Why the Director Should Be the Editor of the Film
Sean Baker. The Florida Project.
David Lean. In which we serve. A passage to India (Oscar nomination for editing)
David Lynch (2 features). Eraserhead. Inland empire.
Shane Carruth (2 features). Primer. Upstream Color.
The Coen Brothers (14 features). They have edited all of their films except 2.
Alfonso Cuarón (4 features). Oscar winning editor and director. Gravity. Solo con tu pareja. Y tu mamá también. Children of men.
Steve James (6 documentaries). Hoop Dreams.
Akira Kurosawa (12 feature films). Seven Samurai. Rashomon. Yojimbo.
Robert Rodríguez (16 features and 1 TV show). From dusk till Dawn. Machete. Sin City.
Gus Van Sant (6 features). Gerry. Elephant. Paranoid Park.
Steven Soderbergh (11 features and 2 TV shows). Kafka. Bubble. Magic Mike. The girlfriend experience.
Orson Welles (4 shorts). F for fake. Orson Welles’ Jeremiah. Unsung heroes. The spirit of Charles Lindbergh.
The list goes on and on… James Cameron, Gaspar Noé, Georges Lucas, Martin Scorsese, John Sturges, etc.
If you search on the internet you will find lists of renowned directors that edit their movies. And if you try to search in Wikipedia director-editor collaborations, don’t be surprised to find that there are collaborations that have lasted more than 35 years!!
But should that be the norm? Is it worse for the film that the director edits the film?
It depends on many things.
Type of Directors
Starting with the kind of director at hand.
Film Directors that everything planned out
If the director is a person that has storyboarded everything that already knows how every cut and transition is going to be made and editing then becomes a mechanical task, as filming is, as he has already planned with great detail how everything should work, then you might just hire an editor to put the pieces of film together, as it is a mechanical task.
Film Director and Editor collaborations
But that’s not, by definition, almost never the case. The most common case is that you have planned your film carefully but when filming you have stock footage that you don’t know if it will work or not. There are scenes that you are not 100% sure how you want them to be cut. Therefore, although you have a very clear idea of how the film should look as a whole, you need to be in the editing process so as to be alert for new changes that can transform your film for the better.
That’s when a collaboration comes in handy. It lets you review your ideas with another person and you get another point of view on what you are about to change from your original storyboards or screenplay.
Film Director is the Editor of the film
But what if the editing process is also a big part of the creation of the story and not just the assembly of the parts?
Take a film like Eraserhead. Imagine if David Lynch hired an editor to edit his film. Crazy. I mean, not only the editor would go crazy, also David Lynch in the process of explaining to a third party how the movie should be cut, he will as well go crazy.
This means that movies that tell a big part of the story through editing should be handled by the person who grasps the nucleus of the story.
If that person is the screenwriter, who inevitably ends up being the director as it is a very special kind of movie, should also be the editor of the film.
Example of when the Director MUST be the Editor of the film
That’s why Eraserhead and the central idea of the movie is communicated in such a special, effective and unique way. Because David Lynch brought the idea from a screenplay, all the way to the filming stage, to the editing process untouched by no one else that didn’t know what the thing was about.
So in the end it depends on the kind of movie that you are trying to make. If you want to film the next Mission Impossible movie just hire someone else to do the mechanical and boring task, but if you want to make the next Eraserhead my advice is that you edit it yourself so the film is able to communicate what you want it to communicate.