Header photo:

Directing Fellow Kibwe Tavares meets with Creative Advisor, editor Nancy Richardson, about his project “The Kitchen.”
© 2016 Sundance Institute, Photograph By Brandon Cruz

Feature film editor Nancy Richardson has been a professor and head of post-production at UCLA TFT [Theater, Film, and Television] for 19 years. She began her career with the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver”, which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture and received a Best Actor nomination for Edward James Olmos. Her credits include “Thirteen”,”’Lords of Dogtown” and “Twilight”, directed by Catherine Hardwicke; “To Sleep With Anger”, “Selma, Lord, Selma” and “Annihilation of Fish”, directed by Charles Burnett; and “Mi Familia”, “Selena” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”, directed by Gregory Nava. She also edited Maya Angelou’s directorial debut, “Down in the Delta”.

“Stand and Deliver”

Other credits include director Anne Fletcher’s “Step Up”, starring Channing Tatum; director Tim Disney’s “American Violet”, starring Alfre Woodard, which screened at the Telluride Film Festival in 2008; director David Slade’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (shared credit); director Michael Sucsy’s “The Vow” (shared credit), starring Channing Tatum; director Jonathan Levine’s “Warm Bodies”, starring Nicholas Hoult; “Divergent” and “Insurgent” (shared credits), starring Shailene Woodley; “Everything, Everything”, starring Amandla Stenberg and directed by Stella Meghie; and director Stephen Merchant’s “Fighting With My Family”, which screened in the coveted Sundance Surprise slot at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.

“Fighting with My Family”

She was an additional editor on Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” and the Transformers origin story “Bumblebee”, directed by Travis Knight. Her latest project, Paramount’s thriller “Monster Problems”, starring Dylan O’Brien, was filmed in Australia and was just released in the very few open theaters, and on PVOD. It is a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Thirteen”

Richardson received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her work on the 2001 Showtime film “Hendrix”. She was invited into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005, and now serves on the Executive Committee of the Editors Branch. She is also a member of American Cinema Editors and has been on the Editors Guild Board of Directors for more than 15 years. She has been a creative advisor for the Sundance Labs several times and helps in a similar capacity at Film Independent.

Richardson received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

Nancy Richardson

PATRICIA VIDAL DELGADO: Do you feel, at any point in your career, that you suffered gender discrimination in the film industry?

NANCY RICHARDSON: I have to say, yes and no. I think there are times when I have been hired because I’m a woman, and they are looking for a woman to edit a female story. Or I’ve been hired because of problems with the editor having a male perspective, for example if the main character is a teenage girl. 

The gender discrimination is really regarding pay. For my level of films that I’ve cut, and the level of success that these films have achieved, versus my peers who might be male and have edited the same level of films that are as successful as mine, there are times that I learn that I make about half of what they make. That’s really irritating. It’s irritating because there’s union scale and then there’s everything over scale. Your rate becomes based on what your last rate was, so sometimes if you accept a film because you just love the script and they say “sorry we can’t pay very much” and you say “that’s okay”, that now becomes your rate. Then you do a contract that you call a ‘no quote deal’, which means no one is supposed to see how little you made on the last project, but I’m sure everybody does. 

And then finally, like two years ago, a law passed that you couldn’t ask about people’s rates, because they were finding this kind of discrimination against women’s salaries. Now they can’t ask for your rate and your agent quotes the rate that they think you should be making, which usually comes down to the budget of the film itself. But it’s still really unfair. 

There’s a huge inequity and it can’t be corrected by the unions, because the unions only negotiate basic scale salaries. And I’m not sure what to do about it. There’s a lot of big action editors that make a whole lot of money. There are certainly women who are breaking into that, and that’s fantastic, but it still seems as if men are paid more than women. I hope that is gradually changing, but I have certainly noticed it in my career. 

Nancy Richardson with Koala bear

DELGADO: What are the three things you would like a director to know, if they want to be an ideal creative collaborator to their editor?

RICHARDSON: I want them to know that they need to give themselves choices in the editing room so that we have options and not lock ourselves into “this is all going to play in one” or, “they should both talk at the same time”.

I really want them to know they should be doing coverage and they should be doing multiple takes so that they have variations in performance. That way, we can then massage the scenes instead of being locked in. That’s number one. That’s really the main one. I want them to know basic technical aspects, like making sure the sound is good. 

So many times, people say, “we can loop it later”. But the film really has to play well, for a lot of people, earlier than they might think. So they need to have a solid understanding of their post schedule and what their delivery needs to be. We have to show a cut to the producers and studio before we actually can mix the sound and color and compose the music and all of those things. We also usually have to schedule an audience preview. So a certain level of technical competence is necessary. These days that includes a certain understanding of visual effects. 

