Because it’s not actually a crime — and even if it were, the statute of limitations surely would have expired by now — Fred Raskin has a confession: When he was too young to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie, his mother would do it for him, buying two tickets, depositing her son in the theater, and then heading out to do something else.
Thus, young Fred Raskin got an early crash course in the world of movies for adults.
Today, Raskin, 45, helps make them. His latest effort as an editor, on Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” is his third movie with the iconoclastic director. It’s also the one that brought him full circle, in a way; a scene that features a dinner conversation between characters played by Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio happened to be filmed at the restaurant where Raskin had his first serious networking lunch in Los Angeles, the one that connected him to the people that got him his first jobs in Hollywood.
For the kid who spent his bar mitzvah money on a video camera, it’s all a pretty sweet deal.
“Look, it all worked out,” he laughed.
Raskin grew up in Upper Merion Township, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four boys. His father, then a chemist, took Raskin to movies, too; Raskin believes that it was their trips — trips, multiple — to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” during its initial release that first hooked him on the big screen.
Attending elementary school in Upper Merion, Raskin was more or less happy. He had friends, after all, ones who lived in the neighborhood. But as Raskin grew a little older, he found that he wanted to take Judaism a bit more seriously. In fifth grade, he started to wear a kippah to school, which earned him some name-calling and the occasional trip in the hallway. Because of that derision, along with his desire to pursue Judaism in a more dedicated way, he asked his parents if he could go to day school.
His parents had friends who sent their kids to a place called the Akiba Hebrew Academy, and in the fall of 1984, Raskin began taking the bus to the school.
At Akiba (now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), Raskin’s interest in film was nurtured. He has fond memories of Robert Zaslavsky — aka Doc Z — giving him VHS tapes of Scorsese, Hitchcock and “The Maltese Falcon.” To this day, he keeps in occasional contact with Head of Drama Dewey Oriente and Head of School Sharon Levin. Raskin holds onto a lot from those years, including a smattering of Hebrew.
It was also around this time that he started to make movies, “slaughtering my brothers in all kinds of horrible ways for horror movies,” Raskin said. He began first with his parents’ Super 8 camera, and then moved on to the aforementioned Bar Mitzvah purchase. Of course it was juvenile — forgivable, given that he was a literal juvenile — but Raskin believes that other things that took others a bit longer to pick up in film school at New York University came easier to him because of what he did in those low-tech days.
On one of his first days in film school, he and his classmates were told that perhaps one or two of them would have a career as a director when it was all said and done. Raskin decided that he’d pick up a craft, just in case, and thus his attraction to editing began. Given that an editor is mimicking the work of a director in some fashion — putting together a performance, deciding what a movie will actually look like, etc. — and the fact that it’s all done from the comfort of an air-conditioned room was enough to seal the deal for him.
The connections he made then led to connections in Hollywood, where he lunched with editors and assistant editors and assistant editors’ assistants, all of whom knew this or that person who gave him the next direction. All the while, he was sending out resumes, reading The Hollywood Reporter to try and get in on early on recently announced movies. After some bizarre early work — working on three Rutger Hauer action movies in the span of three months, for example — he applied for and got a job as an assistant editor on Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.”
His work there led him to jobs assisting the editor Sally Menke on a few movies directed by Billy Bob Thornton. Menke edited every Tarantino movie until her death in 2010. Around the time Tarantino was getting ready to make “Kill Bill,” Menke called Raskin and asked if he was interested in joining her crew. Raskin accepted, and his introduction to Tarantino came when Raskin ordered a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s when the rest of the editing crew had meat.
“And he said, ‘I always wondered who ordered the Filet-O-Fish,’” Raskin remembers. “And I was like, ‘The guy who keeps kosher.’”
Thus began a productive partnership, one that deepened as Raskin spoke frankly in editing meetings throughout the process. Raskin “came to join the Tarantino family,” as he put it, and after Menke’s death in 2010, the director asked Raskin to take up the task of editing his movies.
Raskin happily obliged and, in addition to “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” he also edited “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight.” Along the way, Raskin worked on bigger and bigger movies, editing both “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and three entries in the “Fast and Furious” canon.
Working on “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” Raskin worked with material and sequences that were as difficult as anything he’s ever handled. But then again, that’s exactly why he got into the business.
“For me,” he said, “the things that are most gratifying are when I’m not sure how something is going to work, and it ends up working.” JN
Jesse Bernstein is a staff writer for the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, a JN-affiliated publication.