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Interview with Brian Crewe, former video store clerk, current TV editor and future Oscar-winning filmmaker (Part I)

June 27, 2006

In the coming months, I’m going to be doing some occasional Q&As with people in show biz, illuminating some aspects of how movies are made, and giving some insight into what the experts–as opposed to opinionated know-it-alls like myself–think about different movies.

My first Q&A is with Brian Crewe, an editor and filmmaker. As an editor, he’s worked on a variety of shows on VH1, E! and ESPN. As a filmmaker, he directed Learning to Fly, a short that will play at the San Diego Comic Con on July 21. (He’s also the brother of friend of My Own Worst Critic, fellow Georgetown University alum Kathy Crewe.)

Brian Crewe

Handsome devil, isn’t he?

I’ll be posting bits of the Q&A in installments. I’d love to hear what you think about these kinds of dialogues, and if you have any questions you’d like to ask Brian, please post them as comments.

MOWC: So I checked out your website and your IMDB profile. Bridezillas, very impressive.

Brian Crewe: Thanks. I’ve only been on the show for three weeks and my material won’t start to air until September 2006. Not how I was planning to spend the summer but fun.

Can you tell me a little about your background, what you’re doing now and where you’d like to be in the film industry?

I was born and raised in Minneapolis MN. After high school, I worked in a video store for 4 years. During two of those years I earned an AA in Film Production from Minneapolis Community College. I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and received my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California in Film Production in 1999.

Since then I’ve been working in the industry. Editing has been my primary form of employment since about 2002. I enjoy it because it really is all about storytelling. Its fantastic to watch the work of an entire staff come together.

However, at the end of the day my editing jobs are just a way to pay the bills while I develop my own projects. I’m currently preparing to direct my first feature “Sara’s Song,” which is the story of a childhood sexual abuse survivor who learns to heal herself through music.

My goal is to be a good story teller and to do that in the film industry I think you have to understand writing, producing, directing, and editing. I see myself continuing to pursue all four of those jobs in the future.

I feel like the role of the editor–that is, the importance of the editor–in the creative process of a movie is often underestimated. How important (if there is any way you can quantify it) is having a good editor on a movie?

Well I think the best expression I’ve heard is that you write a movie three times. Once as a screenplay, once as you are shooting it, and once in the edit room. When you realize that the edit room is the last step in the process you realize how important it is.

During production the director and their crew shoot a scene. They cover the same action from many angles, wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, and insert shots (which are close-ups of specific actions like figures typing on a key pad).

The editor’s job is to craft the coverage into a watchable scene. All those different angles could have different meanings depending on when they are used in the scene. A close-up implies something very different from a wide shot.

Now two things make it very hard for an outsider to gage how good the editor is.

1. An editor is only as good as the footage they are given. For many reasons the production team might not of gotten all the angles that the editor needed, so the choices are limited.

2. While an editor has an opportunity to turn in their own cut of the film. The producers, director and even the studio have final say as to what we watch in the theater or at home.

That’s not to say this is a bad thing. Film is ultimately about the director’s vision of the story and a good editor will collaborate with the rest of the creative team to make that happen.

Like every job on a film the editor has to be subservient to the story being told.

Who are some of the best in the business, and what have they done?

I always have to go with the classics:

  • Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now)
  • Verna Fields (Jaws)
  • Michael Kahn (Spielberg’s editor for the last thirty years)
  • Thelma Schoonmaker (just about every Martin Scorsese film)
  • Sally Menke (Quentin Tarantino)

You might notice that all these editors work with very strong directors. I think the goal of any collaboration is for the people working together to elevate the other. These editors have been given amazing footage and have found ways to make it even better.

That’s all very interesting, and there are a couple things I want to get at. You note that it’s very hard to guage the quality of an editor’s work. Do you think the DVD era is changing that, what with director’s cuts, deleted scenes, alternate endings, making-of docs, etc., etc.? Also could you go into more detail, if it’s possible, what makes someone like Walter Murch or Michael Kahn so good? Do they have signature styles, like directors and actors? Can you tell the work of a particular editor just by watching some footage?

And how much of good editing is piecing together a series of quick shots, knowing exactly when to start a shot and when to end it, pacing and sequencing, etc. and how much of it is just taking a whole pile of film and remaking the narrative?

(And feel free to correct me–or call me a bonehead–if I am revealing how little I really know about the details of the process.)

For Part II, click here.

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