Features Personal Musings

My Day With Professional Film Editor, Sam Pollard

“You want to engage your audience and tell a story.”

-Sam Pollard

A couple of weekends ago, I, and a few other Howard University students, got the privilege to spend a day learning more about the creative process of film editing.

Professional film editor, Sam Pollard graced Washington, DC and HU’s campus and shared with us many stories, many of his experiences, and in great detail, explained his creative process. 

I learned a load of stuff that day and personally, it felt too good to be true. Considering that I do have a true passion for storytelling; writing as well as editing —  I took great advantage of that outstanding opportunity.

Now you’re probably wondering, “Now who is Sam Pollard?”

Well, have you seen…

Then… Sam Pollard was the mastermind during

post production on those films = film editor.

He CONTINUED to stress that


Tell a Story.

A few of his pointers I jotted down throughout the workshop:

  • Never be just the “hands” of the director —- you MUST have an opinion also. What do you like? What is it that you don’t like?
  • When you’re looking at film and analyzing the scene, you have to be really specific.
  • The script is a template to explain unfolding of a sequence.
  • Editors raise the emotional temperature of the film so that the audience will stay engaged.
  • Some people think that editing is cut, cut, cut… but you need to know when NOT to make a cut. (He used this point regarding the film “Bamboozled” during the abduction and  tap dance scene when Manray/Mantan danced to his death) Mr. Pollard explained that he cut on the poetry essence of the scene and film as a whole. Specifically during the rapping scenes, he cut on the rhythm of the words. Interesting!
  • When you’re engaged in the editing process, you work on giving the film life, order, and motion.
  • What’s the emotional intent of the scene? In the world, everybody sets a pace/mood; and as a filmmaker, you incorporate those paces and moods into the film.
  • Pacing depends on the director’s point of view/aesthetics and vision.

He shared a lot of stories that day with us, but one that I thought was interesting and maybe beneficial to me, was how he and Spike Lee would go to random film showings and sit right in the middle of the audience. They would feel the audience. Their emotions and reactions… and ultimately discover if a scene was too long, and if the audience enjoyed a particular scene, etc. That helped them pick and choose what they thought would work.

Lastly, he briefly touched on understanding the history of editing. That IS the editing process and it dates way back during Sergei Eisenstein & Dziga Vertov Soviet times. (Russian filmmakers, 1920’s.)

  • Sergei Eisenstein has been critically acclaimed as being the Father of the Montage, with that being his major contribution to the film industry and editing process. He is best known for his film, Battleship Potemkin and his famous scene, the Odessa Steps.
  • Dziga Vertov, is best known for his film, Man with a Movie Camera, which tells no story at all, but it exemplifies his “kino-eye” contribution to the film world. He would assemble clips of film without regard for formal continuity, time, or even logic itself to achieve a ‘poetic’ effect which would grab viewers.

During my first semester of graduate school, I wrote a 10 page, detailed research paper on Eisenstein, Vertov, and American filmmaker, D.W. Griffith and their influences/contributions to the film industry politically and socially;  so I could relate well enough to what Mr. Pollard was saying. [You have to understand the history and research early films to create the editing process.]

So in a nutshell, I was truly, TRULY inspired and honored to be in his presence on that day and just be able to grasp all knowledge and understanding that he had given us.

So you may not be a filmmaker, but now you can probably understand and appreciate an editor’s creative process while watching your favorite movie! :P