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Anne V. Coates on Her First Editing Gig With 1952’s ‘The Pickwick Papers’

Anne V. Coates, who won an Oscar for editing “Lawrence of Arabia” and also cut “Becket,” “In the Line of Fire” and “Out of Sight,” will be feted with the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.’s Career Achievement award Jan. 9. She received her first Variety mention in a review of Noel Langley’s 1952 Dickens adaptation, “The Pickwick Papers.”

One of your earliest experiences was at London’s Pinewood Studios. What was the first film you worked on there?

I was a second assistant on “The End of the River” (1947), working with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger — starting out at the top, as it were. Michael and Emeric weren’t very pleased with what the editor was doing, so they hired Reggie Mills, their top editor, to do a recut. I worked with Reggie on it, which was a big break for me. I learned quite a lot.

How did you get your first editor credit?

I was working as Clive Donner’s assistant on “Tonight at 8:30” (1952), and Bob McNaught, a producer, rang up to see if Clive could edit a film called “The Pickwick Papers.” Clive was busy, so I said, “I’ll do it!” I don’t think Clive had much faith in me, but being my friend, he put me up for it. I was young and enthusiastic, and any chance that came my way, I would grab.

What was it like working on “The Pickwick Papers”?

They took me on with the proviso that if I didn’t make out, they would bring someone in over me, which was not very nice. It made me nervous. The film didn’t go too well to begin with, because Noel Langley hadn’t directed before. I don’t think I was doing that well, but then I cut a courtroom scene — courtroom scenes are very fun to cut — and I did a really good job on that. They were all so impressed, from then on, I was in. Simple as that.

Were there any significant challenges on the shoot?

Noel didn’t get on with Nigel Patrick, who played Mr. Jingle, the second-most-important character, so he’d never do a closeup of Nigel. I said, “I can’t cut this scene without a closeup of Nigel,” so he said, “You shoot it, because I’m not doing a closeup of that guy.” So I shot the scene. I had a wonderful camera operator who was a really good friend, and he helped me. On your first picture, that’s quite a lot.

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