Editing as Women’s Work

The Motion Picture Editors Guild, will be celebrating its 81st anniversary this year.  Below is a video that was produced for their 75th anniversary which interviews a variety of guild members, both currently working and retired.

The guild was created in 1937. According to the Motion Picture Editors Guild website,

 “On May 20, 1937, the Society of Motion Picture Film Editors was founded by sound editor James Wilkinson and film editors Ben Lewis and Philip Cahn. Four days later, the Society’s Board of Directors first met. At the third meeting of the Board on June 7, the initial slate of officers was elected: Edmund D. Hannan, president; Frederick B. Richards, vice president; Edward Dmytryk, secretary; and Martin G. Cohn, treasurer. At that meeting, it was also decided that the Society’s offices would be located at 1509 Crossroads of the World on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Society membership was a solid 571 men and women, encompassing picture and sound editors, assistants, apprentices and librarians.”

A comprehensive history can be found here.

It is important to note that none of the guild executives in the early stages were women, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of editors or “cutters” were women. In an interview with Edward Landler for cinemontage.com (the “Journal of the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild”), Mary Steward, a cutter, and one of the original members of the Editor’s Guild, recalls that despite the executive board,

“[the guild] made a difference. We used to work seven days a week.”

Computing, calculating, programming, and film editing were all tedious tasks performed by female workers during and after WWII. The work was challenging, tedious, and required patience and precision. One of the reasons that women could get into editing was because it was considered technical and not creative.

The cleverly named, Moviola

And it’s no wonder that it was considered technical. Editing, which was originally done by hand, was soon done on contraptions like the Moviola, invented in 1924 (shown to the right) and other versions of machinery similar to it. The tedious nature, and the perceived lack of creative genius needed to edit film at this time period helped it to be viable work for a large population of working-class women.

There is a thread here that has to do with the gendered role of editor. As mentioned in this article, some film directors stuck with the tradition, and continually entrusted women with editing their films. Quentin Tarantino, ” stated that he adored [Sally] Menke and never felt his “babies” were safer than in her motherly hands” (Loubriel, Andres “How Women Dominate the Film Editing World”).

Following this, there is some fascinating, gendered language associated with the “birth” of a film. Females were chosen for their “mothering” attitudes toward the film. The combination of the father (the director) and the mother (the editor) literally birthing a film as a sort of entertaining lovechild is a bizarre, yet lasting solidification of gender roles in the film industry.


For a brief look into a more complete history of film editing, check out this video:







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