Michael Kahn’s Insights on Film Editing
Michael Kahn has been Spielberg’s editor since Close Encounters of the Third Kind, collaborating together for over thirty years. I can only think of Scorcese and Thelma Schoonmaker as another example of an editor and director having that kind of working history. Last night he was in LA for a showing of Lincoln and stayed on to give a Q+A to an eager audience. Not living in LA myself here’s the best of twitter from that night…
Don’t edit from knowledge, edit from feeling.
If you never make changes to a cut you will never get to the best cut.
Approach every gig like it’s the first time you have ever edited anything. Don’t bring baggage from previous shows.
We put film together, tell the story, give it clarity. That’s what we do.
Thought process is what you bring to film. If you see a film that doesn’t work, ask yourself what you would have done differently.
Only assistants are allowed in his editing room and he allows them to sit with him while he edits.
One of Michael’s former assistants is William Goldenberg who is now nominated against him at the Oscars for both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.
Tips for Editors:
Michael uses the theory of 3’s for reaction shots. Scenes play best with 3 reaction shots, no more, no less.
To learn about editing, see as many movies as you can, good and bad.
Always duplicate/overlap 2-3 frames on match cuts because of eye sensory lag.
Keep fresh by walking away from your edit. You’ll come back the next day and see a different scene.
It took Michael & Stephen Spielberg a while to figure out when not to cut.
Just because you have a lot of coverage doesn’t mean you have to use it. (With Lincoln) They stuck with master shots because Daniel Day Lewis was so good.
The congress voting scene was shot at different times which made it difficult to cut.
Stephen Spielberg dressed nicely during production to complement the “president”.
Kahn used to select takes himself but on Close Encounters he had Spielberg do it to save a lot of time.
In their 37 years together, Steven won’t watch a cut without temp music.
I don’t do what Stephen asks me to do, I do what I think he actually wants.
Michael Kahn in Conversation
If you want more insights from the great man check out this 30 minute interview from the ever entertaining DP/30. For even more DP/30 conversations with legendary film editors check out this previous post.