1989. National Video Center. NYC.
Phil Joanou set up a meeting to discuss the opening title sequence for his upcoming film “State Of Grace,” starring Sean Penn, Gary Oldham and Ed Harris. He’d been working with a film design firm, and was dissatisfied with the work they were doing. He’d started working on videotape while editing U2’s “Rattle & Hum,” and he’d heard through the grapevine that I was doing unconventional things in my edit suite. Phil had shot footage of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade; he wanted to deconstruct it and make it really moody to match the track Ennio Morricone had composed for the open. I showed him some things I’d been doing for music videos, like placing a color monitor under my color title camera. After feeding footage into the monitor, I could then re-photograph it and alter it radically by zooming, shaking the monitor to the beat, defocusing it, shooting through water in a casserole pan, or bending the video with a magnet. I’d learned the magnet trick when I saw a Nam Jun Paik exhibition as a high school student.
The technique gives the footage a dreamy, abstract quality. Phil loved the idea and chose the font he wanted to use. He wanted small type. I wanted big type. I always loved big type. Still do. He won. We set to work.
When we were finished we gave the open to Claire Simpson, the film’s senior editor, to make a matching optical print of what we had done. That’s when the problems started.
The majority of the things I’d been doing began and ended in the edit room, so I was very lazy when it came to keeping notes. The technicians at the optical house had no clue how to translate what I had done to film. All I could do was provide an edit list that only showed the edit points. Not the blow-ups, repositioning or defocusing.
So along with Claire’s assistant, I went back into the edit room and redid everything, eye-matching what I’d done before. This time we took notes off the camera zoom lens, noted the durations of dissolves, and I gave them coordinates from the ADO, the digital effects device we also used to reposition things. Somehow, after many trips to the optical house and millions of phone calls with Claire, we managed to replicate what we had done.
Phil was so pleased, he let me edit the 7-minute gun battle that ends “State of Grace.” I’d learned a lot about how to prep for opticals, so everything went well.
I didn’t get an editor credit in the film because I was not a union editor, but I did get a credit as “Titles Consultant” and Phil and I worked together for many years after.