Craig McKay is the Oscar-nominated editor of REDS (1981) and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), and the Emmy and ACE-winning editor of the TV mini-series HOLOCAUST (1978). As one of the most respected, talented and in-demand editors in Hollywood he worked with the likes of William Friedkin, Jerry Schatzberg, Warren Beatty, John McNaughton, James Mangold, George Armitage, and on multiple occasions, Jonathan Demme. In the final part of the two-part interview, I spoke to Craig about working with Jonathan Demme, his approach to and views on editing, his directing work, and his experiences editing THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, MIAMI BLUES (1990), MAD DOG AND GLORY (1993), COP LAND (1997), SIN NOMBRE (2009) and AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013).    

Part one of the interview.   

You have worked numerous times with Jonathan Demme. Why do you think you collaborate so well? 
It's a very close relationship.We are like brothers. Barry Malkin had edited Jonathan's LAST EMBRACE (1979), and Jonathan asked him to do MELVIN AND HOWARD (1980), but he couldn't do it. Barry happened to be one of my mentors, and when Jonathan asked him who he would recommend, he said me. I read the script and had lunch with Jonathan, and when he asked me what I thought of it, I was pretty ballsy and admitted I didn't like it. I found it pretty conventional. I told him that I had seen HANDLE WITH CARE (1977) and that I loved his take on American culture and the distortion of the American Dream. I said ''I'm really excited about what you can bring to it. I think it will make an extraordinary piece. '' He hired me, but I couldn't start the film right away, because I still had six weeks to go on another picture. Jonathan said ''Hmmm, let me call you later. '' He called Barry, and Barry said ''Whatever you do, hire him. '' Jonathan told the studio that I had to start six weeks later and they said ''Who the hell is Craig McKay?'' He told them I had just won the Emmy for HOLOCAUST (1978), and that was it, the argument was over. 

How proud are you of your work on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? 
It's one of the few films that I have edited where I got to do everything that I wanted to do. It's so precisely done. We had the time to work on it. It took 13, painstaking months to edit that film. We went after it and found it. Jonathan and I, after SOMETHING WILD (1986), had developed this key phrase to work off, which was ''Never let the audience get ahead of your story. '' That was the basis of our attack on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Any piece of exposition was on the cutting room floor before you could count to 1. One of the first cuts of the film was working pretty well, but at one point in the story, Clarice gets fired by Crawford because she has tried to sell Lecter a fake vacation, and they take her off the case. We had this cut working, and the narrative force was so extraordinary, it just kept pushing itself forward and forward until we got to that part of the movie. Because she got fired, we had to start the movie up again and the narrative stopped. We screened the movie for Bill Goldman and discussed the problems we had been having. Goldman just said ''Take out all the stuff about her getting fired. '' Sometimes when you're in the trenches, clarity gets fogged over and you can't see what you need to see. We took the footage out, and the result was amazing. The film moves like a forest fire. 

Did you have much interaction with Anthony Hopkins? 
I don't really like actors coming into the cutting room, because they always want to talk about their close-ups. We working in part of the Brill Building when we were cutting LAMBS, and I looked down the hallway and I saw Jonathan coming towards me with Anthony Hopkins. I'm thinking ''Oh, shit. '' They came in and they were both very cordial, and then Jonathan told me Tony wanted to ask me something. He said ''You know that part where I did this, and the time where I did that ... I don't why I did those things. '' I said ''Tony, they're not in the movie. '' He said a very quick ''Thank you!'' And that was the end of it!

I usually don't go to the set much but one day I was on set and Tony was sitting in one of these high director's chairs, in his white uniform with blood all over his mouth and on his uniform, reading Eudora Welty. He turned to me and said ''I'm totally mad, Craig. I'm totally mad!'' And then he went back to his book! 

