Oscar-Winning Editor Discusses Drawbacks of Digital Editing Systems

Z Costa Gavras Poster - P 2012

Z Costa Gavras Poster - P 2012

Directors need to think more about story, says French editor Françoise Bonnot, who has worked with Julie Taymor, Roman Polanksi and Michael Cimino.

ABU DHABI – Digital editing systems such as Final Cut Pro and Avid often make storytelling worse, not better, Academy Award-winning editor Francoise Bonnot said today.

Bonnot, whose credits include Frida, The Year of the Dragon and Missing, told her Abu Dhabi Film Festival audience that often directors are presented with too many choices. They get confused as to what the movie is about. Bonnot herself refuses to compile multiple versions some directors want.

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“Nowadays people who haven’t started out working with film don’t take the time to think about what they’re doing,” Bonnot said. “I refuse to do three, four or five different versions. If you give a director so many choices, often the director loses his way.”

Celluloid imposes more self-discipline, she said, giving the editor more time to think about what he is doing. She lamented that celluloid will disappear very soon.

Bonnot said that American directors such as Michael Cimino have presented her with an hour’s worth of dailies. “It is not that he didn’t know what he was doing, but it is the American way,” she shrugged.

On the other hand she was skeptical about French auteur theory, which argues that the director is the sole author of the film. “Editing is collaboration. Sometimes you will see a French film where the director has fallen in love with the shot and refuses to cut it,” she said.

Bonnot, who won an Academy Award for Costa GavrasZ in 1969 and an editing Bafta for Missing in 1982, told her Masterclass audience that the most important thing is to get the rhythm of a sequence right. “Each sequence has a beginning, middle and end,” she said. “The trick is to get as late into the sequence as possible rather than lose it completely.”

“The main thing is to continually go over dailies, have a vision of what you want to say and a through-line telling your story.”

The Los Angeles-based editor explained her working method showing clips from two Julie Taymor films, Frida and Across the Universe, as well as Roman Polanski’s The Tenant. “Roman taught me not to be afraid to hold onto an image if it’s strong enough. He doesn’t like things to be too ‘cutty’, he likes to work in long shots," she said.

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Good editing does not draw attention to itself, Bonnot told her audience of mostly Emirati filmmakers.

Women are better suited to editing than men, she added. Female editors are more adaptable and patient when it comes to understanding what the director wants.

As to how to improve as an editor, Bonnot said: “Either you have a feeling for editing or you don’t … I hope I keep on learning until I die.”