From the film “Siege”, directed by Gilberto Tofano, edited by Danny Shick

Interview and edit by Rotem Pesachovish Paz

Film editor Danny Shick was born in Tel Aviv in 1932. He took his first steps in the industry as an editing assistant and with time, went on to become one of Israel’s leading sound and picture editors. Throughout his career which spans six decades, Shick has edited dozens of narrative and documentary films including Thorold Dickinson’s Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955), Baruch Dienar’s They were Ten (1960), Ephraim Kishon’s Sallah (1964), Menahem Golan’s Fortuna (aka Seduced in Sodom) (1966), Gilberto Tofano’s Siege (1969), Assi Dayan’s Murder C.O.D. (1973), and Eli Cohen’s Under the Domim Tree (1995), to name but a few.

Hi Danny! We would love it if you could share with us exactly how you ended up in film.

DS: It all started at a very young age for me, when I was given a present by an acquaintance of my parents’ – a camera. I started taking these casual photographs of my friends, my parents, anyone who would call in on us. I was quite mischievous as a boy; so much so that I was actually expelled from [legendary Tel Aviv school] the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium – even though my own father was a P.E. teacher at the school.

How did that come about?

DS: We had this arrangement in place for the school lunch break where the class monitor was in charge of locking up the class door and making sure that all the children stayed in the playground to the end of the break. One day, my mother put some loquat [Japanese plum] in my lunch bag, and what I did was I’d taken the fat loquat pit and stuck it in the keyhole so that when the break was over, you couldn’t open the class door. Of course, the headmaster was livid and was asking round who had done this, but no one would rat me out – that is, until our teacher told the class monitor that unless he tells them who the culprit was, then he would be the one to get expelled. And sure enough, my name was promptly surrendered and I was the one who got suspended. Over a pit in a lock. But that was already after a very long string of larks on my part.

And where does film fit into this?

DS: I don’t know if you’re aware of this but I was born with a leg disability, and I’m also missing several fingers in both hands – all congenital. And because of my leg issues, my mother had arranged for me to travel to the US to have an operation. Before all that, I used to be a still photographer and I had this makeshift darkroom at home where I would develop all my photos. Ahead of the trip, I decided to buy my first ever video camera. I went to the Jugend Bros. photo shop on Ben Yehuda [street in Tel Aviv] where all photo and film buffs used to hang about and swap cameras, and I got myself a small 8mm camcorder.

To test out the camera, I went over to a schoolfriend’s house who lived over on Gordon St., two buildings down from Hayarkon St., which made it that much easier to go down to the beach – and so I filmed her leaving the house, heading to the beach, getting in the water, towelling herself, and going back home. I ended up with a 4min film reel, rented a projector, and went over to her house where, together, we watched all the footage we had shot, and I was telling myself, “Hang on a minute, making films is so easy! Because it looked good, and it was film! This was filmmaking! And I’ve been a filmmaker pretty much ever since.

At what point had you started working in the film industry for a living?

DS: When I got back from the US after my operation, a group of us local film buffs got together, which also included [late shipping magnate] Jacky Allalouf who had a 16mm film projector with sound. We were this bunch of film lovers who would always be out and about shooting and then screening. I was especially interested in film and thought it was as easy as pie, just as I had shot that short film of my friend going to the beach. I was convinced that I could just turn up [on set] and be hired and given a camera on the spot, but the reality of it wasn’t quite like that – I ended up having had a lot of strings pulled on my behalf for me to be hired.

My mother’s friend knew [Israeli author] Margot Klausner’s husband, and so I landed myself an internship at Herzliya Studios [now United Studios Israel]. At first, they put me in the minilab, handed me a 35mm roll of film half a metre in diameter, grabbed a pair of scissors and every 20cm (8 inches), they’d cut the film and tell me, ‘now splice it together.’ I’d spend days on end sticking and splicing away, which involved doing the cutting with a shaving razor, treating the emulsion scratches and then, with a small brush, I had to apply the acetone and keep the pieces together long enough for the splicing to take. That is until one day, I heard that they were looking for an editing assistant to work under Ilan Eldad who, at the time, was editing a Baruch Dienar picture – and they took me on. Which is how I ended up taking the leap from intern to editing assistant.

Could you tell us more about the role of Editing Assistant back then?

