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A Veteran Editor a Cut Above the Rest.
For Art Schneider, A.C.E., it was one of the most memorable moments in his life. Bob Hope was taping a 1965 comedy special.
on NBC and Schneider, Hope's videotape editor since the 1950s, was standing offstage when Hope called him out. "Most of you don't know what goes on behind the scenes during the editing of our show," began Hope. "We have a man in the basement ... who fixes all our mistakes, and we'd like to honor him tonight with the annual Bob Hope Show Crossed Scissors Award for Jump Cutting Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.
To many in the industry, Schneider has always been known as "Jump Cut," the editor's editor, racking up screen credits and awards almost since the beginning of television. As an NBC staff engineer from 1951 to 1968, Schneider edited over 500 variety shows, documentaries, music specials, series and news programs, winning four Emmys in the process. His work helped define the medium.
From the start, Schneider's modus operandi has been to edit quickly, efficiently and seamlessly. To improve video editing in the '50s-a cumbersome process, which involved the hand-splicing of tape-he worked with his colleagues at NBC to develop the first offline editing process as well as an early time-code system. As chief editor of the network's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in in the late '60s, he was notorious for his organization and imagination.
"To edit Laugh-in, we had to adapt the technology to our concepts and not vice versa," says Laugh-in Creator and Producer George Schlatter. "At the time, video editing was primitive and considered a technician's job. Art helped change that. It became an artistic job."
Schneider's ambitions once lay elsewhere. When he was 18 and a model-airplane enthusiast, he entered the University of Southern California with the goal of becoming an aeronautical engineer. He explains, however, that he couldn't master the math required for the field. "I changed my major three times before I finally settled on cinema studies," he recalls. "There's not much math in that."
Schneider soon found he had a knack for cutting film, and it was during his senior year that a professor introduced him to an NBC executive searching for a film editor. "The job they offered was simple-editing leaders onto kinescopesbut they didn't want to spend the time training beginners how to edit," recalls Schneider. "They wanted someone who already knew how to do it."
A four-hour job interview led to what would be a 17-year career at the network. Although eventually he became the network's supervising editor, he began as a "Group 2 Engineer" -handsplicing videotape and film, and operating kinescope machines and camerasbecause the term "editor" was not officially sanctioned by NBC until the '60s.
Schneider worked constantly, averaging 40 to 50 shows a year and racking up such credits as 51 Bob Hope shows, three critically acclaimed Fred Astaire programs, and specials starring Judy Garland, Pat Boone, Milton Berle and Jack Benny. "My USC training in cinema really helped," he says-particularly for specials, "which were tricky. You couldn't just grind them out like [you might on a] series. The star wanted to put the best foot forward."
In 1967, Schlatter, a former colleague from NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, apI proached him with the Laugh-in pilot. "I thought it had a funny name and a pretty thick script," Schneider recalls, "but I said, 'Fine, I'll do it.' " The script was thickfour inches, to be exactand, at a time when 80 edits an hour for video was considered excessively complicated, Laugh-in weighed in at about 400. "It was a gargantuan task," says Schlatter, "and Laugh-in may have been the first show on TV whose editor was recognized for the contribution he brought to the whole."
With its quick blackouts, short sketches and zany music pieces, Laugh-in was an editor's nightmare. Schneider, with Schlatter at his side, spent three weeks of 20-hour-a-day edits to produce the pilot. "At the end of the first assembly [which took five days], George didn't like what he saw. He sat back and cried, 'What have I wrought?' " recalls Schneider, who wound up recutting the program five times. "After the fifth, George was satisfied, but I was still bothered by something that didn't quite click. I couldn't sleep, thinking about it." Then, as he lay in bed, he had an inspiration:
He would add a tag scene after the closing credits-a discarded piece of footage of Arte Johnson as a Nazi saying, "Verrrry interesting." Not only did Schlatter love the touch, the bit became a catchphrase of the series.
In 1968, Schneider left NBC to form, with Schlatter, Burbank Film Editing (where he continued to work on Laughin). Schneider left in 1970 to work at CFI, where he stayed until 1976 and helped develop the first CMX 300 on-line editing system. From there he freelanced on a variety of projects, including off-net hours for syndication and documentaries on pollution. In addition, he served on the board of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; became a member of the SMPTE education committee; and began writing (over 50 articles) and lecturing on his profession.
Although recently semi-retired, the 59year-old editor is keeping busy. In March, for example, Focal Press published Electronic Postproduction and Videotape Editing, Schneider's history of and guide to working the TV editing business. And he is currently writing a new book, A Dictionary of Postproduction Terms.
"To be successful," Schneider concludes, "you have to be very, very dedicated. And you have to work your butt off."
WRAP, September/October 1989