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December 9, 2022

How Mark Helfrich Cut Dwayne Johnson Movies

Blog, Famous Editors

Sara Gerbereux

Sara Gerbereux

December 9, 2022
Mark Helfrich, who’s currently editing an upcoming Dwayne Johnson film, is a Hollywood film director and editor with over 50 editorial credits on some of our favorite films, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Showgirls (1995), and Predator (1987).
MARK HELFRICH:

UNWAVERING AMBITION

Although Mark’s career began with him sleeping on a friend’s couch with 600 dollars in his pocket, he has since established himself as one of the top grossing editors with over 4.6 billion dollars in the Worldwide Box Office and is an elected member and associate director on the board of American Cinema Editors.

Our conversation with Mark dives right into when he first fell in love with filmmaking as a fifteen-year-old kid working at a movie theater. Because of his unwavering ambition, Mark was hired by Roger Corman to serve as an assistant editor on two feature films before he had even received his college degree: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and The Lady in Red. Here, he discovered his passion for editing.

I’ve always wanted to direct, but I found editing is just as powerful as directing. It really is the final rewrite, as they say. So, no, I didn’t know I wanted to [edit], but I fell in love with it after being in the editing room, and seeing how you know how it’s all put together.

Mark Helfrich, ACE, Film Editor

Mark shares the many projects he has worked on over the years, from editing trailers and movies at Cannon Films to joining the Editors Guild to edit for Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Predator.

When working on Hollywood films, Mark explains that the post-production process can often take upwards of 9 months to complete. The editing process begins as soon as the production team starts shooting, and editors will continue to edit, revise, and deliver their cuts as they go.

So if it’s a comedy, it’s about timing. It’s about making myself laugh or giggle… [With] something that’s supposed to be scary, I want to try to jolt myself or scare myself. It’s an instinct of what is effective.

Mark Helfrich, ACE, Film Editor

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CUT DWAYNE JOHNSON MOVIES (W/ MARK HELFRICH), FAMOUS EDITORS PODCAST

With access to a variety of software and advanced technology, anyone can edit. With this in mind, Mark shares his final piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers on how to start their careers: If you’re passionate about filmmaking and want to try it, do it. Work hard, show off your work, and go for it.

  • Be diligent, persistent, and dedicated to getting what you want. If you don’t hear back from someone about a job, follow up and keep trying.

  • Be the first one in and the last one out of the editing room. Don’t be afraid to work unpaid at first, but know when to ask for some money.

  • Befriend the assistants and other editors around you. Make connections because these are the same people that will help you get jobs in the future.

  • Be confident in your work and presentations to the director and studio. When presenting a cut, make sure it works from beginning to end. It’s not the final cut, but adding sound effects and music can help make your presentation stronger.

  • If you want to edit, just do it. Find people who shoot videos or make television shows and movies, and work with them.

  • Practice whenever you can and on everything, even re-editing videos that are already made.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

OUR INTERVIEW WITH Mark

Nick Lange

Hey guys, welcome back to the show. We’re here today with Mark Helfrich – very successful Hollywood editor here to tell us about his experience becoming a very successful Hollywood editor. Mark, will you tell us how your career began? What your first big opportunity was?

Mark Helfrich

Okay. Hi, Nick. My first opportunity – well, my first job – let’s go back to that. My first job when I was 15 was working in a movie theater in Springfield, Virginia. So, I got the movie bug really early, and seeing movies over and over again in a theater made me really curious as to how they were made. So, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker about that time, and went to University of Wisconsin Madison for a couple years, majoring in film. And after two years, I took a year off to come to Hollywood to see if I could make it in Hollywood – see if it was for me. And in that year that I took off, I was fortunate enough to work on two movies for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. My first movie was Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I was a PA on that, and then I ended up being another assistant editor on that same film. So, I’d befriended the editors and I ended up in the editing room. I didn’t know that that’s where I would end up but since I did, I found it fascinating. This is where the real work was done. So, I just fell in love with editing, and I was fortunate enough then to just move on from editing – from assistant editing to editing.

