Julian Semilian is an experimental filmmaker who teaches film editing and experimental filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking, after a twenty-four year career in Hollywood where he has edited 16 feature films and movies-of-the-week.
A few days ago, he sent me his tribute to Bernard Gribble, ACE, a film editor who died in 2004. I was so struck by what Julian wrote that I wanted to share it with you.
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Bernie Gribble, my mentor, edited over a hundred features, TV shows, MOWs, and TV episodes. He never, to my knowledge, received an award. But he showed up to work everyday at 8 am and worked till late in the evening. Work was like a religious practice to him. His attention to detail was uncanny.
If there was a script problem that became apparent during the first cut, he would find a way to fix it: he would move a scene or two around, maybe take a scene from the middle and put it at the start of the movie, or split a scene in two and place each half at strategic points in the film, thus resolving the problem that the screenwriter or the director didn’t see, or was caused by a substandard performance.
And he was a master at fixing substandard performances: he would manage to mix a bad actor’s performance with good ones, cutting in just the right bits in such way that you didn’t notice the awkward moments; or he would spend hours taking lines or even words from a few different takes and set-ups in order to fix an embarrassing delivery. He scrupulously deliberated for hours, if necessary, over one cut. He knew how to fix awkward visual moments, create connectives that were not shot inside a scene or between scenes or just simply create great transitions.
He knew how to pace his cuts, he knew where the music belonged and where it didn’t. He was deeply involved in contributing ideas to the sound design and to the mix. He was a professional in the way he talked to the producers, the directors, his collaborators and took complete responsibility for the film. I have never seen anyone, director or producer, who was unhappy with Bernie’s work.
In other words, he was a master.
Bernie was also passionate about cinema: he went to see every film and could spend hours discussing the editing. He was deeply opinionated and had his own point of view.
He worked till his mid-seventies, when, unfortunately, people didn’t hire him very much because of his age. That was a big mistake. I would have loved to have him come and teach here. Even in his advanced years he was as sharp as ever. I always conferred with him even long after I began editing myself. And he was always the consummate teacher. In our discussions he would confide in me that he was always discovering new ways of editing.
Bernie died like a true film artist: following a heart attack in the editing room. Bernie’s award is that he gave his love and knowledge of editing to a number of his assistants, including yours truly. Bernie’s award is my dedication as an editor and editing professor. What I do at the school is a result of Bernie.
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A passion for film, an eye for detail, a love of his craft, and a willingness to share his knowledge with others. I can’t think of a finer tribute.
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