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Thelma Schoonmaker

Thelma Schoonmaker

American film editor
Thelma Schoonmaker
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American film editor
Is Film editor
From United States of America
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female
Birth 3 January 1940, Algeria
Age: 80 years
Star sign CapricornCapricorn
Spouse: Michael Powell
Columbia University
Cornell University
New York University
Academy Award for Best Film Editing 1980
Academy Award for Best Film Editing 2004
Academy Award for Best Film Editing 2006
The details


Thelma Colbert Schoonmaker (/ˈsknmkər/; born January 3, 1940) is an American film editor who has worked with director Martin Scorsese for over fifty years. She started working with Scorsese on his debut feature film Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), and edited all of Scorsese's films since Raging Bull (1980). Schoonmaker has received eight Academy Award nominations for Best Film Editing, and has won three times—for Raging Bull (1980), The Aviator (2004), and The Departed (2006), which were all Scorsese-directed films.

Early life

Schoonmaker was born on January 3, 1940 in Algiers (then part of French Algeria), the daughter of American parents, Thelma and Bertram Schoonmaker. Bertram, descended from the New York Dutch Schoonmaker political family, was employed as an agent of the Standard Oil Company and worked extensively abroad. The Schoonmakers were shortly after evacuated to the United States following the Fall of France during the Second World War. In 1941, the family moved to the Dutch-Caribbean island of Aruba, where Schoonmaker's father continued to work for Standard Oil and her mother ran nursery schools. Schoonmaker was primarily raised in Aruba, in a community she described as "a colony of expatriates from over the world"; she also spent part of her childhood in Portugal.

Schoonmaker did not live in the United States until she was an adolescent in 1955, and was initially alienated and dumbfounded by American culture. Schoonmaker was interested in a career in international diplomacy and began attending Cornell University in 1957, where she studied political science and the Russian language. When she graduated from Cornell in 1961, she began taking State Department tests in order to apply for positions in the U.S. government.

Politically inclined and opinionated, Schoonmaker was opposed to the Vietnam War and supported the Civil Rights Movement. She passed the State Department exams but failed the final "stress test" when she expressed distaste for the South African policy of apartheid, a stance which did not sit well with those administering the tests.


You get to contribute so significantly in the editing room because you shape the movie and the performances," she says. "You help the director bring all the hard work of those who made the film to fruition. You give their work rhythm and pace and sometimes adjust the structure to make the film work – to make it start to flow up there on the screen. And then it's very rewarding after a year's work to see people react to what you've done in the theater.

—Thelma Schoonmaker, on editing

While taking a graduate course in primitive art at Columbia University, Schoonmaker saw an advertisement in The New York Times that offered training as an assistant film editor. She responded to the advertisement and got the job. The job entailed assisting an "editor" who was randomly cutting frames from classic European films (such as those by François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini), so that their length would conform to the running times of U.S. television broadcasts.

She signed up for a brief six-week course in filmmaking at New York University, where she came into contact with young Martin Scorsese, who was struggling to complete his film What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? A negative cutter had butchered his film, not leaving enough negative frames to allow for hot splicing, so a film professor asked her to help Scorsese. Schoonmaker edited Scorsese's first feature film, Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967).

At NYU, Schoonmaker also met filmmaker Michael Wadleigh and later edited his influential music festival documentary, Woodstock on which Scorsese also worked. Her first major film editing work on Woodstock gained Schoonmaker an Academy Award nomination for Best Editing. Her use of superimpositions and freeze frames brought the performances in the film to life, and added to the movie's wide appeal, thus helping to raise the artistry and visibility of documentary film-making to a new level.

The early period of Schoonmaker's career was difficult. Despite being an Oscar nominee, Schoonmaker could not work on feature films unless she became a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. The union's entry requirements included spending five years as an apprentice and three as an assistant, which Schoonmaker was unwilling to meet. Schoonmaker remarked, "And I just couldn't see why I, who had been a full editor and had been nominated for an Academy Award, should suddenly have to become an apprentice. ...And of course, they couldn't see the sense of why I, who had never been in the union all those years and had never paid dues all those years and had never served my time in their sense, should be allowed as a full editor. So it was quite understandable on both sides. It was just insane."

