Michelle Czukar: a remarkable talent and humble trailblazer in Canadian filmmaking

Rooster Post Production partners Melissa Kahn and Sam McLaren knew that their senior editor Michelle Czukar would be embarrassed about being nominated for The Mighty Women List, because she shies away from the spotlight.

“She’s such an exceptional creative talent that she’s coveted by many production companies and directors, as well as the agencies that want her on their projects,” explains Kahn. “She’s obviously an extremely creative person and an amazing talent. But she is not a diva. She’s such a wonderful and humble human being.”

In an industry that mostly celebrates creative directors and directors, the editor is too-often the unheralded post-production genius who actually turns big ideas and creative vision into something tangible. Technical ability is essential, obviously, but it’s the creative eye and unique style that make editors great, and Czukar is among the best.

She got her start with Revolver Films in 1989, a time when production and post production was still dominated by men. There were a few women editors around but not many. “The women were mostly producers or stylists, the traditional, what was considered female roles,” says Czukar (with her dog Rosa in the top photo). Early on, she honed her craft and developed her style working on music videos for the likes of David Bowie (“Little Wonder,” “Dead Man Walking”), The Tragically Hip (“Courage,” “Bobcaygeon”), Fiona Apple (“O ’Sailor”) and The Cure (“The End of the World”).

She worked with top directors including Floria Sigismondi, Patricia Rozema and Atom Egoyan on Emmy and Gemini winning work. When she took a partnership at Panic & Bob in 1997, her focus shifted more to advertising, and she was sought out by some of the best in the business, including the Perlorian Brothers, Mark Zibert and Oscar nominated director Hubert Davis. “She is truly a remarkable talent and unique voice in our industry,” says Davis.

Czukar’s talent alone makes her mighty, say Kahn and McLaren. But it’s the fact she has done so much in a male-dominated part of the industry that has made her a mighty inspiration for many, particularly women—who adore her not just for the work she does, but how she does it.

“She really cleared a path for young women, to show that they can have a career as an editor,” says McLaren. “A lot of people in the industry are kind of in awe of her.”

Czukar, though, gets uncomfortable with that kind of attention. Speaking with The Message, she talked freely about her love of the work and the craft, and about her daughter Francesca (with Czukar below), but she was reluctant to say much about herself.

Asked why she’s been so successful, she struggled to find answer before suggesting that those early years working on music videos were important. She worked with a lot of young talented people, who were encouraged to experiment and try different things. “We all got to be very creative at that time because we were building something brand new,” she says.

What else, we asked. “I think I have a good eye.”

You think? The whole industry knows it.

“Michelle Czukar is an incredible editor,” says Shelley Lewis, a Mighty Women judge and award-winning director now based in San Francisco. “Not only is she a woman who was able to carve out her own path in the very male-dominated world of filmmaking, but she did it with a bang.”

Czukar created award-winning work, influenced pop culture and ran Panic & Bob, a hot editorial shop, for almost two decades, says Lewis. “Ask around, and you will find that many of the amazing women working in this business today have been mentored by Michelle.”

Kate Bate, co-founder of Tendril Studio, is among them. She first worked with Czukar in the mid ’90s, after Revolver was folded into Partners Film Company. “Michelle worked harder than anyone I’d ever met,” she says. “She was the first to show me the power of hard work, teach me the importance of developing trusting relationships, and to help me fall in love with the work I do.”

And she emerged as one of the best editors in the industry at a time when many women felt they had to adopt archetypically male traits—bossy and domineering, competitive and reluctant to celebrate the successes of others—to be taken seriously. “Michelle did not succumb to this. I believe she was always her authentic self,” said Bate. “She built bridges, not walls. She‘s smart and honest and a great role model for both men and women in the industry—and is insanely talented to boot.”

Kat Webber, a rising star director with Fela, worked as an intern with Czukar at the start of her career, when there were few women in senior editor positions. “Walking into a post house for the first time, and seeing Michelle Czukar in the edit chair was deeply inspiring for me,” she says. After reviewing Czukar’s work, she was in awe of what she saw, particularly her work with Sigismondi. “From that day forward I knew I wanted to be just like her.”

In an email, The Perlorian Brothers praised Czukar’s craft, style and energy, but explained that despite her “serious alt-rock cred,” they love cutting comedy work with her.

“When we work on our type of absurd comedy with her, she comes at it with something outside the usual, expected comedy rhythms and tempos—and we love that,” they wrote.

“Taking ridiculous comedy deadly serious with Michelle is one of our favourite things to do. That and she’s a very sweet and kind person to hang out with in an edit room for many hours.”

Both Davis and Webber also helped explain the magic Czukar brings to her work that directors love and that Czukar is reluctant to articulate.

“I’ve worked with and alongside Michelle for many years, and one of the things that I admire most is her sense of curiosity for each new project,” says Davis, who worked with Czukar on the much-awarded “Boys Don’t Cry” spot for White Ribbon. “She is always trying to find a new and interesting way into the material with a sharp eye and a trust in her instincts.”

“Michelle selects the moments many would miss,” says Webber. “She finds the beauty in the mistakes and makes magic with them—whether it’s something a bit off with the frame, or something new with the camera movement, she will work it in a way that elevates the piece… To this day, when I feel stuck in an edit, I ask myself, ‘What would Czukar do?”

And no matter how busy she got, Czukar always made time to mentor Webber, imparting important lessons that have stayed with her through the years.

“She taught me discipline, how to run a session with ease, that there’s always a creative solution to every problem, to create from a place of joy and a true love for the craft,” says Webber. “And to always celebrate the wins with a glass of dry bubbly.”

David Brown