Manhattan Edit Workshop Artist in Residence Spotlight on Editor Peter Frank, ACE

By Janet Dalton & Jason Banke


Sometimes Manhattan Edit Workshop will ask Artist in Residences to return again and again, because of their unique interaction with our students and their amazing ability to critique and mentor aspiring editors.  In this edition of “Spotlight on an Editor,” one such Artist in Residence, Peter Frank, ACE, who has returned several times to work with our Six Week Intensive students to share his experiences.

Peter Frank, ACE has been an active member of the film community for forty-seven years and counting.  During that time he has worked as an editor in almost every major style on both coasts.  His work has included documentaries, both for PBS and for the major networks, commercials, theatrical features, video, TV movies (MOWs), TV series, and theatrical shorts.  He has worked for CBS, ABC, PBS, Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, Sony, New Line, Miramax, Hearst, and many others.   He has cut feature movies in many different genres for a broad range of distinguished directors, including Sidney Lumet, Frank Perry, Emil Ardolino, Sarah Kernochan, and Darnell Martin (the first black woman to direct a major studio picture),  I Like It Like That. Some of his credits include The Verdict, Dirty Dancing, Cadillac Records, and currently the television series Blue Bloods.  He has been a member of American Cinema Editors for over 15 years.

Manhattan Edit Workshop (MEWShop): Where did you grow up and what kind of film education did you receive?

Peter Frank: I was born in New York City and lived in the Village until I was six years old.  We then moved to a farm in Connecticut.  I eventually came back to the city when I was 19 years old.

MEWShop: How did you get your start?

PF: I started as a messenger for the 20th Century Show with Walter Cronkite.  I carried the negatives from the cutting rooms on 59th Street to the negative cutter at Pathe Lab in Spanish Harlem.  After about two months of doing that, the negative cutter needed help and I was told to do whatever she needed.  From there I became the apprentice editor responsible for syncing the dailies logging stock footage, etc.  By the time the show was finally cancelled, I had obtained a union application and started working in the industry as an assistant editor. 

MEWShop: Which film/films inspired you to be an editor when you were younger?

PF: Some of the early verite documentaries on television like Harvest of Shame were very strong influences on me.  Certainly Bonnie and Clyde and Cool Hand Luke were important in my younger years.

MEWShop: What is your favorite edited scene or movie of all time?

PF: There are many great scenes, but I have always loved the opening of Bonnie and Clyde where Bonnie is getting ready for the date with Clyde.  The whole process is jumped and condensed from what was shot, which was practically real time.  Movement is used to move between the shots.  Both Camera movement and Bonnie’s movement all contribute to shortening and to jump-cutting the action, but the effect is of a smooth cut-less motion.

MEWShop: If you had your choice what editing software would you use to edit with?

PF:  I use Avid Media Composer, but any software will let you do all of the basic editing processes (cut, lift, insert etc.)

MEWShop: What are some of the qualities in yourself and others that make one suitable in your opinion to be an editor?

PF: I think being able to be somewhat objective about your own work is very important.  Also, you should have a sense of rhythm and visual composition. Most of all it’s essential to have an actual enjoyment of stories and storytelling.

MEWShop: What skills do you look for in an assistant editor? 

PF: An assistant editor needs to be able to think ahead and identify what will be needed to organize the material.  In the old days editing had a very physical side of it, but now assistants need to be computer savvy and have a familiarity with the programs being used. This is a definite necessity to have in their skillset.

MEWShop: If you had to be something other than an editor what would it be?

PF:  Strange question! As it happens I am starting Graduate school to get my Master of Social Work. 

MEWShop: Did you have a mentor? Who were they? 

PF:  Over the course of my career many people have helped me advance my career by hiring me, but the only real mentor I had was Jack Fitzstephens.  Jack worked as a sound editor for Sidney Lumet among others.  He was responsible for adding the screams and other effects over Rod Steiger as he rode the subway in the Pawnbroker.  Sidney was so taken with this idea that he added the footage of the death camps.

MEWShop: What is your proudest experience as an editor?

PF:  I worked on a series called Lights Out.  I was given an episode with a huge prizefight that was essentially the bulk of that show.  There were a large number of takes and each take had three to five cameras.  I had to boil down all that footage and create an exciting ending for the season.  I am quite proud of the result.


MEWShop: What was your worst moment as an editor?

PF:  The worst moment for me was getting fired.  It is hard at that point not to feel that you screwed up even when it is clear that you were fired for reasons not connected to the work. 

MEWShop: Is there anything you do outside of editing that helps sharpen your storytelling skills?

PF:  My wife is a novelist (Lucy Frank,) and I have offered suggestions and support through her writing process.

MEWShop: Can you recommend any editing books?

PF:  I didn’t really learn editing from books. The majority of my education was hands-on and interacting with the people I worked under.

MEWShop: What is your current favorite film or television show from an editing perspective?

PF: American Sniper was beautifully cut (and shot and written and directed,) as was Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. 

MEWShop: Has the job description of the editor changed in the last 10 years? If so, how?

PF: When I started editing, I used to be in effect the whole post-production department.  Now there are post supervisors, post producers, special effects editor, Colorists, Sound Designers, etc.  In some ways it makes it easier, but not as personal as it used to be when I started.

MEWShop: Where do you see the industry of post-production evolving over the next decade?  What technology advancement in post-production has affected you the most in your work?

PF: I have no idea where editing will go.  The skills used in telling a story well are pretty timeless and unchanging.  The tools as we all know change rapidly all the time. 

MEWShop: What technology advancement in post-production has affected you the most in your work?

PF:  Well for me digital editing came along just in time to let me sit down while I work.  I loved working on a 35mm Moviola, but standing all day eventually got old.

MEWShop: What is your favorite editing room snack?

PF:  I avoid editing snacks for fear of not being able to fit into the cutting room.

About The Six Week Intensive Course:  Manhattan Edit Workshop’s signature workshop in the art and technique of editing is a comprehensive jump-start for anyone serious about a career in post-production.

In addition to certified training in Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, FCPX and After Effects, we devote time each day to film theory; covering the history & evolution of editing technique, as well as the aesthetics of narrative, short-form, comedy and documentary.  You’ll not only learn the tools – you’ll understand why we use them.  Learn more about our Six Week Intensive Course by clicking here.