I have to write to salute myself: to a profession in general and three people in particular, it’s supposed to be about editors, film editors whose art and craft are still sometimes underexposed in the public consciousness. They used to be called editors, reducing them to scissor hands and cutting acrobats, as if the “film strip” were nothing more than a carpet that could be cut to fit perfectly. This picture was not even true when celluloid was actually cut by hand in the era of silent films and then reassembled by so-called “gluers”.
But I only learned to appreciate and get to know how diverse and complex the art of film editors is when life took me to an editing room, Edit Suite, where I was supposed to make a portrait of Angela Merkel. Half a dozen screens and a digital editing program called Avid intimidated me. I felt like I was in the cockpit of a jumbo jet that I was suddenly supposed to fly without any training.
Without the editor Martin Schröder, I would not have survived or made it back then, and this life-saving skill has since applied to all editors I have had the opportunity to work with. With growing enthusiasm, I understood what they achieve, what they can do, how complex their job is. The pastoral competence to save lives, which I experienced personally, also goes to the core of what they do, because editors salvage biographies, save stories from disappearing, give face and voice to complex social developments.
What are they actually doing? They sift through and organize the material, which can be hundreds of hours of newly shot or archive material, they smell, touch, taste, feel where a story is, an emotion, a face, an aura or an energy that stands out. Editors are therefore thin-skinned in the best sense of the word, they smell the gold content of an image. At the same time, they lift the individual image, the frame, into a rhythm, a dramaturgical arc, they dance with their eyes and fingers while sitting.
I was amazed that editors often create the music themselves, instruct the composer (if there is any) and often think of music, but also tone, sound and noise as integral parts of the film right from the start. The three editors who made our films breathe, Martin Schröder (“Angela Merkel – In the course of time”), Sandra Brandl (“The Unbending”) and André Hammesfahr (“Schwarze Adler”) are immensely musically educated and they sometimes cut with the ear.
What they also have in common is that they are sometimes completely unattainable when editing, because they get involved and concentrate on different image and sound tracks in such a way that they seem to me like Buddhist monks walking on the eight paths of meditation and enlightenment. It’s best to let them float. You get rich gifts if you let them wander. Editors are not executive bodies, they do not accept instructions, but at most ideas and, at best, form a unio mystica with the author, where a dialogue results in a marriage of idea and reality, of spark and flight. That’s how I experienced it.
You sketch a series of images, the editor also sketches them. We dance to check: is it powerful? Does that swing? Does that have rhythm? Does it serve the story? Does it serve the other arts like camera, music, sound? And at the same time we consider whether this cut, this perspective serves the interviewee? Do we take this sigh with us? May we show when someone bursts into tears during the interview, as in “Schwarze Adler”?
Media ethics also means that editors think very carefully about how to deal with people. One must not turn the filmed person, the interviewee, the source of the original sound into a thing and an object. One must, even if one does not share one’s city point, validate one’s perspective and understand one’s internal view first before relating him or her to conflicting perspectives.
My guess is that editors are rarely prone to conspiracy theories or populist simplifications because they see for themselves and know best how complex stories are. They not only look behind the pictures, they also experience how stories are created in public or private broadcasters and what autonomy dramaturgical principles but also the materials have and how diffuse power is.
Anyone who spent a day in the editing room would henceforth avoid a word like “lying press” because they would realize that reality never completely submits to the most manipulative will. In this respect, the activity of the editors is also an eminently political one, because they are ultimately advocates of complexity and help us to think and feel stories from multiple perspectives in the media echo chamber.
I bow to this profession and to “my” three editors, whom I – it may sound strange – often think of as a dialogue community, as an instance of discussion with which I approach stories in my head. They deserve all the attention, because they put themselves in the service of the attention of even the remotest stories and quietest people.
Your art of montage is the art of making yourself invisible and serving the other trades and thus the narration. Yes, I would go so far as to say that we need more editorial thinking, in everyday life and in the increasingly formatted television of the public broadcasters, to turn the pastoral motif of the beginning back into socio-political terms.
Editors are servants of difference and at the same time apostles of cohesion. Because they are empathic, they perceive other people’s needs and satisfy desires for visibility and representation. And especially now, when everyone tends to tailor their own life film, on the platforms of ruthless egography (Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram), their ethos is worth its weight in gold: serve, stick together, think simultaneity, create dialogues and stories, defend truthfulness , plunge into the strange in order to embrace it. Friendship!