Nominated Editors Spill the Beans

On Saturday I attended the Egyptian Theater’s “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” Seminar.  The free seminar is an annual tradition for my friends and me on Oscar weekend.  Every year the Oscar-nominated editors show up, talk their film, their craft and show a clip.  It’s moderated by Alan Heim who is a great editor (ALL THAT JAZZ, NETWORK, THE NOTEBOOK) and my dad’s doppelgänger.  They have the same warm, welcoming energy, inquisitive listening ability, bushy mustache and even speaking style.

The editors in attendance this year were:

Stephen Rivkin and John Refoua (AVATAR), Julian Clarke (DISTRICT 9), Sally Menke (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), Bob Murawski and Chris Innis (THE HURT LOCKER), Joe Klotz (PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPPHIRE).

I’d already seen the five represented films and enjoyed all of them tremendously (except for DISTRICT 9). I like it when I’ve previously viewed the films because seeing the clips becomes extra enlightening and satisfying. It’s like reminiscing over old pictures of your favorite relatives the night before a family reunion.

My favorite editor was Sally Menke. I’ve seen her interviewed in an AFI Master’s Seminar for one of the KILL BILLS, but I’d forgotten how articulate, thoughtful and wildly intelligent she is.  I was absolutely thrilled when Sally showed and discussed the scene from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS that I blogged about and continues to be one of my most read posts: The Strudel Scene. See below for the juicy insights she offered.

Joe Klotz was my second favorite. I watched PRECIOUS the night before so it was freshly awed in my world. He loves his profession and the art behind it. I got the sense that he has great respect for whatever story he’s telling and for the characters in that story. He was grounded, sincere and without frills. Joe chose the scene in which Precious and her mother physically fight after Precious comes home with her new baby. This is one of the best scenes in the film. See below for more details on what he had to say about its creation.

Unfortunately, neither Sally or Joe won a golden statue the next night.

A few insights and behind-the-scenes stories I’ll remember from the seminar:

  • The AVATAR guys had 10 assistants. Sally employed seven assistants (mostly because BASTERDS featured English, German, and English scenes). THE HURT LOCKER duo had three assistants for their 200 hours of footage.  Because of budget constraints, Joe Klotz edited PRECIOUS on his own Avid in his home. He had one assistant who would sometimes work off his personal laptop. You do whatever it takes to make your movie.
  • Sally and Chris+Bob (THE HURT LOCKER) spoke about how their films

    THE HURTLOCKER editors won the Oscar.

    mixed humor with tension. Sally credits this to Quentin’s voice and the tone of his films. Chris and Bob believe comedy was an important way to diffuse the tension in their nerve-wracking (in a good way) film.

  • Sally’s interest and education in human psychology lead her to filmmaking.
  • Sally and Quentin had planned to change the Strudel Scene after Cannes. And they did. Instead of covering the beginning of the scene when Landa arrives with shots of Landa, the officer and Shosanna, the camera remains on and slowly pushes in on Shosanna’s face during all the pleasantries. She’s listening to the men and steeling herself for facing Landa (the man who murdered her family years ago). Sally explained that all that matters in that moment is Shosanna realizing what’s happening and what she must do (not be suspected by Landa).  They wanted the audience to be with Shosanna, seeing into her soul at this important moment.
  • Sally also explained the last beat of the scene in which Landa leaves and Shosanna gasps/cries and releases tension and fear she was containing while they ate strudel. Sally gives us only the briefest of moments of Shosanna gasping and then cuts away.  They made this editorial decision because they wanted Shosanna to be a strong woman. It was important that the audience think of her as a tough character because she will go on to plan Hitler’s assassination.
  • Joe said he picked the clip he did because he wanted to talk about the trust between director and editor.  When he first cut that scene, it didn’t work. The stunts weren’t so good, and the coverage was lacking. He couldn’t make the scene sing. Director Lee Daniels told Joe he wanted to do a photo shoot with Mo’Nique and Precious depicting them from when Precious was a baby through her childhood. Joe trusted in Lee’s idea even though he was initially doubtful. Mo’Nique and Baby Precious start out a happy mother-daughter duo and then, when the abuses starts and continues, the stress, tension, and unhappiness show on their faces in the pictures. Lee took the pics and gave them to Joe, trusting him to figure out how to work them into the scene. And he did. Brilliantly.

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