Nick Lange

So, for people who don’t know who Roger Corman is, he was this primarily like be movie producer whose incredibly prolific. I mean, he made, I think – produced hundreds of films in his career and was very much a businessman. He knew how to make money from films that were not expensive to produce, and he knew how to do them very, very quickly. Is that right?

Mark Helfrich

Yeah, I mean, I – he wrote a book, and he said how to make it in Hollywood – called How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood and Never Lost A Dime. I mean, he was very cheap, and everybody who worked with him really learned how to work in film, because you had to do. You weren’t getting paid to do it, but you had the opportunity to do it. So, it was fantastic. Everybody – and there’s so many famous people who ended up out of the Corman camp because they learned on the job – and you were forced to – and you really want to do a good job when you’re starting out. So, you try your hardest and then hopefully make it.

Nick Lange

And so what were those two films that you worked on with him? And how did you get that introduction?

Mark Helfrich

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was the first one with the Ramones – and I just got it out of the blue. I mean, I – there’s a long story on how I got it, but essentially I looked at Variety – Daily Variety – which I didn’t even know existed until I moved to Hollywood and it said Films in the Future – and I looked and saw films in the future. That’s – I want to work in film. These are the films that are going to be made in the future. So, I saw that John Landis was doing a film at Paramount, and I knew he’d worked with the suckers who went to Madison – University of Wisconsin Madison where I went. So, I’d said I have a connection there. Okay, I’ll call John Landis and I’ll get on his film. So, I called John Landis at Paramount. Luckily, he wasn’t doing anything at the time, and I actually got through to him and he – we talked for about fifteen minutes, and he said I’m up to my eyeballs in PAs, but you really ought to call Roger Corman’s New World Pictures – and I’m writing down Roger Corman New World Pictures, okay. So, I called New World and I asked to talk to Roger, and he wasn’t there. And then I called him the next day, and, you know, he wasn’t there again –he wasn’t available. I called the third time, and the secretary said, what’s this in regards too? And I said, his next film. And she said, you mean Rock ‘n’ Roll High School? And I said yes. She said, well, the production number is this, and I wrote down the production number, and I called that, and Allen Arkush – the director – answered the phone. And I said, hi, I’m Mark Helfrich, and John Landis told me I should call. And he said, he did? Well, then, you should come down here. So, I got on the bus, and I went down. I didn’t own a car or anything, but I was sleeping on a friend’s couch and across the street from me, there was a van for sale for six hundred dollars. That’s about how much I had in my pocket when I moved down here, and the production – the producer on Rock ‘n’ Roll High School said – his first question was, do you have a car? And I said, no, I have a van; I just lied. He said, you have a van? You’re hired. So, I got back on the bus, hoping that van was still available, and I bought it for six hundred dollars – and that’s how I broke into the business, and I was a PA in that film.

Nick Lange

And then what? So, what was working on that film and then the next film like?

Mark Helfrich

Yeah, so because of that, I was the guy who took the film to the lab and then brought the workprint to the editing room – that’s how I befriended other assistant and the editors. And that – after production wrapped, I just stayed on in the editing room, unpaid for a while until I asked for some money and became an assistant editor. And then, as soon as that film was done, there was another movie that Roger was doing: it was called Lady in Red, and the same editor, Larry Bach, was editing that. So, Larry hired me as his assistant for that movie. It was great. Yeah.

Nick Lange

Did you know, going into that experience, that you wanted to be an editor? Or were you open to seeing these different roles, working on the film, and figuring out your path from there?

Mark Helfrich

No, I didn’t know –  I just wanted to be a filmmaker. I, you know – I’ve always wanted to direct and – but I found editing is, you know, just as powerful as directing. It really is the final rewrite, you know, as they say. So, no, I didn’t know I wanted to, but I fell in love with it after being in the editing room and seeing how, you know – how it’s all put together, and you can be so creative. So.

Nick Lange

So, it took me a long time and I still don’t fully understand the difference between an assistant editor and an editor. What is the role of the AE on a film?

