Bill Pankow in class

Brian De Palma’s editor was the Artist in Residence at The Manhattan Edit Workshop. We’d just watched The Black Dahlia, and we had the opportunity to ask questions.

The film has a lot of voiceover – in the style of the 1940s movies that De Palma wanted to emulate. Bill gave us a couple of tips. Even if you know you are going to have voiceover in a scene, make it work without. It’s important not to introduce the voiceover too early in a scene. Establish location first. Make sure the audience has taken in the scene’s pictures and sound. Then let them see the characters – understand their initial roles in the scene. Make sure that when you do introduce the voiceover that it doesn’t distract from what is on screen. The voiceover overpowers most images and sound from the scene, so be careful.

Start the voiceover at the point the audience becomes curious as to what is going on.

In the Black Dahlia and Assault on Precinct 13, Bill put some fades to black between scenes. We asked him if that was due to act breaks. In some cases it was, in others he said that fades can be used for another reason.

If you do not want the emotion from one scene to be carried into the next, fade to black between scenes.

Bill said that filmmakers know that the effect of one scene on the next might be too strong – it is a good idea to give people time to think on what’s happened, and permission to start a new emotional line in the following scene.

Once editors have worked with directors for a while, they should be able to read the dailies. They can tell how the director planned the scene to be put together. That’s the version you should show the director first – even if you think that there are better ways of doing it. If you omit dialogue, stay in the master when there are many cutaways; start distilling the scene, the director will want to see footage the way they planned in the first place. There might better ways of making it work, but they need to see the way they planned to do it in the first place.

The first version of the film should show all the scenes that the director shot. That is, even if not all the scenes need to be in the film, the director and producer need to see a version of all that was captured. The editor can also create their version in parallel, but the first version to look at will be the ‘script assembly’ version.

After refining the film, fixing scenes, changing the structure, Bill likes to go through each of the scenes again, looking at all the dailies for each scene. It may turn out that once the scene it cut into the film, an alternate reading of a line may work better for the film. This can be seen when the scenes are in context.

That was some of what he talked about that wasn’t specific to the films we saw.


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