BY CEE MARTINEZ
Editor's Note: a version of this appeared on our old site.
I remember the awe of seeing "Bladerunner: The Director’s Cut" in theaters for the first time--oh those flying cars! There was also the excited jolt in my tummy watching Peter O’Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia" smirk as he blows a lit match out and the scene cuts to a blazing desert sun.
Movies have a very real ability to crawl into our minds and hearts and become emotional heirlooms for us. Whether or not a film can succeed in this is not only due to the scriptwriters and directors, actors and cinematographers, but also through the very timely snips and pastes of the film editors.
I was thrilled when Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, a veteran film editor who hails from Iceland, answered some questions I shot her way. I was delighted to learn what a fulfilling job it is for a creative mind to carve a story from hours of film shot to make a movie. What’s more, her answers made me aware of the distinct difference between America and Iceland in the way gender is seen in the workplace!
We American ladies have grown up with Fairy Godmothers and Disney Princesses, while Icelandic women were raised reading uncensored Grimm’s fairy tales or looking up to women of legend who exacted their own revenge rather than depend on a prince to do it for them. I think the latter has created a wonderful sense of fearlessness and self sufficiency overall that I admire and aspire towards.
Tell us a little about your background in film, what are some of the projects you’ve worked on that you are particularly thrilled with?
I’ve always been passionate about films and storytelling in general. I was delivering the newspaper as a kid and we got rewarded with a film screening once a month. The screenings were held in a leaky 2nd World War army barrack and I was introduced to "classics" like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine--it’s funny how that title has always stuck with me…
Thankfully, as I grew older, the availability of quality films grew. But the army barrack taught me that films are not about Dolby, or IMAX, or marble floors--it’s about the magic of storytelling, about experiencing something new. Be sad, happy, and scared and have fun connecting with the characters on the screen.
This is also where I realized the secret ingredient to a good film. You have to respect what the audience brings to the table; their brains. Film is not tabula rasa and neither is the audience. It’s important to keep that knowledge sacred through the editing process.
Anyways, I was smitten. I had a child at a young age but living in Iceland still made it possible for me to finish high school and after that I got work as a telephone receptionist at a production company that mainly produced TV commercials. I lasted less than a week on the phones and got involved in the production. That was my point of no return. I applied for The London Film School where I finished in 1991 and have been working in film ever since.
It is said that success has many fathers and failure none. I like to think all projects I work on have a loving mother, success or not. For me it’s all about the journey and the dialog. No one person can make a film, it takes a team of people and every member is important and will attribute to the energy of the film. What you put into the film emotionally, and don’t put into it, will show on the screen. When manipulating the audience, honesty is essential.
All the films I’ve edited stay with me but some became cairns in my work path; "Bye Bye Blue Bird," "Jar City," "Reykjavik Rotterdam," and its American remake “Contraband," and now "John Wick.” The project that thrills me the most is always the one I’m working on at the moment--taking the journey.
I know I’ve always had an ambition to be in writing in some way or other , was it the same for you and film, or did you initially have another passion before going into film editing?
I had ambition to become a cinematographer and did work on some music videos and commercials as such. But I kept having children--and always a single mother, as I never chose to get married, so I kind of evolved into the editing room where I had more control over my time and fell for the process.
I’ve been editing now for almost 25 years and editing is all I need. I always have great respect for what everyone brings to the film and I put a lot of emphasis on carving out all the love; may it be the script, the costumes, the cinema photography, make up, acting etc. I consider my work to be an interpretation of the script and of the work from other key contributors who are also interpreting the script and in doing so I'm careful never to lose focus on the director´s vision. In that sense I regard editing as a valuable part of the script writing.
In the world of film editing have you noticed any difference in the subject matter of a film a woman might be hired for as opposed to a man?
No, and I think my thick Icelandic accent might be a bigger problem than my sex. Only once, that I know of, have producers felt a man might be a better choice, as the director was a woman. Really hilarious as we never worry about too many men being involved in anything but crimes.
I got the gig anyways and it was a great journey; "Bye, Bye Blue Bird," the first feature film made in the Faroe Islands. I’m really proud of having been a part of it.
