If you jump out of your seat watching “The Prodigy” this weekend (or the "Child's Play" reboot this summer), you might have Tom Elkins to thank for that.

The 54-year-old Omaha-based editor cut the new-to-theaters horror film "The Prodigy" with the chief purpose of making it more scary. He replaced the first editor. The production wanted a fresh perspective, to see what opportunities they might be missing in the fear and dread departments.

“I get hired a lot as a fixer, recuts, stuff like that,” Elkins said. “They want somebody to come in and take a fresh pass on a movie. I recut a lot of scary movies, help the tension, help the scares. Recut parts of a movie that aren’t quite working. Taking scenes shot for one purpose and figuring out ways to use those scenes for something else.”

Movie scares are a craft of extreme precision. Scares are one of the moments when a film editor gets to shine. Whether a scare works or doesn’t work “sometimes comes down to frames,” Elkins said.

If you want to see how much editing plays into a good scare, watch the trailer for “The Prodigy.”

Directed by Nicholas McCarthy, “The Prodigy” follows a mother whose gifted son is possessed by an evil entity. The film is rated R and reportedly a real nasty little thing.

“It’s pretty dark,” Elkins said of the film. “It’s not your average scary movie.”

Elkins worked on the film last summer. He’s been editing and directing horror movies for more than a decade now, though his movie career goes back much further, to the ‘80s (when he played an extra in “Vision Quest”) and the ‘90s — when he did odd jobs for films like “Gattaca” and “The Big Lebowski.”

One could argue that Elkins, a Minnesota native, got his true start in the movies after he moved to Omaha.

A few of his short films caught the eye of Herman Cain, of all people. The one-time presidential candidate and then-president of Godfather’s Pizza saw Elkins’ work and hired him to make humor-based training videos and commercials for Godfather’s. The job brought Elkins to Omaha, where he met his wife, Suzy.

Elkins was interested in becoming a film editor and, as luck would have it, there was an Oscar-winning editor living in Omaha: Mike Hill.

Along with Dan Hanley, Hill had edited the films of Ron Howard for more than 30 years, one of the longest filmmaker/editor collaborations in movie history. Hill had lived in Omaha all the while.

Hill and Hanley took on Elkins as an apprentice for Howard’s 2003 Western “The Missing.” Elkins didn’t get to touch a frame of film, but he learned a lot, and the legendary editing duo was impressed. They helped Elkins get into the editor’s union (a tough thing to do) and later brought him back to work as an assistant editor for “The Da Vinci Code.” Elkins would later return to the Dan Brown series to edit “Inferno” with Hanley.

Elkins has mostly found his niche in horror. He cut the box-office smash “Annabelle,” “The Apparition” and the “Flatliners” remake. He also directed his own scary movie: “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia.” (He thinks that title is bad, too.)

He found a way to live in Omaha and work for Hollywood — though sometimes he’s away from home for long stretches. He’s been up in Vancouver cutting the reboot of “Child’s Play” since September and won’t be done until May. The film comes out in June.

Each morning, he receives everything that was filmed the day before and goes about putting the film together. It’s tough work, but also a blast. And he gets to make it back to Omaha every few weekends to see his family.

Editing horror films has taught Elkins a lot about the DNA of a good scary movie. The timing of the cuts matters immensely. But like any genre, horror movies rely on the fundamentals of characters and storytelling.

“Without a good story and good characters, there’s no fear and no dread and no reason to care,” Elkins said. “You find that a lot of times, lack of tension and dread is a direct result of how the story itself is unfolding. A lot of scary movies have a very specific mythology to them, in terms of what motivates the ghosts or the killers or the entity. There’s a real art to making sure the audience understands that. That they understand the rules and can feel something when all hell breaks loose later. A lot of movies have trouble when those are vague. Why is that house haunted? Now what is that demon doing? Why’d he curse the doll?

Speaking of dolls ... with “Child’s Play” and “Annabelle,” Elkins is making a name for himself as a cutter of creepy doll movies. There are worse specialties to have.

“But it’s like, what the hell?” he said. “Is that going to be on my gravestone one day? ‘Really nice guy and great at doll movies’?”

This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.