The New Year's Gospel of RENT: The Editing Room

The editing room is a rough place.

If you’re a writer, it’s where you mark through your favorite paragraph of witty language with a red pen—even when you don’t want to do so.

For the visual artist, it’s the pause between strokes as you discern which color and space to choose next for the canvas.

Anyone in the film industry knows that yelling, “Cut!” on a movie set is not the real editing room. That designation is for what happens long after the cameras stop rolling.

Filmmaker Christopher Columbus faced a house of editing rooms when he took on a new project in 2004. He signed on to direct a movie version of the hit & hip musical, Rent. Any time we translate a story from one medium to another, changes are inevitable. Editorial pens fly when a nearly three-hour musical written for a small, rustic stage becomes a two-hour movie filmed in three cities and a sprawling studio. I imagine that the journey from Broadway to Hollywood, or vice versa, is more like a cross-country ride on a train than a direct flight on an airplane. There are lots of starts, stops, and bumps that go swiftly, then slowly.

In the stage production of Rent, “Goodbye Love” is a favorite song of fans. The scene finds roommates Mark and Roger editing their own lives. Roger has decided to move to Santa Fe, escaping his life in New York and Mimi, the woman he loves. Mark confronts him about why he’s leaving, Roger gets angry, and they sing/speak/sling harsh words at each other. All the while, Mimi overhears every word because she came to tell Roger, “Goodbye, love.”

Columbus and his team included the song in the movie's filming. You need not see the whole film to recognize the emotional power in the music, performances, and lyrics. “Goodbye Love” says (and sings) a lot in a short time span. We learn (and hear) so much about the characters as the plot moves forward.

Why, then, was the scene left in the editing room and out of the film?

On the DVD commentary, Columbus shares the story behind saying goodbye to “Goodbye Love.” Included in deleted scenes, Columbus says that he loves “Goodbye Love.” He calls it one of the most beautiful moments in the whole course of filming. He said it was one of his favorite moments when he saw Rent live.

He also reminds us that he had to make tough decisions as a filmmaker—especially for the pace of the film. “Goodbye Love” comes towards the movie’s end when emotions are high, and there are still more emotions to survive before the conclusion. Columbus shares the following:

“Rick [the editor] and I kept trying to figure out what to do with the scene -- how to keep it. Then Rick said, ‘I have an appalling idea.’ I knew what he meant….So we watched the movie without the scene, and the film came to life. It was a sad loss. But I believe it was the best decision for the sake of the whole film.” *

When we edit our art, we refine the piece. We make it better. Sometimes improvement means cutting. Sometimes cutting involves saying goodbye to things, people, ideas, and attachments we love. When we’re working for a better whole, sometimes a part, even a good part, has to go.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.

John 15:1-2 (Common English Bible)

How might we edit our lives in 2015?

What can we ask God, our editor, director, and vineyard keeper, to cut or trim from our lives?

Where would we benefit from saying “goodbye?”

We need not force such change when we are in communion with Jesus Christ. He sustains us through the pruning process and helps us see the bigger picture of our life’s scenes.

Let us not think of cutting or pruning as a negative subtraction from our lives.

Instead, why don’t we think of God directing the movie of our lives into something better than we ever imagined?

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* RENT is a production of Sony Pictures Entertainment, 1492 Pictures, and Revolution Studios. Copyright 2005. More information available here