Friday, June 19, 2015

Top 10 Directors Who Edit Their Own Films

Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where you shape, explore, experiment – it’s literally where you find and make your film. But it’s also a damn tedious process. Because there are so many choices in editing, filmmakers often hire professional editors to help them craft their films. On rare occasions, directors will assume sole responsibility as the chief editor, thereby fully seeing their film to the bitter end. Below are 10 directors who took on the laborious task of editing their own films themselves. Ranking them seemed fruitless, so they’re presented here alphabetically.

Honorable Mention
David Lean
Edited 1 ½ of his features

David Lean started off as an editor, plugging away in post-production for more than a decade before he directed his first feature. But he deserves to be mentioned here because at the tail end of his career, he had an uncredited edit on his In Which We Serve and earned a Best Editing Oscar nomination for cutting his final film, A Passage to India. Not bad for a man in his seventh decade.

The List
Shane Carruth & David Lynch
Each edited 2 of their features
I’m putting Carruth and Lynch together because they’ve each edited two of their own films, Eraserhead and Inland Empire for Lynch, and Primer and Upstream Color for Carruth (though David Lowery helped Carruth cut Upstream). Two films each, all heavily experimental but deeply personal works of art.

The Coen Brothers
Edited 14 of their features
With the exception of Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, and The Hudsucker Proxy, Joel and Ethan Coen have edited all of their films under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. “Jaynes” has even been nominated for two Oscars (Fargo and No Country for Old Men). Some people think the Coens lost the No Country editing Oscar (to The Bourne Ultimatum, by far the weakest of all the nominees) because some voters were too pissy that the nomination was under Jaynes’ name.

Alfonso Cuarón
Edited 4 of his features
Cuarón is the only Oscar-winning editor on this list, having won for cutting Gravity with Richard Hicks and David Rubin. He also cut his first feature, Sólo con tu pareja, and helped maintain the ingeniously long takes in Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men in the editing room.

Steve James
Edited 6 of his documentaries

One of our best living documentarians has cut most of his great films, including the timeless Hoop Dreams, and last year’s well regarded Life Itself. Hoop Dreams itself is an editing milestone. Anyone with a remote interest in the craft needs to watch and study that film.

Takeshi Kitano
Edited 15 of his features
Japanese director Takeshi Kitano has edited (and starred in, and written) many of his own films, most notably his U.S. crossover flick, Brother, and the Palme d’Or-competing Outrage, and its sequel, Beyond Outrage.

Akira Kurosawa
Edited 12 of his features
Kurosawa is the most legendary name on this list, and I love that he cut so many of his most revered films. Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Ran are all inarguable masterpieces. And those are just a third of the films he cut. Astounding.

Robert Rodriguez
Edited 16 of his features, and 1 TV show
I know, I know, Robert Rodriguez’s filmography is spotty at best, but his multi-talented work as a writer/director/producer/cinematographer/musician/editor should not be overlooked, especially by young filmmakers. His Making-Of featurettes and director’s commentaries (in which his editing process is thoroughly discussed) are necessary for anyone interested in filmmaking.

Gus Van Sant
Edited 6 of his features
If you have a bold new vision, why not see every aspect of your film through to the end? That’s what Van Sant did when he cut his more experimental efforts, including Gerry, Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park. Certainly no coincidence that I love all of those films.

Steven Soderbergh
Edited 11 of his features, and 2 TV shows
Like the Coen brothers, Soderbergh edits under a pseudonym, Mary Ann Bernard, which is the name of his mother. (He also shoots his own films under his father’s name, Peter Andrews). But unlike the Coens, Soderbergh often hands editing duties over for his more ambitious efforts (Stephen Mirrione, for example, won an Oscar for cutting Traffic). Typically, Soderbergh edits his more experimental films (Kafka, Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience, Magic Mike) himself.

