Meet the woman behind the 'Wolf'

by Erin Landau

This awards season, it’s time to celebrate the women behind the men, both on and off camera. One of the most influential people in infamous director Martin Scorsese’s life, editor Thelma Schoonmaker is a woman who shapes and creates the scenes we love. From Raging Bull, to Goodfellas, to The Departed, Schoonmaker has expertly transformed the performances we see on screen, combing through shot after shot to make us laugh, cry, flinch, and rejoice. On editing, Thelma Schoonmaker said:

“Like a lady who has lost weight and she’s just getting to that point where she can fit into that favorite dress, you get the film down to just about the right cut. You can feel it when it happens”

At a media screening for The Wolf of Wall Street , the audience was pleasantly surprised by a Q&A session after the film. The mediator first announced seven-time nominee and three time Oscar winner Schoonmaker, editor of 17 of director Martin Scorsese’s films. Next up was a man who needed no introduction, producer and star Leonardo Dicaprio. Yet why is it that one of the most highly decorated names in editing needs to be clarified while the fame of Dicaprio, who has only three Oscar nominations, goes without saying?

The two answered questions regarding the film’s improvisation, battles over ratings with the MPAA, and cutting down the film from over four hours to a short two hours and fifty-nine minutes. While the actors are clearly important to the success and quality of the film, editors do the nitty-gritty behind the scenes work that transforms a series of disjointed takes into the movies we know and love. Schoonmaker’s forty year editing love-affair with Scorsese has produced some of the greatest films of our time, and as Wolf of Wall Street proves, their relationship only gets better with time.

“[Scorsese] says I bring out the humanity in his films…I think as a woman perhaps I am more tuned in to emotional things in the films that maybe I pull out more.”- Thelma Schoomaker on working with Scorsese

While there appear to be more women then men in the editing industry, male editors, directors, and other industry professionals are better known and greater acclaimed. Despite a lack of fame and media attention, women are permeating the industry and dominating a variety of fields within the industry both on-screen and behind the camera. When asked about why women are represented more in the editing industry than elsewhere in entertainment, Schoonmaker replied:

“I think women make good collaborators, and every director deserves that kind of support. Editing requires very hard work, patience, discipline, and good organizational skills, and these are second nature to many women."

I think we all need to take a page out of Schoonmaker's book in bringing women into the spotlight within the entertainment industry. Women have made history this year by controlling the media and stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Many of Hollywood's most powerful people this year were strong females leading the way creatively and successfully in their industries. It is time to look beyond the innately famous to those like Schoonmaker whose work contributes much more than it gets credit for.

Image: Red Granite Pictures