Over the course of a two decade career in the film industry, editor Jim Flynn has become a reliable voice that directors can go to for more than just assembling footage on a timeline. Filmmaking is a collaborative medium to say the least. It always helps when there’s somebody like Flynn, who learned his craft by working his way up through the business who not only has the technical ability, but also the background when it comes to making sure a film follows a director’s vision.
Originally from Rhode Island, Flynn moved out to L.A. as he was finishing up his degree at Emerson College. And while he still roots for the New England Patriots, having lived and worked on the West Coast for more than 20 years has made him, as far as living in Southern California goes, “officially a local, I think.”
While he originally thought he was going to work in theater, it was at college that he found himself gravitating towards the editing room while friends in the film program were working on their projects. He began editing films for other people, saying, “I liked how I could just be alone with this material for however long that I needed to make these moments work and I got a kick out of that.”
When he moved out to L.A., he found himself working for and learning from some of the giants in the industry. The list of editors that Flynn cut his teeth with reads like a who’s who of editors spanning four decades of Hollywood history: Ray Lovejoy (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining,” “Aliens”); Paul Hirsch (“Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” two of the “Mission: Impossible” movies); Alan Heim (“Network,” “All That Jazz,” “American History X”); and Mary Jo Markey (several episodes of “Lost,” the “Star Trek” reboots, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), just to name a few.
As Flynn said, “I would work with these really intelligent and effective editors and just sort of pick their brains, watch them do what they do, and just sort of learn the craft that way. And then I started to get my first shots four or five years ago and I’m just trying to make the most out of them and have some good success.”
Flynn’s resume as an editor includes “Bad Ass,” “The Other Woman,” and “Yellow,” directed by Nick Cassavetes. His latest project was “The Forest,” directed by Jason Zada, and starring Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, and Stephanie Vogt. On any project he signs up for, as an editor, Flynn has to not only figure out what the director wants the film to come out as, but he also has to adapt to the director’s style.
“The amount of collaboration and how that works is really dependent on the relationship the director and the editor have,” Flynn said. “And it’s also dependent on the type of director that you’re working with. On ‘The Forest,’ Jason was a very hands-on director; he had very specific ideas, exactly how he wanted the scenes to play out. The first pass at least, just kind of getting into it, was, ‘This is how I designed it, the storyboards, I shot it this way, and we need to put it together this way.’ The first build of that, the process was very sort of figured out ahead of time and it was to be to that.”
For Flynn, what follows is a blend of his technical ability and his intuition. After the first build, the editor and the director then begin to further shape what the movie will look like.
“And then the process becomes, ‘What do we like about this? And what do we not like about this?’ and then we sort of work backwards from there,” he said. “We built him the movie, we worked together to build him the movie that he did the boards for a year and a half before we shot it. And then we sort of worked from there as to what works best, what’s not working as well, what should we change, and that was sort of the process with him.”
Flynn noted that he has to shift gears when he signs on with a different movie; not every director works in the same way and different projects require different touches.
“Other directors have different tendencies,” he said. “Some will just shoot the hell out of a scene, and then want to see what I can put together and we’ll go from there. A little less planned out. I work a lot with Nick Cassavetes. He has a tendency to do that. He knows everything that he wants, but he’ll shoot a lot of other ways to do it and a lot of other approaches. And he’ll be able to play a little bit with those in the cutting room. He has a much different process than Jason has. Neither one is better, neither one is worse, but the director really kind of dictates how the process goes.”
For an editor, part of the job is bringing in a different perspective. Flynn understands what his role is when he signs on for a job; so when he talks about collaboration, he truly means it.
“It’s a pretty rare situation where I disagree with a director and I say, ‘No, this is a better way to this,’ he said. “It maybe happens once on a film. I’m in the service of the director. In this case (On “The Forest”), I was trying to get Jason the movie that he wants, and obviously the studio and the producers and everybody that has a voice in the process. I want to give them the best product—that they feel is the best product.”
Flynn’s own knowledge of the film—coupled with his own professional background—comes in handy when a filmmaker may not know which way he or she wants to cut a scene, or where a different take can make something really stand out. Sometimes being a little bit removed can make all the difference from an editor’s standpoint.
“And I certainly relish the opportunities that I get to surprise them, where they think they want it one way and I say that we can do it this way, and they’re happy to see that,” Flynn said. “That happens quite frequently. Just because I’m sort of removed from the process and I can sort of offer that, ‘Hey guys, you can do it this way.’ I don’t know, sometimes cognitively, because they’re so hands-on, they have to go through all the processes: they’re there on the set when it’s shot; they know how hard it was on that day when the actors had a cold and so on. They sometimes get these things in their heads which I’m not burdened by and a lot of times I can sort of offer them, ‘Hey guys, this is also a good way to do this.’”
And finally, what does Flynn look for when he thinks about taking on a project? Like any filmmaker, he has to have a connection to the material, and he likes to cast a wide net.
“I certainly want a script that speaks to me in some capacity,” he said. “I want to work on material that I think I can make a contribution to, or I have an understanding of, or…I like to feel connected to the material. I think that helps everyone involved. If I do an adaptation I like to have read the original material. I like to be as connected as possible. I also like variety. I like doing drama; I like doing comedy; like this movie (“The Forest”), you call it a horror movie but I think of it as a psychological thriller; I like to flex my muscles and say, ‘That would be really fun to do.’ I really enjoy doing different types of films.”