Editor's Eye: Moving at the Speed of Culture.


Is there a movie scene you’ve never forgotten that still fills your spirit like a glass of fine wine? Doesn’t it feel like it’s a part of who you are? Do you remember the
rhythmical feel of the scene?

The most fascinating aspect of filmmaking I have witnessed is the ability of film editing to adjust to the movements of culture. As we think and connect faster, editing has gotten faster, with far less need for “classical” continuity and rhythm. In a lightning storm of activity, we can jump from thought to thought and make complex connections without spelling them out as we once felt necessary.

, our culture has also had adverse reactions to all this speed, so we’re also attuned to the need to slow down in order to sense and appreciate the subtler movements of elements in our storytelling. Avant-garde editors of yesteryear were tuned into faster thinking and perception, but most of the filmgoing culture wasn’t ready to take in their work.

The filmgoing "mind" is a lot more versatile now. Film has had a profound ability to slowly (and sometimes quickly) change our culture by “training” us to take in stories in novel ways. We can often spare familiar details while creating more intricate connections between plot points and characters.
We have been taught ways to perceive by movies.

If you haven’t seen
A Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza) yet, I recommend it. It starts off with a slow deep tempo. Soon, it takes off like a race-horse and then finds its way back to the quiet. It moves through a wide range of speeds with a rarely seen finesse. It traces the path of youthful ambition into the transformative wreckage of midlife. Forget the erudite lecture on rhythm — watching this film is an object lesson in rhythmical genius.

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

Film editors today can work with a far more dynamic range of rhythms than their predecessors and still connect with the wider culture. What hasn’t changed is the importance of editing
sensitivity: knowing when it’s time to slow down the cutting and storytelling rhythm. Cutting fast can become compulsive, like gambling or eating potato chips. This becomes a poor substitute for beauty and depth. It takes a certain discipline to decelerate things so the story can reach the part of our psyche that takes in the longer view and appreciates the moment with a wondrous impression, one that may well last for years.
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Are there Creative Have-Nots?

I think the creative process springs from an impulse to renew, disrupt, and even destroy.

People who are wired in a way that responds strongly to that impulse get labelled as "creative types" even though they also have conservative trends in their personality that value stability, consistency, and regularity. Those whose trends are predominantly stability-seeking get labelled as “uncreative.”

None of us always likes or dislikes creativity. Perhaps for some, dividing the world into creative and uncreative camps fires them up into action - why not? But I would stay far away from believing in those as fixed categories. As a “creative type,” with dominant trends toward imagination and disruption, I’ve learned a lot from valuing the conservative trends in myself and others.

I see people more as ongoing processes rather than fixed positions. Both personality trends belong. My “brilliant” idea may fall on deaf ears today, but it may be met with a warm welcome next week, when perhaps I’ve taken in some criticism or found an even deeper conviction in the worth of the original proposal. Or maybe something has simply changed the mood of the conversation at work that has nothing to do with my machinations. The idea could also die. Sometimes this process has led me to go elsewhere with my current spark. A creative idea introduced into a group may have great potential value at some point, but it is ripe only when enough people resonate with and embrace its disruptive impulse.

“We are all patchwork,
and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit,
each moment, plays its own game.”
— Michel de Montaigne

Is there a guide to making this process smooth and consistent? I hope not - that would be
co-opting the mystery of creativity, leaving us with a substitute that is far too inert. A little danger and discomfort go a long way.

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How to Cast a Spell


This question recently came my way:
How does a film editor contribute to storytelling?

Effective film editors are highly attuned to rhythm. Rhythm runs through everything you see in a film: frame composition, shot duration, scene duration, dialogue, music, sound effects, and graphic effects, to list the main ones. The technical aspects of knowing the software are secondary, the way knowing how to type simply serves a short story writer. The editor uses his or her instincts to coordinate these rhythms into a story that brings viewers firmly into a state of belief. When a scene drags, or a cut is just awkward, that belief can be destroyed.

You might say editors are audio-visual hypnotists with a talent to keep you spellbound in wonder.

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What do you make of "Her?"


I think my favorite aspect of Spike Jonze’s film "Her" was that it provoked me into a web of questions, arguments, and rumination on the definition and qualities of personal relationships.

