Thelma Schoonmaker: Wikis


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Thelma Schoonmaker

Thelma with Columba Powell at Cannes, May 2009
Born January 3, 1940 (1940-01-03) (age 70)
Algiers, Algeria
Spouse(s) Michael Powell (1984-1990)

Thelma Schoonmaker (born 3 January 1940) is an American film editor who has worked with director Martin Scorsese for over thirty-five years. She has edited all of Scorsese's films since Raging Bull. Schoonmaker has received six Academy Award nominations for best editing, and has won three times (for Raging Bull, The Aviator, and The Departed).

Schoonmaker was married to director Michael Powell from 19 May 1984 until his death in 1990.[1] Since his death Schoonmaker has been dedicated to preserving the films and honoring the legacy of her husband, who directed many classic films, including The Red Shoes.[2][3] She was introduced to Michael Powell by Martin Scorsese and London based film producer Frixos Constantine.


Life and career

Schoonmaker's father Bertram was employed as a clerical worker by the Standard Oil Company and worked abroad.[4] She was born in Algiers, Algeria to American expatriates and raised in various countries, including on the Dutch-Caribbean island of Aruba.[4][5]

Schoonmaker did not live in the United States until she was a teenager in 1955, and was initially alienated and dumbfounded by American culture.[4] Schoonmaker was interested in a career in international diplomacy and began attending Cornell University in 1957, where she studied political science and the Russian language. (She attended classes taught by Vladimir Nabokov.) When she graduated from Cornell in 1961, she began taking State Department tests in order to apply for positions in the U.S. government.[3][4] Being politically inclined and opinionated, Schoonmaker expressed distaste for the South African policy of apartheid, a stance which didn't sit well with those administering the State Department tests.[1][4] In reaction to this experience, Schoonmaker switched gears and began taking a course in primitive art.

At that point, she saw an employment advertisement in The New York Times which sought an "assistant film editor" to which she responded and got the job. The job entailed assisting an "editor" who was randomly cutting frames from classic European films, (such as those by François Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard and Federico Fellini), so that their length would conform to the running times of U.S. television broadcasts.[4] Although she was revolted by the callousness of the editor's methods, Schoonmaker nonetheless picked up important technical skills, including negative cutting.

Schoonmaker signed up for a brief six-week course in filmmaking at New York University (NYU), where she came into contact with budding young filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who was struggling to complete his film What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? A negative cutter had butchered his film, not leaving enough negative frames to allow for hot splicing. One of her film professors asked Schoonmaker to help Scorsese; a close working relationship with him has unfolded over the past thirty-five years.[4]

At NYU Schoonmaker also met director Michael Wadleigh and later edited his influential music festival documentary, Woodstock. Her first major film editing work on Woodstock garnered Schoonmaker an Academy Award nomination for Best Editing. Her careful use of superimpositions and freeze frames brought the performances in the film to life, and added to the movie's wide appeal, thus helping to raise the artistry and visibility of documentary filmmaking to a new level.[6]

Despite her obvious skill and talent, the early period of Schoonmaker's career was difficult; joining the Motion Picture Editors Guild has always been challenging, and the film industry generally has been a restrictive boys club.[2][5] Consequently, there was a twelve-year gap between her work on Scorsese's student films and her Oscar-winning work on his masterful Raging Bull.

Nonetheless Schoonmaker helped to shatter some film industry glass ceilings, and has amassed an impressive list of film editing credits. Variety's Eileen Kowalski notes that, "Indeed, many of the editorial greats have been women: Dede Allen, Verna Fields, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates and Dorothy Spencer."[7]


  • "You get to contribute so significantly in the editing room because you shape the movie and the performances," she says. "You help the director bring all the hard work of those who made the film to fruition. You give their work rhythm and pace and sometimes adjust the structure to make the film work ‑- to make it start to flow up there on the screen. And then it's very rewarding after a year's work to see people react to what you've done in the theater."[2]
  • "... Editing is a lot about patience and discipline and just banging away at something, turning off the machine and going home at night because you're frustrated and depressed, and then coming back in the morning to try again."[8]

Selected filmography


Other credits

Academy Awards and nominations

  • 1971 - Woodstock (nominated) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • 1981 - Raging Bull (won) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • 1991 - Goodfellas (nominated) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • 2003 - Gangs of New York (nominated) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Editing
  • 2005 - The Aviator (won) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Editing
  • 2007 - The Departed (won) Academy Award - Best Achievement in Editing

Other awards and nominations


External links


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