Mark Helfrich

The assistant editor basically organizes everything that’s coming in all the, you know – the picture and the sound for the editor to cut. That’s, I mean – that’s the simplest explanation, but they do so much more. But I – I’m so dependent on my assistants; I couldn’t do anything without them. They’re technical, they know – they know all this stuff for the AVID – for importing, exporting – everything. Stuff that I don’t have the time to deal with, they deal with. And in addition, I – because most assistants want to graduate into being an editor, I like to let them cut as much as they want on the film, because if they cut a scene – even if we cut the same scene, you can combine the best from both because it’s so collaborative. No two people will edit a scene the same way, and they might think of some other idea that I couldn’t think of and vice versa – and one’s better than the other, one’s funnier than the other, one’s more effective than the other. You just use the best ones then.

Nick Lange

Yeah. Awesome. And so we’re from there? After working with Roger Corman, what was next?

Mark Helfrich

Then, I went back to Madison, Wisconsin and graduated. Not because I needed to, it’s just because my dad was in education, and I thought I’d get my degree for him. So, I did. So, that was – and during those two years, I, you know, made student films and did all other things. I was a projectionist for the film society there, and the university was a great place to get film history. The Madison campus had something like 20 film societies back then. So, on any given night, you could see 15 movies and that was the only way to see old movies back then. So, it was fantastic, and I was also a projectionist. So, I would watch films over and over again. It was a real education and, you know, I got to see all the classics and really opened my eyes to appreciation of foreign films. And then, I must have seen almost all the Hitchcock films and Buñwell, and Truffaut, and Herzog – everything. A lot – a lot of my film appreciation came from those years in Madison.

Nick Lange

Awesome. And then what? So, you came back to Hollywood?

Mark Helfrich

Then I came back, and I lived with the other assistant from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Kent Beyda. I was in his apartment for a while and went to work on another Roger Corman movie as a sound editor – Slumber Party Massacre. And then, right after that, I did one more assistant editing job at Cannon Films for Last American Virgin, and Cannon was a – was a company run by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – and they made a ton of movies. A lot of really bad movies, but a lot of movies. So, I got the opportunity to edit there for the first time, and the first film that I edited was Revenge Of The Ninja. There, I just – I said I was an assistant on Last American Virgin, and I said, you know, I can edit. Give me a film to edit, and they actually did. So, that’s when I graduated editing.

Nick Lange

And how did that go? Were you – were you confident that you were going to do a good job, or were you learning as you went?

Mark Helfrich

I felt – yeah, I felt very confident. I was really confident back then. I mean, I felt I could edit – even on the first film that I worked on, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Kent and I edited the trailer for the movie.

Nick Lange

Awesome. 

Mark Helfrich

So, when I went to Cannon and was working on Last American Virgin, and asked to be an editor on the next film, Menahem actually said, well, can you – if you cut a good trailer for this shitty movie, we’ll let you edit; and I did that and actually cut a pretty entertaining trailer – and he was true to his word. So, I felt confident. Yes.

Nick Lange

That’s great. I know today most trailers are cut by, you know, trailer studios. How many times have you actually cut trailers for your own films?

Mark Helfrich

For my own film? Never. Never. In fact, I cut a lot of trailers back then, but it’s always for, you know, films for Cannon or – because, yeah, now there’s trailer houses and multiple trailer houses on any given movie that I’m editing. The studio hires many vendors to try to come up with the best trailer.

Nick Lange

Yeah. What is that like? Watching a movie that you’ve just spent so many months with, that you’ve really shaped the story for in post? Seeing some other editor interpret that entire film in this, you know, two and a half minute trailer?

Mark Helfrich

Oh, it’s fun. I mean, it’s great, you know, you’d say, oh, that’s what I’m working on! And a lot of times, those trailer editors will have a cut that’s so effective, that the director goes, oh, we got to put that in the movie. 

Nick Lange

Oh, wow!

