The question startled me. “Who cut this?” the man wanted to know.
I was standing on my front lawn, next to my new gardener, who was pointing at the forsythia hedge that straggled along the western edge of my yard.
“Why do you ask?” I said back to him. He started pointing to places where inexplicable dips and holes broke an uneven line of foliage.
But I paid little attention. The question had sent my mind hurtling back through the years, to other times when I’d been asked the same exact question.
All of a sudden, I was sitting in a barber’s chair in a very expensive Madison Avenue hair salon. The proprietor was running his comb through my hair and asking me, “Who cut this?”
It didn’t sound like a compliment.
I was only there out of desperation. The woman who’d been doing my hair ever since I’d come to Manhattan had fallen madly in love and moved — lock, stock, and scissors — to Las Vegas. For good!
Feeling abandoned, I asked my New York colleagues for referrals, and when our TV show’s director had said, “You should go to my barber,” I took his suggestion. TV directors are all about making things look good, I figured, so why not give it a try?
Of course, my little salary was just a fraction of that of someone in the Director’s Guild … a thought which didn’t occur to me until I was sitting in this fancy uptown chair, being interrogated.
“Who cut this?” the barber asked again.
“Um, a girlfriend,” I said. It wasn’t a total lie.
“She may be a girl, but she’s no friend,” he replied, and began his Judy-Improvement project.
I was right about one thing: I couldn’t afford him!
I took that expensive haircut back downtown to my usual place to see if anyone there would commit to copying it.
“Who cut this?” they all asked me.
“Never mind that,” I kept saying, “Can you copy it?” Finally, someone said yes, and I stayed on.
The next time someone asked me this question, I had just started my first session as a segment producer, working with an editor in a video editing suite.
I was seated at a table on Day #1 of a multi-day booking, my looseleaf binder of notes spread out before me. All around me, in the discreetly dimmed light, many pieces of equipment were blinking quietly away, awaiting instructions from their master, the video editor — who in turn was awaiting instructions from me.
“Let’s see what you have, so far,” he suggested. I gave him the very rough “rough cut” of my three-minute montage for a show about coal miners.
It played for about 30 seconds before he stopped the tape and whipped around in his chair to bark one vehement question:
“Who cut this?” he asked me. Okay, he added a four-letter word at the end of the sentence, but you get the drift.
“Why? Don’t you like it?”
“Let me put it this way. If I recut this thing with my eyes closed, it would still be 100% better — if only because you should always edit your picture just before the beat in the music, not after. When it’s after, the whole thing drags.”
He stopped talking when he finally noticed the stricken look on my face.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll just shift the music track a few frames, and you can see what I mean. If you hate it, I’ll move it back. But you won’t.”
I learned two things that day. One was that montages do, indeed, flow much better when the video cuts just before, rather than after, the beat.
Which somehow brings me back to my lawn, standing in the patchy shade of my raggedy hedge, with my gardener demanding to know, “Who cut this?”
I took a deep breath and told the truth. “I did,” I confessed. “I was upset with my kids, but I didn’t want to yell at them one more time, so I came out here and… well, I guess I got carried away.”
I was surprised when all he did was laugh. “I understand,” he said. “I have children, too! And you picked the perfect thing to cut because it’s almost impossible to kill a forsythia! Give me an hour, it’ll look better than new.”
The second thing I learned, years ago, was that when a man asks “Who cut this?” it’s mostly just his ego talking, and any answer will do!