Thelma Schoonmaker Movie Making Rules

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Things I’ve Learned: Thelma Schoonmaker

1. To live life before you become a filmmaker—really live it—is the most essential experience you
should have before becoming a filmmaker. Experience all kinds of people and behaviors. In terms
of special training to become a filmmaker, one should study classic films and learn from them. That
is how Scorsese became the filmmaker he is.

2. Don’t make a movie unless you have something burning inside of you to say—like Scorsese’s
Mean Streets, which is so personal and powerful and ground breaking.

3. When seeking out collaborators, talent is vital. But there are a lot of egos in filmmaking and
everyone has to learn how to work together in spite of them.

4. As an editor, put the most focus on the screening process, and then debriefing people afterwards
to find out how the film is affecting them. Then re-cutting and screening again and again until you
get it right.

5. The attempts to ruin a film with bad ideas are a constant problem in today’s world—or maybe
they were always there. I love the constant challenge Scorsese presents to me with each film. I have
to grow and adapt to that challenge.

6. It is simply not true that recruited audience previews can necessarily give you an accurate picture
of how well a film is working. The film isn’t ready yet, the audience has not been prepared for it,
and if it is tough, they may not “like” it—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working.

7. Always express gratitude for the work that your peers are doing. Filmmakers often don’t feel they
have the time to do that, but it is essential.

8. I learned from Michael Powell to never talk down to our audiences—to never “dumb down” a
movie. He said that audiences are actually way ahead of us and as filmmakers, we must try to be
ahead of them—to surprise them and make them feel our movies, not tell them what to think.

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