3 Fingered Louie

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Clearly, 3 Fingered Louie is a distinctive name for a company, even in the post business, where such offbeat names are not uncommon. But the origins of this particular moniker remain shrouded in mystery. Wendy Rosen, one of the founding editors, and the wife of another founding editor, David Smalheiser, claims "it was named after my Uncle Louie." When pressed for details, she insists he did indeed have three fingers, though this problem was thankfully limited to only one hand. "It's sort of a tribute," she says somewhat hesitantly. "And there were three of us, hence three fingers. Though now there are four editors here." Did anyone have any strong alternative names? "A few people questioned it, but it wasn't really a problem." OK. On the other hand, so to speak, Jonathan Smalheiser, younger brother of David and the third of the founding editors, immediately denies the "Uncle Louie" story when informed of Rosen's testimony. "No, that's not true," he states categorically. So what's the origin of the name? "Uh, it's a secret. It has to do with an incident that took place a bunch of years ago . . . but I'm not at liberty to disclose it."

Well! This possible sex-and-bowling scandal will have to be dealt with another time. The facts, such as they are: 3 Fingered Louie opened in New York in 1999, when Rosen, formerly at Mad River Post, and the Smalheisers, who grew up in the post business as the sons of the founder of the now defunct editing house First Edition, joined with executive producer Lynne Mannino. Though their launch occurred not long before the beginnings of the downturn, "it just seemed the appropriate time in our careers," recalls Rosen. "We figured at some point we just had to take a leap of faith; one time is as good as another, really. But we've been pretty lucky. We've remained busy and our clients and the directors we work with have been very supportive."

Both Rosen and Jonathan Smalheiser agree that there isn't anything remotely approaching a Louie house style and all of them (the fourth editor is John Anklow, also from Mad River) go their own creative ways, even the brothers. "We all have completely different styles and our creative processes are different," says Rosen. "For instance, I have a lot of sports stuff, comedy stuff." She neglects to mention that she's apparently one of Spike Lee's favorite editors, with no fewer than five of his spots on her reel. Moreover, much of the work she's done with the notoriously demanding Lee has a distinctly masculine skew: a Charles Barkley hip-hop fest for Coors, with beats by Q-Tip; the NFL's paean to positive thinking, "Next Year"; and the Navy's wet, two-fisted "Seals." "Every short Jewish girl should be cutting athletes," she laughs. Spike Lee aside, which Rosen happily reports is "a great ongoing collaboration," her approach to editing sounds like what the players are feeling during the Super Bowl coin toss. "Every job starts with a combination of fear, excitement and anticipation," says Rosen. "There's the fear of looking at the film and saying, 'What the hell am I going to do with this? How am I going to tell this story? But once you 'break' a spot, you've come full circle. I really love putting the pieces together, solving the puzzle and figuring out how to make it fresh." The comedy on her reel includes the John O'Hagan-directed Snickers "Tunnel," a football version of the scene from Spinal Tap where the band can't find the stage.

Jonathan Smalheiser has dabbled in music video, notably with REM's "All the Way to Reno" and Rage Against the Machine's "Testify," both directed by Michael Moore, but Smalheiser is no dabbler in music. He's got a degree in classical composition from SUNY/Stonybrook and he plays guitar, bass and keyboards. Is there an aspect to being a musician that comes into play in editing? "I absolutely think it lends itself," he says. "There have been situations where I have something in my mind as I'm going through footage, and rather than find a temp track from CDs, it's more interesting to me to go and compose something and work to that." In fact, he says one of his self-composed "temp tracks," for an Ernst & Young spot called "Being Right" - a slightly ominous, sound design-driven, vignettes-and-VO :30 with an elegantly off-kilter cut - made it to an air version. But the standouts on the Smalheiser reel right now are comedy spots from Deutsch's brilliant new Snapple campaign, featuring costumed and animated bottles, directed by Dayton/Faris. "It's my first work with Dayton/Faris, and they and the guys at Deutsch brought an incredible attention to detail to this project, which makes my job so much more interesting and fun."

Which may apply to Louie as a whole, even though the industry has some way to go before it's back in the black. "We've definitely settled as a company," says Rosen. "We're more relaxed than we have been - starting a small business is a pretty daunting task. I think we've all met the challenge and we have the confidence to feel comfortable in the shoes we're standing in now." The three-fingered gloves fit better, too, we'd guess.

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