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Cut away 

Oscar-winning editor Neil Travis inspires SLO County film lovers�

New Times How are you involved with the SLO International Film Festival?

Neil Travis I will conduct an editing workshop on March 14 at the Oddfellows Hall in SLO with Aaron Metchick who created the film Ten Years Later. I gave him some advice editorially. I think it’s an excellent film. What I’ve asked him to do is bring the dailies, or the rushes, of a scene out of his film, and we will show the audience what the picture looks like before it’s cut and then give them the opportunity to cut it themselves. People will decide where to start a scene, and how to overlay music and sound. Then we will show what the participants have put together and what Aaron has done.

New Times What does an editor do? Are you ever on a film set?

Travis Yes, but I don’t need to be. I go on the set usually for the first couple of weeks to get a feel for what the director is doing ... then by that time the film is beginning to pile up and then I go into a little room and start putting it together. Basically, the job of a film editor is a constructive process rather than a censor process. I don’t take things out, I just put it together. The movie is shot from different angles and each angle is printed three or four times until the director is happy with it. There will be master shots, over the shoulder shots, close-ups, and inserts of books and paper, and my job is to use one of each of those, and make a movie based on that material.

New Times Does a director work closely with you in the editing process?

Eventually. Typically what happens is I’m assembling it and polishing it and I’m a couple of days behind them. When the director is done shooting he/she will take a vacation, since it’s a hard grind shooting a movie, then he will come in and we will sit down and look at it together and then I’ll try and make the changes to fit his concept—to make it look like he wants it to look like.

New Times How many years have you been doing this?

Travis I’ve been in film editing for 47 years.

New Times How did you end up on the Central Coast?

Travis I’m retired and I don’t even like saying that word, “retired,” but I’m not getting as many offers as I used to.

New Times Even with an Academy Award?

Travis That was in 1990 so that doesn’t count anymore.

New Times It will always count!

Travis I’m very proud of my Oscar and my Emmy [which he won for Roots] but they don’t get me jobs anymore. The farther you get away from your last picture, the harder it is to get a job.

New Times Do you still remember it pretty vividly, the Oscar-winning moment in your life?

Travis Oh yes, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I didn’t think I’d be nervous, but two things were bothersome: everyone kept telling me I was going to win, which I thought was bad luck ... so I didn’t think I would, and I told my wife to hang onto me in case someone else’s name was called. Then my daughter dreamt I won and I ran up on the stage and fell and broke my nose. I told her if I won I would touch my nose. Well, I forgot to do that. Also, it was my 30th wedding anniversary and I forgot to mention my wife. I have never been so nervous in my life.

New Times Favorite editing experience?

Dances with Wolves was hard to beat. We were stuck in South Dakota for six months and we became family and got to know one another very well—played softball, took little excursions, and we each gave each other Indian names. I was “Over the Hill.” That was 20 years ago so today I would probably be called “Dead Meat.”

New Times Did you learn anything from Kevin Costner (Wolves director and star)?

Travis People thought he was just a figurehead on Dances with Wolves but he directed every frame of that movie and knew exactly what he wanted.  

New Times OK—Cocktail? Cujo?!

Travis [Laughter]

New Times I really loved Cocktail!

Travis Really? It won a Golden Raspberry award. It wasn’t what people expected, but I enjoyed working on it.

New Times What movies are you looking forward to at the film festival?

Travis Prom Night in Mississippi, a film set in Morgan Freeman’s hometown of Charleston, Mississippi, where they have segregated proms.  The kids don’t want it, but the parents were hanging onto that idea. Freeman sponsored an integrated prom. It’s a documentary about that and the juxtaposition of the kids and their parents. ∆

Christy Heron can be reached at cheron@new 


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