February 20, 2004

behind the screen

Something odd happened today. I went to Dan’s cutting room to pick Damian up. No, that’s not the odd part. Though yes, it is odd, because I’d completely forgotten that Damian’s morning preschool had the day off. Thus precipitating a phone call from Dan standing outside the preschool in question, which, though mere blocks from his workplace, is miles away from our house. Thus precipitating a scramble to get out of the house, said scramble involving unwashed hair scrabbled into a dreary ponytail, some random shirt thrown on – you get the idea. Run out of house carrying way too much stuff. Twist ankle. Cry in pain. Hobble to car. Drive to the studio lot. Walk into the cutting room to discover my men both on computers. Dan actually, y’know, working while Damian was engrossed in Kid Pix on the TiBook. So engrossed, in fact, that I didn’t even get my usual “Hi Mommy!”

None of that was the odd moment, though it did lead into it. Me, in full dowdy mom mode, chatting with Damian about his toy frog as we walked out of the building into the drizzly day. As we approached the front door, a man came in. Beret, long jacket. Sleek looking. He said hello, brushed past. Went into the main post-production room. I could easily have turned around and gone back in.

I was tempted. You see, I worked on a TV series several years ago, a very successful show. I was an assistant editor in LA, the show was shot out of state, I never met the cast. This man who just brushed past? The star.

So I thought about introducing myself. “That show, the one that made you famous? I worked on it too. I spent hours alone with your face in a dark room. I know your line delivery, your intonation, the rumors about you on the set. And you don’t know me from a hole in the wall.”

There’s a class divide in Hollywood, and it’s not just the blatant one between illegal immigrant gardener and home owner. There’s also one between so-called above the line talent – director, writer, also obviously actors – and those below the line – everyone else. On top of that, editors, though they’re at least as important to the process as cinematographers and production designers, usually make half as much money and have far less respect. I think it’s partly because nobody really knows what they do, a topic for another time: what do editors actually do in those dark cutting rooms? Which may call for a guest blog appearance by my spouse. But it’s also because they’re practically invisible. You can see the cameraman strutting around between takes, the boss of his crew; he says “Let there be light!” and ten burly men and a woman rush around moving stands and plugs and wire and then Lo! There is light! You can see the production designer huddling with the director and then instructing a crew of burly folk to paint and assemble and generally do very visible things to massive chunks of scenery. The editing crew – on a TV show, that’s three editors in rotation with two or three assistants between them – they just sit in their rooms far from the set. That’s all. It’s a lot, in actuality. But does it look like a lot? Does it look like anything? And then afterward, the director and the producer talk as if they were the ones working the material. “I tried that and then I recut it this way.” Like a homeowner saying he remodeled his kitchen when all he did was get out of the way while the contractor and crew did the work.

Hmm. I guess I have more resentment built up around this than I thought. Anyway. I remember the first show I worked on. The first wrap party. I was young and unafraid. And this was not an ongoing episodic series, this was a show in which every episode had a different self-contained storyline with all-new characters and very few of them were big names. So at that wrap party, I had a little to drink, I flirted with a producer or two, and I went up to one of the episode stars (a little star, not a household name) and said I was an apprentice editor and that I’d seen her face on my Steenbeck every day for the past month. She looked completely blank. As if I’d said something so gauche no response was possible. I was mortified and backed away quickly.

It’s an odd relationship, that between actor and editor. Very one way. It shouldn’t be, if you think about it. The editor knows an actor’s performance highs and lows better than anyone, and is therefore an actor’s best ally (or worst enemy, hah). And yet the editor is strangely anonymous. And me, I was never a full-on editor. I left before I was promoted up from assistant. I’d cut a decent amount of footage, especially the last year or so, but I wasn’t The Editor. So what was I going to say to this beret-wearing star today? I once knew you intimately but anonymously? He’d smile and look blank and say something polite and think “I should care?”

There was a time I’d have done it anyway. Looking for some kind of affirmation, I think. Some acknowledgement I wasn’t about to get. But really, he and I have no relationship. We did, but I’ve left it behind and he never knew about it.

So I walked out into the grey morning with my little boy and enjoyed that tangible, two way relationship. Living in the present.

Posted by Tamar at February 20, 2004 11:13 PM

she probably didn't know what a steenbeck was...

Posted by: annie at February 27, 2004 12:08 PM