You developed a saying around that time, to remind a director not to become too attached to a moment, or a scene.
“Movie first, scene second, moment third.” That is the order of importance for everything.
So everything has to be justified in terms of how it serves the movie, you can’t hold onto a scene—or moment—just because you like it.
Tell about walk to the tree.
If you remember, after the big squabble Honey and Martha go running off to the bathroom and George takes a walk to the tree. It seems like a long time where nothing was happening, so I asked Mike why he did that and he said you have to have a break after all the fighting. You can’t be afraid to be boring. Then we could start building up to the fighting again, and blast away.
That was a lesson.
Yeah, all movies are—should be—a series of arcs. You start it at one level, build to a climax, then you have to some down and start over again, there’s nowhere else to go. If you stay at one level, it won’t sustain. And Mike and I would refer to “the walk to the tree” on other pictures, when we needed to let it breathe, let it build up again.
Editor Sam O’Steen on editing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Mike Nichols, as told to Bobbie O’Steen in Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America’s Favorite Movies.