Editorial Consulting

Films are stories. In documentary filmmaking, the story is often found during the editorial process. Even with a built-in storyline, coherence must be made from a combination of cinema verite, interviews, archival footage, animation, recreations, artwork and voice over. As filmmakers shoot more and more footage and the acceptance to first-tier festivals becomes more difficult every year, even veteran editors and filmmakers can find the process overwhelming. Particularly difficult is the struggle to maintain objectivity--especially after months or even years of editing--to stand outside the project as if seeing it for the very first time. Extensive experience editing both features and documentaries has given Michael a unique perspective:

  • Understand the vision for the film, recognize the elements in the cut that fit that vision and that move the story forward, and then reinforce that vision wherever possible.

  • Respect the cut, preserving scenes that should not be tampered with, then perform a triage of what works, what doesn't, and what needs help.

  • Appreciate the reality of independent filmmaking. Each film is a labor of love, taking years to complete against all odds and with limited budgets. Work efficiently and quickly, knowing that the buck stops here. Take responsibility for providing the narrative structure, rhythm, and drive that will allow the film to reach its audience and achieve its best.


















    Recent Projects


    Here's what clients are saying about Michael's work, followed by a brief discussion of the consulting process.



    The Most Dangerous Man in AmericaThe Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, 92 mins
    Official Website
    Kovno Communications
    Producer/Director: Judy Ehrlich & Rick Goldsmith
    Festivals: Toronto, Film Forum
    Consulting: 6 weeks


    We hired Michael to consult on our documentary film last Spring. We spent 2 weeks with him in Moab, and he continued to work for a month after we returned to Berkeley. Thanks to Michael, our non-fiction film has the feel of a fiction political thriller. He took our good enough film and made it sing. Michael is an editor and filmmaker with an extraordinary sense of storytelling and structure. I didn't think he could wend his way thru the hundreds of hours of our material to find the gems, but somehow he did, in very short order! He is also a fabulous arbiter between stubborn co-directors and helped us find a third way which was better than either of our approaches. We resisted going to Moab to work with Michael,because of the expense and time away from our base, but it was a very good decision. It gave us the time to really focus on the film, as well as enjoy the incredible landscape while he worked his magic. I highly recommend Michael as a consulting editor! --Producer/Director, Judith Ehrlich

    Thanks for everything.  I keep thinking how important it was that we got to you when we did.  Your understanding of what was good, what was needed, what was the real meat, and your magic in crafting it and making it all work was invaluable, and it wouldn't be near the same film, or near as clear and as powerful without you.  You're the best. --Producer/Director, Rick Goldsmith



    Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, 79 Mins.
    Official Website
    Participant/Observer Films
    Producer/Director: Peter Esmonde
    Festivals: SXSW, Silverdocs, London, Vancouver
    Consulting: 2 weeks










    Put simply, Michael is a brilliant editor and filmmaker. He has an extraordinary ability to integrate both the narrative and emotional potential of raw footage and rough cut sequences into a compelling story arc. Michael's understanding of narrative throughline is sophisticated and sharp -- yet tempered with a remarkable lyricism and sensitivity. It was a privilege to work with him, and I hope I'll have the opportunity again.--Producer/Director, Peter Esmonde



    From Ghost Town To Havana, Work-In-Progress
    PlayTwo Pictures
    Producer/Director: Gene Corr
    Consulting: 1 week








    Michael edited my (and Robert Hillmann's) feature documentary Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey. He did a brilliant job, resulting in the film's nomination for Best Documentary Feature by the Academy in 1991. Bob and I thank Michael's remarkable intelligence, passion, and skill (and our wisdom to have chosen him) for that honor. I'd admired Michael's work for years (Amadeus) and marveled at his ability to go back and forth between feature and documentary forms. After struggling for months to put together a promo for my new documentary on what baseball means to kids growing up poor, I took the job to Moab and Michael delivered again. After a week of working together, we came up with a piece that hits all the right notes. Don't try this at home. Michael soaked up my vision and intention and then turned a challenging concept into an imaginatively structured and cut piece that will be a great help in fundraising. And Moab's a stunning place to work. --Producer/Director, Gene Corr



    Archeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi, 88 mins.
    Official Website
    Interfaze Productions
    Producer/Director: Marilyn Mulford, Quique Cruz
    Festivals: Mill Valley, Audience Award; Vancouver; Mendocino, Jury Award
    Consulting/Editorial: 12 weeks







    I knew Michael from the work he'd done as writer and editor on "Freedom on My Mind, a film I'd co-produced and directed and which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Best Documentary at Sundance. Needless to say, Michael did a fantastic job. So on my next film, “Archeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi”, although my co-director Quique Cruz and I were pleased with many aspects of our rough cut, we felt it lacked an organizing structure and needed to reflect more of Quique's artistic struggle, which lay at the heart of the story. As a filmmaker himself, Michael was able to elegantly incorporate new elements and give us the poetic feeling we'd been after. He also gave the film a strong forward movement, not easy to do in a personal, reflective piece. Working in Moab away from our ordinary lives gave us a chance to concentrate on the film in ways we hadn't done before. And being in such a beautiful place was exhilarating. We worked hard, but we also took hikes in a magical landscape while Michael worked. A wonderful opportunity to ‘chill’ and ‘reflect’ on the work. After this experience, I would never hire anybody else. --Producer/Director, Marilyn Mulford


    The Process

    Films generally come to consulting either as an assembly or rough cut. For long-form projects, the process takes a minimum of six weeks, with shows averaging between 10 to 16 weeks. It is an edit in miniature, a compressed, intense effort. In some cases, work is done in tandem with the show's editor, and while each project brings a different challenge, there are common elements.

  • APPROACH. The most important task is to agree on an approach to the material. The vision for a film arises from two sources: how the producer/director sees the film and what the footage has to offer. Yet even at rough or fine cut stage, many films are still wrestling with a consistent approach. Often, where there are two or more directors, the struggle is between conflicting visions, and the task becomes resolving these differences. Michael will sometimes suggest elements not yet included in the film, either to be shot, re-shot, or recorded.
  • STRUCTURE. While the three-act story breakdown of a feature film offers a way to organize a fictional narrative, documentaries often refuse to follow a blueprint. Chronology offers a tempting, but dramatically flawed, alternative. But documentaries and features are alike in that the best ones are character-driven, and finding the arc of the character's intentions and desires--even in a historical film-- often provides the solution for how to proceed.
  • IMPACT. Craft is necessary to generate art. The way a scene is put together can radically alter its impact on the total film. Equally important is the relation of the scene to its neighbors, so changing a transition for dramatic impact can transform a section of film from mundane to powerful, and most important, keep the narrative momentum alive.