Christopher Nolan Credits Editor Lee Smith With Helping Viewers Understand 'Inception'


If anyone deserves credit for helping audiences to understand the intricate dreams-within-dreams of Inception, it's the movie's editor Lee Smith.

Inception director Christopher Nolan drew a big laugh at the ACE Eddie Awards on Saturday night when he acknowledged Smith's contribution by saying, the movie's editing needed to "have everybody understand it -- or understanding it enough anyway." Nolan also earned applause as he continued, “I’d like to take this opportunity to say, Lee, you did an incredible job.”

Nolan was honored at the awards ceremony with the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award.

Smith has cut many of Nolan's films, including The Dark Knight. The editor was nominated an Eddie and BAFTA this year for Nolan’s mind-bender, though when Oscar noms were announced in January, Smith didn’t receive what many expected would be his third Academy Award nomination.

And later in the evening at the Eddie Awards, Smith saw the prize for best editing in a dramatic film go to The Social Network, edited by Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

But as Nolan accepted his award, the director testified: “One of the reasons I’m receiving this award is very much Lee’s contributions to the films I’ve made. He had risen to meet every technical challenge I have thrown at him and the innumerable logistical and creative challenges with Inception.”

Nolan also said, “What editors do is to me is very mysterious and therefore very exciting. At its best, editing is invisible -- or extremely mysterious -- and its effect is very difficult to explain.”

Elsewhere at the Eddies, editor Chris Lebenzon, Tim Burton's longtime collaborator, who won the ACE Award for best edited comedy or musical feature for Alice in Wonderland talked up Burton’s next two projects, Frankenweenie and Dark Shadows.

“We are storyboarding Frankenweenie,” he said of what will be a black-and-white, stop-motion 3D movie based on Burton’s 1984 short film of the same name. It is currently in production in London.

“It is a very sensitive movie, it speaks to a lot of our childhood fantasies,” Lebenzon said, noting that it features the same character as the short. “The theme is the same -- the boy brings his dog back to life. In this one he gets the idea from a certain place, he has a lot of friends who do the same thing, they’re in a big contest. I think it has grown to be more of a feature world.”

Lebenzon added that the script for Dark Shadows, for which he begins work in May, is “terrific. They got it right.” He said of the adaptation of the '60s gothic TV series: “It’s a relationship movie. It’s a lot of interaction of characters, from past and present.”

Both Lebenzon and Michael Kahn, who received an ACE Career Achievement Award on Saturday, emphasized the goal of editing remains with storytelling even though the filmmaking processes are changing. 

Kahn -- Steven Spielberg’s longtime editor who is now working on the director's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse -- talked about the process of making the motion-capture 3D film Tintin.

“Steven shot the materials, and I got his notes and we put to together. Then we shipped it to WETA in New Zealand, and they did the mouth movements, the eye movements and all the other movements. The beauty with this process is if you don’t [have the shot you need], they make you a new one.”

Added Lebenzon about evolving processes: “It used to be just cutting for performance or pace or putting the best stuff in the movie -- now it encompasses elements that aren’t there yet. On Alice, we were more a part of art direction. It’s gotten to be a bigger job.”

Lebenzon summed up: “I try to keep it simple, and understand the clarity of the characters and their motivation. That the beauty of it‹the medium is different but the goal is the same.”

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