A Tribute to Bernard Gribble, Editor

Posted on by Larry

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.

– – –

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.

– – –

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.


13 Responses to A Tribute to Bernard Gribble, Editor

  1. Gordon says:

    Loved this, we’ve all had a mentor who is an unsung hero, very well done.

  2. Troy says:

    An incredible tribute from Julian to Bernard. Thank you for sharing Larry.

  3. Jim clark says:

    I knew Bernie who was the youngest film editor in the UK. He was cutting at Ealing studios, and was working on a now forgotten film Meet Mr. Lucifer which even he could not save. He was a fine editor who left the UK for Hollywood. Your gain, our loss.

  4. Todd Fair says:

    We all should be as apprecative to those with such talent who are willing to share it. Bernie’s devotion and dedication comes through in Julian’s words. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Russ says:

    This was a really lovely tribute.
    Bernard worked through the era of “sprockets” using perforated film and joining up stuff on Steenbeck flat bed editing tables with a joiner and splice tape. I wonder how many out-takes (gems of footage) got consigned to the big white cloth bags they used for the stuff they did not use? Then on to the landfill site!
    Bernard must have moved on to large format video tape then I wonder if he used any of the early NLE systems in his last few years?
    These guys are a very noble “dying breed” who probably mixed/spoke etc to some of the screen icons we hold dear to our hearts today.
    Sadly missed and a great and moving tribute from Julian.

  6. Julian Semilian says:

    For many years Bernie worked on film, using two moviolas. It was the best of a sort of random access system at the time, as you didn’t have to rewind a Kem roll till you got to the shot you needed. You just picked up a shot from the rack and ran it on the moviola, the last genuine object I recall. (I salute you, old friend!)

    Then Bernie moved on the digital world and the transition did not seem to be painful. I recall once, toward the end, he needed a refresher on a digital system. He had just got a new job but hadn’t worked in about a year. He came to my cutting room and I asked him to cut a guest scene. It was the best thing I could ever have done. Watching Bernie work, with that supreme dedication and commitment he had toward editing itself, changed me forever.

    To Jim Clark, who commented above: while an apprentice at Paramount I came in and helped sync dailies on Marathon Man. If you can please email me at seminaleye@gmail.com. I would be most honored.


  7. Matthew says:

    Can I just say, Bernard Gribble, is also my second cousin.

  8. Nick Skyrme says:

    Went to Boarding School with his son, Michael. He was a nice guy too. Michael won’t remember me from late 60s Pressie days but I’ll never forget that “RAF Surplus Greatcoat slung over shoulders “ look and those big Hollywood horn rimmed glasses. He was a few years ahead of me, possibly the Keelan, Duffy and Fitzgerald year?
    When The Jokers was shown on the Saturday night film projectors we all got very excited for Michael when his Dad’s name appeared in the credits.

    • John Hardy says:

      Hi Nick, I am the admin for the Walpole Grammar school memories group on Facebook and I’m searching for more former pupils to invite to the group. There is a Michael Gribble in the 1964 pupil intake list and I’m sure somebody mentioned him being the son of someone in the film world. Which boarding school did you and he attend and in which years, may I ask?. Obviously I’m not sure if it’s the same person but it would be nice to know one way or the other.
      John Hardy

  9. We profile Bernie’s career here: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/1299694/index.html and discuss his work in our book ‘British Film Editors’.

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