Talking with Michael Kahn II [Interview]

"For those of you who have never heard the name Michael Kahn (which is probably a vast majority), he makes more money than you will ever see in ten lifetimes. You see, Michael Kahn is a film editor, but not just any film editor. He handles work for the biggest director in the world today, Mr. Steven Spielberg. Here is a brief list of the films 'handled' by Michael Kahn: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, The Goonies, The Color Purple, Fatal Attraction, Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, Always, Arachnaphobia, Toy Soldiers, Hook, Alive, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Twister, Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, The Haunting, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, Peter Pan, The Terminal, War of the Worlds.

Phew. Quite an impressive resume. I had the chance to sit down on my comfortable sofa and interview Michael Kahn about his career, his craft, and his personal relationship with the little Jewish director that could.

Blue Meanie: Hello, Mr. Kahn. Thank you for speaking with us today.
Michael Kahn: My pleasure. My pleasure. This is probably the first time actually when I have spoken to someone from Alabama.

Blue Meanie: We don't bite, I assure you.
Michael Kahn: Very comforting.

Blue Meanie: Now, Mr. Kahn, you have accumulated quite an impressive resume of films in your career, probably some of the biggest blockbusters of all-time. Do you know, while you are editing a film like "Jurassic Park", whether or not it will be so successful?
Michael Kahn: Yes and no. With "Jurassic Park", we all knew how big it was going to be -- you could just tell. But, as rule of thumb, anything Steven touches turns to gold so we always expect big returns. But, when I was working on "Twister", Jan (De Bont) gave me a copy of the film he had done and wanted me to give him my honest opinion. I told him that it was fine if he wanted to never work on another mainstream film again. You see, it just wasn't cut right to make the kind of money it needed to make. I've always been good with that.

Blue Meanie: I noticed on your IMDB page...
Michael Kahn: That is just the greatest site, isn't it? I absolutely love it.
Blue Meanie: It allows me to know more about the people I interview than they would like me to know.
Mr. Kahn chuckles.

Blue Meanie: But, I noticed on your IMDB page that you were the editor for the film "Toy Soldiers" back in 1991. I grew up watching this film. I remember watching it every time it was on cable, and always getting it when I saw it at the video store. Just for my own personal knowledge, I have to ask -- "What was it like working on that film?"
Michael Kahn: I remember "Toy Soldiers" for two reasons. One, it was an editing nightmare. Dan Petrie brought in this huge box of film -- the biggest I have ever seen, and this was a ninety minute flick -- I didn't even see that much for "A.I.". Anyways, he brought it in and gave me this rough idea of what he wanted and he made it sound so intense and so beautiful and I was real real excited. Then I got to the footage and couldn't believe it -- probably half of the film was in very bad condition; to this day neither one of us could figure out what had happened. So we sat there and worked and scrapped together this film that was about seventy minutes long, and then Dan had to go reassemble the cast and do a couple days worth of reshoots so we could make the film long enough. Dan was so disappointed because some of the footage lost was some of the stuff he had been describing and it just sounded fantastic. The second reason I remember the film is that shortly after the film was released, I received an irrate call from Louis Gossett, Jr., who was very upset that some of his scenes were missing. I had to explain to him what happened and I think he understood, but he was quite furious for a while.

Blue Meanie: I want to explore your relationship with Steven Spielberg. Now, you have served as editor for every once of his films, minus "Jaws", "Duel", and "The Sugarland Express". What makes Steven Spielberg so great as a director?
Michael Kahn: His vision. Definitely his vision. Before he has even started filming, he has every single shot mapped out in his head. He knows what he wants done and he knows how he wants it done and no one is gonna tell him otherwise. When he walks into the editing booth with me, he gives me what he wants. I look over everything and tell him what he needs. We combine those two elements together and usually get an incredible film.

Blue Meanie: Is he a difficult man to work with?
Michael Kahn: No, not really -- I mean, sometimes. But, all directors can be difficult. They should be. They're entrusting their babies to me. See, a lot of people don't realize this, but I am usually the last person to see a film before the execs see them. Directors give film editors the power of either saving or destroying their films. Steven tells me what he wants and he expects me to do it, and I understand that. I would rather be working with a director who has a clear vision of what he wants than a director who wants me to take care of everything, which has happened before.

Blue Meanie: Could you possibly give us an example of that?
Michael Kahn: "The Haunting" is a great example. By the end of the film, Jan (De Bont) was just so tired and so disgruntled about the complications of the film, he basically just have it to me and said, "Do what you can." That's pretty much what happened on "Arachnaphobia" too, though I was quite proud of the way that film turned out. It might be my favorite film to have worked on.

Blue Meanie: Really? "Arachnaphobia"? What made that film so special?
Michael Kahn: Everything. Editing that film was a pure pleasure. Frank Marshall was so good at those big blockbuster type films, almost as good as Steven I would say. I could have probably made two pictures out of all the film he gave me, both of them equally good.

Blue Meanie: Back to Steven Spielberg for just a moment; what has been your favorite Spielberg experience? Which film of his are you most proud of?
Michael Kahn: "Schindler's List". No doubt. Just to see the passion he had for that film, and the importance it carried with it -- I knew when I was working on it that it would change the world.

Blue Meanie: So, what's next on the agenda for the great Michael Kahn?
Michael Kahn: [chuckles] Well, a couple of projects actually. Of course, "War of the Worlds" is in the future...and I really think this is going to be Steven's masterpiece. I'm also getting ready for "Secret Life of Walter Mitty", and eventually, hopefully, the new Indy flick.

Blue Meanie: Well, I want to thank you, Mr. Kahn, for allowing us to chat with you. Before I let you go, I want to ask you the same three questions I ask everyone I interview, if that's all right?
Michael Kahn: Go ahead.

Blue Meanie: What is your favorite film of all-time?
Michael Kahn: The Bridge On the River Kwai.

Blue Meanie: Okay. Who is the greatest actor of all-time?
Michael Kahn: Tom Hanks. Without a doubt.

Blue Meanie: Okay, and finally -- and let me say that this question has far greater relevance with you. Can you get me a meeting with Steven Spielberg?
Michael Kahn:  [laughs] Sure. Sure, I can. You might have to wait 'til 2009, but I can get you one.

Blue Meanie: Mr. Kahn, it has been a pleasure. Continued success, and thank you very much.
Michael Kahn: Thank you. Tell Alabama I said goodbye."


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