Schoonmaker is widely known as Martin Scrosese's go-to editor, having worked on his movies for over 50 years. She is the second most-nominated editor in Oscars history, and has mastered editing across a wide range of genres with her classic editing skills that she learned on her first feature film.
Check out the interview below:
Thelma Schoonmaker talks about her favorite Scorsese moments pic.twitter.com/UYKcgL0dYn— Reconsidering Cinema (@coenesqued2) October 1, 2023
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Credit: Paramount Pictures
From the sharp screenplay to the dynamic editing, The Wolf of Wall Street became a modern classic that encapsulated the greed, corruption and the moral bankruptcy of the financial industry. For Schoonmaker, the beauty of the edit comes from the improvisation of the actors.
"I love cutting improvisation because it is like putting a puzzle together," Schoonmaker says in the interview. "... [Y]ou have to find a way to make that work dramatically as a scene."
2. The DepartedThe Departed'
Credit: Warner Bros.
Scorsese's skills are fully on display in The Departed as he creates a tense and atmospheric world through the camera movement and Schoonmaker's editing.
"The Departed was so fun because it was crazy. We had to restructure it a lot, we had some structure problems with it, but that happens on a lot of films. It was pretty wild dealing with the improvisation of Jack Nicholson and Leo[nardo DiCaprio]."
In the scene when Frank (Jack Nicholson) is accusing Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) of being a rat, Schoonmaker recalls watching the first take of the scene. "[DiCaprio] had no idea that Jack was going to pull a gun. He had no idea that Jack was going to burn the paper on the table top. Leo's first take is absolutely brilliant because he is genuinely reacting to things he didn't know was going to happen."
3. Raging Bull
Credit: United Artist
For Schoonmaker, working on Scorsese's Raging Bull was heaven. "I mean everything was pure gold about that movie: the direction, the camera work, the black and white, the fantastic improvisations and acting by the actors, the beautiful use of music, the stunning fight sequences, which Marty had designed very carefully, down to almost to cut to cut," says Schoonmaker.
Raging Bull is a wonderful portray of deeply flawed characters, the exceptional performances, masterful direction and timeless themes made the film a cinema classic that shaped a new era of storytelling while winning a few Oscars along the way, including the Oscar for Best Editing.
Credit: Paramount Pictures
Scorsese's Hugo is one of the filmmaker's greatest love letters to cinema. While other American auteurs have made love letters that encapsulate how cinema has shaped their lives, Hugo celebrates the great masters of cinema.
Schoonmaker recalls what makes Hugo speical, saying, "At one point, Baz Lurhman was about to shoot Great Gatsby in 3D, and he came into this editing room to see how we were dealing with it," Schoonmaker says. "I was telling him the story of Hugo, and I said that it's a distillation of all that Marty's done for these great masters he reverse. And Marty says, 'Oh, I hadn't realized that.'"
5. The Aviator
Credit: Miramax Films
Unlike Hugo, which is a love letter to the great masters of cinema, The Aviator is a warning of a filmmaker's obsession with making a masterpiece. The Aviator was also Scorsese's and Schoonmaker's first big visual effects movie.
Schoonmaker recalls that Scorsese and the VFX supervisor spent hours with plane models and a lipstick camera to map out the camera moves around the plane to help create beautiful flight sequences. This made it easier to map out the shot with heavily VFX of the planes flying throughout the film.
6. Gangs of New York
'Gangs of New York'
Credit: Miramax Films
Gangs of New York shows that Scorsese and his team can work on an epic scale but still create stories that focus on the delicate relationship between characters.
While the movie is one of Schoonmaker's favorites, her best memory of the film comes from Daniel Day Lewis, who was method acting as Bill the Butcher throughout the entire production. Whenever Lewis wanted to watch dallies, he would call up to Schoonmaker and say, "Hello Sweetheart, wanna go look at dallies?" Schoonmaker said watching dallies with him was a treat.
7. Who's That Knocking at My Door
'Who's That Knocking at My Door'
Credit: Joseph Brenner Associates
Who's That Knocking at My Door holds a special place in Schoonmaker's career. Not only was this film Scorsese's first feature, but it was the film where Scorsese taught Schoonmaker how to edit.
"Marty taught me everything I ever knew about editing on that film," Schoonmaker said. "How to build a scene between two actors, for example, when do you use a close up, when do you use a medium shot, how long do you hold on one actors as a opposed to the other that way you build character and a dynamic relationship between two actors."
Scorsese shot half of the film while attending school at NYU, then many of the students who went on to work on documentaries or films volunteered to help him finish the film."
Schoonmaker's life was forever changed by Who's That Knocking at My Door as Scorsese taught her truly classic filmmaker, which Schoomaker says is all about going for the truth all the time.
What is your favorite Schoonmaker film that she has edited? Let us know in the comments!