Editors Behind Nominated Films on Finding ‘Scale and Complexity’ in the Cutting Room

Labor News, Industry News

Reprinted from The Hollywood Reporter by Carolyn Giardina on April 14, 2021.

Whether it’s revisiting a historical event or amplifying the confusion emanating from a lead actor, each of this year’s Oscar-nominated film editors was faced with unique challenges to make their stories work.

For Sound of Metal, it was a major shift in the opening of the movie. “The crucial moment for this film happened when we moved the concert up to the start,” says editor Mikkel E. G. Nielsen of his work on the film, which uses picture and sound to follow the experience of drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) as he suffers hearing loss. Initially, the movie opened with Ruben and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) in their Airstream. Instead, the opening shot features Ruben sitting at his drums in anticipation of a performance, and then the concert begins. “The concept — mirroring the end shot [of Ruben] sitting in quiet reflection — suddenly made a circle for me in the edit, and you enter a world with that sound of a feed of the guitar, and you see him just sit and he’s just ready. And then you sit with him in peace in the end, it’s the exact same kind of shot that just made a whole that really worked well. [The opening sequence also] told me who he is. It told me the relationship with Lou, who she is. And [next, in the Airstream,] you see Rubin fixing the breakfast. [It’s] so tender, and they have such a beautiful relationship. … [The opening] really helped us connect with the characters and tell who Ruben is. And also, it awakens the senses of sound.”

The approach to the riots surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention proved a challenge to The Trial of the Chicago 7 because, on a tight schedule and budget, “we knew the filming of these large-scale events was going to be restricted,” says editor Alan Baumgarten. The use of archival material wasn’t written into the script, but he thought it could “add scale and complexity and also expand our storytelling.” He and his assistants assembled a library of material, including archival material and footage from Haskell Wexler’s 1969 film Medium Cool about the same events. “While some of the archival footage we found matched ours remarkably well, we chose to make it all black-and-white,” Baumgarten relates. “This added an extra layer, or texture, to the riots, and it suited the style of these sequences as well — there was already a fragmented structure built in, with cross-cutting happening between different narrators, time periods and locations. The archival footage became an element that also helped add a new rhythm to the cutting – sometimes I would use quick flashes to energize or accelerate a moment. I was careful to use the footage sparingly, as it was always meant to serve as an accent or brushstroke.  The fact that it added authenticity and a direct connection to the actual events made it feel like it was meant to be.” …

THR 4/14

About Jeffrey Burman 861 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at [email protected].