The talk of Hollywood’s diversity problem has rightly dominated much of the cultural conversation as of late, particularly in the latter half of 2015. And yet if there’s one creative field in which women in particular can hope to thrive, it’s editing. From legends of the craft like Thelma Schoonmaker and Sally Menke, who cut their teeth working largely for Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, respectively, to lesser-known but promising names like Dody Dorn (“Memento,” “Fury”) and Lisa Lassek (the “Avengers” films), editing is a medium in which women have long played an integral role.
There are many potential reasons for this, but Maryann Brandon — who, alongside frequent collaborator Mary Jo Markey, edited J.J. Abrams’ megahit “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — has her own theories. She insists that the reasons are historical.
“One advantage that women have had in editing is that women were editors from the beginning of the film business,” Brandon elaborates in a new talk with NPR. “It was considered women’s work at one point, and not so much in a very artistic way…it was considered, like, knitting.”
Brandon and Markey have gone on to be quite successful in their own right. They first met Abrams on the set of his T.V. smash “Alias” and went on to edit both of his subsequent “Star Trek” pictures. In the talk, both women address their shorthand with the director, and how he went to bat for them during pre-production of ‘The Force Awakens’ when presented with a who’s who of potential superstar editors. Brandon and Markey also have an interesting working relationship in that they essentially divide whatever project they’re working on in half and tinker on separate pieces individually.
The ‘Force Awakens’ duo have justly been nominated for an Oscar for their stellar work this past year, as has fellow female editor Margaret Sixel, who cut “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Sixel is married to director George Miller, and she says he initially presented her with hundreds of hours of footage to cut down. Sixel had worked with her husband before, on “Babe: Pig in the City” and the first “Happy Feet” film, but ‘Fury Road’ was obviously a massively different undertaking. Throughout the talk, Sixel addresses the demanding nature of her calling, what it’s like to work against expectations, and how it feels working in an industry dominated largely by men.
“You know, I feel that there must be something to it. You know, I had a lot of terrific guys in the cutting room and a few of them would say, ‘Maggie, it’s great that you’re doing it, we would have stopped ages ago with the explosions, and that would have been cool, and we would have been happy.’ But it wasn’t enough for me. I really had to feel that there was an emotional content to a lot of the stunts and try to keep the characters in there,” Sixel remarks before sheepishly adding, “So, you know, maybe I did bring that quality to the film.”
Our hats go off to these women for their outstanding work. We’ll see who takes home the golden statue, but in the meantime, check out the talks with both Margaret Sixel and also Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey below.