Editor. Nationality: American. Born: 6 March 1923. Career: 1956—assistant editor, became full editor in mid-1960s; 1976—directed first theatrical feature film, Sparkle.
Films as Editor:
Kisses for My President (Bernhardt); Robin and the Seven Hoods (G. Douglas); Youngblood Hawke (Daves)
Marriage on the Rocks (Donohue); None but the Brave (Sinatra)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols)
The Graduate (Nichols); Hotel (Quine); Cool Hand Luke (Rosenberg)
Rosemary's Baby (Polanski)
The Sterile Cukoo (Pakula)
Carnal Knowledge (Nichols)
Portnoy's Complaint (Lehman)
The Day of the Dolphin (Nichols)
Straight Time (Grosbard)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani)
Frantic (Polanski); Biloxi Blues (Nichols); Working Girl (Nichols)
A Dry White Season (Palcy)
Postcards from the Edge (Nichols)
Regarding Henry (Nichols)
Consenting Adults (Pakula)
Night Falls on Manhattan (Lumet)
Films as Director:
A Brand New Life (for TV)
I Love You, Goodbye (for TV)
Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (for TV)
Sparkle; Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (for TV); High Risk (for TV)
The Best Little Girl in the World (for TV)
Kids Don't Tell (for TV)
On O'STEEN: articles—
Film Dope (Nottingham), June 1993.
Warga, W., "Sam O'Steen: Sparkle," in Action, November-December 1997.
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Sam O'Steen has been at the heart of some of the most important and award-winning films of the last 30 years. O'Steen began his career in the mid-1950s as an assistant editor and rapidly rose up to a full editor in the early 1960s on such films as Robin and the Seven Hoods and Youngblood Hawke.
In 1966 O'Steen teamed up with a young director named Mike Nichols on the acclaimed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Known for his creative editing style, O'Steen and the director forged a relationship which has lasted the better part of three decades. O'Steen received an Academy Award nomination for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? O'Steen and Nichols's partnership produced some of the most respected films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nowhere are O'Steen's skills more apparent than in Dustin Hoffman's classic debut film, The Graduate. O'Steen gives the audience time to study the performer's face before cutting the scene. O'Steen allows for long, personal looks at Hoffman's facial expressions to give the viewers an idea of what the character is thinking instead of the "quick-cutting" seen so often in modern films. In The Graduate Hoffman's expressions at the party scene are as important to the character as any bit of dialogue and O'Steen does not cut the scene short.
O'Steen also worked with renowned director Roman Polanski on Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, which garnered O'Steen's second Academy Award nomination. Chinatown is one of the best films of the 1970s and O'Steen's seamless editing keeps the film from slowing down. Chinatown is shot almost entirely in close-ups of the characters talking, yet it feels as though the action never stops. As Jack Nicholson solves the mystery, the audience solves the mystery so every scene is invaluable. Each scene is edited so that once a piece of information is revealed, it ends. One of the interesting things about Chinatown is information is discovered as much through Nicholson's facial expressions as it is through actual clues, so O'Steen's editing had to hold the scenes long enough for the audience to keep up with the story. Faye Dunaway's famous revelation scene near the end of Chinatown shows O'Steen's skill as an editor. The scene lasts long enough for Nicholson (and the audience) to comprehend the magnitude of John Huston's incestuous relationship with Dunaway without lingering into overkill.
In 1976 O'Steen took a shot at directing feature films with the unremarkable Sparkle, a story about the rise of a black singing group. He has also directed a number of made-for-television movies.
Sam O'Steen has been a part of many of the most memorable movies of the last 30 years. He tends to be surrounded by quality directors and performers. In addition to Hoffman and Nichols, Polanski and Nicholson, he has worked with such heavyweights as Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry, and Meryl Streep in the 1983 film Silkwood, for which he received his third Academy Award nomination.
In the end, Sam O'Steen will be forever linked with old pro Mike Nichols. In 1988 they worked together with Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith on Working Girl, and teamed up with an old friend from the Carnal Knowledge days, Jack Nicholson, for the 1994 film Wolf. Sam O'Steen continues to be one of the most respected film editors in the business.
—Patrick J. Sauer