Duwayne Dunham’s filmography is so extensive and impressive that trying to summarize it in a paragraph just doesn’t do him justice, so I’d advise checking out imdb for more. But a quick summary is: Assistant editor on “Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Editor on “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” “Blue Velvet,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the original TV series “Twin Peaks,” “Wild at Heart,” and “K-11.” He is also a director, including on the original TV series, “Twin Peaks” and the features “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” and “Little Giants.” I spoke to Dunham about editing David Lynch’s return to “Twin Peaks” on Showtime.
This interview was transcribed using SpeedScriber. (Transcribed in under 10 minutes with no wait for a transcriptionist.)
If you’re interested in watching Twin Peaks or checking out some of the episodes Mr. Dunham mentions, you can sign up for a free month of on-line Showtime. You can also watch the first part (episode) for free on Youtube.
HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about the style of the show. It’s very stylized, for those who haven’t seen it. Does that make it difficult to edit?
DUNHAM: It doesn’t add any sort of complication. It just makes it a lot more fun. It may open certain doors to try things. David (director, David Lynch) is such a visionary. His material is just different to begin with. So it’s a real pleasure to work with.
HULLFISH: You’ve worked with him on many things of course. You did the original TV series and also Blue Velvet. Tell me a little bit about your relationship and how you guys came to work together and how you’re able to contribute to his vision.
DUNHAM: The first thing I did was Blue Velvet for David. We did some commercials together and then Wild at Heart. Actually, it was the pilot for Twin Peaks, but while we were finishing that, he went off to do Wild at Heart. And about that time, we got picked up for the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks. And I started directing on the series and doing other work as well.
So, on Blue Velvet, we would cut up in Berkley, in the Bay area. I was over at LucasFilm in Marin, and it’s a small film community up there and I’d finished cutting Return of the Jedi and then another movie called The Mean Season (1985) and David called and asked if I’d cut Blue Velvet and I said, “Maybe you ought to meet me first.” I flew to LA to meet with David and we shared a couple of “Gee whiz” and “Aw shucks” and we got along pretty well in that way and you learn a lot about a person’s thought process and their working process and whether you can work with them.
So I cut Blue Velvet. The first cut was 3 hours and 57 minutes long and I was a little nervous. David was sitting next to me. There were only about four of us in the theater that night. The screening finished and the lights came on and after a minute he says to me, “I liked it. I like it just the way it is. But one problem…” and I thought, “well, this is going to be easy.” And he said, “I only get to have final cut if the film is under two hours.” So there we went trying to cut down an almost four-hour movie, which we did.
And then the experience with Wild at Heart was so crazy because I was finishing the pilot episode. as well as an alternate ending for that. And I knew that was coming to an end and I knew David wasn’t going to do anything else for a while. I loved the pilot. I still love the pilot. I think it’s one of the best movies around. We were able to screen that pilot episode at DGA one time and I’ll never forget it. It was like liquid gold on the screen, it was just beautiful. That pilot has a pacing and a rhythm to it that I think David and I seemed to be on that same kind of wavelength. I asked David at the end of the pilot what he was going to do and he said he was going to take some time off and I said, “OK, then, I’ve got to look for another job.” And I did. I told another studio I would be free after I finished the last few weeks on Twin Peaks and before that happened, David walked back in and he said, I’m going to direct Wild at Heart and I want you to cut it, so I told him that he’d said he wasn’t going to do anything else, so I booked another job. It was May and I asked him when he was going to shoot it, and he said, “July,” and I asked if he had a script and he said, “More or less.” I told him, “David, I feel terrible, I want to work with you but I took another job and I cannot trade one editing job for another.” He thought for a little while and he said, “OK, we just got picked up for the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks. You can direct the first episode and a couple more. So will you cut Wild at Heart for me?” And I said, “Sure.”
So David went off shooting Wild at Heart. and I started editing Wild at Heart while scripts were being written for Twin Peaks and sets were being built. I wanna say it was around August or the beginning of September. I took a break from Wild at Heart to go direct the first episode of Twin Peaks and I finished seven days later, which was exactly the same day that David finished shooting Wild at Heart. So we met back in the cutting room and now we have the feature Wild at Heart and the first episode of Twin Peaks and David was prepping to direct the second episode of Twin Peaks so in the process of cutting Wild at Heart we were both doing the first season of Twin Peaks. A lot’s going on and it was crazy and David is in and out of the cutting room.
