Vivien Hillgrove

Born 1946

Vivien Hillgrove, a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has over fifty years of experience as an editor and a sound editor for both narrative and documentary films. In the 1980’s and 90’s, Hillgrove worked as a dialogue editor on many feature films, including Amadeus, Blue Velvet and The Right Stuff. As a narrative film editor, she worked with Dede Allen on Phil Kaufman’s Henry and June and with Walter Murch on Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Her documentary editing work includes seven films by Lourdes Portillo (including Senorita Extraviada, The Devil Never Sleeps, Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena, La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead…), and several for Deann Borshay Liem, including In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, for which Hillgrove won the Best Editing Award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival, and First Person Plural, on which she was also the co-writer. Hillgrove has also served as an advisor for multiple Sundance Documentary Composer/Edit Labs, the Latino Producers Academy (NALIP), and for Chicken & Egg Pictures. She is currently directing and producing an autobiographical documentary, Vivien’s Wild Ride, with producers Janet Cole and Dawn Valadez.

“Most often, a documentary doesn’t have a script—it has a kernel or two of an idea and lots and lots of film.” She gestures to a cork-covered wall covered with slips of paper. This is the “storyboard” for a documentary for which the director has shot over 400 hours of film. “My first task is just to get a handle on the project,” Vivien says as she pulls three-ring binders from a nearby bookshelf. “See? Here is all the footage featuring one particular person. Here is another featuring a particular set of images—like fields of grain or something similar and here,” she pauses as she pulls out another binder, “here is an annotated list of all the quotes the different filmed experts have to say about a particular topic. These are all the little puzzle pieces, organized for me to use as they are needed.”
 “Vivien Hillgrove’s Film Editing Secrets Revealed” by Gil Mansergh. The full text can be found in the Appendix.

“Over-explanation tires the viewer,” she said. “You’ve got to find the juice and take just that piece.”
—“Advice on film editing: ‘Kill your babies’ by Andrew Pardiac. The full text can be found in the Appendix.


Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE

Born 1940

Beginning in 1980 with Raging Bull, Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE has edited all of Martin Scorsese’s films. She has received seven Oscar nominations and has won three times—for Raging Bull, The Aviator, and The Departed. Schoonmaker is the second most-nominated editor in Oscar history and holds the record for the most wins. She has also won twenty-nine other awards (BAFTAs, Eddies, etc.). Schoonmaker has been a mentor and role model to many younger women editors.

Scorsese tried for years to convince Schoonmaker to work for him. She was unable to work in Hollywood, however, because she couldn’t get into the union. When Scorsese called to ask her to work on Raging Bull, she again demurred because of lack of union membership. She believes that Al Pacino got her into the union, but to this day, she doesn’t know what influence was used to gain her union membership.

“There’s a great deal of mystery in film editing, and that’s because you’re not supposed to see a lot of it. You’re supposed to feel that a film has pace and rhythm and drama, but you’re not necessarily supposed to be worried about how that was accomplished. And because there is so little understanding of what really great editing is, a film that’s flashy, has a lot of quick cuts and explosions, gets particular attention. For example, with The Aviator, which I won an Oscar for—I’m sure that decision was based largely on the very elaborate plane crash that Howard Hughes had. That’s so dramatic, and you can really see the editing there, but for me, and for a lot of editors and directors, the more interesting editing is not so visible. It’s the decisions that go into building a character, a performance, for example, or how you rearrange scenes in a movie, if it’s not working properly, so that you can get a better dramatic build.”

“The priority is absolutely on the best take for performance, and frankly I don’t understand why people get so hung up on these issues, because if you look at films throughout history, you will see enormous continuity errors everywhere, particularly when you’re talking about the Academy aspect ratio where you see more in the frame. Even in The Red Shoes, a film that nobody ever has complaints about, there are enormous continuity bumps, and it doesn’t matter. You know why? Because you’re being carried along by the power of the film. So throughout our history of improvisational cutting, we have decided to go with the performance, or in this case particularly with the humor of a line, as opposed to trying to make sure a coffee cup is in the right place.”
— Two excerpts from “Interview: Thelma Schoonmaker” by Nick Pinkerton. The full interview can be found in the Appendix.