Women, Sound

Thelma Schoonmaker: It's All About Timing and Rhythm

If you like Martin Scorsese (and I do), you gotta love Thelma Schoonmaker, his long-time editor. Over the decades, she's spent untold hours in the editing booth with Scorsese, fretting over cuts.  "Editing is all about timing and rhythm," she says.

Schoonmaker, who has won three Oscars for film editing (Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Departed), told Studio 360 it can take as much as a year to edit a Scorsese film. "It takes a long time to get it right," she says. "We re-cut much more than most editors. You have to live with a film. Really live with it."

Also in the interview, Schoonmaker analyzes the cutting choices in this famous scene from Goodfellas.

“There are no close-ups at all because Marty [Scorsese] wanted to show what was happening to the people around Ray Liotta and around Joe Pesci," Schoonmaker says. "As it starts out very funny and people are laughing. Then pretty soon, things get a little scary, then scarier and scarier. You see on the faces of the people around them, they are really beginning to get worried. … You don’t always have to have close-ups. Sometimes a medium shot or a wide shot is just as good.”

The show also coaxed this analysis of a Raging Bull steadicam shot from Schoonmaker, which shows Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci walking into a boxing ring.

If you want more on Raging Bull, I've unearthed this Schoonmaker interview from 2005. She discusses when sound was removed from a fight scene, when a piece of film was placed upside down (on purpose) and many, many more details, including the reason the fight scenes in Raging Bull look different than other boxing movies. "He {Scorsese} had looked at every boxing film every made and the thing he noticed about most of them was that the camera was outside of the ring, of course, because it's so hard to shoot in. But he wanted to be in the ring," she says.

Oh! There's also this American Cinema Editors interview from 2010. In the video, Schoonmaker describes how tough it was to cut an improvised scene from Raging Bull with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci inside a kitchen arguing about fight scenarios.