ACE’s 9th Annual Invisible Art Visible Artist Seminar

American Cinema Editors (ACE or A.C.E. as you see after some editor’s credits) the¬†honorary society of motion picture editors, puts on an annual event every pre-Oscar Sunday Saturday, the¬†Invisible Art Visible Artist Seminar.

This event is a free event but it’s a first-come-first-seated event.

Thanks to Norman Hollyn (, I found about this event and I ended up attending.

My attendance to this event was a series of luck that’s for sure. I had first thought the seminar was a paid event but because Norman Hollyn asked if anyone was going to this free event, I quickly realized it was free and hustled to take the morning away from my day job to attend.

I happened to leave early to go to L.A. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten in. The line into The Egyptian Theatre, where it was this year, wrapped around the block and I got one of the last 40 tickets to get in. Somehow, I also got to tenth row center of the room. I zigged when others zagged.

BTW, Hollywood Blvd. is now halfway closed because of the Oscars tomorrow. The street is all a buzz with Oscar fever.

To find out more about the ACE event go to this webpage: Basically it’s the 2009 Academy Award nominees for best achievement in editing discussing the art of editing. Each editor or team presents one particular clip from their nominated film and talks about the particular challenges of it.

Today, it was Lee Smith (The Dark Knight), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire), Elliot Graham (Milk) and Mike Hill A.C.E. and Dan Hanley A.C.E. (Frost/Nixon). The moderator was Alan Heim A.C.E.

The first question that went around the panel was, “How did you get started?” Some of the good ones:

“…the piece of advice that I give out which I’ll get in trouble for because the police don’t like it. My advice to people getting into editing is to stalk someone!” — Elliot Graham (then he gives his examples) I think he just created a theatre room full of stalkers!

“I went from being a prison guard to an editor.” — Mike Hill, A.C.E. (true story)

The first clip played was from The Dark Night. This was the big truck chase when the bat vehicle turns into a motorcycle and all the explosions and stuff. It was a long clip. This part of the movie was shot on a 65mm IMAX camera and cut on an AVID. There were a lot of special effects and Lee Smith described the timeline having lots of “skyscrapers” on it. (this is to describe the tons of layers/tracks on it)

He also described the lack of music as a choice they decided to use for this scene to play up the action and effects of the scene, which others agreed was a refreshing aspect to the scene. (And a point that my Uncle would love, Lee commented on the center sound channel being low in the theatre.)

There’s no CGI in the scene but there was model work. (1/6th scale models were used on the truck blowing up part of the clip).

The next question for the group: “How do you structure a scene?”

“I approach each scene as it’s own little mini movie and treat it like that with it’s own beginning, middle and end.” — Mike Hill, A.C.E.

“I’m a nervous wreck when I cut a scene.”
“You go with your instincts and you muddle your way through.” — Dan Hanley, A.C.E.

A scene from Milk was the second clip to be shown. This was one that started with Harvey Milk and Dan White (drunk) and ends with Harvey at the podium of the Gay Pride Day Parade/Celebration, 1978. This was a very moving clip. There weren’t too many cuts in the confrontation scene because both actors were just riveting. Elliot talked about the pain of losing great performances with a cut. Dan Hanley and Mike Hill talked about the same and about leaving good performances in. Chris Dickens talked about doc style shooting and holding shots.

The third clip is from Frost/Nixon, when Frost turns the tables on Nixon during the interview. Again, a really great clip. Mike lists some of the great actors Ron Howard has used in his movies. Robert Duvall is in the list. I really like Mr. Duvall, so that was a nice moment for me.

Next overall question was: “Length of the movie, How do you negotiate the length of the film?”
For example, Benjamin Button was 2 hours and 45 minutes long. (This discussion makes me want to listen to the Creative Screenwriting podcast for Benjamin Button!) The Benjamin Button editors and Alan Heim talk about how this movie and Zodiac were both long movies. Lee Smith, whose Dark Knight film was 2 hours and 30 minutes, quips, “Yeah! Those were both really long movies!” He goes on to say that you just have to work to find the “sweet spot”.

Did I mention the kid next to me has “shaky leg syndrome” and can’t sit still to save his life!

Chris Dickens states that Slumdog Millionaire was always intended to be two hours. First it was a contractual situation but when Fox(?) pulled out, it just became a desired time. Especially when screening audiences are fidgeting.

Then comes the Benjamin Button clip. This is the clip where he is a 7 yr-old old man at the revival tent. Kirk and Angus talk about the scene and how it was to cut without the star in the scene. They felt it was flat. They said that Brad Pitt was great at coming in and fitting his movements to the already body-modeled scenes, very few takes. Also talked about the back and forth when there is two editors.

There was some banter about do we really need actors and Alan Heil quotes The Producers, “Next time I do a film, no actors!”

Last clip of the day, Slumdog Millionaire. Chris apologized for the “downer” clip in the company of all these upbeat clips.

This was an amazing clip and made me want to see this movie more than ever! Chris Dickens talked about how much beautiful footage/scenes there were and how it was hard to see them go. Slumdog is from the book Q & A.

That was that on the clips and so the last portion was questions from the audience but were questions read from a woman (Diane Adler maybe?) (Answers are paraphrased here.)

“What was your most memorable day on your film?”

Mike and Dan – the end of the film and the screening
Chris – 1st day in mumbai with the star getting his head dipped in a water bucket.
Angus – the day they screened and I was late and when the lights came up, all the animators were in the room!
Lee – The day they had heard Heath had passed.

“Scenes dropped you regretted losing”
Lee – no, none were dropped! (a joke about how long the film was, I think.)
Kirk – No, we didn’t cut anything.
Chris – Hated cutting the kids’ scenes.
Elliot – No, but glad that some were cut, like this one long montage scene.
Dan and Mike – No

“How has your passion for editing affected your personal life?” (This was my favorite question, as a new editor, I am learning a lot about this sacrifice and am very glad that I have an understanding wife!)

Lee – Lucky to have a supportive wife.
Kirk – You don’ want to be home all the time. My daughter still doesn’t get it though.
Angus – Works with his wife but has two sons. “It’s hard.”
Chris – Wife likes the idea of it but hates the reality of it. It’s hard.
Elliot – I have no life, so no compromise.
Mike – Lives in Omaha, NE so treats being home like being on vacation.
Dan – My wife is probably glad I’m away a lot. Actually, she’s a saint.

“Most re-worked scene?”
Dan and Mike – The opening and all the mixed footage.
Elliot – The scene that starts between Harvey and Scott then to Dan White and to the phone call and then Dan in his underwear, etc. The whole interaction there.
Chris – The opera scene. First it’s in and then it’s out. Back and forth a lot. In the end it’s not there. Just a little tiny bit of it.
Angus – The Mr Cake clock scene
Kirk – Same (It was the first shot, so I think that has something to do with it.
Lee – Joker plants bombs on ferries scene. There was 22,000 feet of just crowd reactions for that scene. There would have been no way to get that (edited) on film. Thank God for non-linear editing!

And that was that.

So, thank you to Norman Hollyn for letting me know that it was a free event and for the contact you directed me to and thank you to ACE for putting on such a great event.

P.S. Since I like free stuff so much, it should be noted that we were handed not only a program but also an And The Winner Is… Insider guide to the Oscars 2009 and an Editors Guild magazine!

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