In looking back, one of the most difficult and lonely times I had was after production had been completed and post-production began, specifically when the editing process started. All of the support I’d had during the previous months was instantly gone. I knew I could turn to others for help, but that doing so would be at the expense of the independence I required in order to make the film fit the vision I had. To ask others to weigh in would have made the decision-making a shared effort, something that would require compromises I was not willing to make. So, I began the journey alone, with the help of Charles Willis, the editor I had chosen. And, true to his promise, Charles was committed to going where I wanted to go with the film.
Our first effort at a cut was very, very long. I had trouble omitting any scene from the film and wanted to use pieces of way too many of the takes. As a result, when Angel saw the first cut, he lambasted the “assembly”, saying that I was taking on a role for which I was neither trained nor experienced. He argued that for the sake of the film I should not undertake “supervised editing” and should spend the money (that I didn’t have) to get a new editor to whom I should turn over the film.
In a way, this criticism set me free. The next cut, I didn’t share with him or anyone else. But I was still having trouble with moving forward on a sure path. I realized that the problem was that I didn’t want to cut actors’ air time. I didn’t want to take out parts that were good, but which did not fit the overall emerging form of the movie. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was stuck. It was like having writer’s block in the middle of drafting a novel.
At this point, I had a very crucial unplanned conversation with my composer, Kays. I told him about the hesitations I felt about cutting, the fear of hurting people. He graciously spent about an hour talking with me to get across a single notion: I needed to do what was for the good of the film, not what was good for any single actor or set of actors. Actors, he said, ultimately wanted to be in a great film, regardless of how much they appeared in it. Yes, they would like to be maximally seen, but it was more important to them that the film be a success. If the film weren’t good, and not a success, the amount they appeared on-screen wouldn’t matter much. And then he said something else very important. He told me that I could do it and that it was obvious that I could. I just needed to knuckle down and make decisions wisely.
That pep talk was seminal. I went back to the drawing board and re-outlined how I wanted the film to proceed, how each character was supposed to play, and where I wanted fast versus slower pace. This allowed me to cut any scene, take, or sequence where someone was out-of-character. It made me ruthless in cutting parts that were not in focus, poorly conceived, or inconsistent with my vision of the film.
I continued to rely on Kays for the remainder of the editing process. He was always positive and I could count on him to share his vast experience in a constructive way.