Less is always more. The role of a great editor



Let’s start with bit of film trivia. Name a ‘director’s cut’ that is shorter than the original.

Tough one isn’t it? The only one I can think of is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner which made much more sense once the infamous voice-over was removed.


My inner editor is no fan of the director’s cut. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition (Steven Spielberg) adds a sequence from inside the mothership. Surely that’s best left to the imagination? Aliens (James Cameron) offers more Ripley and Newt (too much cuteness).


At least there’s no Jurassic Park ‘with extra dinosaurs’. Except in Father Ted of course.


You see something similar with novelists. I loved Donna Tartt’s first book, The Secret History. But her latest, The Goldfinch, is like wading through 800 pages of literary treacle.

You suspect the untouchable genius of Donna Tartt makes an editor’s job pretty tough these days.


Half the poem, twice as good


Poetry? TS Eliot had Ezra Pound, a finer craftsman who helped lick The Wasteland into shape by removing about half of the original draft.


As for music, it’s typically the producer who reins in sprawling ambition. I know it’s heresy but there’s a part of me that wishes that George Martin had split up The Beatles White Album into two records.


A good editor recognises the value of breaking things down and slicing things up. As adept with a wrecking ball as they are with a scalpel, they recognise the power of silence and how best to harness the imagination.


Beware of fragile egos


Above all, editors don’t pander to delicate egos. Especially when they get in the way of a great story. Find a strong-willed editor and hold on to him or her closely.


Back to Blade Runner, this time the long-awaited sequel. In a recent interview, Tom Walker, the editor, revealed that there’s a four-hour cut (two parts, two hours each).


Before you get too excited, it existed only to help whittle the movie down to its final run time. There are no plans to release an extended version, not even on Blu-ray. Thank goodness – and great editing – for that.


#copyediting #copywriting #editing

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© 2020 Peter Springett.