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Melva McLean

The Envelope, Please

film_editing

I was at a film event the other night, and someone asked, “So what do you do for a living?” I, of course, answered, “I’m an editor.” They asked, “What movies have you worked on?”

It happens all the time. But the other night, for the first time, someone asked me if I saw any similarities between print and film editing. I said, “Not many,” but when I got home I started to think about that answer. I realized there are parallels between what I do and what film editors do.

film_editingBoth print and film editing can be described as part of the “post-production process” of their respective fields: moving images on film (or primarily digital disc now) and words on paper. In both cases, someone has already done the “raw” work in their respective mediums. Going forward, a film editor assembles shots into a coherent sequence, working with the layers of images, story (including character arc), dialogue and pacing he or she has gleaned (and discussed) with the writer and director.

That’s not much different from what we fiction editors do. We have a raw piece of work with engaging characters who go through all sorts of challenges, twists and turns, to evolve (arc) into men and women changed, in profound ways, from who they were at the beginning. We ensure that each chapter has a setup, a complication and a resolution and that it segues seamlessly to the next chapter. We make sure the pacing fits the genre — fast and furious for an action novel, leisurely for a literary character piece, somewhere in-between for a murder-mystery or psychological thriller.

Film editing is often referred to as the “invisible art” of cinema because when it’s done well, the viewer isn’t aware of it. I would argue the same could be said of good print editing. We notice the editing only when it’s not done well or we suspect it hasn’t been done at all.

But there is a departure. In the film world, editors are in big demand. Even producers of low-budget short films (like me) try to get the best editor they can within their film community. Some newbie directors (like me) take film-editing courses so they can at least do a rough cut on their own, but many (again, like me) realize it’s a skill best left to the pros.

Here’s something that goes along with being considered an “artist” by your peers: you are revered and rewarded through accolades, mentions in film reviews and awards. Did you know that ever since 1981, every film selected as best picture has also been nominated for the film editing Oscar, and two-thirds of the best picture winners have also won for film editing? (And the statistics are similar for the film awards from other countries, including the Canadian Screen Awards.)

That doesn’t happen much in the print world. Yes, there are editing awards — the Tom Fairley (from our own EAC), the Perkins and the Hugos. Once in a blue moon the winner of the Giller or the GG will mention their editor at the awards ceremony, or afterwards during a newspaper interview, or on their own blog. But I wonder if nominating not only the writers of fiction and non-fiction but also a few of their editors would cause editors in general to be seen more as indispensable players in the process of print, just as our film counterparts are in cinema. I wonder if making print editors a little more “visible” as “invisible artists” might not be a good thing.

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7 Comments on “The Envelope, Please”

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    I agree with both your points, Melva. Yes, print editing is very similar to film editing, in the kind of work done and in the results achieved. And yes, print editors deserve a lot more recognition than they generally receive. Everyone accepts that a film is produced by a team of people, so the credits – and the awards – are distributed widely. But we have this myth that a book or a magazine article is created by a solitary genius – the author – and attention is focused entirely on that one person. The public wants to believe it is so, and publishers buy into that dream because the « star » system fosters publicity and sales. I sense, however, that things are beginning to change: book editors have played major roles in a few novels and films, and a small group of senior editors have developed high profiles – at least within the literary community. Some authors give generous praise to their editors in their acknowledgments. Still, most people have no idea of just how much involvement some editors have in shaping the books they love to read – and that often win big prizes too.

    And so to action, editors! How do we get recognition for our profession? No one is likely to offer it to us unsolicited. We have to do the groundwork ourselves. Ideas?

    • Melva

      says:

      Just a suggestion, Rosemary and Dawn… we could do a discussion group at the Conference. Maybe get a table of interested parties together during the lunch.

      • Rosemary Shipton

        says:

        Yes, that’s a good way to begin, for sure.

      • Dawn Loewen

        says:

        I’m not sure yet if I’m attending the conference, but if so, I’d love to take part!

  • Melva

    says:

    Thanks, Rosemary! I was hoping someone would see it as a call to action. I have some ideas, a couple of them include film. Maybe we could get an informal discussion group going?

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      I’d be happy to become a founding member of the discussion group. Other takers?

  • Dawn Loewen

    says:

    Thanks for this, Melva! I’ve always found it curious that books invariably credit the cover and interior designers, but almost never the editor/s (although I’ve been fortunate to work for two publishers who are exceptions). I think it’s in large part because editors have put up with it. And who wants to stick their neck out and be the apparent egomaniac demanding a mention? Would love to be part of a movement to push for change!

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