The Tribeca Film Festival hosted its first ever masterclass, featuring Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s longtime editor who spent an hour discussing her work on Raging Bull (1980).

The narrow focus of the talk came as a surprise, as Schoonmaker was thought to be talking about a number of the films she has worked on, but she said she decided to focus on Raging Bull partly to honor its star, Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival.

“I’m doing this because it’s one of the most thrilling films I ever helped edit. The direction is brilliant, the camera work superb, the acting from De Niro and [Joe] Pesci is stuning. I mean what can you say about the work Robert De Niro did in this movie? To say nothing of the great music and sound effects and editing,” Schoonmaker explained.

Schoonmaker dissected various clips and scenes from the film, commenting on Scorcese’s vision for the film and the effects of sound, camera work, score and editing.

Schoonmaker revealed that one of her toughest editing challenges is a scene in Raging Bull, in which De Niro and Pesci are talking in a kitchen. Schoonmaker told the audience that the scene was completely improvised and they could only shoot with one camera at a time – meaning she had to edit together footage of both actors from different takes, with different, improvised dialogue, and somehow form a cohesive scene.

“It took almost a month for me to wrangle the footage into some sort of shape, and even today I can see where I was having a little trouble,” she said.

Schoonmaker won an Academy Award for her work on Raging Bull in 1981, and has gone on to win two more – all for films directed by Scorsese.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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