Filmism.net Dispatch March 6, 2014

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Here's a pop quiz I don't know the answer to; who's more creative in the filmmaking process, the director or the editor?

There are arguments for and against each. Before I knew anything about movies I assumed the director made every decision about what appeared on screen and the editor was just the guy (or girl – huge props to Sally Menke, Thelma Schoonmaker and their female colleagues) who sat and spliced the film together or pushed the buttons with the director sitting over their shoulder telling them what to do.

Maybe it's just that traditionally, directors didn't usually know how to operate the film cutting machines (or modern equivalents like Final Cut Pro), so they used trained technicians to do it for them. It's changing now – Kevin Smith talked lots on his podcasts about editing Red State on his computer while he was still sitting on the set, having just shot the day's footage. And plenty of directors edit their own films, even bizarrely crediting the editing to a pseudonym to comply with union rules.

The editor-as-mere-assistant makes sense except that there's an Oscar for editing, which means most of the industry considers it a creative task. Verna Fields won hers for Jaws while Spielberg walked away with nothing. It's said Fields' win drove him crazy, making him more determined to prove himself as a creative force in filmmaking (mission accomplished there, Steve).

There's a scene in Hitchcock where Anthony Hopkins as the great director assembles his first cut of Psycho, miserably calls it 'stillborn', and hands it over to his wife Alma Reville to work the editorial magic that had helped his films so much in the past.

Can it be that - rather than mere technicians pressing 'start' and 'stop' according to a director's wishes - editors are the real filmmakers? Maybe directors are just the footage assembly/collection people. They direct the actors what to say and do and the construction and costuming crews to dress it all up, but maybe putting everything they shoot together into a coherent story happens at the editor's behest.

I found one answer to the question here, but how much you take the word of a Yahoo user called 'darthbeefer' from three years ago is up to you. So I asked again on a much more accepted forum among creative types, Quora. Enjoy, and let me know who you think the real moviemaker is.

As I write these words, 12 Years a Slave has just pipped Gravity at the post at the 2014 Oscars (though it quite deservedly won all the technical categories). Personally I think Gravity was better cinema, and though I'd never have said it out loud, I think the harrowing 12 Years a Slave got more than a few 'guilt' votes. Several Academy voters have already admitted to voting for it without seeing it because they felt they should.

Recent movies I've seen and enjoyed (or otherwise). I quite liked the Robocop remake, which turned out a lot better than any of us had the right to expect. Also if you didn't see it when it was out a few years back, a faux-documentary about the assassination of George W Bush called Death of a President was quite cleverly built out of stock footage and realistic actors.

A film I'm at odds with the rest of the critical firmament over however is The Wolf of Wall Street. It was lesser Scorsese, far too free-wheeling and undisciplined than it should have been to be.

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