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In a story surrounding Richard Williams’ brazen commitment to guiding his daughters Venus and Serena to the top of the competitive tennis world, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard comes to its climax when Venus, at 14, plays in her first professional tournament against Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, who at the time was among the world’s top-ranked players.
Oscar-nominated editor Pamela Martin (The Fighter) already knew a thing or two about cutting tennis, having edited Battle of the Sexes, which chronicled a 1973 match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. But every story is different. Describing the arc of the climactic match in Warner Bros.’ sports drama, when Venus (Saniyya Sidney) begins strong and confident before the momentum changes, Martin says, “There’s the gamesmanship [when Sánchez-Vicario, played by Marcela Zacarías, pauses the match]. The complicated thing was, after the tide had turned, how were we going to play out the rest of the scene and keep it interesting?” This involved careful use of match play with reactions from Venus’ family, coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) and the crowd, in addition to music and sound.
“It’s set up early in the movie that Richard [Will Smith] can’t sit still and has a hard time watching his daughters play. So it was always meant to show through his eyes … We have him off in the wings [watching] video feed live from the court.” She drew inspiration from 2011’s Moneyball, in which Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is “watching these games from afar, but you’re really experiencing the emotion of the actual games with your main character.”
Martin also knew that she didn’t have a commentator at her disposal as a storytelling tool, as the match wasn’t televised — and she was aware that scoring in tennis can be confusing for the uninitiated. “For the tennis enthusiasts, I tried to stay very true to what would be happening in that moment [while still compressing the length of match],” she explains. “For the non-tennis people, it was more like ‘She’s up, she’s down.’ “
In editing the latter part of the match, Martin maintained the tension of not making it clear how the match would end, experimenting with music and shots of the family. “When I cut to the family cheering her on, or even trying to lift her up when things aren’t going well, it really has a big impact,” Martin says. “Near the very end, when you see it really land on Venus’ face, it’s crushing.”
Adds Martin: “The beautiful part of the telling of that scene is that once [the outcome] is a foregone conclusion, Richard does go back to sit with his family to be by her side.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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The Harder They Fall