Very often, particularly with new directors’ sets, they have a lot of voices on their crew. The crew will say, “oh you can fix that later in visual effects”, or “it’ll take too long for us to change that curtain color, you can change that later in visual effects”. The fact is for the thirty minutes it would take them to swap out curtains, that could cost ten thousand dollars in post-production. I have been on films where a simple thing such as a better makeup job caused a million dollars in visual effects, where they could have taken more time on set for makeup and hair or a better wig. They need to know that that’s not always the right solution to just say, “we’ll fix it in visual effects”. Often the DP or Production Designer are saying those things, people who are not around in post production. 

The film has to be able to play for the studio, and play for an audience. The film has to play as well as it possibly can before you spend all that money, do your visual effects, compose the music, mix the sound, final the color. I want them to know that before they get themselves into big trouble.

To recap, first is coverage, second is a certain level of technical expertise with sound, image, visual effects and what’s possible in those technical areas. And third, I want them to know they can communicate with me – as well as probably any of their collaborators by talking about emotion, mood, and tone as opposed to talking to me technically. Instead of saying “trim there” or “cut there” or “do this visual effect there”, I want them to give me an overview of what they’re looking for. I think directors should talk to all their collaborators as if we’re all actors. I want them to know the technical stuff, but I still want them to speak to me in terms of vision. 

“Down in the Delta”

DELGADO: You have 37 credits as an editor. Is there a project that is especially close to your heart and why?

RICHARDSON: I had an incredible experience on ‘Down In the Delta’, which I edited for Maya Angelou. Just the fact I was working with Maya Angelou was pretty much life-changing. She is just amazing. Instead of working in an editing suite, I actually was working in her house in Winston-Salem North Carolina. I was in Los Angeles and she wanted to work from her house. My assistant and I got on a plane and went there. And that was an incredible experience.

Maya Angelou was just a wise, observant, amazing person. She had several houses in Winston-Salem and the house that my assistant and I were staying in was also her office. Every day all of her staff would drive up at 9 in the morning and we would go down to our editing room. Dr. Angelou would come to the editing room and we would work on the film. That was just another great experience. She was this incredible cook and she cooked for us. She took us everywhere with her, when she would speak at events. She let us come along in her limousine to Duke when she was giving an orientation speech. It’s another thing that I’m very grateful for in my career.

Nancy Richardson working on an editing project.

DELGADO: What advice do you have for womxn who are starting out in the film industry and would like to work as editors?

RICHARDSON: Edit as much as you can, edit student shorts, and edit commercials. The bottom line is you have to get as much creative editing work as possible so you can get that experience under your belt. Some people go the route of taking a PA job, which is also a great thing to do. You learn how everything works when you’re a PA and hopefully move up to being an assistant editor, which is also a great thing to do. 

But you’re not going to automatically move into being an editor after being an assistant editor. It’s a different job. Being an assistant is technical and it’s about organization. Being an editor is creative. So as an assistant, you should be trying to work nights editing somebody’s short. There’s always people looking. I’ve had plenty of assistants say “can I stay late and edit this other person’s short?”. I say yes because it’s the best way for them to learn. 

I do sometimes give my assistants scenes to cut. But I have to know they can do good work, because not every assistant is necessarily a good editor. When I come across a student in film school who says, “I think I want to move into editing” I am immediately like, “you should try editing this film or this film, or an undergraduate film”. The more shorts they get under their belt, the better.

Joi McMillon, co-editor of “Moonlight,” is the first black woman to be nominated for the editing Oscar.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

I had an assistant on a film who I recommended she cut a couple of Thesis Films at UCLA. She did a good job and bonded with those directors. She worked not just with me, but also for years for another editor. Because she had enough editing experience under her belt, through cutting these shorts, she cut a feature that was ‘Moonlight’ as a co-editor, and she got nominated for an Oscar. And yes, she had a relationship with the director because she’d gone to film school with him. Before doing “Moonlight” she needed to learn the traps in narrative editing before doing that. And so she had these shorts that she’d worked on that were Thesis Films at UCLA. 

There’s plenty of people working as big-time editors now whose first projects they cut were shorts. Shorts that were either for AFI or UCLA or just individual independent films. So that’s my main advice, you have to edit as much as you can, and practice it. And you have to do it for free at the beginning.

Interview conducted by Patricia Vidal Delgado

Patricia Vidal Delgado is the writer and director of short films ‘Bué Sabi’, ‘Isa’, ‘Ico’, ’88’, ‘The Hood’ and ‘Caroline’. Her work has screened at both national and international film festivals including the Raindance Film Festival, Crown Heights Film Festival, Curtas Vila do Conde International Short Film Festival and the IndieLisboa International Film Festival. Delgado’s films have garnered a total of 8 wins and 32 nominations. ‘La Leyenda Negra’, her feature film debut, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT category. As of March 2020, Patricia is a Sundance Institute FilmTwo Fellow and is represented by the talent agency Luber Roklin. Visit her site to learn more: www.pvdelgado.com

One Comment

  1. Great insight… It really seems that short films are really an important stepping stone!

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