As I have mentioned many times before I got into the film world as a writer, specifically a screenwriter. I guess I will always consider myself a writer first. And then maybe a director and a filmmaker, even though I personally feel I need more credits under my belt to feel like a complete director/filmmaker. Yes, I have now written 18 screenplays and am currently fleshing out my 19th. But as a director and a filmmaker, I only have one feature credit (but working on another) and 4 short credits. I think I need more creative landscape flowing out there to be fully fledged in that world. But one area I never really considered a big part of my filmmaker role was as a film editor.
Film Editor? … Oh my … Well of course, film editing is a major part of the filmmaker role, whether it’s you doing it yourself or being a major or final voice in those choices. And I was certainly quite involved with our feature film editor on “Dreams Awake,” as well as cutting or being one of the voices on all my shorts. But I couldn’t stay in the editor’s booth too long, or it would drive me a bit crazy watching our hard work end up on the cutting room floor. I would get too antsy and it all seemed too tedious. So to actually be a film editor on a feature … yikes, never in my wildest dreams.
However, a curious thing has been happening in that process. I have discovered there are some striking similarities between screenwriting and film editing. Even though they are two totally different crafts, there are some parallel mindsets at work here. And I doubt I am the first to realize this, but I never really looked at it that closely. And actually, there are some filmmakers who have done both; the Coen brothers, David Webb Peoples, Robert Rodriquez, Robert C. Jones, and many indie filmmakers.
I learned very quickly as a director that the words on the pages of a screenplay are not gospel. I know because I had to cut them out or change them (from my script) for actors right on set . One of the jokes around our set was me saying about the screenwriter, ‘Who in the hell wrote this junk, anyway?’ The first time I did that, there was utter silence on set because everyone knew I had written it. I of course was trying to keep a sense of levity about the creative work, and instill an open dialogue about our process.
I also have to add, as an editor, I have learned some things that I think will help my writing. It is so easy to overwrite, because hey, we are writers and that’s what we do. But then, as has been said many times, writing is rewriting, and that usually means trimming … quite a bit actually. And when you edit a film, you are that last guy who gets to trim it down to its very final essence. Past all the overwritten writing and the overshooting takes. Yes, there really are three films you make; the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you cut. And the one you cut is the one everyone sees. Just forget about the rest. They were only part of the process. And I have to say now, truly being the final word in all three processes, invokes a feeling of ecstasy, power, wonder, responsibility, and fear.
Yes, a bit like being in the film “Groundhog Day.” You keep going over the same material over and over, but not feeling like you’re making headway or getting it right. And so, you have to look at it differently every day with a new attitude, learn from the mistakes, and hope you come out on the other end to a brilliantly shiny day that puts it all perfectly into its proper place in the universe.
Author: Jerry Alden Deal
Writer – Director – Producer of Way To Go Media, LLC.
Over the past thirty years Jerry has been hired numerous times to develop and write screenplays for other production companies. During that same period several of his spec scripts were also optioned. ‘Dreams Awake’ was Jerry’s feature directorial debut. He has several other projects in various stages of development. One of which, the feature documentary ‘The Inner Sonic Key’ is currently in post-production.