Programs Wed 1.8.2014

What I Learned from My Mentor

Making a film is like raising a child in more ways than one. Both takes a village, no doubt. Building relationships with collaborators, peers and supporters is integral and essential to the process, which is why mentorships are a valuable part of the Project Involve experience. We asked Project Involve Fellow Mako Kamitsuna, a writer/director and editor—whose credits include Pariah, Wildlike, The World Made Straight and Michael Mann’s HBO series Witness—to share what she learned from her Project Involve mentor, film editor Jeffrey Ford.

I was particularly a fan of two previous films by Billy Ray. One was Shattered Glass and the other was Breach, so based on those two films I was excited [to be paired up with Jeffrey, who’d worked on both].

I was very lucky. He was very generous. At the mixing stage of Crazy Heart, he invited me to mixing studio. I sat back and watched a mixing session. I was shadowing him at a pivotal moment where he felt comfortable having me around. When he was working on Monte Carlo, he invited me to the Paramount lot where he was editing the piece. I was hovering over his shoulder.

Two things stand out. One was in one of our earlier meetings, he said, as an editor, you work for the director to deliver his or her vision but in the cut behind the closed door, you really have a loyalty to preserve the work of actors and the performances they have given. As an editor, you have the privilege to see every single take. You’ve seen it all, and you are the first spokesman to present the performance you feel is the best work by the performer and for the film. You have a responsibility to preserve the work of the actor. 

The second thing was when I was observing his mixing session of Crazy Heart. Director Scott Cooper had the ultimate confidence in Jeffrey. Jeffrey was the one calling the shots. He was the leader of that phase. It really struck me that the editor can be the director’s right hand when it comes to technical matters. That image was powerful and lingers: the synergy between the editor and director. When that relationship is built on trust, it really is a wonderful place to be.

[Jeffrey] went on to do Captain America and Ironman and there was a lot of money at stake, and then there’s the politics of dealing with directors and having patience and being flexible to execute as an editor for a director. He’s a very capable editor, very articulate, eloquent, energetic and powerful as a person, but I also learned that you need to learn when you need to defer to your director. It says a lot about how you work as an editor. Rather than questioning, you execute; you show it first. There’s always a possibility that you may not be right. You don’t always have the right answer.

By Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager