Words of Wisdom From Legendary Film Editor Sam O’Steen

 

Cut To The Chase

Whenever I run across some good storytelling advice, I always want to pass along what I’ve learned. I recently reread Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America’s Favorite MoviesI’d forgotten how much good stuff was in this book. It’s a transcription of the last interview with legendary film editor Sam O’Steen. For the uninitiated,  Sam O’Steen edited The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Catch-22 and more. Basically, Sam O’Steen was a badass editor that had mastered his craft.

I highly recommend reading his entire interview, but below are a few of my favorite bits of wisdom (and even though Sam is talking about editing, I think a lot of it applies to writing). Check it out:

“Movie first, scene second, moment third.”

 “As long as you’re always conscious of where the audience’s eyes will be (what’s in motion, etc.) you can cheat, so they aren’t looking at the mistakes.”

” (A good storyteller is) someone who can tell a joke. The timing is right and he tells just enough.”

“You have to be organized. That’s the life of it. If you’re not organized, you can’t keep your head clear. Then you can be totally involved when you cut, you can concentrate, which is the name of the game. You have to have total concentration and I do.”

“I go by my first instincts. The film basically tells me where to cut, so I make very quick decisions about what I do.”

“If I start editing a scene and if it’s not going right, I’ll put it away and come back to it later.”

“I’ve always been into puzzles and that’s what it’s all about.”

“Until the money’s in your pocket, it’s just talk.”

And finally, we have Sam’s philosophy on how to put the film business in proper perspective:

“It’s only shadows on the wall.”