Why Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale Received Different Editing Treatment in 'The Big Short'

"Bale's character was very internal. So the sound around him was very quiet, until he was being bombarded by the world," the film's editor, Hank Corwin, who used a variety of cutting styles tailored to each key character, explains.
'The Big Short'  'The Big Short,' Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

This story first appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

In adapting for the screen Michael Lewis' book The Big Short, about several outsiders who bet on the 2008 fiscal collapse, director Adam McKay chose an unconventional narrative style: While juggling numerous characters and multiple storylines in the $28 million movie, which has grossed $37.6 million to date, he also tossed in "celebrity explainers" to help moviegoers follow the action. Actress Margot Robbie gives a primer on mortgage-backed securities while drinking champagne in a bathtub, and chef Anthony Bourdain compares toxic financial assets to leftover fish.

That in turn created a challenge for the film's editor Hank Corwin (who'll be receiving the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's best editing award at the group's Jan. 9 dinner). But even though that meant breaking some of the usual rules, Corwin says, "If it meant going to the fourth wall and having someone turn to the camera and speak to the audience, or go to an explainer, we did that. We knew that people wouldn't be able to understand everything. Most brokers don't understand a lot of these concepts. It was just important that the audience understood the basic emotions behind what was happening. Before we got into finances, we had to focus on character."

In doing so, Corwin gave each of the key characters his own "editorial signature" reflecting his psychological state. For Christian Bale's money manager Michael Burry, Corwin says, "I used a dark subterranean editing. Steve Carell's character Mark Baum was very aggressive, and the cutting was deliberately disturbing." Those editing styles were reflected in the movie's sound as well, Corwin explains: "Bale's character was very internal. So the sound around him was very quiet, until he was being bombarded by the world. With Carell, we deliberately made the street sounds and traffic sound harsh."

As for those explainers, Corwin credits McKay "who scripted it and had faith that you can go from your characters to breaking the fourth wall. We had discussions and it became about what serves the film. If it made the story more understandable, then it worked. There were some cases where it didn't work. We had a second segment with Anthony Bourdain, which was cut because it stopped the movement of the story."

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