Final cut.

So as part of my day job I have the responsibility to teach children stuff. At the moment, that stuff for one of my classes, is film theory and production. In the past I've doen the typical thing; looked at some great works, talked about the directors as auteur, and then thrown them in the deep end. This year I decided to come at it from the side, and began with a brilliant documentary on editing.

Here is a list of names: Sally Menke, George Tomasini, Thelma Schoonmaker,

Don't know who they are? Well without them the chances are that the names Tarrantino, Hitchcock, and Scorsese would be unknown too.

By starting with the documentary, and looking at film production through the lens of the editing room, my students saw that at the end of the day, what matters is what the audience sees. You can have the greatest script, the most famous A list actors with the best sfx department behind you, but without the objective vision of a good editor, the project will be nothing.

A good argument has been made that the reason the Star Wars prequels sucked so much was that lucas took control of the editing floor. There is even a moment in the aforementioned doco where Lucan extolls the virtues of digital film making because of how much more control it gives him as an artist. It is interesting to contrast this opinion with the section where Thelma Scoonmaker talks about editing Raging Bull. The very limitation of the film coverage they had due to the improvised scenes between De Niro and Pesci led to the power of the final cut. Essentially, throwing everything in isn't often the best choice.

As writers, we are faced with an even harder divorce between our manuscripts and our novels. Film must be collaborative, and will continue to be so even when cameras and computers become so cheap that your iphone shoots imax. But writing by its very nature is isolated, independent. Today, with the interwebs, its never been easier to write, format and (maybe even spellcheck) and then publish. But this, for myself at least, would have led to too many Jar Jar's and not enough Han Solo's.

So, I come to the real point of this post: I got back my manuscript from my editor yesterday, and I was glad my heart was fortified by thee glasses of red wine when I opened the attachement. He had added 2 full pages of notes at the start, summing up the changes that are to come. Then I started to look through the actual markup, and realised that what I had thought -- hoped -- would be a polish, will in fact be more a re-write. Oh. God.

But the twist of the knife is, he is right.

I have spent nearly 5 years writing and re-writing my story. People have read it, and their changes assimilated. Most recently I paid a colleague with a background in copy editing to do a clean up, and I firmly believe I would not have got a contract without his help. But even after all that, to see how much still needed to be done was for a moment too much to bear.

Then I remembered one of the behind the scenes features on star wars episode 2, where Lucan walks into a room of scaled clay creature design models. Each one was a unique alien design, sculpted by a young artsist, and each one, by itself, would have worked. But Lucas -- so far beyond the humble indie filmaker he once might have been -- steps into the room, picks up two of the creature designs, and tells the creative team that he wanted a bit of this one, and a bit of that one. The result? One of the worst characters ever.

I'm about to go into my manuscript one last time, but this time, I have someone at my back reminding me that sometimes, your hero has to shoot first.



"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain


  1. Very well said. "Throwing everything in isn't always the best choice." I discover that with every revision I submit my manuscript through. It goes something like (crap, crap, crap, scratch). And in the end an editor will want to strip it more. Hopefully I'll be so use to it by then it won't matter. Merlot or Cabernet? Have a great weekend!

  2. Shiraz actually. And I love your entry for "bad news poetry" Due to the time difference between Oz and US, I managed to get my entry as the first reply....



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