Q4 2018

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84 CINEMONTAGE / Q4 2018 W hen Lee Dichter, CAS, was informed that he would receive the Motion Picture Editors Guild's 2018 Fellowship and Service Award, it did not take long for the veteran sound re-recording mixer to accept. In fact, it took the equivalent of about "six frames of film" for him to reply, he says. "When I was notified by [Guild president] Alan Heim about the selection for the award, I was flabbergasted," Dichter adds. "It was a spontaneous reaction that I accepted, and it definitely feels like a lifetime achievement, in a way." The cacophony of credits Dichter has amassed over a five-decade career — including multi-film collaborations with directors Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Nora Ephron, Sidney Lumet and Mike Nichols — more than qualifies him for celebration. Yet the award's emphasis on other attributes, including a concern for labor issues, is what moves him most. "In 1943, my father, Murray Dichter, was a charter member of the New York Motion Picture Editors Guild, IATSE Local 771, which was formed several years after the Society of Motion Picture Film Editors launched in Los Angeles in 1937, and he became a member of Local 52, the Motion Picture Studio Mechanics, in 1959," Dichter says. The SMPFE became IATSE Local 776, the West Coast's guild for film editors, in 1944. Yet Dichter — who was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York — has roots in show business that stretch back even further. In the 1920s, his maternal grandfather Joseph Seiden, who was the son of a vaudeville veteran, started producing and directing films with Yiddish themes. "He had the idea of making films of the Yiddish plays that were on the Lower East Side so more people could see them," Dichter relates. "Of course, it was all silent film at that time, but he needed my father to make the transition to sound." After studying at Cooper Union, Murray Dichter became an electrical engineer and established a radio repair shop that specialized in automobile radios. "These were tube radios, so they constantly were blowing out going over the potholes and everything," Dichter comments. "The radios needed constant repair." One of Murray Dichter's customers was Seiden, with whom he began working in the early 1930s when the filmmaker switched to sound films. In 1936, Murray Dichter married Seiden's eldest daughter, Natalie. "My father learned everything about film recording techniques, and he applied it to my grandfather's work," Dichter observes. "Eventually, he left my grandfather because they were two strong-willed men. He left and opened up a studio, Dichter Sound Studios, which focused on TV commercials." In those days, advertisers sought to control both the picture and sound of their spots. "They wanted to have it consistent so the picture would look beautiful and sound great," Dichter says. "He had set up the studio, mainly for TV commercials, in a building that he had bought on 54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It was an old church, in fact." In the five-story building, shooting stages occupied the second and third floors, sound recording took place on the ground floor, and editing was done in the basement. "It was the first large editorial service in the city," Dichter explains. "The commercials were shot upstairs and then cut downstairs." On weekends, young Lee began assisting his father, learning how to thread dubbing machines and observing him putting the finishing touches on episodes of the CBS program Eye on New York and other projects in the late 1950s. "I really loved being there," Dichter says, "and he exposed me to all sides of it." Dichter spent a single year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "I was not a good student as far as test-taking and studying," he remembers. "Most of my knowledge was intuitive. I was very good in math, very good in sciences, but I didn't do well in the languages and other areas." Asked when he decided to leave college, he replies succinctly: "Well, they decided." LEE DICHTER: METICULOUS MIXER, MAESTRO, MAGICIAN, MENSCH by Peter Tonguette • portraits by Sarah Shatz

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