Mark Helfrich

So, we ended up taking something from the trailer and integrating it into a movie, or if sometimes it’s a joke that we thought it was, eh it wasn’t so good, but ends up being in the trailer and it tests through the roof. So, we go, oh, okay, let’s put in the movie, then.

Because they test those trailers endlessly – it’s a science. They want – they want the best way to sell their movie.

Nick Lange

And they’ll – so they’ll put it in front of a theater of watches and then – 

Mark Helfrich

Yeah, I don’t – I don’t even know the mechanics of it. They – it might be a small audience, or it might be a large audience but they’ve gotten numbers – detailed numbers about, you know, this line test through the roof. This one so, so. This one’s great, and they want everything to work. That’s why trailers are sometimes better than the movies, because everything works in a trailer.

Nick Lange

It’s a common thing, yeah. How often do you feel that they give away too much in the trailer – too much of the story?

Mark Helfrich

I used to think that a lot, and I still think they give away – sometimes, they give away too much. But then, the purpose of a trailer is to get people in the seats – to pay for the movie; and if they liked the trailer, they’re gonna come see the movie, regardless of whether it was given away in the trailer. So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. But yeah, I’m – the filmmaker in me hates something be given away like that. But if it really plays, and it causes them to buy a ticket, then it’s successful, and then it’s a win.

Nick Lange

Yeah. How did Predator come to be?

Mark Helfrich

You mean how did I get the job?

Nick Lange

Yeah. How did you get on editing that?

Mark Helfrich

I actually interviewed – was interviewed for that. I was working on a Joel – another Joel Silver production. Actually, my friend Mark Goldblatt was editing – what was it? It was Commando, and I think this – yeah, I think – anyway, I had met Mark Goldblatt when I – on the first time I worked on a movie – in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. He was right down the hall, and then we ended up working together on Rambo. And then, he asked me to join him on that – what movie did I just say? Commando. He asked me to join him on Commando – and I did, but I wasn’t in the union. So, I worked for one day on Commando, and then I was busted by Fox, and I couldn’t take the job because I wasn’t in the union. So, in the interim, I was working at a commercial house and that went union. So, I became a union editor, and then I was able to join Mark on another Fox movie – another Joel Silver movie and that was Jumpin’ Jack Flash. And after I finished that, Joel said he had another movie coming up called Predator – actually, was called Hunter at the time – and I met the director, and he hired me for Hunter, which turned into The Predator, which turned into Predator by the time it was released.

Nick Lange

Interesting, and what was that experience like? What were those dailies like?

Mark Helfrich

They shut down in Mexico. So, I went down there a few times, but the footage was great. I mean, it looked fantastic, and it was – and we developed the invisibility look of the Predator before production began. We were doing tests with – this was all done on film. This was – there’s nothing digital about it; it was, you know, layers and layers of opticals they were called there, to try to come up with a really cool invisibility effect, which we did. And, you know, like – and during editing, I came up with the eye flashes to magnify his vision, and it was all made up in the editing room and on film. So, I thought it was a lot of fun. I thought it was a cool movie.

Nick Lange

That’s so – it was great. It’s a classic. How long will you work on a movie typically? What’s the timeline? And at what point – is it while production is still happening often, or is it – is it always after rep?

Mark Helfrich

Usually, I mean – usually, you can expect to spend at least nine months on a movie as an editor; and yes, you start when the production starts. So, it takes about nine – you could expect to work about nine months.

And you – you’re hired – actually, you start work when they start shooting. Nowadays, I might be hired a little earlier to work on previsualization if it’s a big effects-heavy movie, but the editor starts when they start shooting and you’re editing as they shoot. Then as soon as shooting wraps, which takes about three months, generally, you’ve got a couple of weeks to put it together to present it to the editor – to present it to the director. And then you work with the director for 10 weeks, and then you present it to the studio. And then you test and revise and test – and it takes at least nine months, sometimes a year. Sometimes longer, depending on how many effects.

Nick Lange

What’s that first presentation to the director like? Are you nervous at all saying, wow, I’ve been working on this for weeks. This is my own vision for this director’s film. What’s that like?

