Since editors work in post-production and are close to the final hands on a film, it’s their job to make sure everyone who worked on a production looks good. “Two hundred and fifty people make a movie if you count everyone from the drivers to the director, everyone on set, and it’s my job to do justice to the incredibly hard work they put in to film it,” said Schoonmaker. Riegel added, “I have to have an understanding of the performance, the camera, all of it. And I want to find the takes and the scenes that are emotionally real to me and put them together. But the publisher has a huge influence on what the film is. There are times when I can take a line reading from one take and put it with the visual from another take. Sometimes I just use a word from another take and insert it. I can manipulate time by expanding or contracting, giving more pause between dialogues to give something gravity or speeding up something to give something tension. People have often described editing as the third rewrite of the script, and you don’t know what it’s going to be until you really work on it.
Friedrich liked to cite George Lucas’ early “Star Wars” as an example of the influence of an editor. “Marcia Lucas, George Lucas’ wife at the time, was brought in because her first ‘Star Wars’ wasn’t going so well. She came and she made sure it went well. There’s a very interesting video which shows the first cut, then what she transformed it into. It’s fantastic,” Friedrich said.
From the days of silence until today, female film editors have proven their skills not only in the Hollywood film industry, but in cinema all over the world. But there is still progress to be made. In 2017, Joi McMillon became the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for “Moonlight,” providing young black women with a role model much like Booth, Allen and Schoonmaker were.
Harris, who is co-chair of MPEG’s Women’s Steering Committee, added: “It’s great to have role models, but the problem is that when people think women are well represented in editing, they defend this position by saying, ‘Look, Thelma Schoonmaker, Dede Allen and Sally Menke!’ But the fact remains that we are only 25% of the guild and the highest paid editors are mostly white men who make action movies.
As people discover editing software on their personal computers and Blu-rays offer bonus features showcasing the work of film editors, the cloak of invisibility is slowly being lifted. Hopefully, this will lead to not just female editors, but all film editors getting the respect and appreciation they deserve.