Frederick Wiseman
Edited 36 of his documentaries

I wish more people talked about Frederick Wiseman. The man is 85 years old and has more or less released one documentary a year for nearly 50 years. That’s insane. And the fact that his films are so damn good should certainly help support the case that Wiseman is one of film’s best, most notoriously overlooked filmmakers. Seriously, do yourself a favor and seek a Wiseman doc out (or contribute to his new film). His first film, the shocking Titicut Follies, remains his best, but there is a ton of gold (Primate, Deaf, Blind, Near Death, Domestic Violence, At Berkeley) waiting to be discovered.

A Few More Worth Mentioning
Michelangelo Antonioniedited 3 of his features
George A. Romeroedited 7 of his features

29 comments:

  1. This is a very inspiring list if you don't mind me saying so good sir. As an extremely selfish and paranoid individual - every short I've been a part of, I've edited (as long as I could help it that is). I find it very hard to give someone else any control over something as personal as editing, where the film is essentially written (finally written I guess) and I've found that if I give someone else control over it - I freak myself out and have gotten close to having panic attacks because of worrying how they put together footage. But as I was saying before, this is a very inspiring list - Lynch and Kitano in particular are two I find very inspiring (among the other greats you listed here). I am a fan of Wiseman though I have only seen 2 of his films lol (Titicut Follies and At Berkeley). I think the reason more of his films aren't widely known is because of how long most of them are and how hard to find a lot of them are as well. I've had to resort to using the internet to even see those two films (I look forward to watching others in the near future...).

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    1. So glad you like the list! Wiseman has been very good at cultivating his entire body of work to his website (www.zipporah.com), but he is alienating a whole new audience of people by not having the films available for streaming. Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or even his own site should be streaming them.

      I too can't imagine having someone else edit my films. There's the control aspect for one, but moreover, editing is my favorite part of the whole process - why hand that over?!

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    2. He only has an editor credit on Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, which are far from his best work.

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  2. That is a great list. I would also mention Xavier Dolan since he has been editing his own films by himself and also does the costume design.

    I like seeing directors do their own cutting as I remember in one of the special features for Elephant, there's a moment where Van Sant is in the editing room and he only has a few editing assistants behind him compiling footage while he goes over it himself.

    I should also note that one of the people who aid the Coens in their editing (for some of the films) is Ethan's wife Tricia Cooke which does make it a family affair.

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    1. Dolan is a GREAT call. That was an oversight on my part - he should definitely be included here. And I love that clip of Van Sant editing Elephant. My god, I can't imagine cutting that way. So tedious, but it would also give you time to think and consider every cut.

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  3. Honestly, I had no idea who would be here when I clicked the link. This is an awesome collection of directors. Excellent work by you, of course. You just keep educating me. Love it.

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    1. Thanks buddy! It's so nice to hear that people learn stuff from a post you write. That makes it all worth it!

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  4. Ranking them really seem kind of fruitless. I knew Akira Kurosawa will be here by any meaning. He was and always will be the master. Don't apologize for Robert Rodriguez, he deserves to be on this list even if most of his films are pretty bad but his El Mariachi trilogy, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Spy Kids and Planet Terror are pretty solid, I would go so far to say that Sin City is the second best film of 2005. The Coen Brothers are a really nice adding. Their films are really well edited and they don't get the credit that they deserve.
    An idea that I had in mind for a while is top 10 films directed by editors like The Sound of Music directed by Robert Wise, the editor of Citizen Kane.

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    1. I like your praise for Robert Rodriguez. His career has fallen off for me lately, but I'll always love his early wok. And I was definitely thinking about doing that list - sounds like a fun idea.

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    2. Also on Coens. The Bourne Ultimatum is well edited in my opinion. The shaky-cam is use perfectly in moments to intensify the tension rather then mask untalented choreography (like Alex Cross). But I agree The Bourne Ultimatum was the weakest of the nominees (but it was in a very strong year). The Academy should give the award to the best edited film whether or not the nomination is under a pseudonym.