Mark Helfrich

You been working on it for months. Yeah, it’s – you’re presenting your cut of their movie to them, and I like to go for the gusto and try to present something that actually works. Not – I don’t like to string together everything if something isn’t working, or if there’s a scene that really doesn’t need to be in the movie, I will usually discuss it with the director during production. So, you know, I just want to present it to you this way without this because I think it works better.

You can always put it in if you want. Some editors work differently; they just – they actually show everything that the director shot, and then it’s a really, really long first cut and everybody wants to pull out their hair. But I try to take out stuff that I know doesn’t work, or I feel doesn’t work. I want to present the movie that works from beginning to end. So, I always have sound effects and music to it before – when I’m presenting it to the director, and, you know, it’s not the final cut by any means, but it hopefully is a movie with a beginning, middle and an end.

Nick Lange

Yeah. What’s been the absolute best reaction? Have you ever had a director say, oh my gosh, that’s almost perfect?

Mark Helfrich

Ah, yeah, I’ve had – I don’t – I’ve had many compliments on my – on my cut. And then I’m – most of the time the directors are pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, you know, there’s certain directors that will just go, uh, we got a lot of work to do, which – and that’s fair because we do.

But most of them seem to be happy. I mean, I’ve had the comment, wow, that’s a lot better than I thought it would be, you know, which is good. That feels good when you hear that – those words.

Nick Lange

Yeah. What was working with Paul Verhoeven on Showgirls like?

Mark Helfrich

That was a great job. Loved working on that. I worked again with my friend Mark Goldblatt on that. He got the gig. I read about it in the trades, and I thought Paul Verhoeven is doing an NC 17 movie, written by Joe Eszterhas – I wish I could work on that. And then I found out that Mark got the job. And then, during production, like a month into it, or so, he called me up, he said, we need nine and a half minute promo cut. So, you want to come and do that? I said, sure. And so I came and cut this promo, and because the film wasn’t edited yet, I was editing scenes and dance scenes to put this into this promo piece, and Paul liked it enough to keep me on as another editor. So, Mark and I cut the film and it was just – I think Paul’s one of the most talented directors ever. He’s – his directing style is so intelligent, that it was one of the easiest films to edit that I’ve ever experienced because the footage spoke to you; you knew exactly when to go in and go out of every shot.

Nick Lange

What is it? So, how does he do that? What makes for a talented director?

Mark Helfrich

Just – he knows where to put the camera, for whatever action is happening, you know, or how to capture it in the most effective way I think. He knows how to move the camera. There’s so many shots that are just – you hold on the shot because it works for a long time. You know, as an editor, the tendency for some is to cut as often as you can, but that’s not the way I like to work. I like to hold on a shot until I want to see the next shot. It’s just an instinctual thing. If it’s playing in one, then just keep that shot playing because if it’s working, it’s working – and with Paul, a lot of things worked. You just wanted to watch it. You were just enthralled, so.

Nick Lange

Oh, that’s cool.

Mark Helfrich

I just really enjoyed working with him.

Nick Lange

Oh, that’s great. So, tell me about editing comedy. So, when, you know, you were then working on Rush Hour, scary movie – how does that differ from editing an action – an action film or a drama?

Mark Helfrich

For me, editing – it’s the same thing, regardless of the genre. I mean, there are – I feel I can edit anything that – so, if it’s comedy, I – it’s about timing, you know. I – it’s about making myself laugh or giggle. With drama, it’s like – or something that’s supposed to be scary, I want to try to jolt myself or scare myself. It’s just – it’s an instinct of what is effective. That’s how I go about it. I love comedy, though. I mean, there’s nothing better than being in an audience at a preview of a film that you’ve worked on, and listening to the audience reaction on a comedy. I mean, to hear them laugh, it’s like I did something good. Yeah, I did – it worked, and that’s the best feeling. That’s my favorite part of editing: is the preview process.

Because it’s like, you know, you get to be – I guess, from what I understand, if you’re a comedian, or if you’re on stage or performer, you love the rush of the audience – the applause. Well, I just love to hear an audience react to something I’ve put together.

