The Legacy Of Film Editor Dede Allen

Craig McKay talks to Melissa Block about the life and legacy of DedDe Allen. Best known for her innovative editing on Bonnie and Clyde and The Hustler, Allen worked with McKay on Reds, Slaughterhouse-Five and Night Moves.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A woman who helped change the way we look at movies has died. Dede Allen was the editor on dozens of movies, from "Bonnie and Clyde" to "The Hustler."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hustler")

Mr. JACKIE GLEASON (Actor): (As Minnesota Fats) Shoot pool, Fast Eddie.

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN (Actor): (As Fast Eddie Felson) I'm shooting pool, Fats. When I miss, you can shoot.

BLOCK: And many, many more. Among them: "Little Big Man," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Slap Shot," "The Breakfast Club," "Wonder Boys."

Dede Allen died on Saturday after a stroke. She was 86. She was a mentor to film editor Craig McKay, who worked with Dede Allen on "Slaughterhouse 5," "Night Moves" and "Reds."

And Craig McKay joins us to talk about her legacy. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. CRAIG McKAY (Film Editor): You're welcome.

BLOCK: Why was Dede Allen so influential? What did she do?

Mr. McKAY: You know, stylistically, the way films were edited were sort of very straightforward. Dede actually broke that paradigm. She believed in two things very strongly - at least, she would drill it into everyone's head who worked for her that story and performance are the most important thing, and that moving the narrative forward was really a big part of the editor's job.

And so she would do things boldly. She would jump in the middle of scenes; she would make cuts that didn't match action. She had something called right-time-right-place editing - and because it was emotionally correct, she would make the edits. Those are things that all broke traditional editing form.

BLOCK: One thing I read is that she would be one of the first to introduce sound from the next scene while the visuals of the previous scene are still playing - to sort of stitch it together and advance it in that way.

Mr. McKAY: Some of that had been done, but the way she did it - traditionally, it's a word or two, you know? Dede was not afraid to do a sentence, and not only just dialogue but other sounds - anything to keep moving the narrative forward.

BLOCK: Was that the impact, do you think, I mean, of that and what you mentioned earlier, which was making a cut while the action is still under way - is to accelerate the pace?

Mr. McKAY: One of the things Dede always said to me was never let the audience get ahead of the story. That was a staunch belief of hers. And she would do things like, never use a useless shot; every shot gave you new information. And very often, she cut with a staccato rhythm to move things along. Those kind of elements, which weren't really followed traditionally, were what she brought to the art.

BLOCK: I've seen this scene singled out as being especially distinctive of Dede Allen's style. This is the ambush scene in "Bonnie and Clyde," when they meet their end. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

BLOCK: And of course, what we're not seeing there is a frenzy of quick cuts. What do you see when you watch this scene from "Bonnie and Clyde"?

Mr. McKAY: I see some bold cutting for the impact. Today, there are a lot of scenes that are jump-cut together, but each one of these shots moves the story forward. Some of it's in slow-motion; some of it's normal. Dede worked in conjunction with her assistant, Jerry Greenberg, on that scene - which is something she was always willing to do.

She's responsible for a number of careers in the film business. And the way this scene is put together with her ideas, and letting Jerry get involved with it, is quite extraordinary.

BLOCK: Dede Allen became, on that movie - on "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 -she became the first film editor to get sole credit on a movie, whether male or female, which is interesting to me. Why would that have been the first time?

Mr. McKAY: What happened in the '50s, and into the '60s, was that - the recognition that the editor's contribution was significant and that this contribution, once TV came in and the studios started to fall away, individuals were then cutting films so that - the times had changed. And individuals were now carrying the responsibility that studios once carried, and she had demonstrated the gift she had of building performance, and being clear with story, and moving action of the story forward.

That's probably why the single credit happened. And we all thank her because we're all getting single credits these days. And our contribution for what we consider the invisible art is now being recognized.

BLOCK: I'm curious: When you're sitting in the editing room now, working on a movie - as you are - are there lessons from Dede Allen, things she would have told you that are still in the front of your mind?

Mr. McKAY: Well, she - I can remember one of the first things she ever said to me. She says, you have to cut with your gut. And what that meant, I came to discover over the years, was that this process is not really so much a thinking process as it is an intuitive process. She was an intuitive editor. And I think she passed that along to me, along with so many other great editors that she's single-handedly responsible for creating.

BLOCK: Well, Craig McKay, thanks very much for talking to us.

Mr. McKAY: You're more than welcome.

BLOCK: That's Craig McKay, remembering film editor Dede Allen, who died on Saturday. She was 86.

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