Oscar-winner Paul Hirsch brings glad tidings to UNCSA
Last week, the faculty and students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ School of Filmmaking received a special holiday visitor.
No, it wasn’t Santa Claus, although he does sport a beard and has a reputation for working magic of his own.
Editor Paul Hirsch, who won an Academy Award for Star Wars (1977) and a subsequent nomination for Ray (2005) – among other accolades – paid his first-ever visit to the film school, where he attended classroom sessions, talked one-on-one with editing students, participated in Q&A sessions after on-campus screenings of Carrie (1976) and Mission: Impossible (1996), and signed copies of his memoir A Long Time Ago, in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away …, which was recently published to great acclaim by Chicago Review Press.
“Paul Hirsch is a true icon in the world of film editing and beyond,” praised Henry Grillo, Interim Dean of the School of Filmmaking. “His oeuvre is unparalleled, from his Award-winning Academy work for the original Star Wars to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and so many more. Paul is a legend in his field. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students to have him here to share his knowledge and stories about his career. Part of what makes UNCSA so special is access to industry leaders like Paul, who are at the top of their field.”
The book covers Hirsch’s 50-year career, from his early beginnings in New York working with Brian De Palma, with whom he’s collaborated 11 times including Phantom of the Paradise (1974), The Fury (1978), Blow Out (1981), and Mission to Mars (2000). As well as notable films such as The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Creepshow (1982), Footloose (1984), The Secret of My Success (1987), and Steel Magnolias (1989); Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987); Love Ranch (2010), Source Code (2011), and Warcraft (2016).
“I take pride in having been asked back by directors,” Hirsch said. “I like having good relationships with filmmakers.”
Of course, the longest relationship was with De Palma. “We had a great thing going, but I didn’t want to be identified with just one filmmaker,” Hirsch said. “Brian is brilliant at what he does, but I wanted to work with different people and a wider variety of sensibilities.”
Naturally, some films worked better than others. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), Righteous Kill (2008), and The Mummy (2015) weren’t successful, although the latter saw Hirsch working alongside his daughter, Gina, who’s followed in his footsteps and become a successful editor in her own right.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “It was great working with her, but (The Mummy) was not a happy experience. We had a start date, and a star (Tom Cruise) with a window of availability, but the script wasn’t great, and they thought they could work it out.”
Regardless of the outcome, Hirsch said he “hardly ever” revisits his earlier films, good or bad.
“You’d rather put your eyes out than watch it again,” he said with good humor. “You’re in on the creation, but you can’t stand watching it again. I suppose it’s like Moses; you can lead the people to Israel, but you can’t set foot in the promised land.”
Still, there are exceptions.
“In 2014 there was a 40th-anniversary screening of Phantom of the Paradise, and it was a packed house. That was fun. In 2007, there was a 30th-anniversary screening of Planes, Trains & Automobiles in Chicago, and again it was a packed house and a lot of fun.”
Although he’d never visited UNCSA’s School of Filmmaking before, “I knew the reputation,” he said. “I know it’s considered one of the best in the country.”
In addition, he grew up in New York City and remained good friends with former editing faculty member Ronald Roose, and was the mentor and still close friend of current editing faculty member Michael R. Miller.
Unlike other editors-turned-directors (Robert Wise, Hal Ashby), Hirsch was content to remain an editor, having only briefly considered making that leap.
“I did, but the fever broke,” he said.
Writing A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away … was a project some 20 years in the making.
“It was the right level of difficulty,” he observed. “It wasn’t too hard, and it wasn’t too easy. I’d started an outline in 1999, and as my periods of employment grew shorter and my periods of unemployment grew longer, I could devote more time to work on it. I’m very pleased how it turned out and how it’s been received.”
As for embarking on another screen project, “We’ll see,” he mused. “I may be retired by popular demand!”
For more information about Paul Hirsch’s memoir, visit the website. The official UNCSA website is www.uncsa.edu/.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.