Female Editors: The Invisible Heroes of the Film Industry

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When you think about some of the most popular movies from the last couple of years, you can probably name important people involved with the film. The lead actors and actresses, the director, maybe even the producer. But can you name any of the editors behind these movies? Probably not. However, editors are arguably some of the most important people behind your favorite films.

Editing is more than just rearranging arrays of clips into a movie. Editors take hours and hours of raw footage and cut out the unnecessary bits and pieces, adding effects and sounds to create a cohesive piece of work. They work with directors, cinematographers, and producers to ensure that every one of these departments is satisfied with the final product. To do this, editors are in charge of reworking the plotline of the movie, shaping it in new ways based on the cuts and edits they make to the footage. They’re tasked with making creative and technical decisions that can either make a movie into a multi-million dollar blockbuster or a box office failure.

While most editing takes place digitally nowadays, it has not always been this way. In the early years of film during the first half of the twentieth century, pieces of footage were physically cut and pasted together, meaning that editing was considered an extremely labor intensive and almost “domestic” type of activity. Film editing was often compared to sewing, which of course is something that society sees as merely a female household chore. This perspective on the domesticity of the work of editors meant that editing was seen first as a job for only women. Though this no longer holds true in today’s time (the film industry nowadays is heavily dominated by men, but what’s new?), female film editors still have to deal with way too many outdated gender role stereotypes.

Editing is not as simple as many people make it out to be. Unfortunately, editors, especially female editors, are seriously underappreciated. Considering editors are involved in movie making for just as long as directors are, they deserve a lot more recognition than they get. Editors are on set from day one to gain a sense of the vision of the film, and are assembling clips, putting in sound effects, and layering dialogue until the last day of production. Still, many female editors are forced into the shadows as male film directors are applauded and praised as the reason behind many successful movies.

After a movie is filmed, women are sent in to essentially “clean up” after directors, mending hundreds of sometimes random clips into an actual coherent story. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was one of the most popular films of 2015, and was also nominated for ten Academy Awards. The movie is best known for its innovative editing that makes the movie so thrilling and intense. The editor? The one and only Margaret Sixel. “Star Wars” has developed into one of the most iconic film franchises of all time. Any fan can surely associate the name George Lucas with the film, but few people know that the franchise’s “savior” was really his wife Marcia Lucas, the editor of the 1977 movie.

Though female editors are in charge of work vital to the success of films, they’re still expected to stay submissive and follow the vision of the director. Many male directors choose to work with female editors for that reason. Directors and editors need to be able to collaborate and work together in order to create something appealing to a large audience. It takes a lot of patience and a willingness to compromise, qualities that society more commonly associates with women.

Female editors are expected to act almost motherly to the male directors they’re working with. Many famous male film directors have illustrated the women editors they work with as “supportive and comforting” companions throughout the movie-making process. One case of this can be seen with popular film director Quentin Tarantino’s relationship with the esteemed film editor, Sally Menke. He worked with Menke on every single one of his movies up until her death in 2010, describing her as “nurturing” to both himself and his movies. In his eyes, female editors like Menke are great because of their subdued nature and willingness to conform to the ideas of the (male) director.

This view of female editors as having a maternal role only perpetuates the stereotype that women exist solely to support their male counterparts and lack the ability to contribute anything of meaning to society. It sustains the common myth that all women are submissive, emotional, and dependent beings who rely on men to find their self-worth. This myth keeps many women from asserting their presence and their ideas in a multitude of environments extending far beyond the workplace. Likewise, this also suppresses the stories that all these women can be in charge of telling within the film industry. It silences whole perspectives that are vital in the storytelling process.

So who are these wonderful women that are behind your favorite films? There are way too many to discuss within one article, but there are a few that have completely revolutionized the way we look at editing and the film industry in general. Take Joi McMillon. McMillon was a co-editor for the movie “Moonlight,” which you’ve probably heard of (273 award nominations and 225 wins, no big deal though). Not only that, McMillon was also the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar nomination in the film-editing category. Her nomination was a major win in many different ways, and will surely help to inspire future film editors from a multitude of diverse backgrounds.

Thelma Schoonmaker, one of the most celebrated editors in film history, is best known for bringing attention to the misunderstood and underappreciated art that is film editing. She’s worked on films like “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” and “Raging Bull,” and has been nominated for an Oscar seven times (winning three). DeDe Allen, an editor for classic films like “The Hustler,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” andDog Day Afternoon,” had one of the most unique editing styles in film history and helped revolutionize the way filmmakers thought about movies. Her radical innovations transformed what would’ve been unremarkable movies into some of the most renowned cinematic masterpieces of all time.

While at first glance film editing may seem like a trivial part of the production of any movie, the reality is that it’s an art that makes or breaks all of your favorite films. The female editors behind these movies don’t deserve to go unrecognized any longer. So, the next time you watch a movie, take a moment to appreciate the hundreds of hours of work that have gone into making it. Ultimately, these women are the storytellers of film.

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