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'Star Wars' Editors Defy Hollywood Conventions


Let's finish up today talking about last year's box office juggernaut. You know you saw it, maybe more than once.


MARTIN: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" broke all kinds of box office records. It made a statement by shaking up the "Star Wars" franchise with a strong female lead in the character Rey and the black stormtrooper Finn. But you ever wonder how a movie like "Star Wars" comes together? Among the most critical people are the editors. And in an industry heavily dominated by men, film editors bucked the trend and are as likely as not to be women. Given all the controversy around the Oscars and the lack diversity in the film industry overall, we thought this would be a good time to talk more about this and find out what it's like putting together an international blockbuster. So joining us now from NPR West are film editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. Their work on "Star Wars" is nominated for an Oscar, and they have a long history of working together and working with director J.J. Abrams. And they're here with us now. Congratulations to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.


MARY JO MARKEY: Thank you.

MARTIN: So who is who? Identify yourselves, please.

MARKEY: This is Mary Jo Markey.

BRANDON: This is Maryann Brandon. Sometimes our assistants call us the M&Ms (laughter).

MARTIN: That's pretty good.

BRANDON: I guess we melt in your mouth, I don't know.




MARTIN: Well, that was also. Well, congratulations again. How - and I mentioned that the two of you worked together on a lot of J.J. Abrams' films - the "Star Trek" reboot movies, "Super 8," "Mission: Impossible." How did the two of you meet and start working together?

MARKEY: This is Mary Jo. We actually worked together on a TV series of J.J.'s called "Alias." But that was kind of a different situation in that there's a rotation of editors on a TV series. And Maryann would be cutting one episode. I would be cutting another episode, and the third editor would be cutting another episode. But we got to know each other then. And it was actually J.J. who put us together to cut his first feature film, "Mission: Impossible." There was talk because it was his first feature film about, you know, bringing in some heavy-hitter guy that had cut other action movies. But ultimately, J.J. just felt like he wanted us. He knew our work. He knew that we would always have his back. He knew that he had a shorthand with us that he could kind of walk in the room and say, no, it's not enough this. Make it more that and - or just kind of fix it and leave, and then the next time that he came in the room it would be more like what he wanted.

MARTIN: I read some place that you divide up the movie and you each work on your own section. is that hard?

MARKEY: This is Mary Jo. Somehow, this just works better because if you're only responsible for the cutting of one part of the film, when somebody brings up a note and says, gee, can you do this? I know immediately whether I have the material to do that or not.

BRANDON: This is Maryann. Maybe because we're women, we have a very high respect level for each other. And when you do have ownership, you're going to make it the best it can be. And I think that's a really - although subtle - very important point in - when you're doing anything creative.

MARTIN: This whole question of, you know, why is it that women have made a mark in your field, in your craft, in editing in a way that they haven't been able to make as much headway in other fields like directing, you know, for example?

MARKEY: This is Mary Jo. One advantage that women have had in editing is that women were editors from the beginning of the film business. It was considered women's work at one point, and not so much in a very artistic way - certainly not the way that we talk about filmmaking now. It was considered, like, knitting. You got your strips of film and you had to cut them up and you had to glue them together in a very precise way or they would come apart. And I do think that one of the reasons that young women coming out of film school choose to go into editorial is that they believe they have a chance to succeed in that field. And in fact, when I was in the film business but not in editing, I remember going past a room and seeing that there were women working in it. Then I just walked in and said hey, what are you guys doing?

MARTIN: So Maryann, maybe you want to take this one? Is it...

BRANDON: Can I just comment...

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead.

BRANDON: ...On that for a second?


BRANDON: I think that, you know, women succeed in the cutting room or they're allowed into the cutting room because it's not a very on-display job. I mean, we're behind the scenes. We kind of whisper in your ear

MARKEY: That is true (laughter).

BRANDON: And if you are somebody who needs to get a pat on the back for everything that you do, editorial is not for you. some.

MARKEY: You're not going to get it (laughter).

BRANDON: And I do think that there are - again, gross generalization - more women than men that can tolerate that or that are OK with that.

MARTIN: Can I ask you about working on "Star Wars?"

BRANDON: This is Maryann. It was awesome. I mean, it was great. We had to keep a lot of secrets. I love the fact that we've made a film that not only the whole family can go to and enjoy but, you know, it's actually having an effect. You know, Rey's character is a tough woman who your 6-year-old can pick up a lightsaber now and go for it.

MARTIN: I don't know if this is breaking the pack but between you, but would it be possible for you to tell us a scene that you edited and what you liked about it?

MARKEY: This is Mary Jo. One of the scenes that was actually very fun for me to cut was the - we call it the TIE-escape scene, which is with the intercutting of the battling between their little TIE fighter and these huge weapons that the First Order brings against them.


OSCAR ISAAC: (As Poe) Hey, what's your name?

JOHN BOYEGA: (As Finn) FN- 2187.

ISAAC: (As Poe) F - what?

BOYEGA: (As Finn) That's the only name they ever gave me.

ISAAC: (As Poe) Well, I ain't using it. FN, huh? Finn - I'm going to call you Finn. Is that all right?

MARKEY: And you just see this great interaction between them. I love the idea of having this new relationship begin to form in the midst of all this chaos around them and these big battle shots.

BRANDON: This is Maryann. You know, the big explosions, the things that going on in the background, they don't really matter that much. They're going on anyway. Until you put a sweet moment or a funny moment or a comment moment or...

MARKEY: They - a deeply emotional, sad moment - it doesn't mean as much.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations. I'm not going to ask who you're wearing. I'll just wait to be surprised...

MARKEY: I wish we knew. Yeah, we're still terrified about that.

BRANDON: If you know somebody who wants to dress us and - you know, let us know because we're...

MARTIN: I work at NPR. You really want my advice on fashion?

MARKEY: Well, we work in a dark room...

MARTIN: I mean, seriously.

BRANDON: We're going to do our best. We're going to do our best to represent...

MARKEY: To represent...

BRANDON: ...Glamour...

MARKEY: ...The editors' branch.

BRANDON: In a glamorous way.


MARTIN: That's Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey - M and M. They are the film editors for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Their work is nominated for an Oscar. And they joined us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BRANDON: Oh, thank you so much.

MARKEY: Thank you. It was fun.

BRANDON: It was really fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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