Reel Talk on the Cutting Room with Acclaimed Editor Ron Sanders

By Cory Angeletti-Szasz ● December 04, 2017 12:55

A woman sits in a chair in the foreground, and a man sits on a chair in the background.

A scene from 'A Dangerous Method,' directed by David Cronenberg and edited by Ron Sanders. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

It’s no surprise that film and TV editing is often referred to as the “invisible art” of filmmaking – because it should go unnoticed if done well. But do you often stop to think about how many elements of a film have to come together just right for you to not notice that film’s editing?

An editor must seamlessly blend the actors’ performances, multiple shots and layers of images, story, dialogue, pacing, rhythm and music/sound to reimagine the film into a cohesive whole. It’s a process that takes great skills, patience and creative vision. Skills that editor Ron Sanders has masterfully executed for decades through his career as an acclaimed and award-winning film and TV editor.

Ron began his career as a feature film editor in Toronto and has since worked with many notable directors, including Mark L. Lester, Yves Simoneau, Sturla Gunnarson, Daniel Petrie Jr. and Henry Sellick, among others. He has collaborated with celebrated director (and CFC Board Member, Ex-Officio) David Cronenberg on a total of 16 films, winning Genie Awards for Best Achievement in Film Editing for four – Dead Ringers (in 1989), Crash (in 1996), eXistenZ (in 2000) and Eastern Promises (in 2008). He received an award for Outstanding Picture Editing – Feature Film from the Directors Guild of Canada for A History of Violence (in 2006), Eastern Promises (in 2008) and A Dangerous Method (in 2012), and was nominated for an American Cinema Editors Award for his work on Coraline (in 2010).

A man standing behind a counter serves coffee to another man sitting at a counter.

A scene from 'A History of Violence'

Ron visited the CFC last week to participate in an intimate master class with our director, producer, writer, editor, composer and actor residents, hosted by CFC mentor and fellow editor David Ostry. He shared a number of interesting and candid insights about the industry and the realities of the edit suite. Here are six of the biggest takeaways from our conversation with Ron.

ONE: An editor’s responsibility in the filmmaking process

Part of an editor’s job throughout the filmmaking process is to voice their concerns (to the director) over elements of the film that they don’t feel are working properly – and to be able to illustrate and explain why.

TWO: Things that should end up on the (proverbial) cutting room floor

Elements that:

  • Are unnecessary
  • Don’t advance the narrative
  • Don’t illuminate the character(s)
  • Don’t add texture

Even if it’s a good scene – if it ultimately doesn’t advance the narrative, it’s best to cut it.

THREE: The first few reels are almost always challenging

And sometimes problematic because they have to accomplish a lot, like:

  • Introduce the situation: what’s going on
  • Introduce the characters: who they are, what they’re doing, why they’re there
  • Get the movie going: move it forward and advance the narrative

FOUR: Trust your intuition

Try not to overthink a scene while you’re editing it – trust your intuition. If you want to try something and it feels right, you should do it. Do whatever works and betters the scene, and ultimately, the film. “I generally don’t think my way into a scene, I sort of feel my way into it.”

FIVE: Feel > continuity

“If it’s a matter of making continuity or matching work and the feel of the scene, go for the feel every time.” Ultimately, as a viewer, the feel of the story and following the story will override any small inconsistencies or continuity issues.

SIX: How to tackle a block

Stop cutting the scene and take some space. After that, start doing something – anything – and the scene will become clear as you get into it. Ultimately, it’s better to do something than nothing and as you’re working on a scene, it will start taking shape.

Cory Angeletti-Szasz

Manager, Communications (Mat Leave)