Object Lessons in Breakout Karma

I've never been one to chalk up much to fate. Usually, hard work and talent are rewarded, and sloppiness and mediocrity ignored. Still, the notion of karma as a force in our professional lives is an alluring one, a reassurance that some day, if the planets all align properly, our talents might just get noticed.

Karmawise, an odd set of intersecting stories about editing and editors has been unraveling for me lately. I'm not sure that the catharsis at the end of the tunnel will hold any practical value... a lesson learned, a new life direction. I'm not even sure there will be anything approaching catharsis. But then again, that's the thing about karma-one never knows where these coincidences will lead.

Start in the here-and-now. Our little company is in hiring discussions with a freelance editor who's ready to try a more stable lifestyle. And while we've known him for years, something about talking at this level-more seriously, about life and philosophy and craft-has brought out stories we've never heard from him before.

He once created an entry for an H.P. Lovecraft film festival on a whim, in less than two weeks; he's also working on video adaptations of graphic novels and comic books. He's been breaking out, working on projects which reflect his passions, and he hasn't just been editing... he's been shooting and writing and dreaming. He's been creating.


Flashback to the NAB2006 convention in April. I'm attending on my own behalf - shopping, looking, learning - but have agreed to help out with some of this magazine's many writing assignments as well. One assignment holds promise: coverage of the Post|Production World Conference keynote address delivered by Hughes Winborne, Academy-Award winning editor of 2005's "Crash."

Then again, I've heard film editors talk before. They ramble on about intangible aesthetics: about finding the "pulse" of the piece; the near-supernatural "visions" they develop for the film; and the holistic appeal of the 19-frame dissolve, which they claim excites a resonance in some prehensile region of the human brain stem. I'm not looking forward to this.

Hughes Winborne is introduced in the usual manner, and takes the stage. Surprisingly, though, the character who reveals himself to us is very far outside the Hollywood editor caricature. For starters, it's not just all about him-he's brought along his assistant, and insists that he share the stage, telling stories, fielding questions. Unusual.

Winborne talks about his early experience... as a house painter. He talks about accidentally discovering NYU's film school, and accidentally discovering that he loved to edit. Everyone else wanted to direct, but Winborne was thrilled to stay late into the night, when all the prima donna directors had retired to the clubs and cafes of the East Village.

He knew he was born to edit. He loved working with indie writer/directors, whose raw passion for their projects left them snowblind in the edit room. Winborne took whatever gigs he could to pay the rent and the light bill-editing gigs, of course. He cut some of the earliest cinema verite-style stories for CBS "48 Hours." He spent three years cutting industrials at AT&T's in-house facility, right down the road from us. My friend Jim Masi recalls working with him there.

Winborne describes real editing, the kind I know. He talks about using left-over, orphan footage to create the film's stunning main title by accident. Mostly, he talks about following instincts formed over 25 years-no formulas, no visitations from the muse. His karma arrived in the form of a friend-of-a-friend recommendation to Paul Haggis, the writer/director behind "Crash."

In short, the magical part of the story is that Hughes Winborne had won the brass ring simply by being an editor... one of us. And instead of channeling his own creativity and passion into writing or directing, he was able to simply and intuitively do what he does so well, and the Academy noticed.

Karma doesn't always take that route, though. Sometimes you need to branch out in order to break out.


Here's a guilty little admission: From time to time, I Google some old classmates and friends to see what they're up to. A kid from my neighborhood is now one of the world's foremost hip-hop mastering engineers; a high school buddy left 20 years of social work to become a noted anesthesiologist.

One set of results had particular significance for me. Joe D'Augustine is a high school friend and classmate who'd become a film editor, at first conforming spots overnight in New York, and later moving to Los Angeles. Over the years, he's done some really interesting work: he restored "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" as well as the John Wayne classic "Hondo," worked with Michael Cimino on "The Sunchaser," and cut the "Kill Bill" movies for Quentin Tarentino.

Flash forward again, to a few weeks ago: Google says that Joe has apparently found his creative voice. IMDB reports that Joe has written and directed an indie film called "One Night With You," and that it's nearing completion. The trailer is intriguing- a film noir set in seedy L.A, featuring a cast of quirky, veteran character actors. This is no vanity piece, no student film; this is what happens when a real editor, hooked-in to the Hollywood crowd, decides to stretch his legs.

Check it out for yourself at www.kitehillpictures.com ; like Hughes Winborne's story, Joe's story is every editor's dream-come-true-taking a chance and letting that innate creativity come screaming out, inviting the world to judge it.

I haven't talked to Joe in over 30 years, but I think I'll send him an e-mail when I finish writing this. Maybe some of his breakout karma will get something fired up in me, too.

Walter Schoenknecht can be reached via e-mail at walter@mmgi.tv