Michael Kahn

“The beautiful thing about editing is, and I guess maybe writers feel that way, I see all that film up there, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing one piece at a time. One scene at a time. One cut at a time. When there’s a lot of film, I just do one thing at a time.”

You’ve got this big, ambitious project on your plate. You might be excited to get started, but the very prospect of getting started can feel incredibly daunting. There’s so much you need to do and you don’t even know where to begin. It’s overwhelming. You’re getting anxious. Your mind is flooded with too many ideas and too much information all at once. You need to break it down. You need to think like Michael Kahn.

The average person probably won’t too familiar with the name, but movie buffs will recognize Michael Kahn as a legendary icon of the film industry. Kahn boasts the distinction of being nominated eight times for an Academy Award, the most of any film editor ever. He also shares the record for the most wins in the Best Film Editing category (three) with Thelma Schoonmaker, Daniel Mandell, and Ralph Dawson.

You may have heard of the films that Michael Kahn worked on to earn those little golden statues: 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1993’s Schindler’s List, and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, all of which were directed by the equally legendary Steven Spielberg. I guess it helps when geniuses work with other geniuses.

Can you even imagine what it must have felt like to be faced with hours upon hours of footage, sitting down to cut Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time? Where do you even begin?

I’m not saying that writing a book is nearly on the same scale, but the fundamental philosophy still applies. When you’ve got a massive project, you’ve just got to take it one step at a time. Focus on that one scene or that one chapter and get it right. Put everything else aside.

The above quote was highlighted in a recent episode of Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting. You’ll find the clip with Michael Kahn starting at around the 8:36 mark, though I encourage you to watch the whole video. And soak it all in, one scene at a time, one cut at a time.