From Brandeis to the big screen
David Salter i88 edits some of todayis most popular films
Growing up as a teenager in Newton, Mass., David Ian Salter's A.C.E. '88 movie habits were what he describes as "obsessive." On Friday, when the school bell rang and class was over, the film editor says he would head over to the local movie theater and watch that week's new releases. On Saturday, he would head over to the repertory houses and watch older films, exploring the genre of French New Wave that had invaded American cinema. On his way home, he would stop at the video store so that his Sunday could also be spent in front of the television screen, immersing himself in plotlines and characters.
"Living in the Boston area in youth propelled [my] interest in film. … At the time, it had the highest number of movie releases per capita," says Salter. "Cambridge was the place to be in the time before home videos to really see movies."
For the past 20 years, Salter has worked behind the scenes of some of the most successful and innovative movies of late. He has had the chance to work with some of his cinematic role models, like documentarian Errol Morris, and hobnob with some of his other, non-film related role models, such as Steve Jobs. He is currently working as a film editor at Blue Sky Studios, where he is putting together the upcoming Ice Age 4.
Salter says he has been interested in film for as long as he can remember. At Brandeis, before there was a film program, Salter studied English and American Literature. He started a foreign film club called Subtitles before attending the University of Calfornia School of Cinema-Television, now known as the School of Cinematic Arts.
Upon graduating from USC, Salter worked as an assistant film editor on the television show, Harts of the West. He then spent a season and a half at the television show NYPD Blue.
Just as Salter was about to be promoted to a full editor for the show, a friend from film school presented him with another, more enticing job offer: the second editor on the film A Bug's Life, breaking Salter into the world of film and expanding his skills to animation.
"I was very excited to get in on the ground floor of computer animation and learn how that was done," Salter said. "At the same time, I really liked San Francisco and really disliked Los Angeles [where I was living], so it was a great opportunity to get out of Los Angeles for a while."
Salter worked on A Bug's Life for three years and says of the process that "it turns out that editing computer animated film is much more labor than any other kind of film production that I'm aware of." From there, he jumped immediately into another job: the lead editor of Toy Story 2.
When Salter took the job, Toy Story 2 was in some trouble and required an overhaul. He says the film took nine to 10 months of almost constant work. They ended up finishing the film in about a third of the time it would normally take to make an animated film, Salter says.
"The hours were unbelievably long. I literally slept at work frequently, I had a fold-out futon in my office," Salter says.
Since that time, Salter has worked as the lead editor on Finding Nemo and a director on the Shrek Christmas Special. He has worked as a director at Dreamworks Studio, cut trailers for videogames including Grand Theft Auto, worked on projects with documentarian Errol Morris and co-directed and edited an animated project in Israel. Salter says that last project "never went anywhere," but the time was well spent. "At least I met my wife there," he adds.
Salter says that his favorite part of editing film, particularly animated film, is the amount of creative input the editor has.
"The films are written in three stages: the original script stage, the storyboard stage and the editing stage, so there's a tremendous amount of involvement," he says.
"It's different from live action; you're actually editing it before the story is being created. The story is being created in the editing. For me, it's an opportunity to continue my film education," he explains.
He also says he hopes his biggest professional accomplishments are yet to come. He has several professional plans for the future including starting a company with his wife to connect Israeli animation talent with American video game companies. Most of all, Salter wants to write and direct his own films and says that as soon he finishes his current project, he is going to "devote a lot more resources to that."
"One of the great ironies of working in film, especially as an editor and editor of animated films, is that it takes all of your time and leaves almost none for making your own films," said Salter.
Although Salter is a long way from Brandeis, he says he has a very fond spot in his heart for the University.
"Brandeis is just a wonderful liberal arts school where you learn about a lot more than just the subject you're studying," he said.
"I specifically went to Brandeis because my mother went there; she was class of '57, and after that me [and] both my sisters went there … And like a bunch of other people, I didn't get into Harvard," he joked.