2024 IA/VA: ACE Panel Highlights ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘The Holdovers,’ Other Best Editing Oscar Nominees

Participants in the 2024 IA/VA panel discussion: Sabrina Plisco, left, Laurent Sénéchal, Kevin Tent, Thelma Schoonmaker, Jennifer Lame, and Yorgos Mavropsaridis. PHOTO: Colin Merritt.

By Kristin Marguerite Doidge 


When picture editor Jennifer Lame, ACE, took the stage on Sunday to accept her first Academy Award for best film editing for “Oppenheimer,” she spoke about how meaningful it was to work with director Christopher Nolan to bring his epic film to life.

“You instilled so much confidence in me,” she said. “And I looked forward to going to work with you every day. It’s so exciting to collaborate with you – and I can’t thank you enough.”

That spirit of gratitude was reflected often in this year’s American Cinema Editors (ACE) “Invisible Art/Visible Artists” (IAVA) panel event that highlighted the achievements of all of the Oscar-nominated editors in front of an engaged crowd. The event was last Saturday, the day before the Oscars, at the Regal Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles. The Guild sponsored a lively luncheon following the panel discussion for the nominees, board members, and invited guests.

Guild President Alan Heim, ACE, introduced this year’s panel, which included this year’s Oscar winner Lame for “Oppenheimer,” as well as the nominees: Laurent Sénéchal for “Anatomy of a Fall,” Kevin Tent, ACE, for “The Holdovers,” Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE, for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and Yorgos Mavropsaridis, ACE, for “Poor Things.”

Moderator and fellow picture editor Sabrina Plisco, ACE, asked each of the nominees to reflect on what first inspired them to get involved in editing, what they love about it, and the unique bonds they’ve each forged with their respective film directors over the course of several collaborations together. They also shared clips from this year’s nominated films and discussed how they approached the work.

For Tent, who also serves as president of American Cinema Editors (ACE), his love of editing began early on when he was growing up outside of Buffalo, N.Y. He longed to be at the center of something. “And I get that feeling when I’m editing sometimes,” he explained. “I love it when I get into this groove and I can’t believe a half hour has gone by and I’ve just been cutting things.”

Lame agreed, adding that she thinks of editing as a wonderful puzzle to solve. “My dad was a private detective, and I think I inherited his kind of love of puzzles,” she said. “Fitting the pieces together and spending hours doing the tiniest thing, as Kevin said, and it unlocks the whole world. And I love movies. I always wanted to work on movies.”

Mavropsaridis said he loves the loneliness of the work, while Sénéchal said he thinks of editing like cooking – as a way of telling good stories and to “be in the middle of it and struggle with it.”

Schoonmaker added that for her, editing is simply the “greatest job in the world.”

“It’s just so damn creative,” she said. “I mean, every cut we make is a creative choice, and it can be right or wrong and you can improve a movie and you can ruin it.”

She recommended that emerging editors in the field take a look at Martin Scorsese’s first feature film “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” (1967) to see how the legendary director used music and slow motion in one of the film’s key sequences at a mafia party. She’d first seen it at NYU, when she and other students volunteered their services to help him finish shooting and editing the film. “When I saw it, I was just stunned,” she said. “He was beginning to teach me about editing then, and I surely wanted to continue.”

Lame was also introduced to editing at Wesleyan University, while Tent explained he’d first been exposed to the craft at Los Angeles City College, a few miles away from where the ACE event was taking place.

In his eighth collaboration with director Alexander Payne, Tent said his work on “The Holdovers” was focused on building empathy for the main character, Angus, early on. In his clip from the film, he explained that this particular sequence allowed the audience to see the bond grow between Mary (played by Oscar winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Angus about 15 minutes earlier than it had been conceived in the script, which was “huge for us in the movie and for the audience.”

As for what it was like working with Payne again, Tent said he always keeps things in perspective. “Even when there’s dark days, he’ll say, ‘It’s just a movie,’” Tent said. “He’s super smart. He’s super collaborative and creative, and it’s wonderful to work with him.” 

Sénéchal (“Anatomy of a Fall”) shared the opening scene from the film and likewise spoke about how important it was for director Justine Triet (who was nominated for best director and won for best original screenplay) to balance empathy and doubt in the quiet moments between mother and son. He also spoke about experimenting in the cutting room with the idea that the family’s dog could lead the audience to be more attentive to subtle cues and movements rather than just dialogue.

“It’s really interesting to immediately put the audience on this idea that the sound is really important, and in what you are seeing and what you are hearing, there is a gap,” he explained. “And this gap is where we are dancing with the audience, and it’s going to be like that throughout the movie.”

For Schoonmaker (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), that idea of never explaining to the audience what’s happening came from her husband, the late director Michael Powell. She shared a clip from the first scene in the film, and said it was vital to director Martin Scorsese, that the score be composed by someone of Native American descent. (Robbie Robertson, who died in August of last year, also received a nomination for best original film score.)

“One of the important things to try and do in this movie was to assume that the audience will understand themselves – to have them engage with the movie instead of telling them what to think,” she said. “Being immersed in the culture of the Osage Nation was a great gift – one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. It was fantastic to learn about them and meet them and share the movie with them. They were very much a part of it.”

Plisco pointed out that the first Academy Award for Achievement in Film Editing was given out in 1934. The most-nominated editor is Schoonmaker, who has been nominated nine times and won three. Of this year’s nomination after more than 40 films together with Scorsese, Schoonmaker added that “Marty and I do it all together. It’s his award as well.”

Mavropsaridis shared the dance sequence from “Poor Things,” and said he loved “everything” about working on the film with director Yorgos Lanthimos in their seventh collaboration together. “It’s always these existential themes that run through his filmography,” he said. “It’s always the individual faced with a polite society or the rules of society. How can the individual find himself in this reality?”

The challenge with this film, he said, was to construct the character of Bella Baxter and allow her to “feel free to express herself without offending the audience.”

As for Lame (“Oppenheimer”), there was a lot of experimenting in the cutting room in visualizing the emotions and inner thoughts of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he grappled with the ramifications of developing the atomic bomb in her second collaboration with Nolan. The film won 7 of its 13 nominations for Academy Awards, including Lame’s, as well as best picture, director, score, supporting actor, lead actor, and cinematography.

“[Chris] would say, ‘have a play,’ and then he would just disappear,” Lame said. “He’s very respectful of the editorial process. He always reminds me that ‘you’re here because you’re my collaborator until the end, and you’re brilliant, and you’re here to just work this with me.’”

The event closed with questions from the audience about editing skills – and skills from life that help with editing. The nominees advised young editors to be kind, curious, and generous, and, of course, “to keep on cutting.”