November 9, 2000

The Sensible Hollywood

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Tim Squyres was once a disgruntled, misdirected Cornell student just like you and me. But, Cornell seemed to be a good enough experience for Squyres to lure him back into speaking to the current army of struggling hopefuls that he left behind when he graduated in 1981. Today, almost twenty years later, Squyres is the right hand man for acclaimed director Ang Lee and an accomplished veteran of cinema.

As Lee’s editor, Squyres has a had a hand in creating brilliant films like Sense and Sensibility, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1995, and The Ice Storm, which froze critics in their tracks in 1997.

On November 17, Squyres will be introducing two of his collaborative efforts with Lee at Cornell to a sold out crowd, Ride with the Devil and The Ice Storm. And on November 18, Squyres and Lee will show their most recent project, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a tribute to the martial arts. What will he talk about? He’s not quite sure, but it promises to be interesting judging from the 30 minutes that he stopped to chat with Daze.

Daze: What were planning on for your visit to Cornell?

Squyres: Well, Marilyn Rivchin, who taught film when I was there, is going to teach a class where we watch the final version and then the original or assembly version of one of the films. Then, I’ll explain how we changed and what we changed in the film.

Daze: So Professor Rivchin’s Fundamentals of 16 mm filmmaking must have made quite a lasting impact on you.

S: Yeah, that was my first exposure to movie making and it had a huge influence on me to the extent that I neglected all my other studies [slight laugh], and took longer to graduate than I should have because I spent all of my time on film.

Daze: Did you end up double majoring?

S: Well, I came to Cornell as a physics major and I did that for two and a half years and just got fed up. I took my first film class and I realized that’s what I wanted to be doing. I sort of looked at the options of psychology and it seemed like the most practical degree. But my intentions fairly quickly grew to pursue a career in film.

Daze: Did you do a lot of student films when you were here?

S: I did several student films and I was also a teaching instructor for Professor Rivchin’s class.

Daze: What types of films did you do, narrative or experimental?

S: Experimental. At the time it was too hard to do any real narrative. At that time the film program was relatively new and not geared toward the Hollywood kind of film making or documentary film making. It’s a very difficult kind of film to make.

Daze: As far as Hollywood film making, did you find that a difficult transition to make considering your background?

S: As far as Hollywood film, no. It was a long time that I had been working in film before I actually made a film or worked on a film that was financed by Hollywood. If you’re going to have a career in film, there are several ways to go.

Daze: The films that you’ve worked on have all been very different as far as style and topic. As the editor, you probably have considerable creative input. What were the different things were trying to accomplish as far as the different stories being told?

S: Well, in terms of film making technique, a film like Sense and Sensibility required real intimacy with character, whereas a film like The Ice Storm works better if you do things at a distance and work at a different pace. You have to think about what the stories are trying to tell and then what general, technical approach you want to have, what you want the style of the film to be.

Daze: Any words of advice to aspiring film makers here at Cornell?

S: [After a moment of thought] Working in the film business or any elaborate art form, requires you to be really open to the ideas of other people, especially when your starting out. When you’re the lowest person in the hierarchy you don’t have any other way but collaboration. You have to realize that you’re not going to have a lot to say when you first start out … but try to understand what your job is and try to do your best at whatever the job is … You have to treat whatever you work on like it’s important. If you ever start treating your work like it’s not important, it won’t be important.

Archived article by Laura Thomas