In 1997, Fred Raskin’s grandmother ignored her family’s warnings about the pornography and went to see Boogie Nights.
He still remembers the voice message his grandmother left, something along the lines of being appalled but also very proud when his name appeared in the credits.
The 39-year-old graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy served as an assistant editor on the film about the porn industry in the 1970s and ’80s. He has since worked on more than 15 films, none more controversial, though, than the one that starred Mark Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler.
That is, until Django Unchained, a movie about a slave and a bounty hunter who set out to track down a cruel plantation owner who owns the slave’s wife. For Raskin, the film is not only one of the most controversial pieces he’s worked on — director Spike Lee has called it an insult to his ancestors — but also the biggest title with his name listed as editor.
He had served as an assistant editor on earlier Quentin Tarantino films, most of which feature enough violence to shock even jaded viewers, but this was Raskin’s first time taking the reins as film editor with the renowned director.
Meryl Raskin, Fred’s mother, said this time around she would have advised his grandmother, if she were still alive, “Just watch the opening credits to see Fred’s name,” then leave.
“We think it’s a great but violent film,” said the proud mother, who saw the movie at the New York premiere and again when it opened on Christmas Day. She and her husband, Ray, are both avid film fans and nurtured their son’s interest from an early age. His father showed him Psycho when he was in elementary school, and their house in King of Prussia was often filled with the son’s fake blood and bullet holes, props for his amateur films.
Django Unchained has earned largely positive reviews — though some have criticized its farcical violence and its depiction of slavery — and it has also garnered buzz about Oscar nominations. Prior to the film’s release, however, there were questions in Hollywood over how Tarantino would do without his longtime editor Sally Menke, who died unexpectedly in 2010.
“Will new editor Fred Raskin be able to rein in Tarantino’s wild impulses like Menke did?” one journalist asked.
Raskin, speaking from Los Angeles, said no one worried about stepping in for Menke more than he did.
“It was tremendously exciting, and it was also terrifying because you know they had such a longstanding relationship and they had a way of working together, and you think, ‘Am I going to be able to work with this director in the way that she did?’ ” asked Raskin, who worked as Menke’s assistant on Tarantino’s Kill Bill films.
Not only did Raskin have the legacy of Menke’s two-time Academy Award nominations looming over him, he also didn’t have much time to edit. He and Tarantino were originally supposed to have 26 weeks in the booth, but a few actor injuries and shoots running long left them 12 fewer weeks than planned.
“To have gotten it done so quickly was a pretty Herculean task, and it was nose to the grindstone pretty much from the first day” Tarantino showed up, he said.
Raskin attended New York University film school, where he said every student had plans to become a director. He realized in his sophomore year that studios might not call him right out of school, so he decided to focus on editing. Rather than take the lead on films, he told other students if they needed an editor for their projects, he could help.
A few months after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and started working as an assistant editor. His first union job was on Boogie Nights.
Raskin said he felt pretty confident working with Tarantino after their first day editing. The two got along so well, he said, they had to worry about staying on task.
“I would say the biggest obstacle to us getting done on time was both of our desires to talk about movies,” he joked.
After the end of a particularly long day of editing, Tarantino brought the crew in to view a scene they had just finished. Raskin said the clip went over well, and after everyone had left the room, Tarantino said, “I want to tell you, I don’t know how I could have done this without you.”
That, Raskin said, was one of his proudest professional moments.