Consequently, Schoonmaker did not work with Scorsese in a formal capacity in the 1970s; however, she did make an uncredited contribution to Taxi Driver. Scorsese had decided not to edit the picture during principal photography, but to save all the editing until shooting had wrapped. Unfortunately, this left him very little time to cut the picture, as Columbia's contract stipulated that a finished cut had to be supplied by the middle of February. Scorsese brought in Schoonmaker to help. At one point, Steven Spielberg visited Scorsese and chipped in with some contributions toward the final edit.

In the 1980s, with Scorsese's help, Schoonmaker was finally admitted to the union. The two collaborated on Raging Bull, which garnered Schoonmaker an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Personal life

Thelma Schoonmaker and Columba Powell at the Cannes Film Festival (2009). Columba Powell is the son of Michael Powell, a prominent film director to whom Schoonmaker was married.

She was introduced to Michael Powell by Scorsese and London-based film producer Frixos Constantine. The couple were married from May 19, 1984 until his death in 1990. The couple had no children.

Since Powell's death, Schoonmaker has dedicated herself to preserving the films and honoring the legacy of her husband, who directed many classic films, including The Red Shoes.

Selected filmography

  • Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • The King of Comedy (1982)
  • After Hours (1985)
  • The Color of Money (1986)
  • "Bad" (1987)
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • New York Stories (1989) segment "Life Lessons"
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • Cape Fear (1991)
  • The Age of Innocence (1993)
  • Casino (1995)
  • Grace of My Heart (1996)
  • Kundun (1997)
  • Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
  • Gangs of New York (2002)
  • The Aviator (2004)
  • The Departed (2006)
  • Shutter Island (2010)
  • Hugo (2011)
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  • Bombay Velvet (2015)
  • Silence (2016)
  • The Snowman (2017)
  • The Irishman (2019)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon (2021)

Other credits

  • The Kids Are Alright (1979) (special consultant)
  • Woodstock (1970) (assistant director & editor)
  • Boardwalk Empire (episode: "Boardwalk Empire", 2010) (consultant)


With eight Academy Award nominations, Schoonmaker tied with Michael Kahn for being the most-nominated editor in Academy Awards history. Tied with Kahn, Daniel Mandell, and Ralph Dawson, she also holds the record for the most wins in the category of Best Editing, with three.

In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild published a list of the 75 best-edited films of all time based on a survey of its membership. Three films edited by Schoonmaker with Scorsese are on this list: Raging Bull (1980), listed first, Goodfellas (1990), listed fifteenth, and Hugo (2011), listed sixty-ninth. Only George Tomasini, the editor of Alfred Hitchcock's films in the 1950s, has more appearances on this list.

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Year Category/award Work Result
1971 Best Film Editing Woodstock Nominated
1981 Raging Bull Won
1991 Goodfellas Nominated
2003 Gangs of New York Nominated
2005 The Aviator Won
2007 The Departed Won
2012 Hugo Nominated
2020 The Irishman Nominated

Other awards and nominations

  • 1981 – Raging Bull (1980) (won) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film
  • 1982 – Raging Bull (1980) (won) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 1984 – The King of Comedy (1982) (nominated) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 1991 – Goodfellas (1990) (nominated) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film
  • 1991 – Goodfellas (1990) (won) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 1993 – Cape Fear (nominated) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 1992 – Gotham Below the Line Award (won)
  • 1996 – Casino (1995) (nominated) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film
  • 2000 – Hollywood Film Festival – Hollywood Film Award (won)
  • 2003 – Gangs of New York (2002) (won) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic
  • 2003 – Gangs of New York (2002) (nominated) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 2003 – Gangs of New York (2002) (won) Satellite Awards Golden Satellite Award Best Film Editing
  • 2004 – AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Robert De Niro (2003) (TV) (2004) (nominated) Emmy Award – Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special
  • 2005 – The Aviator (won) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic
  • 2005 – The Aviator (nominated) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 2005 – The Aviator (nominated) Satellite Awards Golden Satellite Award Best Film Editing
  • 2005 – The Aviator (nominated) OFCS Award – Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing
  • 2007 – The Departed (nominated) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic
  • 2007 – The Departed (nominated) BAFTA Film Award – Best Editing
  • 2007 – The Departed (nominated) OFCS Award – Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing
  • 2007 – Made an honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University
  • 2014 – 71st Venice International Film Festival – Golden Lion For Lifetime Achievement
  • 2017 – American Cinema Editors Career Achievement Award
  • 2019 – BAFTA Fellowship
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 04 Jul 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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