And while all of this is going on, David asks if we can have Wild at Heart ready for Cannes and it’s already November and that cut was almost four and a half hours long. So we put our heads down and finished up Wild at Heart and the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks. David took Wild at Heart to Cannes and won the Palm d’ Or.
HULLFISH: Wow. So you are cutting a Palm d’ Or-winning feature film while you’re directing episodes of an iconic TV series. Did you hand the editing of your directorial episodes over to someone else?
DUNHAM: A little bit of both. It was crazy, because I had my own editing set-up. We had a supervising editor, but I pretty much cut my episodes. Jonathan Shaw had been with us on Blue Velvet. He knew David and David knew him and he was familiar, so John came on and he was our supervising editor on Twin Peaks because there was so much work to be done and then ultimately there were a couple more editors, but basically, I would cut my stuff and David’s stuff. And direct.
HULLFISH: Wow. That was the season of your life that sounds very filled out.
DUNHAM: I jokingly tell this story that during that time I lived on the west side, so I’d drive from Hollywood at night at midnight, one, two in the morning and I would just hope that I would come across a red light because at a red light I could close my eyes. And then twenty years later, on Twin Peaks again, I’d again be hoping for another red light! Because this Twin Peaks was huge.
David and I had another project we were talking about and it was something I would just direct. And he calls me and asks me to come over for a chat, so I drive over, thinking we were going to talk about that and he says, “I’m going to do Twin Peaks.” And I said, “Why?” and then asked when he was going to start and he said, “I want you to cut it for me.” And I said, “David, I haven’t edited for someone else in nearly 25 years…” I’d been directing and doing my own stuff. But I always said that in my career there were two guys that I was blessed to work with: David Lynch and George Lucas was the other. And I said, if either of those guys called and asked me to work with them I would do it because I love working with them. Unique talents but so similar and you learn so much from both of those guys because it’s not just cookie-cutter. You’re tasked with going deeper and you want to go deeper.
And so I asked how many episodes and he told me, and I laughed because I know his stuff. He told me nine and it turned out to be 18 hours. Pretty cool hours. But it was just an extraordinary experience With David. You’re never ever apprehensive of going to work that day. You don’t want to leave at night and you want to get back in the morning and get after it. And we pretty much cut for a year.
HULLFISH: Was the first time that you directed Twin Peaks?
DUNHAM: Yes. It was the very first episode of the original seven.
HULLFISH: And did he know that you had aspirations to direct? Or did he figure that your editing skills would lead you to be able to direct?
DUNHAM: When you get in a room together, you’re pretty quick to suss out what kind of tools is this person carrying. Just before Blue Velvet, I had a project that David was very much aware of because I was kind of putting him off. He knew I wanted to direct this project of mine, but I was having trouble getting the money and it was slow going, and I told him I couldn’t give him an answer today. And that went on for about two weeks before I’d agreed to do Blue Velvet, and he finally called and said, I’m leaving and I need to know right now. I was weighing three or four offers and I thought, “Well, who can I learn the most from?” and of course, it was David. So he was aware, but he did want me to edit Wild at Heart and we’d had a great time on the pilot for Twin Peaks, a REALLY great time. David wasn’t in the cutting room that much because obviously, he was off shooting, but that first seven episodes, to this day, any one of those cast or crew members, the pilot episode or the first seven episodes, it’s a very close family.
HULLFISH: It’s amazing that all those things were going on at the same time. Let’s talk a little about editing this new Twin Peaks series. I was really intrigued by the sound design throughout. There’s a great example in the first episode where you’re cutting between two different surveillance cameras and each one of them has its own little sound.
DUNHAM: Sound design is due to two words: David Lynch. When I cut — my style — and I learned this from Lucas (George Lucas) — I cut silent, even for dialogue, I’m not listening to the dialogue, I’m looking at picture. My number one rule when I go into the cutting room – I only have two rules and I tell all my editors that I work with this — The first thing is to throw the script away and the second rule is — while we’re shooting, call the set every day and just say everything looks great, keep going. Unless there’s a REAL problem. So that’s what I do with David. On this Twin Peaks, I had to make an exception to my first rule. This is the only film where I kept the script in front of me because it’s so big.
And I work with cards — little index cards. Again, that’s a Lucas trick, but it worked really well for David and me on Wild at Heart. It was so big and we did an awful lot of restructuring of it. So we could quickly move cards around so, David uses that system and my entire room was full of cards. It started at one end of the room and moved all the way down the wall, down the side wall and the back wall. He’s shooting out of order and of course, you’re cutting out of order. and you develop a system.
