You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Lawrence of Arabia’ Editor Anne Coates on Why So Many Great Editors Are Female

At venerable Pinewood Studios west of London, a fledgling Anne Coates hoped editing experience would serve as a stepping stone to directing. No surprise, the industry proved even more resistant back in the 1950s to female occupants of the canvas chair than today.

But the cutting room has always welcomed a woman’s firm hand, whether old school “cutting neg” or manipulating top-of-the-line digital equipment. The would-be helmer soon became a celebrated doyenne of the world editing community, subject of academic analysis of the “Anne Coates style,” a concept about which she claims to have no clue.

Now she’s become only the second editor to receive an honorary Oscar, to be awarded at the Academy of Motion Pictures Governors Awards on Saturday, after MGM stalwart Margaret Booth in 1978.

Coates has worked with the best directors. Tasked with presenting her assemblage of “Lawrence of Arabia” test footage, she trembled until David Lean — no mean editor himself — stood up and announced, “I don’t think I’ve ever before seen anything cut exactly the way I would have cut it myself.” The team went on to collect individual Oscars for the 1962 epic, and collaborate on the triumphant 1989 restoration.

“I’ve worked with many good editors, but you’re the one with the most heart,” the great Carol Reed told her.

Coates remains down-to-earth and even cheeky, notwithstanding her accolades. Asked why women get editing opportunities denied them in other crafts, she deadpans, “We’re mothers, and we’re used to dealing with fractious kids.”

She adds, “I do think women are more painstakingly patient, generally speaking.”

An editor’s first responsibility, she says, is “certainly to the story, followed closely by the director, but not at all by the audience. … You must have the courage of your convictions.” Still, the cutter should remain alert to unclear or confusing plot elements: “The directors are sometimes so close, they don’t see.”

Unofficially semi-retired, the Oscar nominee reveals the one genre she’s never before tackled that could entice her back to the Avid. Hollywood, take note.

“A cowboy picture,” she says. “Like the old days, but not one where they’re killing people on every page. Lovely vistas. John Wayne and Alan Ladd and those people riding about. And I can still ride if it’s an English saddle! I could ride out with the crew!”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content