DS: In those days, they would edit the film on a desk that the reels were placed on, whilst the image was projected onto a small screen. And seeing as how I had specialised in minilab cutting, I would first help Ilan Eldad decide which side to cut from. And that was quite an important aspect, because if you were to cut from the wrong side then the sound, which was already in place, would go out of sync; and when you’re standing on the side, you have a much better point of view and as such, it becomes that much easier to advise the editor whether they need to be cutting from the left or righthand side. At the time, Ilan and I grew closer and became very good friends. We would spend our Yom Kippurs together, taking my car down to the seaside. It was the only car in the whole neighbourhood, which I was given because of my leg disability which made walking that much harder.

Later on, you also got into film editing. Could you discuss the craft of editing?

DS: Well for one, editing is something one doesn’t learn at school but rather ‘plagiarises,’ that is to say – you watch how the greats to do it and you simply copy that. So, once you’ve spent enough time in an editing suite, let’s say as an editing assistant, transitioning to editor becomes fairly straightforward. In my case, I’d started out as an editing assistant and later on became a sound designer. I was still an intern on Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, and when [director] Thorold Dickinson came along, it turned out that he needed some help from the IDF when it came to shooting the soldiers, tanks, aircrafts, and all that. And in return for their help, the IDF asked that he make a film about the infantry – which is how I ended up as an editing assistant in a film about the Israeli infantry titled The Red Ground.

Later on, Dickinson also asked that that I take over sound editing and design, and sound effect duties. He was already having me do all the SFX when he was shooting Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, which is how I ended up specialising in it. Later on, there was a period when I was working as an editor for the IDF’s Film Division. Naftali Arnon, who was heading the unit at the time, asked me to come on board as a civilian IDF employee, and that was where I cut my teeth editing all kinds of fairly straightforward training videos. I also spent a great deal of time working alongside Alfred Steinhardt and so bit by bit, I was picking up all the relevant knowledge and experience.

You were involved in quite a few films commissioned by the Israel Film Service, which are now available online on our Israeli Film Archive website, including Land of a Thousand Faces (Baruch Dienar, 1964), and He loves me, he loves me not(Moti Idels, 1975), to name but a few. How did you end up working on these projects?

DS: Well, I was already a working editor at that point, and was known to several directors who had previously worked me, so whenever Yigal Efrati who was the Film Service’s Executive Producer at the time found himself a director to make a film for him on whichever subject – at some point later on, I would be approached by the director who would then ask me to edit the film. That’s how I ended up involved in quite a few films Efrati had commissioned during his tenure at the film service.

Which director do you have especially fond memories of from your time with the Israel Film Service?

DS: David Perlov and I were good friends. I especially enjoyed working with him. I would tell him, “Here, you have to do such and such,” and there’d be no argument about it. He was attentive, always understanding, and ever forthcoming. So yes, I do have very fond memories of those years. I also made quite a few films with Baruch Dienar. He was a genuinely lovely man. I was especially fond of him, and we were very chummy indeed, and it was with him that I edited They were Ten – my first ever feature film which I co-edited with Helga Keller [aka Helga Cranston] who, occasionally, would come into the editing suite and give me all these tips on how to match sound to picture – these little tips and titbits that I later went back to, time and again, over the years.

Before we wrap up, would you kindly share with us any anecdote that comes to mind from your time in the industry as an editor?

DS: The anecdote that comes to mind is from when I was editing Ephraim Kishon’s Sallah. Now Kishon hadn’t the faintest idea how to make films. He’d written all this humorous stuff in his [major Israeli daily paper] Maariv column but when it came to filmmaking, the man was utterly clueless. Before they’d chucked me out of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, I studied with Sarah, who later became Ephraim Kishon’s wife. When Kishon began working on Sallah, Sarah, who knew me well, told him: “You don’t do a thing before you speak to Danny first.”

And as it happened, Ephraim did come and see me, and sought out my advice. I told him to “go out and get yourself an 8mm camcorder and start playing around with that. Make some films – and that’s how you’ll learn.”  Which is exactly what he did. He bought the camcorder, practised his craft, and with time the film Sallah came about, which he then also asked me to edit. Whenever we’d start work on a film, he would say to me, “Look, I don’t know the first thing about filmmaking. I know you can help me so just so just know that with all things film related – you’re running the show – but when it comes to humour, I call the shots. And indeed, that’s how it was.”

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