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    3. I think for the style that The Bourne Ultimatum is trying to achieve, it is edited rather well. But my rankings for that category, which was insanely strong that year, would be:

      1. No Country for Old Men
      2. There Will Be Blood
      3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
      4. Into the Wild
      5. The Bourne Ultimatum

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    4. One more thing: I'd bet good money that No County and TWBB split the vote for this category, and the presumed third place, The Bourne Ultimatum, won by default.

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  5. I had no idea Kurosawa edited many of his most revered films. You learn something new every day!

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    1. Isn't that crazy?! I learned that about a year ago and was stunned. He really was the master.

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  6. Great list! I don't think anyone apart from Lynch would have been able to edit Eraserhead or Inland Empire. As for Wiseman, I've only seen Titicut Follies, which I felt was absolutely amazing.

    I really like the Coens' editing work on their films too. I think Soderbergh's best editing effort is probably Magic Mike.

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    1. Thanks! Couldn't agree more on those Lynch films. No one could edit those films but him. The Coen's are very good at hiding their edits - their films just flow. While Soderbergh is such a stylist with editing. Two very different styles, but I adore them.

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  7. To edit 3 years worth of footage and condense it into a 3 hour film that is as dramatic as anything in fiction is a monumental achievement. Hoop Dreams, as you said, should be studied by every aspiring editor or filmmaker for that matter.

    Kurosawa's genius in editing is how he cut on movement. The edits are invisible at times. It just flows with the story. The editing during the final battle in the Seven Samurai alone warrants his inclusion on the list.

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    1. Could not agree more on both fronts. Hoop Dreams is such an achievement, it never feels 3 hours long. Kurosawa was a total pioneer of editing for the exact reason you mentioned. Reminds me of John McTiernan's directory's commentary for Die Hard where he talks about how the studio kept rejecting his early cuts of the film because he cut on movement. He's since said if it was good enough for Kurosawa, it was good enough for him. Smart man.

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  8. VERY cool idea for a list. I'm becoming more and more fascinated with some of these young directors who are intent on dipping their hands into many facets of their films. Personally, I couldn't make a list like this without mentioning Xavier Dolan who has written, directed, produced, costumed AND edited all five of his films. Like, the man is incredibly talented, and only 26 years old.

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    1. Thanks buddy! Sadly, I'm not as hip on Dolan's work as I should be, so I innocently and accidentally looked over him when drafting this list. He definitely deserves to be here, no question.

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  9. A lot of my favorite directors here. The Coen Brothers in particular. No Country for Old Men definitely deserved the editing win that year at the Oscars. The frantic quick cuts and shaky cam of the Bourne movies has never been my thing. I like to see the action when i'm watching an action movie.

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    1. Yes, exactly. That's one of the reasons I loved Haywire, even though most people loathed it. Soderbergh sat back and observed the action, as opposed to trying to craft it with quick editing.

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  10. Great idea for a list! Wiseman and Kitano are blind spots for me, but I dig the rest of these picks. In fact, most of the directors get CinSpec love for their editing work, like Carruth, Lynch, Cuaron, the Coens, Kurosawa, James, Rodriguez, and Lean.

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    1. Thanks! I've noticed them popping up on your CinSpec's before! Love that.

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  11. What about James Cameron? He at least deserved an honorable mention.

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    1. Well, he only has two films to his name (as an editor/director), and nothing about the editing of those films sticks out for me.

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  12. is there a reason why directors editing their own films is so rare?

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    1. The two main reasons are time and studio control. Editors edit while the film is still being shot. For example, when Martin Scorsese is done shooting a film, his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, will have a very rough cut of the film ready to be viewed. Then, together, they start tightening it up. If a director doesn't have an editor, then those months their editor spent assembling the rough cut is lost.

      As for studio control, if a director is editing their own film, they likely have final cut from the studio, which is very rare and very hard to get. That's why most all of the names above are either indie director/editors, or very proven director/editors.

      For me though, editing is by far my favorite step in the process. I absolutely love it.

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