Jack TuckerEditor’s note: Jack Tucker, A.C.E., is an accomplished editor with over 45 film and television projects to his credit,

many of which are well known productions (Shogun, the TV movie, Winds of War, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, etc.), with more in progress. 

Visit IMDB for a more complete listing.  I first met Jack in his role as a teacher at Cal State Long Beach, where he is teaching his craft to a new generation of editors.  His journey to becoming a respected member of his craft is truly fascinating and non-traditional as you’ll see in the following interview.  His philosophy is straightforward, "Editing is not a technical process.  It is an artistic process.  It is about storytelling.  What editors do is the final rewrite of the script."  

SOCAL: Where were you born and raised?
Jack: I was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up there until I was about 19, when I joined the Air Force.  

SOCAL: Before you joined the Air Force, was there anything in your background relating to theater or the film industry or were you a blank slate?
Jack: When I was a kid, I did not have a lot of friends my age, they were a lot younger, so I did a lot of reading and I went to the movies all the time.  I remember one week seeing eleven movies.  Of course they were a lot cheaper in those days.  So I grew up with movies, fell in love with movies, always thought about movies.  East of Eden with James Dean was the movie that really inspired me to make movies.   So in the back of my mind I always figured I would go to Hollywood and make movies in some fashion.  The Air Force became the conduit to do that.

SOCAL: I know your Air Force experience did not start out as a straight line to Hollywood.  Please describe your military experience.
Jack: When I went to Vandenberg Air Force Base (editor’s note, about 60 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara and 152 miles from Hollywood), I found out after some weeks that I was mal-assigned because they weren’t doing any productions, all they were doing was looking at missile footage that was being shot.  They weren’t making any movies, just critiquing the footage.  Because the war (Vietnam) started heating up in southeast Asia, I got assigned temporarily to the Air Force’s movie studio in Hollywood.  This was my big break because they did make movies.  The editorial department there had 480 years of experience between them.  These were old men who came out of the business and they would say, ‘we don’t know everything about editing but we did invent it!’  They weren’t kidding.  They remembered when DeMille (Cecil B) arrived, they remembered Griffith (D.W.), and all of this stuff and they became my original teachers.  And because I was so in love with movies and so fascinated, they took me under their wings and showed me how to do things and they taught me the original lessons of editing.  It was a wonderful experience but I could only stay there about sixty days when I got sent back to Vandenberg.  I told them I wanted to go back to Hollywood.  They said no chance, the only place you can go to is Vietnam.  So I raised my hand and volunteered for Vietnam.  In about ninety days I was on an airplane actually heading for Bangkok and ended up in a detachment in Khorat.  

SOCAL: What were your assignments once you got to southeast Asia?
Jack: Part of the time I was in Khorat (Thailand), part of the time I was in Tan Son Nhut (adjacent to Ho Chi Minh city, formerly Saigon).  Instead of looking at missile footage I was looking at bombing footage or gun camera footage.  They had all sorts of cameras on the planes.  If the pilot pulled back one click on the guns the camera would start, at two clicks it fired the gun, if it dropped a bomb it would shoot film.  One of the pieces of 16mm film that came through my hands had a terrific shot of a North Vietnamese jet blowing up in frame.  I understand it ended up in Life Magazine but it came to my shop first.  I was supposed to look at the footage and say ‘this was really great and we’d send it back to Hollywood’ or ‘this is s**t’.  What we were really doing was making stock footage.  It had no military significance whatsoever.  We were not part of intelligence, we were making movies.  I did enjoy that aspect of it.  I figured out after a year over there, that I would be able to rotate out and go to Hollywood and I put that in as my request.  Well of course they sent me back to Vandenberg.  

I was a little angry so my roommate and I borrowed some of their film stock and made a movie using all the sound and film equipment we had at our disposal, used their film and ran it through their processing units and made a little movie called The Hunter and that’s where I really learned to make a movie.  Actually I directed it along with my roommate and the cameraman who shot it was Frank Johnson who is now an ASC cameraman and also a director.  Frank and I are now working together on projects on our own but we met on this silly little movie called The Hunter where he came to me and said Sgt. Tucker, I want to make a documentary about California and I want you to edit it and I said "fine, I’ll do that if you shoot my movie."  We never did make his movie until 43 years later.  It was called Shannon’s Rainbow which we shot in Pennsylvania and I edited it.  The important thing is that this was a key learning experience.  It’s a forty minute film that I show to my class each semester and tell them “I shot this on 16mm and you can go home and shoot this on your video equipment and make something far better.  I needed to develop film, edit on a Moviola, do everything by hand.  You can shoot on cards, transfer to you computer and do all you editing there.?

