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Hughes Winborne's Wild Ride

by Walter Schoenknecht~ April 24, 2006


Emmy award-winning editor Hughes Winborne's long-announced keynote address at the NAB2006 Post|Production World Conference was no surprise to anyone - except, that is, to Hughes Winborne himself.

As an editor, occupying center stage as Sunday's keynote speaker was, Winborne said, "... not something you planned on. In fact, it's something you planned on never doing." For Winborne, as well as for his assistant John Brineholt, who shared the stage, a long career behind the scenes had entered a new phase, one neither seemed to be entirely comfortable with.

"Three and a half years ago," Winborne quipped, "I couldn't find a job."


Humility was just one of the traits that helped the Post|Production World Conference audience identify closely with Winborne, the man whose work on writer/director Paul Haggis' "Crash" won the Academy Award for Best Editing this year. As he described his background and work prior to "Crash," a picture emerged of Winborne as an editorial Everyman, a success story drawn from the ranks of working editors everywhere.

Having graduated from college "without a clue" as to a future occupation, Winborne found early 1970's cinema such as "Midnight Cowboy," "Barry Lyndon" and "The Graduate" to be "a religious experience" for a Raleigh, NC-raised lad. After stints as a paralegal and a house painter, he sold his car to enter NYU's film program. As Winborne said, "It was the beginning of what has been an unconventional route [to feature film editing]."

At NYU, Winborne found his life's work. "Everybody wanted to be the director," he told the audience. "I wanted to be the editor. Nobody wanted to stay late, but I did." He honed his skills while working on CBS' "48 Hours," and by taking on projects periodically with independent writer-directors.

Winborne said he "really never followed the assistant route," the de facto apprenticeship common in feature film editing.

"In some ways, I wish I had," he said. One reason may have been his introduction to feature editing, which occurred abruptly when the editor of "The Mutilator," a film he was assisting on, was dismissed. He completed the film, and found that he was in for "the ride of my life."


That Winborne chose to share the stage with his longtime assistant John Brineholt was no accident; as soon as Brineholt was introduced, the two men quickly fell into a pattern of onstage collaboration, completing each other's sentences and adding anecdotal details.

"No matter how big the production, in the end, it comes down to a couple of people in a square room with no windows," Brineholt said. "What I get out of the job is being present at the creation of the film."

Winborne's insistence that Brineholt was the glue behind his work rang true for conference attendees, perhaps because this assembly of working editors understood the real value of the assistant.

Winborne led the audience through a variety of topics, including the difficulty of getting independent films into theaters; the role of the "editor as shrink," as an ersatz "marriage counselor between the director and the producers"; and the technological changes that are altering his daily work habits. He and Brineholt described newfound success with Avid Xpress Pro, citing workflows that allow Winborne to choose to edit at home on a laptop when appropriate.

Winborne's address revealed a portrait of a man in love with what he does. Even when the projects are barely tolerable, he said, "... I always find something to like about what I'm doing. If not, it would be impossible to spend nine months at it."

Sniffling after a particularly emotional clip from "Crash" was replayed, Winborne claimed he was thrilled to spend every day watching the performances of actors like Don Cheadle and Michael Peña.

"That's the great thing about my job," he said.

© 2006 NAB