Q3 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 40 of 55

41 F A L L Q 3 I S S U E F E A T U R E can't live on that." Soon enough, Burns graduated to grander subjects, larger budgets, and, significantly, union agreements. "When we began the third or fourth film, I was hiring an editor who was already in the union, and we just adopted the union rules," Burns said. "We wanted to serve the creative people that we were hiring. . . . People are always finding contortions to avoid paying a tax on something. We just wanted to play by the rules." To d a y, B u r n s i s a m o n g t h e m o s t p r o m i n e n t d o c u m e n t a r i a n s w h o s e p ro j e c ts a re u n i o n i ze d . D e s p i te t h e fa c t t h at d o c u m e n ta r i e s f re q u e n t ly tackle social issues (including the labor movement) from a progressive point of view, a large number are made outside of the union. Industry insiders see two m a i n i s s u e s s ta n d i n g i n t h e w a y to increased documentary unionization— namely, the projects' low budgets and scattered schedules. "Obviously, it's an additional expense for the production," said New York-based picture editor Doug Abel, ACE, whose extensive nonfiction credits include Errol Morris's "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara" (2003) and the Netflix series "Tiger King." "If I had a dime for every documen- tary that I started and stopped . . ." Burns is in a unique position. Since the filmmaker has long preferred to juggle multiple documentaries simultaneously, his editors work under a term agreement rather than a single production contract. "We have a term agreement with him so it runs from a date to another date—two years, three years," said Motion Picture Editors Guild National Executive Di- rector Cathy Repola. "Everything that he does gets done union, by a staff he has working there, Local 700 people, at his facility." " We ' v e j u s t b e e n , s i n c e 1 9 8 2 , i n constant production with at least two projects at once," Burns said. "It means that, for example, editors f inish the Vietnam series, . . . and then moved onto 'Country Music.'" Of course, editors are not assured of lifetime employment with the filmmaker, but some on his post-pro- duction team have had something close to that. "Paul Barnes, ACE, finally—re- grettably, from our point of view—retired to the Southwest," Burns said. "Tricia R e i d y, AC E , w h o c a m e a s a n i n te r n in our 'Statue of Liberty,' is one of our senior editors." Yet Burns recognizes that few doc- umentarians have such luxuries. "For some people who have not chosen the route that I've gone, it's hard," he said. "You release a film, and you don't know what the next thing is and you spend several years raising money and maybe you have another job." S o u n d e d i t o r ( a n d f o r m e r G u i l d member) Midge Costin knows firsthand the benefits of union support, as well as the challenges of working without it. "When I was working non-union as a sound editor to get my hours in, they'll just work you to death and they just don't think about it," said Costin, who, as a Guild member, sound-edited a series of A-list action pictures in the 1990s, including "Crimson Tide" (1995), "The Rock" (1996), and "Armageddon" (1998). After giving up her post-production career to focus on teaching at the Uni- versity of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, Costin rejoined the ranks of working filmmakers with her years-in-development tribute to the craft of sound editing, "Making Waves: The Michael Moore in "Capitalism: A Love Story" P H O T O : P H O T O F E S T

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of CineMontage - Q3 2020