So I cut silent. I rarely cut with music, I wait till my scene is cut and then I’ll add music.
David loves every single step of filmmaking. Every single one. Sound design is a big one. I did add SFX in the beginning, knowing we were on such a tight schedule and I would put certain SFX in, very sparse, just the things that needed something… an accent. Because with David’s material, it doesn’t need much. It’s so inherently interesting. Sound simply amplifies, and you can’t say that about too many people’s work. So sound design was always left more to David and I cut certain scenes in the beginning. He’d say, don’t put a single thing in — maybe some air — the sound of wind through trees, but nothing signature.
When he was done shooting, he sat down for a week to watch what we’d edited — and I muted my sound channels, but he said to turn them back on. So all I put in it was the barest sound work, just enough so it had some life.
I learned an important lesson from David on Wild at Heart – the deadline for that project was so tight, It was 12 ten minute reels. David was doing the mix up at Skywalker and eventually he caught up to me I was still cutting the end of the movie — reel 12, and we even broke reel 12 in half and I gave him the first five minutes of reel 12 while I worked on the last 5 minutes. That’s how tight that schedule was. When he finished mixing reel one of Wild at Heart, he called me in and we did a playback and I was thinking “Wow, this is really something.” By the time we got to reel 4, I understood what he was doing. He’s painting with sound. You can’t interrupt that. You can’t say, “You need a little more blue over here.” You let it go, because at that point it’s got its own life. I never would have approached the sound design for Wild at Heart that way, but what David was doing was so unusual. it’s so great that you just automatically stand back and support it as best you can.
HULLFISH: While we’re talking about characters one of the things that struck me watching the episode and of course previous work from David is that those performances are stylized. Is choosing performance when the performances are that stylized any different than choosing performances when you’re working with other directors?
DUNHAM: David, typically does not do a lot of coverage and David is very specific about what he’s going after. I was reminded of your question almost every day doing this version of Twin Peaks because I seem to understand his material and I know what David would want to do with it. We had to put a bunch of additional editors on this to help with the crunch, and they’d bring tough scenes to me and I’d send them back with notes: This is a David Lynch scene. and it’s not done until you can feel it. So take it back and find the groove.
HULLFISH; Does understanding what that groove is… does that come from knowing his other material so well?
DUNHAM: I don’t think so. Some people can just interpret the material better. Billy Wilder said something really great and it pertains to editing and directing as well. He was asked, “What makes a great director?” and he said, “Some people walk into a dark room and bump into things and trip over furniture and other people just seem to see better in the dark.” I think that’s true. Some people can just see it. With David, it’s always in there. He digs down very deep to some emotional beat.
HULLFISH: You said he doesn’t shoot a lot of coverage. Does he shoot a lot of takes?
DUNHAM: No. No.
HULLFISH: Is that because it’s so well rehearsed or because he’s communicated with the actors so well?
DUNHAM: He communicates very clearly. Also, he gives everyone — actors, crew — so much freedom. He’s very good with the specifics of what he wants and he’s very nuanced with delivery or whatever. And the other thing is that he knows when it’s working. A lot of people don’t know when they have it and they just keep going. If David can get it in one, then boom, let’s move on.
HULLFISH: To get back to choosing performance in editing. When I’m choosing performances, my biggest clue is what feels real and honest in my world. Twin Peaks is clearly not the world that I live in. In the first episode, an insurance guy comes in and talks to the sheriff’s receptionist. How do you choose the moments that feel real when you’re looking for something other than total realism
DUNHAM: It’s interesting that you would pick that little vignette. Honestly, that scene didn’t work that well. For whatever reason, it wasn’t fully formed. I cut it, and then David came back from shooting and he tried a few things and we both worked on it to try to make it something more. The obvious guiding light is what’s the scene about, and whose scene is it? How do you make this character interesting?
HULLFISH: You mentioned restructuring. It almost sounded like you were describing the entire series as one big long movie.
HULLFISH: So tell me a little bit about the restructuring that you were able to do and what were some of the reasons for some of the restructuring?