SOCAL: While it may have been your classroom, there was actually a war going on in Vietnam.  What was that like?
Jack: We came under mortar attacks a number of times.  Actually, the first time, I actually slept through it.  Somebody woke me up in the middle of the night and said ‘hey man, they mortored us, and we all ran to the bunkers.’  I said is it over?  When he said yes, I then asked him why he woke me?  That was pretty much what life was like for me over there.  

SOCAL: What did you do when you got back to the States?
Jack: Anyway, when I got back to Vanderberg, I completed nine more months and then (1968) with my movie The Hunter under my arm and $60 in my pocket I hitched a ride to Hollywood, rented a small apartment, filed for unemployment, and actually got a job at Price Waterhouse as an office boy.  It was kind of nice since they had about 30 secretaries and they were all gorgeous but that only lasted two weeks as I managed to get a job working in a small film company that made documentaries and some military contact work

SOCAL: How did you manage to land a job in the business?
Jack: The reason I got hired at this place is that they did a lot of negative cutting and I had taught myself, in the Air Force, how to cut negatives by making little films.  Let me also say, when I was in Portland, as a kid, I said I loved movies, I built a little theater in my basement and rented 16mm movies, ran them for the neighborhood kids, and I shot 8mm movies, monster movies usually – all of that aided me in being in the right frame of mind to be hired.  Essentially, I wanted to make movies all my life.  

SOCAL: OK, you’re in the business.  You have such an incredible body of work over the years, so please tell us more about the early years.
Jack: I stayed with this little company for awhile, then I went to work for people doing low budget films.  I worked for a while for a couple of ladies who were making, what they called at the time, skin flicks.  They needed someone to cut the film and direct them so I did that.  Then I started doing biker films, black films . . . in those days everyone with twenty bucks was shooting a movie . . . and what was amazing was they would shoot it on 35mm.  Someone would raise $5,000 and they would go out and shoot for a couple of days, they’d raise some more money and shoot again, and I participated in a lot of them and because I knew how to edit, I was very much in demand.  I shot non-union for 17 years and finally became a member of the union in 1980 when I walked on the Paramount lot to start work on Shogun.  Up until that time I did dozens of terrible low budget movies, many blaxploitation films, biker movies, but it was a great time.  Everyone was making exploitation films including Scorcese who made Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman.  Nicholson was doing these crummy little westerns, Dennis Hopper was doing stuff . . . there was incredible freedom.  Lot’s of people were making movies . . . 98 out of 100 of these movies never saw the light of day but the occasional ones, like Easy Rider became huge hits.  None that I worked on became huge hits but I learned a lot and usually I knew more about making films than anyone else on the lot.  

I started with a little film in 1971 called Smack, which was about drug dealing.  I was about an Armenian drug family that was smuggling dope from the United States into Hawaii that should have been going the other way.  We shot that film in 16mm.  We did the Hawaiian sequences by going over in a tour, using a Canon Scopic, and the cameraman, Frank Johnson, shot on the plane with no one knowing what we were doing . . . everyone thought we were shooting home movies.  We got off in Hawaii filming the actors getting off the plane.  We made it look like we had a budget but shot the whole thing for about $38,000 including blowing it up to 35mm.  It came out just after the Godfather came out so American International bought it, changed the name to The God Children with the tagline “After the "The Godfather" died it was up to them to keep the business in the family!” and made a whole bunch of money which of course never filtered its way back to the producers.

SOCAL: What next?  
Jack: I did another film for the same people, Frank Johnson and his partner Bob Pearson, The Devil and Leroy Bassett we shot on 35mm and as part of my payment they bought me a Moviola, which I named Joe, after the first editor I ever worked for, Joe Bettancourt.  After that I was able to start cutting movies at a fairly cheap rate and did them on a contract basis.  For instance I would get $10,000 for an entire movie.  Eventually I built an editing service called Alpha Film Service,  A number of editing luminaries came out of there.  