My take.
For me, "Her" demonstrates that relationship has far more to do with imagination (in monologue and dialogue form) than with the actual exchange of words and actions. That doesn't make it less compelling - in fact, I'll bet many great relationships thrive on cooperative imagination. Much like taking up the company or school motto, we take up the mottoes of our various relationships. The possibilities are endless.

  • Other questions that popped up:
  • Are electronic devices eroding personal relationships?
  • Are they reflecting a pre-existing erosion?
  • Does the film suggest a reclaiming of solitude in our hyper-connected culture?
  • What else?

What's YOUR take?

Click on the
poster to watch an excerpt.

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How to Break into Film Editing? — Send a Telegram.


I was stuck with it. A giant stack of triplicate paper with tear-away, sprocket-hole perforated edges. Rather broke at the time, I bought the cheapest paper around that would work with my clunky printer so I could send my resume out to every film editing company in Manhattan. I found out that employers wanted you to send a videotape reel of your work, but I didn't have any material, so I just sent out the cover letter and resume on my awkward paper to about 50 places.

Weeks went by. I followed up with phone calls. No response. Despair set in. Now what? Those were rice and beans days, so I wasn't in the market for fancy Crane's stationery. In my exhaustion, I chided myself for sending out letters that looked like Western Union telegrams from a 1940's Hollywood film. And then it came - a sideways shift in perspective. I decided to send about a dozen companies a fake telegram issued as a warning to them that a person of my description was currently in New York trying to break into the world of film editing. If they had any contact with me, they were to report my whereabouts immediately. This faux telegram (complete in crispy triplicate with tear-away edges left intact) was peppered with various pranks. Like a drunken night in a French bar where I challenged a German traveler twice my size to an arm wrestling match — it ended unbelievably in a tie. Also mixed in were my actual credentials and work experience as an assistant to a tv commercial film director. It was a blast to write, and believe me, I felt I had nothing to lose.

About a week later, I got three job interviews followed by three offers. My first week as an editing apprentice, an assistant asked me which relative had gotten me into the business. "None," I told him, to his utter disbelief since the business was so closed to outsiders. I remember feeling really glad I didn't know THAT at the time I had gotten the inspiration to go with the telegram.

Got your own job break-in story? I’d love to hear it. (leave a comment)

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The String's the Thing - the Birth of Movies

In film history, we hear a fair amount about the French Lumiere brothers and George Meliès for their pioneering work in motion picture film. But for me, the original hero of movies was master photographer Eadweard Muybridge of California. His still photography of Yosemite National Park have stood the test of time. Yet the real master stroke of his career came when he was asked by a client to help him clarify an important question about the stages of a horse's gait while galloping: is there any moment in which all four hooves are off the ground?

To find out, Muybridge had a rider gallop a horse down a straight track lined on one side with evenly spaced cameras to take a shot of the horse as it passed each camera. Did he have a person at each camera on the ready to snap the picture? Certainly not - that would be too imprecise. Instead, he ran fine strings from each camera's shutter arm across the track so that the horse's hooves would break the string and trigger the taking of the picture. The answer to the "flying horse" question is answered by looking at Muybridge's photos above. Muybridge, focused purely on a question of motion using pictures, did nothing further with this application except to apply it to the gaits of other animals such as buffalos. However, a magical spark was ignited, and he inadvertently gave birth to a technology and art form that have mesmerized us for over a hundred years.

Watch an animation of
Muybridge's photos here.
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Meeting Grandpère

r_corvol1Robert Corvol

Image one: Paris. 1967. I’m four. Grandpère, a raconteur, is holding court at the large family lunch table where about 12 people listen with quiet attention.

Image two: I want to speak. He frowns at me and warns that I’m to remain quiet. He goes back to telling his tale.

Image three: I peep up again. He glares and raises a finger. He continues his story.

Image four: He is pulling me by my left ear, from my seat, around the table, and through the swinging door into the kitchen where I get surprised looks from Yvette, the angelic housekeeper and Hector the grouchy cat. Apparently I’ve broken the silence again.

Years later as a teenager, I learn that he died of a “massive” heart attack in 1968. Obviously, I think, he was always “mad,” so he must have conniptioned his way to death. So goes the unchecked imagination of a frightened child.