Nick Lange

Yeah. How do you know if something is funny when you were there in the dark room alone?

Mark Helfrich

Oh, well, when you’re watching dailies, if it makes you laugh.

On Scary Movie, I think every day I had no idea what I was going to see, because there was so much improv on the set that I – even though I knew the scenes that they were shooting, I didn’t know what I knew the next day, and I was just in tears every day of laughter just can be – just because the dailies were so funny. So, if I’m laughing at the dailies, I know it’s working. All I got to do is pick the best take and put it in, you know?

And then sometimes you have to manage if it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to work, you know – it was funny on the page, but why isn’t that funny, you know, when it’s shot? Then you have to be a little more creative and try to make it work through reactions, or through elongating the timing, or contracting the timing, or cutting out some of the fat, just to make something work as a joke. And then sometimes you just have to cut it out because it doesn’t work ever, and that’s what the testing preview process is about, too. If you’re previewing a comedy, you can hear the audience – you know if they’re enjoying this joke or this action. And if there’s no reaction to something that was supposed to be funny, or that we even thought was funny, then you weigh if we should keep it in or should we try – first, you tried to change it and make it effective, and if it doesn’t get a reaction, then – and you don’t need to keep it, cut it out.

Nick Lange

Yeah. What were the Wayans brothers like to work with in the editing room?

Mark Helfrich

Keenen was great. I – he was so open to anything, and I would see a scene come in and then I’d call him up and say, you know, what would be funny if this happening? And he said, well, go shoot it. And so he gave me a second unit to go and shoot things for scary movie, just because he’s so open to – he comes from, I guess, from a television writing background, where you’ve got a team of writers and everybody’s riffing and coming up with stuff. So, if I came up with something that I thought was funny, he said, go shoot it, and we put it in the movie. So, I love that. It’s great.

Nick Lange

What resources did you have? Could you go get the original actors, and get –

Mark Helfrich

Oh, yeah, yeah. No, I just went to the set, and they gave me a whole second unit with the, you know, DP – everything. Cause I love to direct too, so that was – it was great. Anytime I get a chance to direct second unit or anything, I’m there.

Nick Lange

Awesome. What about working with Brett Ratner? What was like – what was that like on the Rush Hour movies?

Mark Helfrich

He was great as well. He was a newer director. In fact, I edited all of his movies from the very first one, which was Money Talks. And since he came out of commercials and editing Money Talks, which was also on a comedy, it was – that was one of those screenings where when I presented the first cut to him he just said, I made a movie. He had no idea that it would work; but it did work and so, he was really excited and we got along, and I loved working with him because, you know, we came up with some really funny, funny films. And then I also liked that he didn’t stick with one genre; he did other kinds of films too. So, we worked on Red Dragon and – which was – there was nothing funny about that, and Family Man, which was really touching and I – it’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve got. So, with him, because he was so prolific, it was great to be along for the ride.

Nick Lange

What other directors have you really enjoyed this, you know, years long relationship with, where you get to evolve with them?

Mark Helfrich

Brett for one. Craig Baxley – I did a lot of movies with him back in the 80s, and he was a wonderful person to work with. Enjoyed the movies, even though some of the movies weren’t the greatest movies. They were a lot of fun to work on. Some of them were fun – were great, but others were like eh, they’re okay. But I still had a lot of fun with them. And Jake Kasden, who I’ve done the two Jumanji movies with. Loved working with him. He’s really smart and very funny, and really knows about editing. He really knows what can be done in the editing room, and we don’t rest until we’ve got something that’s working.

Nick Lange

Cool. What was working on both new Jumanji’s like?

Mark Helfrich

Well, that was just a wealth of fantastic performances, because you got Kevin Hart and you’ve got Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson. So, you know, you have all these great comedic moments to choose from, and there was, of course, a lot of ad libbing on Kevin Hart’s part, for sure. So, it was like picking the best one, and we tested several all the time. So, it was a wealth of choices. So, I thought it was a lot of fun and plus, I liked the movie – was a clever script, both of them.

