KILL the editor? Are we allowed to even think that? The thought may understandably occur after an editor has molested one’s perfect prose … or, in the case of Desert Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, one’s flawless film work.
Hmm … no, I hate to admit it, but my editor here at the Independent always (OK, ALMOST always) improves my work. However, it seems that filmmakers may feel differently about their film editors!
Produced by Shawn Abramowitz and Jerome Elliott Moskowitz, the executive director and artistic director, respectively, of DET, Kill the Editor—now playing at the Palm Springs Cultural Center—is a hard and sometimes hilarious look at the editing process of a documentary-style movie.
Peppered with F-bombs, the script is written by Aren Haun. It is set in France, which accelerates the need for speed in editing—as this movie is about to be shown at the world-famous Cannes Film Festival. The cast of three begins the play with a dynamite appearance by a local, Sean Timothy Brown, as Cameron. He’s screaming at his computer—and who among us hasn’t done that?—on which he is attempting edit his film, about his father. As the person who created the film, he is so in love with his work that he hates to remove even a second from it.
Ben, the new editor (played by Keivan Safavi), arrives at the door, having just flown in on a sleepless overnight plane ride. He fixes the computer—yay!—and the young man has plans to save Cameron’s movie through some drastic editing. Though sleep-deprived, he is still thinking fairly clearly, and he offers his suggestions to save Cameron’s work. Will Cameron go for it—or not?
Then Libby (Eliza Convis) arrives. Libby is the film’s former editor; she was fired by Ben, even though she was his girlfriend at the time. Libby has taken the five-hour documentary and shaped it into a presentable length—and she wants credit for her work, despite Ben’s resistance.
The director, Kudra Wagner, has their hands full with this play; they chose a rather fast pace for the show—and it works. We clearly see the stress under which everyone finds themselves, and the speed makes Cameron’s high-energy temper tantrums even more believable. The actors’ diction remains uniformly excellent at this pace, both in their own lines and in “telescoping,” or overlapping with the words of another actor.
It becomes evident that working on this film is a turning point in everyone’s life. But what is the truth about their fingerprints on this documentary? Is the goal of a movie to satisfy an audience, or is it something different? What is the responsibility of the filmmaker—to present the truth as it actually is, or to leave the viewer with a predetermined feeling? This is where the conflict starts … and grows.
There is no intermission (which seems to be the way everything is going these days), and it’s a good choice, as interrupting the action for a break would completely change the steadily growing tension.
Through the screaming matches and the constant changes of plan, the audience is left with one question: Is this what really happens? Are the documentaries we’ve seen the result of this kind of interaction, or is this an exception? Do all documentary directors start out filming with a point they want to prove?
At one point, Ben delves into some philosophy about why people feel they have to put their ideas out there. Should the film be cautiously submitted to judges as a work in progress, or bravely presented as a finished product? These arguments are mostly open-ended … but the intensity grows. Is this film better left as a 5-hour-long production, or as the 108-minute edited version? Is one more true than the other?
The actors all have great faces, and they use them well. All three are committed to efficiently using the words of the script while rapidly revealing the personality of their character. Wagner deserves kudos for a thoughtful production, especially for the natural blocking. The intensity increases naturally as a result of these skills.
Kill the Editor is a show well worth seeing, as it raises a lot of questions—and the title alone can make you curious!
Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of Kill the Editor will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.desertensembletheatre.org.