Quentin Tarantino – the final cut with his editor Sally Menke

Posted on 12 December 2009
By Pierce King
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Nobody knows how the private cinema screen inside Quentin Tarantino’s head works better than Sally Menke.

Since her work on Reservoir Dogs, Menke has cut every single one of Tarantino’s films, and for the past decade, she’s turned away other jobs to devote herself solely to the genre-blending auteur.

Sally runs through her working practice with the Inglourious Basterds mastermind, including how they take inspiration from other directors such as Sergio Leone before cutting Kill Bill

She talks about his obsession with music, revealing he falls asleep with his ipod on on set to influence the rhythm of his direction.

Surprisingly she said she doesn’t cut scenes to music, like the infamous Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist Contest, but waits for Quentin to tweak it to the beats afterwards.

Sally said: “Editors are the quiet heroes of movies and I like it that way. We have a very private relationship with our directors, mostly conducted in very dark rooms.

“I’ve been with Quentin Tarantino since his first movie and have edited every single thing he’s done since then.

“We don’t work at the studios. Quentin insists on renting little private houses in LA and converting them into edit suites for the duration. It’s very civilised and enabled me to work through both my pregnancies – yes, my babies had Tarantino movies played to them in the womb, but they seem to have turned out OK.

“I met Quentin when he was interviewing for an editor – a cheap one. I got in touch and he sent me this script for a thing called Reservoir Dogs and I just thought it was amazing.

“It floored me. Scorsese was a hero of mine, especially as he used a female editor in Thelma Schoonmaker, and this script just had that tone. Later, when I found out Harvey Keitel was attached – he was the first person Quentin had approached – I was more determined to get this job than ever.

“Quentin is the same now as he was then. He’s encyclopaedic, passionate, electrifying. We just clicked creatively. Editing is all about intuiting the tone of a scene and you have to chime with the director.

“It’s an intense relationship and if it ain’t broke, you wouldn’t want to fix it. We’ve built up such trust that now he gives me the dailies and I put ’em together with little interference.

“The thing with Tarantino is the mix-and-match. We do study other films and other scenes but only to get the vibe we need for our scene – like in Kill Bill when Uma [Thurman]’s facing off the’s and we looked at some Sergio Leone close-ups, to see how we wanted to cut that scene.

“Our style is to mimic, not homage, but it’s all about recontextualising the film language to make it fresh within the new genre. It’s incredibly detailed. There’s nothing laissez-faire about Quentin’s approach, but I know his film voice, always have done.

“Music is one of his obsessions, so I’ve cut a lot of great scenes to music. He’s very specific and will play music on set all day to get everyone in the mood.

“I think he goes to sleep with his iPod on when we’re filming, because the music becomes the rhythm of his directing. Oddly, I don’t cut to music. I just make the scene work emotionally and dramatically, and then Quentin will come in and lay the track over it and we’ll tweak it to the beats.

“That scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing in Jack Rabbit Slim’s diner in Pulp Fiction was unusual in that it was filmed to playback, to the actual Chuck Berry song.

“It was easy to cut in that respect, and oh my God, it was glorious. We chatted about using the long shot, the medium close-ups, and when to focus on the hands. Most editing is painstaking but this was an exciting scene to edit because it had momentum of its own and an obvious magic – it’s Travolta, dancing in front of me.

“Watching Scorsese and Schoonmaker’s work, I learned how to collapse time in action but still push characters through a scene. It’s a trick to give the illusion it’s all real; that’s become crucial to us because the Tarantino thing is to make the mundane feel very spicy. It’s the illusion that time is ticking away.

“It’s all about tension, so you follow the emotional arc of a character through a scene, even if, as in the opening of Inglourious Basterds, they’re just pouring a glass of milk or stuffing their pipe. We’re very proud of that scene – it might be the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Inglourious Basterds is out now DVD and Blu-ray – a perfect Nazi killing stocking filler