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What do the films: The Birth of a Nation, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Bonnie and Clyde, Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Pulp Fiction, The Wolf of Wall Street, Lawrence of Arabia, Blue Jasmine, and Star Trek: Into Darkness have in common? Two things actually- all of them have been nominated for a slew of Oscars (most winning a few) and they all have been edited by women.
The film editing world isn’t one that comes with glamour or fame, but women have been dominating it since before motion picture storytelling was even popular. So how did this come to pass in such a male dominated industry? Because the list above doesn’t even scratch the surface for how many acclaimed films have been edited by women.
Film editing, despite being so influential in how good the film will be, was once perceived as miserable grunt work, it still is at times. For much of Hollywood’s history, they were little to no career opportunities for women outside of acting and screenwriting-except for one major field. Women have always been able, welcomed, and preferred by directors for film editing-“cutters.” In the early days it was tough work for a tough individual.
Not only did editors need to work long physically demanding hours, but they had to be insanely precise, otherwise the cuts would not look satisfactory to the director -which considering how expensive and difficult film was for reshoots back then, could not happen. People who worked in film editing back then worked by hand, using hand cranks to run reels and manually cutting film strips and gluing them together. It was tedious and low paying, which is how the world of film editing first began to be dominated by women. The term “film editor” was first given to female editor Margaret Booth by legendary director D.W. Griffith. Booth began patching and joining celluloid for $10 a week. Griffith respected her skills as an editor and would later become Louis B. Mayer’s Studio’s editor-in-cheif.
Probably the most likely reason for how women dominate film editing still, in today’s world, is strictly preference. Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese met Thelma Schoonmaker at NYU and she has been editing every film of his ever since. Scorsese and Schoonmaker have both garnered immense success for their films, critically and commercially, and they both say it would have been impossible to do so without the other. They are not alone in the realm of male director/female editor partnerships. All of Woody Allen’s films since 1999 have been edited by Alisa Lepselter. Dana Glauberman has edited all of the feature films of Ivan and Jason Reitman, both of which say they owe their careers to Glauberman. Prior to her death, all of the films of Quentin Tarantino were edited by Sally Menke.
Tarantino stated that he adored Menke and never felt his “babies” were safer than in her motherly hands. Both Reitmans agree that the relationship between director and film editor is like a husband and wife, and when the film is becoming a film in the cutting room floor, they spend hours with just one other person creating this new life, and Glauberman’s sensibility makes the process enjoyable and successful. They compliment each other.
Opinion by Andres Loubriel