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Some Cutting Remarks about an Ace Editor: Kate Amend

By Lisa Leeman

Kate Amend, ACE, will receive the first IDA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing. In the spirit of full disclosure, Kate cut my first film, Metamorphosis: Man Into Woman, and has since become a friend and mentor and a fellow teacher at USC School of Cinema-Television. I continue to benefit from her exquisite sensibility; she's the editorial consultant on the doc I'm currently directing, Out of Faith.What follows are the testimonials from many of the filmmakers with whom Kate has collaborated over the years.


"It's Kate's kindness, humor and love of people that make everyone relax and have fun while they're working. Relaxation leads to more creativity, and Kate's creativity and freedom with the footage makes for great editing."
--Johanna Demetrakas, editor/director, who gave Amend her first assistant editing job


"Kate was cutting a film that Susan Robeson and I made about Arrested Development, the Grammy-winning hip-hop group. I had shot the film in an observational style with long takes. Halfway into the editing, the group got invited to South Africa by Nelson Mandela. At the last moment I was unable to accompany them, so I found a local cameraman to shoot them and gave him explicit instructions about the shooting style. I was horrified when the footage came back. It consisted of short takes and shots that didn't follow content. Kate, in her calm manner, went off on her own and made the most amazing montage with that footage, which was so evocative and beautiful that that's the scene that everyone remembers. Kate rocks!"
--Joan Churchill, cinematographer/director--Asylum; Arrested Development


"Kate has turned so many docs I've shot into special gems that if I could put in my deal memos that she had to cut the footage, I would. Often on video docs I have to leave the camera rolling for audio while repositioning, and I can't always make the shot continuously usable. I trust Kate to make me look good on the screen; she believes in the beauty of the image while she weaves her tapestry of picture and sound."
--Sandra Chandler, cinematographer--Peace x Peace: Women on the Frontlines; Tobacco Blues; Southern Sex; Mother Love.


"Kate has what every good editor needs--a great sensitivity to the material. She picks not just the best shots, but the best moments. She has a great eye for the truth. She sees the world and people very clearly. If she doesn't believe in it, I never argue. Her editing is always elegant, no matter what kind of film she's cutting.
The other thing about working with Kate that is so wonderful is how completely devoted she is to the task. If a scene doesn't work, she has no hesitation to re-cut it, rethink it, look at it from another perspective. After we cut both The Long Way Home and Into the Arms of Strangers, Kate took another week before we locked the picture to look through all the stock footage again to make sure she hadn't missed any important shots. In both cases she found half a dozen or more shots she had overlooked that made the film better."
--Mark Jonathan Harris, director/writer--The Long Way Home; Into the Arms of Strangers


"Kate is an extremely gifted storyteller. She sees the humanity in people's lives and is able to shape the footage to tell the best side of their story. She also has an incredible understanding of the emotional flow. I once had a directing teacher say that in order to direct, you have to understand classical music--the crescendos and denouements. Kate has a sixth sense for emotion in her editing style that feels organic and authentic to the material."
--Christine Fugate, director--The Girl Next Door; Tobacco Blues; Southern Sex


"Kate's a wonderful collaborator. She's what you hope for as a director: an editor who doesn't just follow directions but interprets a concept and then makes the end product better than you could imagine. For On Tiptoe, I had about 70 hours worth of material and a 60-minute cut that we wanted to cut down to 40 minutes. We talked about what that cut might be for a couple hours and then I took off to do a job in New York for a couple months. When I came back, she had a re-edited version all ready to view. What she turned out was shorter, told a better story and packed a greater emotional punch. I think we gave her a couple notes and she did another cut, but that was about it."
--Eric Simonson, director/producer--On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom


"I know that when I'm scoring a film that Kate has edited, the temp score she assembles will be a strong indication of what she and the director are looking for in the music. She has a great sense of how to marry image and music to tell stories in a meaningful way. Once we're actually scoring, she is very collaborative and supportive of the creative process, while gently guiding its evolution to make sure we never lose the focus of the story."
--Miriam Cutler, composer--Pandemic: Facing Aids; Peace x Peace: Women on the Frontlines


