Thelma Colbert Schoonmaker was born on January 3rd 1940. She is an Algerian-born American film editor who has worked with director Martin Scorsese for over forty years. She has edited all of his films since Raging Bull (1980), first working with Scorsese on his debut feature film Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967). Schoonmaker has received seven Academy Award nominations for Best Film Editing and has won three times.
Schoonmaker was very interested to be an international diplomat and to pursue her dreams she attended Cornell University in 1967 studying political science and Russian language. After graduation in 1961 she began taking State Department tests to apply later for the U.S. government position. Being politically inclined and opinionated, Schoonmaker expressed distaste for the South African policy of apartheid, a stance which did not sit well with those administering the State Department tests. After that she decided to take a course in primitive art.
While doing graduate work at Columbia University she got an opportunity to get training and job as an assistant film editor. She got the job and soon she picked up important technical skills, including negative cutting. Schoonmaker signed up for a brief six-weeks filmmaking course at New York University where she started working with young filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
At NYU she made a lot of contacts to work with and edited great documentaries because of excellent use of superimpositions and freeze frames. To join the Motion Picture Editors Guild was challenging as the needed to spend five years as an apprentice and three as an assistant. Consequently, there was a 12-year gap between her work on Scorsese’s student films and her Oscar-winning work on Raging Bull.
Here are few of Thelma Schoonmaker quotes:
- “You get to contribute so significantly in the editing room because you shape the movie and the performances,” she says. “You help the director bring all the hard work of those who made the film to fruition. You give their work rhythm and pace and sometimes adjust the structure to make the film work – to make it start to flow up there on the screen. And then it’s very rewarding after a year’s work to see people react to what you’ve done in the theatre.”
- “Editing is a lot about patience and discipline and just banging away at something, turning off the machine and going home at night because you’re frustrated and depressed, and then coming back in the morning to try again.’’
- When asked how it was that such a nice lady could edit Scorsese’s violent gangster pictures, Thelma replied with a smile, “Ah, but they aren’t violent until I’ve edited them.”
With seven Academy Award nominations, Schoonmaker is the second most-nominated editor in Academy Awards history, after Michael Kahn who has eight nominations. Tied with Kahn, Daniel Mandell, and Ralph Dawson, she also holds the record for the most wins in the category of Best Editing, with three.