What was the shoot like? 
It was fun, but it was hard. There were long days, and it was cold. Some of the sets were built in a warehouse in Pittsburgh. The last day of shooting was like a 23 hour day or something. The work was extraordinary. Everybody delivered. When I started cutting it, I said to Jonathan ''Give me something to key off of, so while I'm putting it together I can always have something in my head. '' He thought for a minute and then he said something which was brilliant. He said ''Craig, this is a very sad story. '' I thought about what he had said and realised what he meant. We weren't doing a supernatural story or a horror story. We were doing a story about the darker parts of our own humanity. It was extremely helpful and something I followed all the way through. Not only did I have to go to this dark place to make the movie, but everybody had to in order to represent it the way it should be. And I think we all did that. Jodie said to me one day ''We all did the best we could do, and it shows. '' 

How much work was put in to achieve the surprise reveal that Clarice is actually in Jame Gumb's house? 
That's become a classic scene. Whenever I get called to do a lecture or a panel, everyone wants to talk about that scene. When I first got the scene, it was shot in a linear fashion. I looked at it and I thought I should parallel it, so I put it together that way. But it had been shot in line, so I decided to check if Jonathan really wanted it that way. I called Jonathan on set and spoke to his script supervisor, who told me that, yes, it needed to be in line. So I cut it back that way, and when I showed it to Jonathan about three weeks later in the screening room, he leaned over and whispered in my ear ''How come you didn't parallel that?'' So I went back and set about making it parallel again! Directors shoot the scenes and you have to break them up and open them up, and I spent a good three days doing that on the scene. I was really careful in how I built the scene and I had a lot of difficulty in getting it to a point to where I was satisfied. I almost had it, and I was on the third day and frustrated. I looked over at the film bin and there was a piece of film hanging by itself. I went over to pick it up and I realised it was the one shot I needed. It was like it was calling to me. I put it in and that was the scene. Serendipity was at play. I'm usually fussy about the work I do but I am fairly satisfied with what I did on the film. In truth though, I do think there is one shot that is framed too long in that scene! 

Would you have liked to have done the sequel, HANNIBAL (2001)? 
As part of his deal when he made MANHUNTER (1986), Dino De Laurentiis owned the rights to the characters' names, so when we did THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS we had to pay him for using some of the same characters. He wanted to make HANNIBAL, after passing on LAMBS, and he sent Jonathan the script. I met Jonathan and he said ''I don't want to have anything to do with it. '' Jodie looked at it and said the same, and I felt the same way too after reading the script. It was a quick decision. We just didn't think it measured up to the standards our movie had set. 

How was your experience editing MIAMI BLUES? 
George Armitage was an old friend of Jonathan's. When I first read the script it seemed to me that it was great but too long and in need of some more work, but they never did anything to fix it and they went in and started shooting it. My first cut ended up being almost three hours. I ended up taking an hour and a half out of the movie. I always say it's the one movie where I took a movie out of a movie to make it work! It was one of the most challenging jobs I had, to bring the time down and still make it play in an intersting way. It's very lean, which is my tendency on anything I work on. 

How did you come to work on MAD DOG AND GLORY? 
Martin Scorsese and Barbara De Fina called me in to help shape it up. I wasn't the original editor but I came in and did the final cut. It needed some pacing because it played rather slow. John McNaughton and I worked on it together and I think we got it to a good place. It was hard playing the comedy in that. When I cut a scene that is comedic I try to cut it as straight as possible and if there is comedy there it will come out. There was a big issue about one of the actors in the movie. In fact the cut I saw, he was practically out of it. Somebody didn't like his performance. One of the first things I told them was that his character was important and that they had to use him in a different way. So we put him back in the movie and found a way to make his character work. 

How was your experience on COPLAND? 
I was one of the creative advisors at the Directors Lab at Sundance. They brought in ten young filmmakers a year to work with the creative advisors. One of the projects that came in was James Mangold and COPLAND, and I advised him on it. I had seen a short he had directed and I recognised where it had been shot. It turned out we lived one town away from each other in the Hudson Valley. When I came back to New York, he had already made a low-budget film called HEAVY (1995). Jim asked me to take a look at it, and I gave him some notes. He was very grateful. A little bit later he called me and told me that COPLAND was being made, and wanted to know if I would edit it. I asked him what the budget was, and he said ''About $4 million. '' I told him ''I'd love to work with you, Jim, but I don't think you can afford me right now. '' I passed on it. And then the next thing that happened was that De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta came in. Stallone was always in place. The budget increased, and Jim called me up and said ''I think I can afford you now!''

We went through several versions of the edit. Stallone was absolutely magnificent as an actor in that. The biggest problem we had when we were previewing it was that the audience wouldn't buy Stallone as the character. It was so far from what people expected that they rejected his performance. We had to do a lot of editing to make him more acceptable to the audience. It was tricky to find a balance that pleased everyone. There was stuff that I wish was still in the movie. I'm sorry that the world didn't get to see the brilliant job he did.