Gradually Alpha expanded, particularly when I met Cecelia Hall, who became a very famous sound editor, won the Academy Award for The Hunt for Red October and was a vice president at Paramount.  When I met her, she came to Alpha as an assistant sound editor, and worked he way up to becoming my partner, and through her influence we expanded and took on a number of employees, some of whom went on to become notable sound editors.  At some point we met a gentleman  -  we used to work very long hours, often coming in at 8 AM and leaving after midnight – this fellow had a cutting room near us  - who would come in at 8 PM – and the rumors were he worked for Paramount.  As time went on, he would come over and have coffee with us.. He was George Waters, in charge of television post at Paramount.   

We all became friends.  Coincidently, at about that time we joined the union (Editors Guild)  Eventually he got Cecelia into Paramount as a sound editor and was having trouble getting me in as the editors promoted from within and I would have had to come in as an assistant editor which was something I was not interested in.  Eventually he got me a show at Filmways, a movie of the week, Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie: Lady Truckers, which was my first union picture and eventually brought me to Paramount on Shogun because they were having a problem with the feature version.  Originally they had a contract saying they would make a mini-series for television and a feature film for England.  The feature film was unplayable the way the writer had done it as he had cut it down basically to a love story between Chamberlain and the Japanese lady and it did not play.  So George asked me if I could do something with it.  I said yes, read the script, threw it out the window and completely re-wrote the script because I actually read the book.  I took the mini-series and selected the scenes I wanted.  I knew what I needed and constructed a two hour version of the twelve hour mini-series and used some scenes (with violence and nudity) that had been shot for the feature and used some of them as well.  I made a version that played, and at two hours it really flies by.  It always bothered me that Paramount insisted it be two hours.  About two or three years ago I took all the footage from the mini-series and made a version that is three and a half hours, with intermission, with overture, and it plays beautifully.  I showed it to Jerry London, the director, and we both tried to get Paramount to release it as the “director’s restored version” but so far they have not bought into it but I totally enjoyed creating this new version.  Anyway, Shogun was my big success on the lot.  I knew that were prepping Winds of War, another book that I read, so I do recommend to potential editors that they read books.

SOCAL: Winds of War was an outstanding series.  What was it like to work on this epic?
Jack: Dan Curtis who had become famous during the Dark Shadows TV series, and was considered something of a maniac, was producing the thing.  Bernie Gribble was going to be the editor on it but it was getting delayed so Bernie went off and took another feature.  So I talked to a young lady who worked in Dan’s office, took her to lunch and she got me an interview.  I went to see Dan, he knew I had just finished the Shogun feature and he was amazed that I actually had read the book.  I don’t think he even liked the book but knew it was going to be a big TV thing, he wanted to do it.  The logistics were huge.  The shooting schedule was over a year, shooting on three continents, it was very involved.  We talked for a while and I got James Clavell, the novelist who wrote Shogun, to call him and that clinched the deal.  

We shot for thirteen months and Dan fired me, twice.  Once when he fired the whole crew when he was getting nervous about the project.  While he was looking for a new editor, he reviewed what I had already edited and realized he made a big mistake, my stuff was really, really good.  I heard through the grapevine that he wanted me back and eventually he tracked be down and said he wanted me to stay on the picture.  I told him I couldn’t hear him and he said it again, louder.  I said I still can’t hear you and he raised his voice still further and repeated the request.  I said fine but I wanted a raise.  I got the raise and finished the editing.  All in all I edited about 10 hours of the 18 hours.  Eventually there were five or six editors on this, including some heavy hitters.  By the end we were yelling at each other and Dan decided he had to fire me again.  So I told him he couldn’t do it in the editing room but needed to do it on the backlot, so he did.  He was crying when he did it and I comforted him.  Then I sued Paramount, made a settlement with them and went over to MGM to do the TV movie Jessie with Lindsey Wagner which was being produced by Eric Bercovici, who also produced Shogun and liked my work.  Working with Bervcovici, I eventually went to Rome to work on The Fifth Missile, and in six months, when we got back, MGM had lost the lot, was no longer in the TV business and I was out of a job.  So I started doing a lot of low budget, very low budget films.

