9 a.m. Today's assignment: edit "Psycho" for Channel 7's 4 o'clock movie. I will screen this masterpiece of thrillers, decide what subplots and transition scenes the television movie audience can live without, agonize as I sacrifice these scenes on the altar of my movieola flatbed editing machine, then hack them out to make time for approximately 20 minutes of commercials seen daily during the afternoon movie. As is appropriate before any sacrifice, I offer a small prayer asking forgiveness:
"Forgive me, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, I will try to make this as painless as possible."
We, who are often referred to as B movie butchers, film choppers and movie assassins, have to accommodate feature-length films for non-feature-length time periods. "Psycho," from opening credits to close, is 109 minutes. That's 19 more minutes than the 4-to-5:30 slot allows before you even consider the time allocated to generate revenue. To those of you who occasionally call to ask if we "cut something out," if you're not absolutely sure, that's talent. If you're sure but you can't figure out what's missing, that's skill. And if you're absolutely sure and you know exactly what's missing, that's annoying.
10:30 a.m. A visitor from the outer world is lured into the film cave by the distressed look on my face.
"Lousy movie, huh?"
"No, excellent movie. That's the problem."
I place my machine in pause position, thereby suspending a medium close-up of Anthony Perkins in drag on the editing machine monitor. My visitor recognizes the character and exclaims, " 'Psycho?' We're showing 'Psycho' on the 4 o'clock movie? How much time is coming out of it?"
"Forty minutes," I answer apologetically.
Now the mischievous grin growing on his face forewarns his exiting comment. I brace myself for it.
"Why don't you cut the shower scene out, that should do it." With that finally out of his system, he crosses the threshold separating the room of film fantasy from the relative reality of the rest of a television station.
I yell out, "I did and I still need 30 minutes."
"Naw, you didn't?" he asks, turning around.
"Of course not," I assure him. And we wonder why vaudeville died.
With titles like "They Saved Hitler's Brain," "Sasquatch" and "Exo-Man," the results of this job are often a blessing for the viewing audience. Taking out 30 or 40 minutes from movies like these spares viewers the tedium of sitting through unimaginative chase scenes, dull dialogue, poorly scripted and executed transition scenes and unrelated subplots. But this is Hitchcock's "Psycho," a film in which the interdependence of each scene demands your attention and commands your respect.
My boss overhears the conversation I'm having with myself and whoever else is listening.
"You're right. But you know there are no sacred cows, Beverly, especially during ratings. Can I tell operations you'll have the segment times for them by tomorrow?"
Having witnessed my ascent to the soapbox for art's sake before, I must admit that he's getting rather good at tapering my discourses on the rape, robbery and pillage of film on commercial television.
11:30 a.m. I've finished watching "Psycho." Somewhere between the setup of the story in Act I and the unfolding of the confrontation in Act II, I identify my prey.
Before we go to the first commercial break, you see the uncut story up to and including Marian Crane (Janet Leigh) bringing the boss's money home, placing it on her bed, then preparing to pack her luggage. Fade to black. Commercial break over.
We see Marian pulling into the Bates Motel. Remember those tension-mounting scenes that ask, "Will she make it out of town without being caught?" Well, forget them. I need those 20 minutes that it takes for her to see her boss as she drives out of town, get interrogated by a highway patrolman and buy a new car. If you were looking for Hitchcock's traditional cameo appearance, check my film bin. That's gone, too. It's a tough job and you have to be able to cut fast and clean. I've only got 48 minutes and 23 seconds to get this woman to Norman's, establish who he is and who he thinks he is, and get her in and out of the shower and bagged, introduce Martin Balsam, bump him off, get Vera Miles and John Gavin in cahoots, show inclinations of their romantic interest, bring the suspense to a crescendo, wrap it up and roll credits.
1 p.m. I still need another 20 minutes out, but what I need more than that is a break right now. I'm going to lunch. I step into the outer offices, let my eyes adjust to the light, and head down the hall. One of the anchor folks is going my way. He asks me if we plan to show another art film like "Lad, a Dog" anytime soon.
"Nope," I answer, buttoning my jacket. "You'll have to settle for stuff like 'Psycho' during ratings."
Pausing at the main entrance, he wants to know how we're going to pull that off. I turn to face him and wait for the punch line to hit him.
Together we say, "Cut out the shower scene."