When I was working on COPLAND I went out and I bought a Fender Telecaster guitar. I didn't tell my wife about it and I hid it in the cutting room. One day I was playing it in the cutting room and Jim walked in. We started messing around playing music and Jim asked me to play some Johnny Cash. The Fender Telecaster was the guitar that Johnny Cash's guitarist, Luther Perkins, used on all the early famous records. Every time we had a little lapse during editing, we'd be playing Johnny Cash on guitar. Jim talked about how he wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and how he was moving towards doing it. Later he of course made WALK THE LINE (2005). 

How was working with new, young filmmakers on SIN NOMBRE (Cary Fukunaga) and AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery)? 
Cary is one of the most brilliant filmmakers I have ever met. I've always expected huge things from him. I got a call from his producer, Amy Kaufman. We had mutual friends and they had heard about me. They had a cut of SIN NOMBRE that wasn't playing, and they wanted to know if I was interested in helping out. They flew me out to Toronto and I met with Cary and his editor. I supervised the recutting of the film into the final edit. We paced it out a little better, built some performances and added some subtitles. We finally got to where the movie was working and played really well. Cary gave me all the footage I needed. I'm very proud of the film. It's extraordinary.

I had less to do with AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS. I came in only for a while to work with David and straighten some stuff out as the film was playing very long. David is an editor himself. I feel I made contributions, but not major ones. We did steer it in a better direction. 

How do you feel about some of the modern styles of editing? 
A lot of things are going on, and a lot of things have changed. The worst thing I feel is that actors are not being allowed to have their performances shine. A lot of new directors, in truth, aren't spending a lot of time on getting performances. They're spending more time on action and on moving the narrative as fast as they can. That doesn't let moments happen for actors. It's an old Roger Corman trick that if you don't know how a scene is going to work, just cover it from as many angles as you can. I see a lot of that. I finally got around to watching JURASSIC WORLD (2015). It had such a thin plot, and there was no exploration of any deep emotionality at all. Fear wasn't even explored. I feel it's embematic of what is happening today. A lot of directors don't have experience of performance and they find ways to get around it, and of course editing is one way to get around it. I think quick editing can be done well. Tom Cross's WHIPLASH (2014) is a beautiful example of incredibly fast editing. After I saw the film I wrote to Tom and said ''Man, loved your work!'' Digital has made everything much easier. Theres a lot of great editing going on but unfortunately there's a lot more bad editing. There's not the training there used to be. The apprenticeship has all gone. 

In an age of very fast editing periods, do you think, for example, the long process of editing something like REDS, can make for a better movie? 
It certainly did with REDS, in terms of performance, and in the size of the story. I think it depends on the nature of the story and the landscape you're trying to create. REDS certainly wouldn't have worked using today's editing styles. We had to spend time to sink into that story. I'm Mr. Invisible. I hate jump cuts, especially in the middle of a scene, where you are asking the audience to make an adjustment, even though they're in the same physical space, because of something the editor is doing. I realise jump cuts are convenient but if everything was shot correctly you wouldn't need to use them. They've become cliche. 

When you're editing, do you see yourself as a kind of director, given that both mediums focus on storytelling? 
Definitely. In the digital age, the editor has really become the orchestrator of all the elements. With the Avid, it's all been centralised into one point, and the editor is making decisions about everything, which is very akin to directing. 

Is editing now much easier to understand for the layman in this age? 
With the advent of digital technology, everybody thinks that they can do it, but it's not the truth, unless you have the natural facility for editing. It takes years of learning to be able to do it well. When you consider how mnay balls you have in the air and everything you have to deal with, it can take a good eight years to become a really proficient editor. 

Did you enjoy the experiences you've had directing? 
Yes, very much. I did SUBWAY STORIES: TALES FROM THE UNDERGROUND (1997) for HBO, and I also did a PBS special called BUBBE MEISES: BUBBE STORIES (1994). I did a comic segment for Saturday Night Live too. I started off making short films with my camera, so I have always had a strong sense of camera, and that combined with the editing made the experiences pretty strong. I'm hoping to be doing some more producing and directing. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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