Nick Lange

Yeah, they were. How cool. What was working on X-Men: The Last Stand like?

Mark Helfrich

That one was a really difficult film. I had a ball again on that one. I also shot third units because there was already a second unit director, but that particular movie had a release date set in stone. 

We had to make that release date, but they started shooting before the script was really done. So, there were constant rewrites as they were shooting, which the movie was in flux and being sort of being made up as they were shooting. And so we would get scenes in and there were three editors – three of us editors on that: it was me and Mark – I brought Mark Goldblatt on to return the favor that he’s done to me so many times; and then Julia Wong, who was my assistant back a few years earlier. So, she graduated to editing, and she’s a fantastic editor too. So, we were all working furiously putting this thing together and figuring out, well, we need this. Okay, well, it’s got to be shot – sometimes we wrote scenes and presented them to the writer, who tweaked them and then it got shot. Sometimes, I had to go and shoot stuff that we needed because there was no time for the first or second unit to shoot it. 

Nick Lange

What’s an example of something that you go shoot?

Mark Helfrich

Like, when Wolverine was being chased by Spike, and that scene – we made that scene up in the editing room; there was no Spike in the – in the – in the movie – in the script. We just needed a mutant. There’s a whole – if you – there’s a whole mini documentary on the Blu-ray about how we did this in the editing room. But that – there was a scene where it looked like Wolverine was killing these homeless people for no reason – it just didn’t make any sense. So, we thought, well, this is some good footage of him slashing and killing, but there’s no reason for him to do it unless he’s attacked. So, we decided, okay, well, he should be attacked by a mutant. And so the writer said, well, look in this Marvel book of all the mutants that this – there’s a master Marvel book that had mutants and we thought, ah, okay, this guy Spike, he can grow spikes out of his arm, and he – okay, well, we’ll have – so, we storyboarded that up and presented it, and they said, yes, and so that got shot and put into the movie. 

Nick Lange

Wow.

Mark Helfrich

So, a lot of creativity can happen in the editing room. Not just editing; sometimes it’s writing, and it’s always rewriting by juxtapositioning things or moving scenes around. That’s all part of editing, but sometimes it goes further; you can actually suggest things to get shot, and that’s what happened on X-Men: The Last Stand a lot.

Nick Lange

That’s awesome. What are you working on now? And I say, what are your – I’d say – or I’d love to know what are your goals at this stage in your career? What do you – what are you wanting to accomplish?

Mark Helfrich

I just – I enjoy working. I’m about to start another film with Jake Kasdan and Dwayne Johnson. It’s a Christmas movie, and it’s – I – the script is fantastic, so I can’t wait. And I just want to keep working. I like telling stories, whether it’s editing or directing. I would direct again at the drop of a hat if I get the opportunity because it’s fun, too. I just love telling stories through the cinema.

Nick Lange

How do your directing jobs come to be typically? And how will you make that bring that next directing project to life?

Mark Helfrich

Ah, I – it’s just, I don’t know how the next one will come to be. I mean, I don’t have a script that’s being offered to me at the moment. But it’s – I just happen to be fortunate enough to get offered something to direct, which if I am, I’ll probably do it because I enjoy it, but it’s just luck at this point for me because I’m not a writer. If I was a writer, and I could write scripts, I said – I could say I’d like to direct this, but I’m not. I can rewrite, but I can’t write.

Nick Lange

I see. What was directing Good luck Chuck like? What did you – yeah.

Mark Helfrich

That was – that was a lot of fun. I mean, the overwhelming constant for my career I think is – it’s been fun, you know. So – I – every movie that you mentioned, it’s been fun. So, directing Good Luck Chuck was a ball. I mean, it was a funny script. We wanted to make a raunchy comedy, and I think we did. And it was laughs all the time on the set. And again, we got to the preview and there was nothing better than hearing the audience roar with laughter. So, I, you know – I can’t say enough good things about directing comedy because you’re having fun on the set. And that’s as a director, you’re watching the acting and if it makes you laugh, then you know it must be working. So, that’s – there’s – it’s so joyous to actually be on the set and have the actors crack you up. If something’s supposed to be funny, that’s where you got to go in and direct and try to figure out why it wasn’t making you laugh, but I’m my own barometer for what I think is funny.

