Monday, 6 July 2015

Cutting Women: 4 Classic Films Spliced by Females

Although the film industry may now be known as a Man's World, women have been asserting themselves through the male-dominated Hollywood ranks over the past few years. But boy how the times have changed! In the early days, women were hired to edit because it was considered menial labor, "something like sewing."

Film editing has become a highly respected and better understood craft in the last decade and it’s still not uncommon to find a woman in the cutting room. So, you can imagine my delight, as a female video editor, to know that women have edited some of my favorite films. You too may be surprised by these following ‘chick- edited’ flicks!

Jaws: Verna Fields

JAWS is first on my list because I was just a kid when I first laid (or covered) my eyes on this film. I’ll never forget the tagline, “When beaches open this summer, you will be taken by Jaws”. I was simultaneously horrified and delighted by this great white that was a menace to society. In my later years, I truly grew to appreciate all that Jaws brought to the movie industry.

It was all in the hands of a first time director (Steven Spielberg anyone?) and a veteran editor, Verna Fields. A former USC professor , nicknamed "Mother Cutter" for her maternal style, Fields helped salvage a film that seemed almost impossible to make. With the unpredictable New England weather and malfunctioning mechanical sharks, Spielberg was even quoted saying, “Jaws should never have been made—it was an impossible effort.” And that’s no exaggeration! Don’t forget that at this time in filmmaking, all editing had to be hand cut, frame by frame, to perfection.

Yet, with the use of long intense shots, and dramatic build-up of tension within the scenes, paired with a memorable soundtrack, Jaws proved successful. Fields was in fact worthy of later becoming Vice President of Universal Pictures, a position she held until her death in 1982.

Goodfellas: Thelma Schoonmaker

The second film on my list made it’s way into a college thesis of mine because of it’s unique editing. In a film like GOODFELLAS, where the story of Henry Hill's life in the mob is being narrated, freeze frames served as a strong narrative function. They delivered a visual punch that I was thrilled to see as an editing style.

Schoonmaker met Martin Scorsese during an NYU summer course in 1963. She helped salvage one of his student films and has been his right hand ‘Woman’ ever since. Although it’s hard to understand what Scorsese’s style is, or Schoonmaker’s, the fact remains that she does the nitty gritty work, and does it well.

In terms of male vs. female editors, Schoonmaker has been quoted as saying, “I’m not a person who believes in the great difference between women and men as editors. But I do think that quality is key. We’re good at organizing and discipline and patience, and patience is 50 percent of editing. You have to keep banging away at something until you get it to work. I think women are maybe better at that.”

Pulp Fiction: Sally Menke

I can thank my sister for introducing me to PULP FICTION years ago. It was the first time I had really seen such a twisted tale of violence and redemption. The script was on point, and so was the editing.

Which brings me to another well known woman editor, Sally Menke. She is credited with editing more than 20 feature films, and having a long time collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. She interviewed with him when he was looking for a cheap editor, and got the job on his film ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Menke has referred to editors as the quiet heroes of movies that have very private relationships with their directors, most often conducted in very dark rooms.

Unfortunately, Menke passed in 2010, having made her final film for Tarantino, ‘Inglorious Basterds’, which was nominated for an academy award for best editing.

Tarantino has stated that “he adored Menke and never felt his ‘babies’ were safer than in her motherly hands.”

Mad Max:Fury Road: Margaret Sixel

I chose to include MAD MAX:FURY ROAD last on the list, because it was the most recent film I saw in theaters. I wasn’t sure that I would like this film, in fact I didn’t even want to see it, but from that first frame with Tom Hardy, I was sold. (Not just because of Tom Hardy.)

Upon reading reviews of the film, I discovered the film was edited by the director George Miller’s wife, Margaret Sixel. I also discovered a new technique out there in terms of editing style.

“One of the many reasons MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is so successful as an action film is the editing style. By using “Eye Trace” and “Crosshair Framing” techniques during the shooting, the editor could keep the important visual information vital in one spot…the Center of the Frame.”

What fascinated me most in regards to the editing, is that Sixel didn’t want to do it. Miller insisted that it had to be her, so that it wouldn’t look like “every other action film”. Wise choice indeed!

So there you have it! Were you surprised by the list? What are some of your favorite movies edited by a woman? What are some movies you just love because of the editing? Man or woman, Happy Editing!!


  1. Great list. I haven't seen "Fury Road," but your post makes me want to leave work now and go see it. I always wondered why Marilyn Monroe's mom (who is generally acknowledged to have been mentally ill) was hired as a film editor. So to read film studios looked at editing like sewing brought some clarity to that for me. Really interesting piece, Laura.

    1. Thanks! Hopefully not all editors are mentally ill;)

  2. You're the best Dos Equis! Inspired!

  3. Great Job!!