This scene from Modern Romance – where the film editor (Albert Brooks) is cutting a cheesy sci fi flick – is not only painfully funny but realistically captures what can happen in the cutting room. First we see that Bruno Kirby, who plays Albert Brooks’ assistant, is eager to get credit for a cut he made, which Brooks complements him on – what a nice boss! Then the director (played by the real-life director James Brooks) comes in with a stupid idea, a sound effect that doesn’t matter, and although the editor initially fights it, he gives in to the director’s incessant demand. Worse still, we had just seen the editor make a change that really helps the movie. He took out a line an actor says to avoid revealing a crucial piece of information too early on. When he shows this change to the director, he’s not happy because he likes the next actor’s (George Kennedy’s) reaction to that line. The editor explains that keeping the first actor’s line in, tips the audience off, but it’s more important to the director to keep Kennedy’s precious line. He’s ignoring a very important piece of advice I give in The Invisible Cut: “Movie first, scene second, moment third.” That should be the order of importance whenever an editing decision is made. The director, in this scene, is holding onto a moment he likes rather than seeing the overall movie and how important it is to set up mystery and suspense in the story. When the editor caves in for the second time to the director’s misguided judgment, we experience the frustrating compromises that are often made in the cutting room.
This is also the only movie that I know of where a film editor is the romantic lead. Does anyone know of any other? I would like to know!