When you're editing a film do you ever feel personally involved in the cuts you make, and caught up in the story?
By some I may be considered a nutcase in that respect. When I commit to a story, a project, I get engulfed and even dream the cuts and solutions to possible problems. It’s important to me to love the characters, even the nasty ones and the ones in the background.
I feel two major acts are important in film editing. First it’s nursing the story, the character development and the pace, and secondly it's the handiwork. I put a lot of work into each cut to make it work, to get it smooth and beautiful. I’m not a fan of dissolves or other effects if its sole purpose is to hide a bad cut.
When it comes to technology I’m no genius but at least I edit on anything you bring me and bulldoze through what ever the hard--or software is.
What film has inspired you the most?
I’ve enjoyed so many films and some more than others. I did my BA thesis on the collective body of work by Kurosawa, I could survive a year without anything but Kurosawa. I remember having a blissful experience seeing "8 1/2," "North by North West," "Dr. Strange Love," "Europa Europa," "The Shining," "Taxi Driver," "Blade Runner," "Raging Bull,” "Come and See," "Full Metal Jacket," "Thelma & Louise," "The Piano," "Forrest Gump," "Léon," "Fargo," "The Usual Suspects," "Trainspotting," the first Matrix film, "Memento," "Requiem for a Dream," "Amélie," "City of God," "Old Boy," "Reservoir Dogs," and the first Kill Bill, the first Bourne film, "The Hurt Locker," etc. not in the right order and I could go on forever. I’m obviously not a big fan of pre- nor sequels.
I noticed you have done two major action films over the past few years, both of which I quite enjoyed, how has that experience been working on fight scenes in what is typically considered a man’s genre?
Is it considered a man’s genre? I’m from Iceland and we grew up hearing stories of our foremothers' revenges that would make Ogami Itto’s killing spree sound like a picnic. And we all grew up with and enjoyed the brother Grimm's tales of revenge and horrible deaths for the perpetrators, usually female.
Maybe it’s just because we allow men to own it but let´s not, because we have Dede Allen, Marcia Lucas, Lisa Fruchtman, Sally Menke, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Dody Dorn who have all put their permanent mark on the action genre through various editing work. Lexi Alexander, Lana Wachowski & Michelle MacLaren are all directing action.
We now have great action heroes in among others, Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson and both are stunt doubled by the biggest bad asses in the business; the Moneymaker sisters Heidi and Renae.
As important it is to point out the absence of women in film, both in front of and behind the camera, it’s even more important to talk about the women who are mastering it; that’s how we make them visible and that’s how we make them valuable for the industry and for the future.
I myself, I’m fascinated by the action genre and the culture it springs from, I love the energy in it, I love the art of it, I love the vehicle it is to portrait emotion. Maybe action is the alpha male dance but I enjoy it equally when danced by men or women. I also enjoy it because it’s fun to edit.
Is there a dream project, director or writer, or genre you would really love to tackle in the future?
I dream big and I hope I will continue working with great people taking journeys that teach me more and more that keep life exciting.
I would jump at the chance to work more with Chad & David, the directors of John Wick. Their passion for the genre is like an energy field made to tap into. They are also highly intelligent and I miss the heated passionate arguments.
I dream about working with Lexi Alexander because I have respect for her as a film director and I also have a great revenge story I want to pitch to her. And I want to work on a blockbuster--because I never have and it would be an awesome world to explore and rattle.
What’s next on your plate? What projects can we see from you in the near future?
I’m in Iceland enjoying the volcano eruption, a snow blizzard, and editing Baltasar Kormakur´s TV series Trapped. I trust exciting work will keep come my way and if not I guess I have to do something about it.
Cee Martinez was born July 28, 1980 in Denver, Colorado. Her entire childhood was spent daydreaming, writing, and reading to pass the time through various illnesses and injuries. Being cooped up for long periods of time has left her with the extraordinary ability to bond with cats and stuffed animals, and her imagination has probably benefited as a result. Over thirty of her short stories and poems have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, both in print and online.