DUNHAM: There was just no time on this show. Most shows there’s a little bit of time where you can catch your breath. David stopped shooting — let’s call it April 25th and on May 2nd we sat him down and for that whole week, he did nothing but look at the movie. Now I didn’t even sit with him because I’m still trying to get the last reels ready for him. Then David and I sat down and worked on the opening, which was very difficult. Structurally we tried a bunch of different things.
David did a couple of scenes here and there that only he knew what was going on. On those scenes, I roughed something out, but I didn’t even have a clue what was going on. Then once I got through all the reels, I started going through picture again with David coming along behind me. He kept working on those scenes that only he understood and I kept making changes. I don’t think he and I ever sat down and watched one scene.
HULLFISH: And that’s because David was hands-on acting as the editor on those scenes?
DUNHAM: Absolutely. So a scene like the atomic bomb, the so-called episode eight. There were certain scenes like that that only he knew what it was supposed to be, sort of making up the effects as we were going along.
HULLFISH: Are you bringing editing skills to directing or is it going the other way or do you just find that they’re very similar thought processes?
DUNHAM: They are. You know: you write a picture three times. You write it when you write it. You write it when you direct it. And you write it when you edit it. And Lucas always said if you want to learn how to be a filmmaker: write. And he’s absolutely 100 percent correct. Writing is re-writing and editing is re-editing, and you’re constantly doing it until someone locks the door.
HULLFISH: When you’re directing do you feel like you’re a better director because you have editing skills? What does it do for you?
DUNHAM: Well I know what I need. I know the shots that I need and that’s a big part of it. I had the luxury and blessing of working with George Lucas on Raiders of the Lost Ark which Stephen Spielberg directed and Michael Kahn — a great, great editor cut. George would say, “Stephen shoots the movie. Guys like me shoot AROUND the movie.”
George Lucas is a genius editor. It just comes natural to him. But what he means is that Stephen goes out and he has the picture in his mind and he shoots THAT. George shoots AROUND and then makes it up in the cutting room. David is a little bit of both because he shoots the movie but it is generally such a different way of looking at things, You know the only way any of that works, is if every little bit matches up. You can’t just do one note in the composition. The whole thing has to be consistent. And so he’s very specific but you do find it in the cutting room.
HULLFISH: You described this series as a movie… essentially an 18 hour-long movie. When it came to structuring that, how did you break it up? Just whenever you came up with an hour’s worth of material?
DUNHAM: David always said this is a narrative from beginning to end. It is not episodic, and therefore we’re not going to do recaps and we’re not going to do a “coming next week” kind of thing. Showtime required somewhere between 51 or 52 minutes and a solid hour. It really wanted 52 to 58 minutes for each chapter, as we called it. They’re designed to be put together as a giant 18-hour movie.
David shot a whole bunch of bands in the roadhouse. and it seemed like that was maybe a way to end each chapter. They don’t all end that way, But quite a few of them do end in the roadhouse, so it’s kind of a clue for the audience: “Oh I know what’s coming. It’s a musical number.
The other structure thing was — and I had never done this before — I used different color index cards. We had blue ones and pink ones and salmon ones and two shades of green and white and yellow. Certain characters were a certain color. For instance, everything that happened in the town of Twin Peaks was green. So you can look at the board and say, “We haven’t seen any green for a while. We’re away for a long time, and we’ve got a little bit here and a whole bunch over here.” And you can just look at it and say, “What if we broke that up a little bit more?” And the Roadhouse scenes might have been a bright pink. Sarah Palmer had her own color. Jerry had a color. Guido Cooper had a color. It’s the only way you could keep track of it.
HULLFISH: Did you use those same colors inside the Avid or no? With colored locators or colored clips in the timeline?
DUNHAM: It was just the cards. None of us had any idea it was going to be THAT many cards. The start and end of each day would be David and me standing in the middle of the room and looking at one section of the cards and just thinking. The other thing was that the pins that held the cards to the wall were all colored.
HULLFISH: Why are the pins different colors than the cards? What does that signify?
DUNHAM: The pin color was an indicator about the state of that scene. They always started clear. Yellow means there’s a first assembly. When a scene gets David’s notes, then it goes green. And when David approves it, then it goes red. You can look at the board and know where we are at all times.
HULLFISH: Isaw I one pretty blatant continuity thing in the first episode. Many editors I talk to, including Thelma Schoonmaker and Dody Dorn, say continuity is the last thing they worry about. That’s also Walter Murch’s least important issue when considering a cut. What’s your take on the importance of continuity?
