Oscar-Nominated 'Star Wars' Editor on Working With J. J. Abrams: "He’s Interested in What the Editor Thinks"

Editors for 'The Big Short,' 'Mad Max,' 'Spotlight' and 'The Revenant' also reveal the magic that happens from collaborating with the film's director: "We have a lot of in-depth conversations, and he’s open to new ideas and critical feedback."
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Trust was a big component of The Big Short editor Hank Corwin's first collaboration with director Adam McKay. "I felt totally safe to try anything, and he trusted me and worked with me," says Corwin. "This film couldn't be in one style. It had to move around. It started as comedy and became a quiet tragedy."

It's often said the director/editor relationship is among the closest on a film, and this was underscored in conversations with this year's nominated editors, including J.J. Abrams' long­time collaborators, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, who co-edited Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "J.J. is a true collaborator, and he's interested in what the editor thinks," says Markey. "When we are working on a scene, we make a lot of decisions together." Brandon agrees, adding, "I think that the secret of [Star Wars] is that you relate to these characters. It's a story that you are engaged in and emotions that you are familiar with."

On the postapocalyptic actioner Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel had the added challenge of working with a director, George Miller, who also is her husband. "When I improve a moment or scene, he gets very excited. I love seeing that," she says. "It inspires one to experiment and play with the material. There is plenty of debate and discussion throughout the entire process. It's exhausting at times but exhilarating when you pull something off."

Tom McArdle marked his fifth collaboration with director Tom McCarthy on Spotlight. "We have a lot of in-depth conversations, and he's open to new ideas and critical feedback," says McArdle. "We try different versions and do a lot of [rough cut] screenings for feedback as we go along and focus on clarity and pace issues. Sometimes it's just cutting a line or two for a sharper out of a scene to energize the cut."

The Revenant's Stephen Mirrione says Alejandro G. Inarritu, with whom he's worked on five films, "wants as much input as possible. … He's great at talking about not just literally what he wants but digging into the emotional core of what he's trying to achieve."