Thelma Schoonmaker

Thelma Schoonmaker (/ˈsknmkər/;[1] born January 3, 1940) is an American film editor, known for her over five decades of work with frequent director Martin Scorsese. She's received numerous accolades including three Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, as well as a Golden Lion in 2014 and the BAFTA Fellowship in 2019. She's received eight Academy Award for Best Film Editing nominations, the most in Academy history alongside frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator Michael Kahn.

Thelma Schoonmaker
Schoonmaker in 2010
Thelma Colbert Schoonmaker

(1940-01-03) January 3, 1940
Alma materCornell University
OccupationFilm editor
Years active1966–present
(m. 1984; died 1990)

She started working with Scorsese on his debut feature film Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), and has 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, 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.[2][3] Bertram, descended from the New York Dutch Schoonmaker political family,[3] was employed as an agent of the Standard Oil Company and worked extensively abroad.[4] The Schoonmakers were evacuated to the United States shortly after the Fall of France during the Second World War.[2] In 1941, the family moved to the Dutch-Caribbean island of Aruba,[2][4] where Schoonmaker's father continued to work for Standard Oil and her mother ran nursery schools.[5] Schoonmaker was primarily raised in Aruba, in a community she described as "a colony of expatriates from over the world";[5] she also spent part of her childhood in Portugal.[6]

Schoonmaker did not live in the United States until she was an adolescent in 1955, and was initially alienated and dumbfounded by American culture.[4] 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.[4][7]

Politically inclined and opinionated, Schoonmaker was opposed to the Vietnam War and supported the Civil Rights Movement.[5] 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.[4][8]


You get to contribute so significantly in the editing room because you shape the movie and the performances. 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[9]

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.[10][11] 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.[4]

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.[4] Schoonmaker edited Scorsese's first feature film, Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967).[12]

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.[13] 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.[11]

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.[5] The union's entry requirements included spending five years as an apprentice and three as an assistant, which Schoonmaker was unwilling to meet.[5][9][13] 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."[5]

Consequently, Schoonmaker did not work with Scorsese in a formal capacity in the 1970s;[13] 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.[14][15]

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.[16]

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.[13] The couple were married from May 19, 1984, until his death in 1990. The couple had no children.[17]

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.[7]

Selected filmography

Other credits


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.[18]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Year Category 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

BAFTA Awards

Year Category Work Result
1982 Raging Bull BAFTA Award for Best Editing Won
1983 The King of Comedy Nominated
1991 Goodfellas Won
1993 Cape Fear Nominated
2003 Gangs of New York Nominated
2005 The Aviator Nominated
2007 The Departed Nominated
2012 Hugo Nominated
2014 The Wolf of Wall Street Nominated
2020 The Irishman Nominated

Other awards and nominations

  • 1981 – Raging Bull (1980) (won) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film
  • 1991 – Goodfellas (1990) (nominated) American Cinema Editors ACE Eddie – Best Edited Feature Film
  • 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) (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) 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) OFCS Award – Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing
  • 2007 – Made an honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University
  • 2014 – 71st Venice International Film FestivalGolden Lion For Lifetime Achievement
  • 2017 – American Cinema Editors Career Achievement Award
  • 2019 – BAFTA Fellowship

See also

  • List of film director and editor collaborations


  1. Colby, Matthew (January 15, 2015). "Thelma Schoonmaker's Favorite Scorsese Moments". Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  2. "The Thelma & Bertram Schoonmaker Story" (PDF). p. 563.
  3. Meuel, David (2016). Women Film Editors: Unseen Artists of American Cinema. McFarland. p. 157. ISBN 9781476662947.
  4. Marlow, Jonathan (October 6, 2006). "Thelma Schoonmaker: A Personal Journey with Scorsese and Powell". Archived from the original on December 13, 2013.
  5. Rafferty, Terrence (November 30, 1982). "His Girl Friday: Thelma Schoonmaker Cuts Things Down to Size". The Village Voice.
  6. Anderson, Hamish (November 22, 2011). "The Woman Behind Martin Scorsese". Elle.
  7. Daniel Aloi, "Thelma Schoonmaker '61 to talk movies Nov. 19 at Cornell",; accessed February 26, 2018.
  8. Shoard, Catherine (August 1, 2005). "Long-lasting love through a lens". The Daily Telegraph.
  9. Nguyen, Lan N. (March 15, 2005). "The Last Temptation of Thelma". iVillage Entertainment. Archived from the original on October 22, 2006.
  10. Thelma Schoonmaker Profile, Turner Classic Movies Film Article; retrieved February 5, 2013.
  11. "Hollywood Outstanding Achievement in Editing Award Honoree – THELMA SCHOONMAKER". Hollywood Film Festival. August 2000. Archived from the original on October 31, 2006.
  12. Tapley, Kristopher (December 21, 2013). "Thelma Schoonmaker remembers her first Scorsese collaboration: 'Who's That Knocking At My Door'". Uproxx. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  13. Robson, Leo (May 9, 2014). "Thelma Schoonmaker: the queen of the cutting room". FT Magazine. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  14. Sangster, Jim (2002). Scorsese. Virgin Film.
  15. Kowalski, Eileen (November 14, 2001). "Tina Hirsch". Variety.
  16. Talty, Stephan (September–October 1991). "Invisible Woman". American Film.
  17. Chris Tilly, "Thelma Schoonmaker Q&A" Archived January 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine,, September 26, 2005.
  18. "The 75 Best Edited Films". Editors Guild Magazine. 1 (3). May 2012. Archived from the original on March 17, 2015.

Further reading

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