Nick Lange

Yeah, that’s great. Well, you have a good – you have a good barometer. What advice do you have for editors early in their careers, hoping to have a career like yours, working on great films?

Mark Helfrich

Just nowadays, everybody can edit. When I started out, you had to actually be fortunate enough to go to film school or own some equipment to edit or be working on a movie. Now, everybody’s got a camera in their phone, and everybody’s got editing software on whatever device you’re using. So, people, if you want to edit, you can do it, just do it now. You can take things – you can re-edit movies or videos that you find. You don’t even have to shoot anything; you can re-edit and just show how you can edit. So, my advice to anybody who wants that is to do it, and find people who shoot videos, make television shows, movies, and try to work with them. I mean, if you found – find somebody who wants to be a filmmaker as well, and you want to be the editor, do it, and that’s the only advice I can give is to do it. Show your work to people. I mean, because you can get really good by practicing – by editing.

Nick Lange

Do you – what do you think is the value of film school nowadays? Do you think that it’s necessary?

Mark Helfrich

I think, for me, even in the bygone days, it was the film history, just getting all that knowledge; and I think today, it’s the same thing. There’s even more film history because there’s more film, and I think there’s specialized schools, like, you know, AFI, USC – and those are fantastic. Chapman. There’s so many really good filmmaking schools now. So, if you’re lucky enough to get in those, then you’ve got a real good head start. But I don’t think it is necessary in order to work in the industry; you just have to be lucky enough to know somebody who’s working in it and get offered a job.

But that’s why if you’re already – if you already have a craft, like editing – if you’ve already done that, you can volunteer to do that and already be there. Already be skilled, like me.

Nick Lange

Right. Right. Well, Mark, this was great. Is there anything else that might be interesting to touch on while I have you?

Mark Helfrich

I’m a member of American Cinema Editors, which is a honorary society of motion picture editors. It was founded in 1950. The ACE is where all the really good editors end up. If you’re a member of ACE, you’ve been basically asked to join and because of your body of work. So, I think most of the great editors are ACE editors, and ACE is a great organization because we not only have a fantastic – we not only have a great internship program. I think is probably the best in the business if you want to be an editor. There’s hundreds of applicants, but only two were chosen every year – just two – and those two with a 100% success rate, they are working in the business. We also have student editing competitions, and we got the Eddie Awards, fellowships, and we are trying to make the invisible art of editing more visible, and trying to enhance the reputation and prestige and the recognition of our art. So, I’m just a big proponent of American Cinema Editors.

Nick Lange

That’s wonderful. How can viewers or listeners of this podcast learn more about ACE? How can they try to eventually join it? Do you guys produce events that people can attend?

Mark Helfrich

Yes, there’s online events and in-person events. We’ve got quite a – we’ve got EditFest coming up, well, every year. But this summer coming up – this next month, you can go to americancinemaeditors.org and all the information’s there.

Nick Lange

What is EditFest?

Mark Helfrich

EditFest is a – it’s a great place for not only editors, but wannabe editors or anybody interested in editing to learn about the craft, because there’s going to be panels of editors talking about whatever the subject is that year. There’s many panels per year, so you actually get to hear some famous editors talking about their craft, and talking with each other and being interviewed – and it’s a – it’s a real ball. It’s a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.

Nick Lange

I will definitely go. That sounds awesome.

Mark Helfrich

And anybody – yeah, anybody can go. It’s – now that it’s online, you don’t have to be in-person. It is an in-person event, but they’re also streaming.

Nick Lange

Oh, that’s awesome. Okay. Well, Mark, this was great. Thank you so much. Learned a lot. Can’t wait to make this live, and can’t wait to see your upcoming films.

Sara Gerbereux

Sara Gerbereux

December 9, 2022

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