Michael Spence began his career as an editor, working for Sunn Classic Pictures. His first television program was an episode of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Following that experience, he edited the films Hangar 18 (1980), The Boogens (1981), and One Dark Night (1982). Overall, Mr. Spence has cut about 30 feature films and TV movies. Of particular note, he was the editor and second unit director on the cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), as well as editor on New World Pictures’ Reform School Girls (1986). Furthermore, he has directed four features, including Edge of Honor (1991) and The Dread (2007), which he co-wrote, directed, and edited. Mr. Spence, who worked on the American version of Godzilla 1985 (1984) as film editor, discussed his work on that project with Brett Homenick in this 2007 interview.
Brett Homenick: How did you get hired to work on Godzilla 1985?
Michael Spence: I had been working as a freelance editor at New World Pictures in their trailer and post-production offices for a couple of years. We created trailers for their projects and occasionally did re-edits of pictures they would pick up. Tony Randel, who was then my supervisor, assigned the project to me.
BH: What sorts of decisions would you make during the editing process?
MS: I think it was felt at New World that the picture was too concerned with the anti-nuclear issues and was too “talky.” Our instructions were to make it play more like a (genre) picture. Emphasize the action, etc.
BH: Do you remember who specifically at New World felt the film was too political with the anti-nuclear theme?
MS: I don’t really remember. It just seemed to be one of those things that came down from on high.
BH: Did they feel that way because they personally disagreed with the theme, or because they thought it wouldn’t sell in the U.S.?
MS: I think it was totally a marketing decision. I don’t think anyone minded the political or nuclear issues; they just wanted it to sell and believed the market was not really that interested in those concerns, at least not the demographic they were aiming at. Who knows.
BH: Please describe your working relationship with writer Straw Weisman on this film.
MS: Straw, who I had worked with on several trailers, was brought in to essentially re-write the picture. In most re-edits, you have to worry about the continuity of dialogue and story structure because of dialogue. In this case, we could throw out the dialogue — the picture was to be dubbed — and rewrite the story as needed. After watching the picture a couple of times, Straw and I began to dissect it and tried to decide what would go and what would remain. He then began to write new dialogue and scenes.
BH: Did you work with R. J. Kizer or Tony Randel?
MS: Yes. As I mentioned before, Tony was my supervisor and also a producer — I believe on the new version. We discussed the general plan for changing the picture and how that would be accomplished. R. J. Kizer was directing the new added scenes, and so I worked with him in much the same way I would on a normal picture. We talked about dailies, he gave me notes, etc.
BH: Were you able to cut things from the film if you felt they were better left on the cutting room floor?
MS: Yes. I had a lot of freedom to do what I thought would work. I often talked to Straw about scenes in which I felt we could go a certain way, rearranging scenes, or even moving parts of scenes around. He would then write new dialogue for them. A lot of the decisions were made much like they would be on any re-edit, simply making things work a little better or to pace things up. Often, Straw would come up with a scene, and I would tailor the cut to that. In a way, it was very liberating.
BH: What kind of decisions went into editing scenes out of the Japanese version?
MS: Again, I think most of the deletions were made to play down the political elements, the nuclear elements and of course to pick up the pace. Also, because we were adding new scenes, and the overall running time needed to be kept in line with what New World wanted, material had to be dropped.
BH: How were the American scenes integrated into the final film?
MS: As I remember, and it was, what, twenty-two years ago, I think the scenes were designed to go into fairly specific places. I think I was doing the re-edit as they were shooting and then we integrated them in as we went along. I have done re-edits on other pictures with new scenes and it is usually done the same way. “What do we need to make this work? How will it work in the new cut?” etc.
BH: Do you have any other stories you’d like to tell?
MS: Mostly, I remember it as being a lot of fun. As I said before, it was kind of liberating. When you are cutting a film, your emphasis is on storytelling, as of course it should be, but you are stuck with the script. Sometimes the script is good, often not so good. In editing, you are often doing the final re-write, but you usually don’t have the freedom we had. We could literally put words in actors mouths and craft a whole new story. And how could you not have fun working on a Godzilla movie? Oh, and after the picture was finished, one of the executives from Japan took me out for sushi, which I love, but the guy ordered enough of it for several people. I have never seen one person eat so much raw fish before or after.
BH: You also edited the teaser trailer. Do you have any memories of how that was done?
MS: The teaser trailer was pretty cool. Nelson Lyon, a trailer writer/producer at New World came up with the concept. It was very simple but effective. Simple white titles with big music told you to be prepared to see a movie icon from the past, someone like James Dean, return to the silver screen. At the climax of the trailer, we cut to a big closeup of Godzilla with that distinctive roar and brought up the title. I saw it play in a theater and the audience loved it. It went on to win an Honorable Mention at that year’s Key Art Awards.
BH: What did you think of the experience overall?
MS: It was great, and of course having seen the original films as a kid, it was great to be working on a new Godzilla film. I guess for me, it would be a little like John Ford asking you to edit his next western starring John Wayne. Geez, I’m really showing my age.