EditFest: 'Terminator,' 'Beetlejuice', 'Heathers' Editors Recall Cutting Cult Classics

"On a low-budget film, you get minimal footage. I had to deal with what I had. It gave me the confidence that no matter how bad it seems, you can make it better," says 'Death Race 2000' editor Tina Hirsch.
'The Terminator'

Editor Mark Goldblatt had no idea James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi film The Terminator would become a classic — but he knew it would be good.

“You could tell on the page it was going to be terrific,” he said of when he first reviewed the script, adding that he landed the job because “I was available for a limited budget.”

Speaking Saturday at EditFest LA, Goldblatt related that the movie was made quickly and on a budget of just $6.8 million: “It was an eight-week shoot, and it was cut together about six weeks after that. [During production,] Jim was very busy shooting; we tried to get together [to review the edit during off-hours].

“I love the movie, I can watch it over and over," he added. "I didn’t realize it would become a modern classic and spin off into sequels. But there was a buzz about it that seemed to endure. It hits a mass chord.”

Goldblatt was among the veteran editors who shared fun recollections of working on projects that became cult classics during the annual American Cinema Editors event, which was held at the Walt Disney Studios.

Mark Helfrich also recalled his experience cutting Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 film Showgirls in Lake Tahoe. “The editing room was in the same space as the dancers’ dressing rooms. They wanted to see what we were doing, so we said, ‘Come in,'” he recalled, getting a huge laugh. "This never happens as an editor.”

Speaking of 1988's high school-set black comedy Heathers starring Winona Ryder, editor Norman Hollyn stressed that its creators wanted to make "the anti John Hughes film" and "we couldn’t have given fewer f—s" what people thought. But as originally written, the film ended with a prom in heaven. "The distributor said it wouldn’t give money to a film that kills the hero, so the ending was rewritten to keep the style but also keep the money coming," said Hollyn.

Jane Kurson noted that Tim Burton’s fantasy Beetlejuice also got a revised ending. "Michael Keaton [as the ghost Betelgeuse] was so amazing, but he was only in a couple of scenes. We didn’t know what to do because it fell flat with the lack of Michael Keaton. David Geffen [who was a producer on the film] let us film additional fills and an ending [sequence]. We added it, and it became a good film.”

Tina Hirsch talked about the learning experience she had while cutting 1975’s Death Race 2000, which she said was made for $300,000 and on a tight schedule. “On a low-budget film, you get minimal footage. I had to deal with what I had," she said. "It gave me the confidence that no matter how bad it seems, you can make it better.”

Avid’s Michael Krulik moderated the conversation.