Meeting Film Editor Alois Fišárek
“Suddenly I was all alone there”
On January 12, 2017, we made a video interview with film editor Alois Fišárek in the editing room of the National Film Archive in Prague’s Žižkov district.
Holder of multiple Czech Lion Awards in the category of film editing, he worked as film editor at Krátký Film Praha after finishing his studies at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Even before graduation, he started cooperating with the Czechoslovak Army Film. He made his mark in the field of feature film editing. The list of his frequent co-workers includes personalities such as Věra Chytilová, Jaroslav Kučera, Jaromil Jireš, Ivan Vojnár and Jan Svěrák; with the latter, he collaborated on all his previous feature films. He also edited a number of television projects. He was Head of the Department of Film Editing at FAMU between 1993 and 2002. He currently works at FAMO in Písek. He is a member of the Czech Film and Television Academy, the Czech Film and Television Union and the Czech Association of Film and Television Editors.
In Laterna magika, Alois Fišárek worked on several performances: The Black Monk (premiered in 1983), The Chattering Slug (1984), Odysseus (1987), Minotaur (1989), recently Legends of Magic Prague (2011) and primarily Laterna magika’s most performed title Wonderful Circus which has been in the repertoire since 1977. In the interview, Alois Fišárek discusses the essential role of scenographer Josef Svoboda, his cooperation with Evald Schorm, the interconnection of theatre and film as well as the feelings that overwhelmed him in the editing room.
Alois Fišárek was invited to Laterna magika by director Evald Schorm and producer Jaromír Kallista. His collaboration with Schorm was specific as the director did not like to order people around, telling his remarks to his colleagues in a rather indirect way. When remembering scenographer Josef Svoboda, Alois Fišárek mentions that he was a guarantor of Laterna magika and master of lighting. He would practice everything at home using a model and later, in the course of several hours, he and his assistants would ingeniously light a scene that seemed dead before.
When preparing the performance Black Monk, the authors had to determine the length of the individual scenes. Precise timing was necessary because of falling objects that could hurt the actors. Colour signals above the scene would show them whether they still had time or whether they had to move on. One of the actors, Miroslav Macháček, protested: “You are destroying theatre!” Alois Fišárek agreed: “Theatre and film don’t go together well.” However, that was true about the film strip; today, the situation is different due to technological possibilities, says the editor.
The grandiose Odysseus used a seventeen-metre projection surface and a ship suspended on a cable which, too, was a surface for projection. To prevent the viewers from paying attention merely to the projection, one had to constantly keep in mind the difference between the giant objects and the small actors, make sure that the actors step to the foreground, and “calm” the projection surface. Moreover, the actors struggled with poor acoustics which made it impossible for them to speak quietly.
Alois Fišárek was happy to accept the work for Laterna magika as it was different; he had to respect the scenography which interconnected all elements of the performance. He recollects how Laterna magika was based on a close cooperation of filmmakers, who have no clue about theatre, and theatre people, who have no clue about film. That gave rise to huge misunderstandings; which, however, were fortunately always solved. Unlike in Krátký Film, where he also worked at the time, in Laterna magika, he was alone in the editing room. He perceived his creative freedom positively, however, when he was at his wits’ end and had to make a decision by himself, he was overwhelmed by anxiety. He learned to overcome it though; when he was alone in the editing room later on, it was no longer an obstacle to him.
An Excerpt from an Interview with Film Editor Alois Fišárek
What was the difference between editing for Laterna magika and editing a film?
Where to start? Naturally, it is a big difference, since scenography is crucial in Laterna magika. Scenography is key and it is that kind of a disheartening moment which puts it all together – both actors and dancers, both film and sound. So it is very different from editing a film which you edit as you see it, while here you have to edit it first in some way, make a rough cut, come to the stage, watch it together with the actors who still haven’t rehearsed enough, so it’s somehow rough, haphazard. You also have to be quite experienced to know where to edit and how, how to connect it with the actors.
How was the collaboration with the directors regarding editing?
Some of them did come to the editing room, others didn’t. For instance, Evald Schorm [when working on Odysseus] never came to the editing room. Instead, Jaroslav Kučera, who was a great cinematographer, would come. He was a quiet man who never said much. When I worked on Wonderful Circus, Jirka Srnec would come to the editing room [Jiří Srnec – co-screenwriter and co-director of the performance], he would sit there and we would discuss things. It was great. I’m not complaining that Evald wouldn’t come, it was great with him, too, although in other ways. I was quite happy to be there alone and just get steamed up about the stuff. With Jirka Srnec, we discussed how to approach the whole thing, how to do it. He had quite an idea of what he wanted, since he also worked in black light theatre, so he would also work with dancers, or rather “non-dancers” so to say, besides film and had immense success with that. He was invited to collaborate with Laterna magika by Schorm, and so was Jan Švankmajer. Švankmajer did come to the editing room and he naturally had it all lined up and knew exactly what he wanted so you had to listen to him. There was nothing to talk about and I don’t think there is something to talk about today. He just tells everybody what he wants exactly. He is that kind of a director.
Did working for Laterna magika give you a new or completely different experience?
Both. For instance, you need to remember what you see, how you look at things, like the first shot is so and so, the second one is so and so and the third one is so and so. You have to be able to distinguish them from each other and remember them, although they are numbered. You have to remember that the second shot was better than the first one, for this and that reason… Because of the camera, the actors and so on; that the acting is more compact, the phrasing is better, the rendition is more credible than in the first version and so on. So you had to remember all that and if you didn’t, you had to go all over again. So I mastered that kind of memory.
An edited excerpt from an interview with Alois Fišárek made by Zuzana Černá on November 30, 2016. The original audio recording and its unedited transcription are available in the Collection of Sound Recordings at the NFA.