had a keen interest in Hollywood’s film classics and the brilliance of movie making techniques long since past. Her boy friend was also a film buff having attended the USC film school and hoped to earn his screenwriting credentials on a big time feature film one day. However, the road to Hollywood fame and fortune is not an easy one and having a good day job was nothing to sneeze at. Better yet, if that job happen to be on the periphery of the film business that was even better. In any case, Dom was lucky to have the talented film editor on his staff. 

In time, I completed my documentary and my associate, Dom went back to his Hollywood day job editing motion pictures. However, he was about to lose one of his finest film editors. It seems the editors boy friend (now her husband) had finally gotten financing for his little science fiction movie. Naturally, she would join the editorial team assigned to work on the film. And, it’s a good thing she did because the early cuts of the movie sure didn’t play well. Things for the movie looked iffy until a recut by the young woman suddenly turned things around and the film took on a new life. Now, the movie felt epic in scale and the scenes crackled with energy. After hearing some advance buzz about the motion picture I decided it might be worth taking a look. I headed to Hollywood and Grauman’s Chinese Theater to find a long line wrapping around the block. This was clearly unusual for a week night screening. What was the big deal, I wondered?

Oh by the way, the big deal turned out to be a little film called, “Star Wars,” and the young woman’s former spouse probably deserves some credit as well. You see, he wrote and directed the movie that would knock Hollywood back on its heels and his was a motion picture that would ultimately have considerable impact on the movie industry. One would have to wonder if any of this would have happened had it not been for the recut by his wife. In any case, the young writer director eventually made a few bucks as a film producer and is fairly well known in film circles today. Unfortunately, the marriage eventually ended and I have no idea what Dom’s former film editor is doing today. However, she made her mark in the movie business as well and even has a film school building named after her on the USC campus. You already know her husband’s name but, hers is a name you should probably know as well. That talented film editor known as Marcia Lucas.

George ... perhaps I should say, Marcia Lucas took us on a ride I'll never forget.

George ... perhaps I should say, Marcia Lucas took us on a ride I'll never forget.