Does the editor read the script and use it as a framework when the screenwriter is not involved in editing? How else does she make sense of all the footage the director has shot to cut into a cohesive whole? Also, do you see the editor’s role as bringing to screen the vision of the screenwriter?
The editor almost certainly reads the script at least once, before she signs on for the job. After that, it’s hard to say.
Pretty much everyone who’s ever taken an editing class has had some variation of this common assignment: given a bag of random footage (or a folder, in the digital age), you’re told to assemble it into a meaningful sequence.
And the thing is, you can. So even if editors never cracked the script open, they could still do their job. Every scene has a scene number associated with it, which comes from the script, so there’s not even a question of, “Does the car chase come first, or the bank robbery?”
Is it the editor’s job to bring the screenwriter’s vision to the screen? Nope. The editor’s job is to make the best movie possible given the footage shot, which is often a source of potential conflict between the screenwriter and editor. The screenwriter says, “This scene is about Kyle forgiving Mary!” The editor replies, “No, it’s about Mary looking for her keys. That’s what was shot. I can’t make it something it’s not.”
While I’ve had good relationships with most of the editors on the films I’ve written, there’s no question that the editor works primarily for the director. To the degree I’ve been able to help out in post-production, it’s been providing thoughtful notes that not only point out problems but offer solutions.
I always write up my notes so the whole team can read them, and agree or disagree. On a first cut, that might mean 12 pages of notes. But so far, at least, it’s proved to be a help. Editors, like screenwriters, are generally bombarded by the opinions of people who think they know best. So I make sure the tone is respectful.
For example, from the first Charlie’s Angels:
The outside tables
We should flop the order of business in this scene, starting with Vivian Wood looking though the file and trying to get them to hand over full access to the computer. Only after she’s denied does Knox ask them to go out.
Here’s the big change: the subtitled Finnish is completely different. The angels are still in work mode, talking about how Knox could still be in danger, this may not all be over, et cetera. We exit on a look between Dylan and Knox, setting up that there may be potential ahead.
My notes are always addressed to the director, but they’re ultimately for the use of the editor, who can implement whatever seems workable.
When the editor and screenwriter respect each other, I think it can be a very fruitful relationship. The screenwriter generally has more distance from the production, and can look with fresher eyes than the editor, who know where all the bodies (and bad takes) are buried.