Thelma Schoonmaker: Editor of violence

In today’s Female Focus, and the month Martin Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas turns 25, I’m going to celebrate the incredible Thelma Schoonmaker.

When Schoonmaker, long-time editor of Scorsese, was asked how such a nice lady could have edited so many violent films, she reportedly responded, “Ah, but they aren’t violent until I’ve edited them”. 

thelma schoonmaker

Schoonmaker started editing in the sixties, working as an assistant and helping to cut down foreign films so they would fit television studios. Having enjoyed this work, but not the brutal butchering of these classic European films, she was inspired and signed up to a summer filmmaking course at New York University. It was here where she met Scorsese when one of her professors introduced them, thinking that Schoonmaker could help Marty finish making his film What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

After her work on Scorsese’s student film, Schoonmaker battled against the tough entry requirements for the Motion Picture Editors Guild to work professionally (they required five years work as an apprentice, and three years as an assistant), and subsequently had a twelve-year gap between her work on Scorsese’s student film and her work on Raging Bull in 1980.

Since Raging Bull, Schoonmaker has edited all of the famed director’s films, earning seven Academy Award nominations along the way, and going home with three. This makes her the most celebrated female editor in history, and tied with Michael KahnDaniel Mandell, and Ralph Dawson, she holds the record for the most Academy Award wins.

The pair have understandably developed a very strong friendship over the years, and in between making films, they are working together to preserve the films of Schoonmaker’s late husband, Michael Powell, ensuring his legacy lives on.



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