‘When two people agree in a room’: Guillermo del Toro on the Collaboration of Director and Editor

Guillermo del Toro accepts the Golden Eddie at the 69th Annual ACE Eddie Awards. Photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo

By A.J. Catoline

It may be an understatement that neither the cinema audience nor the rest of a film crew understands what exactly a motion picture editor does.

Director Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water – 2017, Troll Hunters: Tales of Arcadia – 2016, Pacific Rim-2013) was presented the Golden Eddie award by the American Cinema Editors on February 1 and spoke passionately about his years collaborating in the cutting room.

“I’m very careful not to tell the editor how to cut… What you learn with time is that when two people agree in a room, one is not needed.” — Guillermo del Toro

“This is a profession that I tried myself when I was an amateur filmmaker in my Super 8, my 16mm films, my early 35mm.  It’s not that I recognized the craft and the technique only, it’s the partnership that I valued,” said del Toro to the ballroom of the 69th annual ACE Eddies at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. 

“There are many descriptions I have heard for [editing] that are all wrong.  They are described in wrong terms. Not that they are inaccurate in some concepts.  People say ‘well they cut the bad parts out.’ Yes and no. It’s not about that.  They say ‘they leave the good parts in.” Yes and no.  It’s not about that.”

“What is it about then?  I recognize that our craft of movie making is symphonic.  I can say that the work of actors and camera is melodic, and I could say that the tempo and the rhythm is dictated by editing.  But it’s much more than that.”

“What does an editor do?” asked del Toro.  “An editor recognizes a movie when it goes by and stops it and talks to it.  And what I value about it can be a different dial on a different pitch than that which the editor listens to.”

“I do my storyboards in the morning. I block it with the actors. I block it with the cinematographer. I shoot it.  And then I’m very careful not to tell the editor how to cut it or what I’m thinking.  Because what you learn with time is that when two people agree in a room, one is not needed.”

The ballroom of hundreds of editors and their guests erupted in laughter and applause.

Del Toro added: “I say this with the absolute comfort that at the end of the day you will do what I want.”  More laughter.

Guillermo del Toro speaks at the 69th ACE Eddie Awards alongside Octavia Spencer. Photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo.

“But I think the most important part of any interaction I have with any department on a movie — wardrobe design, production design, actors — you do this interaction in a three-piece suit, in your most powerful behavior, with absolute certainty.  However there are two professional partners for whom you show up in your curlers, in your pajamas, with morning breath –  the cinematographer and the editor.”

Photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo

The room laughed, but this was no back-handed compliment as del Toro explained.   “We share moments [with the editor] in which we show the most vulnerable state of the movie.  We share the most uncertain future.  You are up and down with them.  And this makes [editors] true partners.”

Del Toro took a moment to recognize his editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE who was nominated in 2018 for The Shape of Water.

And the director signed off with a moment of honesty: “So to all of you – for existing and for having a profession that is so often misunderstood – I thank you here in my curlers, in my pajamas, with morning breath.”  

The Editors Guild National Executive Director Cathy Repola was invited to present an award, a first for a leader of the IATSE Local 700.  She was introduced by show host Tom Kenny  – who has voiced SpongeBobSquarePants for 20 years – as “The Lorax of editors from lucky 700.”

Repola thanked the leadership of the American Cinema Editors for their outspoken support of the Editors Guild in last year’s contract negotiations and ratification which saw unprecedented union activism.

“All these years I’ve been told that editors don’t like to be at the forefront and they want to be in these dark rooms.  It’s not true. And your secret is safe with me,” said Repola to a standing ovation. “I saw you all come out last year in a really big way and I want to thank you for that.”


National Executive Director Cathy Repola presents at the 69th annual ACE Eddie Awards. Photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo


Editors note: Thanks to Sharon Smith Holley — Co-Chair of the Editors Guild Archive and History Committee —  for assisting in the transcription of Mr. Del Toro’s acceptance speech.  The Editors Guild is a proud sponsor the ACE Eddie Awards. 

At the MPEG Board table at the 2019 ACE Eddies. 1st row, from left: Scott Jacobs, Stephanie Lowry, Rachel Igel, Cathy Repola, Glenn Morgan. 2nd row, from left: Eric Andersen, A.J. Catoline, Amy Duddleston, Sharon Smith Holley, Jeff Burman, Jason Brotman, Bill Elias. Photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo
About A.J. Catoline 33 Articles
A.J. Catoline is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and USC's Master of Professional Writing Program, and a Board Member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, IATSE, Chair of the MPEG Publications Committee. He is a picture editor working in Los Angeles, recently on "Ted Lasso" for Apple TV+. He can be reached at [email protected]