DUNHAM: To me, there’s no question. It doesn’t matter. They did a pick up of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — which was the first film I worked on — and you are cutting back and forth and he’s got three days of growth difference depending on what shot you cut to. The audience doesn’t know. Nobody knows. Harry Dean Stanton, in Wild at Heart, there’s a scene where he’s sitting at a booth in the Banshee Restaurant some and in one take he’s got a cigarette in his hand and in other takes he’s got a glass of whiskey. You go for performance. There are some directors where you can’t get away with that continuity stuff because they’re not giving you the in-depth performances that Lynch will give you. Episode 8 of the series is brilliant.
I love the scene in the sheriff’s office at the end which quite literally broke the Avid. There was so much data for that scene. Eleven tracks of picture. 24 tracks of sound. It was a 27 minute scene and we had to break it up into 2 minute chunks just for Avid to be able to process everything. There’s 22 principal characters. When he was shooting it, I told him it was going to be special. He was using shaky-cam and I told him, “It looks great. Keep using that shaky-cam.”.
HULLFISH: That’s really different from the style of the rest of the episodes leading up to it. Things are so locked off.
DUNHAM: Yeah. Well, he’s a painter. We liked some of the shaky-cam stuff so much that David re-shot it on the monitor.
My other favorite scene – there are only two characters in the scene: the character Red and the character Richard. It was shot in a location that was found that morning because of rain. It was moved from the woods to a warehouse. So just two actors and hardly any coverage. Two sizes and a couple of takes each — a close and a medium. It’s very uncommon for David to do multiple takes and I could see in my bin that there were like seven takes on Balthazar.
I put take one up and it looked fine. Now, I’m always interested to see how David is going to adjust the performance. I watch take two and three — there’s a little bit of movement, but by take five, big shift, by take seven even bigger shift, he’s actually talking the character through the scene: do this, do this, try this… He’s obviously looking for something very specific. So I started cutting and I loved everything that the actor was doing. I found a pattern. I found a rhythm. There’s a coin-flip at the end that lands in the guy’s mouth. And I’d say, “David, what about this coin thing?” And he’d say, “Oh, you’ll get it.” It’s about a 12-minute scene and it’s mesmerizing. It’s a blessing when you’re working with somebody who is open and you’re both finding this stuff together and you both get a similar thrill from it.
HULLFISH: What’s your approach to those scenes? Are you making selects reels?
DUNHAM: I’ve really trained myself that the first thing you have to do is sit down and watch the dailies in real time. And it’s hard to do because you’re on a tight schedule. The tendency is to want to race through it. It’s not about finding the number one overall performance, but I have pieces from probably every take. I use a combination of all the best pieces from whatever take they come from. I rely heavily on reaction shots and oftentimes the reaction is even stronger than the action itself. Sometimes, if it’s a big, big scene, I’ll make selects because I don’t want to have to go back through stuff. If there’s a line reading, for instance, I’m not sure because they’re so close then I might put those back to back so I could hear them and watch them. I turn the sound off and cut it on the rhythm of the beats… the rhythm of the actors. I’m looking for the quiver in the cheek. I’m looking for the little glint of light in the eye. What’s the subtlety?
HULLFISH: Do you remember episode numbers for those scenes?
DUNHAM: The sheriff’s office one is 17. The warehouse scene is episode 4, 5, or 6.
HULLFISH: You were obviously editing films before Avid was invented. When did you switch and what was that like? And have you considered anything else?
DUNHAM: Well, with Lucas, we were messing around with non-linear in the late 70s. The closest we could get to non-linear was having dailies put on five or six identical laser disks racked up and have the engineers try to figure out how to get them to play back a scene. I was the interface between Lucas and the engineers when he was building the EditDroid. The last picture I ever cut on film was Incredible Journey which was about 1992. That was the last time I touched film.
My next picture, Little Giants, we had a really, really short schedule. I had to convince Warner Brothers to go non-linear. I wanted to go digital. And at that time Avid was new and LightWorks was new. The studio had no confidence in the technology to deliver a finished picture, but I told them, if I’m not doing digital, I’m not doing this movie. There were four editors and not one of them wanted to go digital, and I told them, “We’ll send you to school for a week to learn Avid. It’s not that hard, and I promise you that after you try it, you will never, ever, ever go back to film.”
HULLFISH: Thanks for a really interesting interview. Good luck on your next project, DuWayne.
DUNHAM: Thanks Steve. Good talking to you.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.