What was the independent film experience like?
Jack: It gave me a lot of freedom.  Because of the Winds of War, I had a good deal of credibility but without the network or studio looking over my shoulder.  It was usually me, the director, and the producer.  I enjoyed that.  One of my former assistants, Michael Knue, was editing A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, called me up and said ‘we need help.’  I really didn’t want to do it but it was a lot of money so I did it.  Michael would give me scenes that had already been edited and I would tell him they were well edited and he would say, yes, but you can do more with it.  ‘Add the Jack Tucker magic’ and I protested I didn’t know what he meant but as they passed scenes that were already well edited I would change a cut here and there and in fact the scenes looked better.  I’m the one that introduced the “chatter cut” where they find the kid drowned in the bed and it goes zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom to help make up for poor manual zooming when originally shot.  I still think Nightmare 4 was the best one since the original.  I give most of the credit to Knue who did most of the editing and drove the editing team.  He was a damn good assistant when he worked for me and an even better editor.

SOCAL: How long did you work as an independent?
Jack: Quite a while.  At one point I got hired to work for Merchant Ivory who were making all these classy movies like A Room With A View, The Remains Of The Day, and stuff of that nature.  I went back to New York to do that and they had a farm up near Hudson and we were editing in the barn.  By this time, everybody was on Avid, we were on Moviolas and flatbeds because they didn’t like looking at a digitized picture.  Anyway, the project we were working on was Cotton Mary directed by Ismail Merchant.  I did the first cut which came in at an hour over length.  Ivory and I did not get along and he thought I was arrogant although he had preempted arrogance.  Although it could easily be cut to an acceptable length, Ismail got nervous so he asked Ivory for help and he told Merchant to fire me and bring on his own editor.  He was quite a gentleman and made me dinner the night he released me  

You remain quite active as an editor, what attracted you to teaching?
Jack: At about the time I began doing the low budget work, I became an officer at the American Cinema Editors, a small group of elite, although not elitist, editors who got together to advance the art and craft of film editing and make it known to the public.  I was the treasurer, and because I could write, I ended up writing for their magazine and eventually became the editor and took it from a four page Xerox to what is now a pretty good magazine.  Others have taken it further since I left and it is quite a good magazine called The Cinema Editor.  I was told that Cal State Northridge wanted someone to teach a course on the art and craft of film editing.  I put together a course with them that I started teaching.  I taught a number of courses there and then got a call from Cal State Long Beach to teach a class on editing on the Avid.  I actually learned to teach doing low budgets because I couldn’t afford to hire good assistants so I would take a student or apprentice and make an assistant out of them.  They would make very little money but I promised to teach them all the tricks and insights and many of them went on to do very well after learning from me.  So I sort of had been a teacher before becoming a teacher.  Once I got to Long Beach, I realized that no one was teaching editing so I decided to talk about why you make a cut and what editing does.  Editing is the glue, the single process that makes motion pictures an art form.  Other than editing, all you are doing is recording something, whether it is real or staged, it doesn’t matter.  With editing the juxtaposition of the pieces you’ve taken it to another level and made it an art form.  So I started teaching that kind of theory along with using the Avid.  I’ve had many graduates that are making their marks and a good living in editing.

SOCAL: Please share with us some of the students you refer to and what they are doing.
Jack: My first student was Nancy Brindley who became a great assistant and is now a feature editor.  Stacy Astenius assisted me on a feature and has gone on to assist others.  Michelle Gevoian is editing.  Layne Hurley, who helped me with Shogun, is working in production and designing film posters, Andrea Ureno is making a documentary,  Georgette Yaipan is the post coordinator for a Level 3 Post on my documentary American Empire.

SOCAL: What do you see as the future of editing?
Jack: Now we seem to be going through a period where there is a great deal of micro-management in the editing room by producers and directors.  I am hoping things will go back to where editors are treated as artists and allowed to do their jobs in private like God and DeMille intended.  John Huston and Orson Welles never went into cutting rooms.  They trusted their editors.  They looked at scenes on the big screen and gave the appropriate notes.  Direct your editor, like you direct your actor.  Don’t try to do it yourself.  


Thursday, July 18, 2024