'Descendants' Director Alexander Payne at ACE Awards: Editing Is 'Disguising How Bad a Film Really Is'

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"The Descendants" director scores big with the L.A. and Broadcast Film Critics as the film's $24 million at the box office suggests a long run through awards season.

Fellow winner Michel Hazanavicius, director of "The Artist," joked, “I don’t know how you deal with directors."

The 62nd American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards were filled with heartfelt tributes and plenty of laughs, as The Descendants and The Artist went on to win best edited dramatic feature film and best edited feature-comedy or musical.

Saturday at the Beverly Hilton, a ceremony highlight was writer/director Alexander Payne, who spoke while receiving the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year honor, presented to him by Reese Witherspoon and his Descendants’ editor Kevin Tent.

“He pulls back the curtain on real human life,” said Witherspoon, saying that Payne’s characters show “the humility, the humanity, the pathos and the comedy.”

Added Tent: “He shows us ourselves in good light and bad. That takes a lot heart, a lot of talent, and a whole lot of guts.”

Accepting the award, Payne emphasized the important contribution of his editor, Kevin Tent, in a humorous acceptance speech during which he joked that the art of editing is “the ongoing process of disguising how bad a film really is.”

Payne said: “The five features that I have made have received some degree of recognition for writing and acting, but the secret is Kevin Tent, A.C.E.”

“We bring out the best in each other,” he said of his collaboration with Tent. “He is really my co-writer.”

Calling the ACE award “mid-career encouragement,” Payne said, “The more experience I get, the more my screenwriting, on-set my choice of angles—even how I direct and judge performance—increasingly involves thinking exclusively about the editing.”

Noting that digital editing tools allow filmmakers to show the best performances for instance by melding different takes on two shots and speeding up pauses, Payne received a laugh when he joked, “Kevin goes home every night with the blood of actors on his breath.”

The director added: “The one thing I can assure myself and my actors, is that by the time (Tent) and I are done, only the very best performance, in our opinion, will be on screen.”

During the ceremony The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius—who edited his film with Anne-Sophie Bion—also talked about his love of the editing process, comparing the art to “when you are a kid, you rebuild a toy you just broke.”

“If I was not a director, I would love be an editor,” he added. “But I don’t know how you deal with directors. … I could not deal with me.”

During the evening, Tent talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the delicate balance that was required when editing The Descendants. “There was a lot more humor in it originally, and we kept feeling that that was intruding on the emotion that the characters were going though. So we kept trimming it back until it was where it is today. It was a tricky think to do. … A lot of (achieving that balance) was in the script and how Alexander directed it, but we really did fine tune it as we were going along.”