"Kate made my first experience as a filmmaker a dream! Here was an Oscar-winning, Eddie-winning, respected and beloved teacher at USC treating me with so much respect and love, creating a safe haven for me to write and ramble, indulging each and every one of my great and ‘never could possibly work' ideas, encouraging me to think out of the box and to stay true to what I knew the film should be about, all the while guiding me through what seemed a daunting mountain to climb: editing 90 hours of footage. Perhaps my fondest moment with Kate was our very last day of locking. We tearfully watched the film, crying because of the sheer beauty and brilliance of all the work we had done. It is Kate the woman, the feminist, the warrior, the thinker, the lover of humanity, tennis and cats, the artist, the storyteller and the dreamer that makes her such a brilliant editor."
--LisaGay Hamilton, director--Beah: A Black Woman Speaks


"In 2000, I started working as Kate's assistant on Dylan's Run, about the first African-American Republican to run for Congress in the Deep South since the beginning of the 20th century. The buttoned-up inaccessibility of the film's protagonist, Dylan Glenn, presented Kate with huge obstacles to forming an emotionally complex character the audience could get behind. What amazed me about Kate's solution is that she didn't have to resort to trickery to create a strong character and make the film dramatic and affecting. With patience and generosity of spirit, Kate will find whatever key emotions, or patterns, or metaphors might exist well below the surface of the film footage and bring them out as though they were obvious. I learned from her mastery that unless the editor unearths the core truths in the raw material, no amount of cutting will successfully shape a film."
--Monique Zavistovsky, one of Amend's former students/assistant editors


"In the midst of the craziness of schedules and egos, you quickly appreciate that you feel a sense of calm around Kate, that in her quiet way she puts anxious directors at ease, and makes young interns feel smart and useful. But it is deceptive to think that she is just mellow and easy-going. Kate has a strength and a center and a depth of understanding, compassion, discernment and humor that make all of us who work with her--from HBO executives to PAs--want to work with her for the rest of our lives. Plus, she's great to party with!"
--Alicia Dwyer, former student/assistant editor


"What can we say about an editor to whom two first-time directors handed over 500 hours of footage, from four different countries, with at least 15 characters...and who takes on Sesame Street? Kate Amend is a true collaborator, and left room for us to explore every possibility in shaping this film. Her great gift is the way she taught us over this past year, while never reminding us that we're first-time directors. And her greatest gift is that her enormous heart matches her enormous skill--which shows in every one of her films."
--Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Linda Hawkins Costigan, directors--The World According to Sesame Street


"We had over 200 hours of footage in seven different languages, from five different countries. A tall order. Pandemic: Facing AIDS was a project in great need of an editor with a remarkable array of skills. The sense of story to make a film that was entertaining. The kind of heart to make a film that was emotionally powerful. The personal values to make a film that addressed one of the more important issues of our time. That was Kate."
--Rory Kennedy, director/producer--Pandemic: Facing AIDS


"Someone at HBO once called Kate a quiet genius, and I don't think I've ever heard of a more apt description. She has this gentle way of helping you find your story, and you may only recognize the brilliance of her suggestions a month down the line. To this day, I can't lock picture on a film until Kate's had a chance to see it; her notes always push the material to the next level, and it's almost become a superstition with me."
--Yana Gorskaya, editor/former student


"Kate is an exceptional storyteller. With a gentle yet firm hand, she manages to find the essence of a story in pounds and pounds of footage. She 's a docu-alchemist; she turns true stories into gold."
--Lisa Heller, Vice President, HBO Documentary


"When we have a film in trouble that we need to amend, there's only one person to turn to...Kate Amend. Besides being a great editor she's an unusually caring and intelligent person."
--Sheila Nevins, President, HBO Documentary and Family


Lisa Leeman is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and teacher, and a contributing editor with Documentary magazine.