With time, I’ve heard more stories, and the image of this complex character becomes less ghoul and more grandfather. Here was a French journalist who after managing to get out of a German prison during several months of World War II, reappeared at home quite suddenly one day announcing to his wife and five children “Me voilà!” (“here I am!”) He also published a few books, including “La Côte d'Azur à la Belle Epoque,” of which I guard my immediate family’s only copy. I’ve toted it to each new place I’ve lived. I really will read it one day.

Having just that one brusque memory of him at the Boulevard Henri IV apartment, I never saw him telling jokes to a charmed group of friends or expressing sweet nothings to his children and grandchildren. My repeating story is the lunch table yank-out. My mom’s repeating story to me is how he looked at me as an infant one time and proudly asserted “Il a des yeux de biche.” (“He has the eyes of a doe.”) A detail about his life slips from my mother’s lips on rare occasions, and the ghost keeps taking on more flesh.

On a 1987 bicycle trip through France, I spent two idyllic days at the home of Yvette and her husband in Saint-Benoît, eating eggs and vegetables from their small farm, and drinking way too much of their home made hard apple cider. She was my hero in that luncheon tale. Yvette had no recollection of my expulsion from the lunch table, but ever the gentle soul, she conceded that grandpère could lose his temper from time to time, poor chap.

Image five: as the spirit of story next presents it.

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Release Me (Guest Blogpost)

gazzara by Brian Mills
A review of director Joseph Rezwin’s “Gazzara,” from Brian Mills’ “RELEASE ME” series,
in which he reviews films that did not get distributed.

The first time I became aware of this film was when I was scanning the screening schedule of the Locarno International Film Festival and I immediately e-mailed director Joseph Rezwin that this film had to be distributed world-wide as a tribute to Ben Gazzara. The documentary allows us the viewer to eavesdrop on an absorbing conversation between Joe and Ben as they walk together, a fan and his muse. The film is a candid portrait of the man by a man who admired him from a distance after they first met on the set of John Cassavetes’ “Opening Night.” Gazzara’s life, on and off screen, was as rich and deep as his voice. Here we shadow Ben and Joe’s steps as they retrace some of the actor’s favourite haunts from his early beginnings: the influence of the Actor’s Studio, visiting the magnificent Radio City Music Hall. Interspersed are clips of some of Ben’s movies that resonated a lot with me, having screened many as a projectionist. But what really stood out were the unexpected interruptions by passers-by on the street that stopped Ben to shake his hand and tell him how they loved him ... those memories, like this movie, are priceless.

Thanks Ben for the memory.

Thanks Joe for capturing it.

I never got to meet Ben Gazzara, but I felt I knew him like a brother. Our relationship was via the silver screen, treasured moments of time. He died on February 3rd, the same date as his dearest friend John Cassavetes. One could imagine the laughter and tears that reunion would have brought in a starry heaven.

From his meteoric debut as Jocko De Paris, the sadistic military cadet sergeant in “The Strange One,” his silver screen lineage has been impressive: “Anatomy of a Murder” opposite James Stewart, where he played army Lieutenant Frederick Manion charged with murdering the rapist of his seductive wife. He was behind bars again in “Convicts 4,” a film that had not been released on video until only a few years ago. Ben was memorable as John Resko, a convicted murderer who became an artist. His supporting players were Sammy Davis Junior and Rod Steiger. Ten years later Ben made the first of three films with John Cassavetes. “Husbands” was about three friends, away from their wives. The film, because of money difficulties, nearly never happened, but John’s ingenuity convinced backers. It formed a strong relationship between Ben and John off screen and on. “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “Opening Night” followed. Ben also was memorable in “Saint Jack” and “They All Laughed,” both directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Whatever part he played Ben had style.

Brian Mills, a British film writer based in London, fell in love with movies at age four. This and other articles are available on his web magazine “Movies by Mills.”

the magazine Movies by Mills here.
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Editing Analysis: Triumph of the Unusable

When what goes wrong goes right in filmmaking.

Riding as the Story (Guest Blogpost)

Becoming the Story - guest blogpost from actor Dirk Keysser. Read More...

Michelangelo, Editing Mentor

Inspired by Michelangelo’s trust of the medium - thoughts on filmmaking creativity. Read More...

Grandma Miracle

A gift from my French grandmother creates a timeless memory. Read More...