Relationship between director, editor key


When Tony Gilroy's mother heard that he was going to have his younger brother John edit his directorial debut, Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton," she was worried her boys would clash. It wasn't an unreasonable fear. Any two people locked in an enclosed space for weeks on end struggling to transform hours and hours of raw footage into a concise, entertaining work of art are bound to have conflicts. When those two people are brothers with a history of sibling rivalry ("Tony is taller," John says; "But Johnny can kick my ass," Tony admits), the potential for disagreement is exponentially higher. But Tony found that their differences produced not violence but a better film.

"It took about three days to figure out that there'd be a kind of push-me, pull-you (dynamic)," says Oscar nominated Tony.

"I would always be pulling to not explain things and turning the thermostat down, and Johnny would always be pushing to turn it up, and the by-product of that would be room temperature. And we were both really happy with where we were going to land."

"It's very good to see different perspectives," concurs director Marc Forster, who has worked with editor Matt Chesse on six films, including Paramount Classics/DreamWorks' "The Kite Runner," 2004's "Finding Neverland" (which earned Chesse an Oscar nod) and 2001's "Monster's Ball." "Matt and I have a very strong connection and love for cinema and a love for similar movies, but he sometimes sees things differently than I do. My attention span is a little shorter than his. Sometimes he likes to let it breathe a little more than I do." They are reteaming a seventh time for MGM/Sony's upcoming James Bond film.

Long-standing editor-director relationships like the one between Forster and Chesse are not uncommon: Editor Joel Cox has worked with Clint Eastwood for more than 30 years, and Thelma Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese's go-to editor since 1980's "Raging Bull." And brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have been collaborating for decades.

"I think it's a trust-based relationship," says Chesse of the editor-director union. "You see all the warts and all the stuff that nobody gets to see, and you shape it into something that hopefully leaves people without any doubt of the director's vision."

Director David Cronenberg and editor Ronald Sanders have worked together since 1979's "Fast Company." On their latest film, the Focus Features gangster drama "Eastern Promises," they followed the same pattern they have developed working on such films as 1986's "The Fly" and 2005's "A History of Violence."

During the shoot in London, Cronenberg did not look at any footage, except for the occasional dailies, which he finds less necessary today with instant on-set video playback. In the meantime, Sanders cut together an assembly of the film in proper narrative order that he screened for Cronenberg two weeks after principal photography wrapped. Cronenberg then joined Sanders in the cutting room to polish the edit.

"I feel that the only shot I've got at being fairly objective is to be surprised by my own movie," says Cronenberg of his willful ignorance of the first edit. "It comes from my first movie -- (1975's) 'Shivers' -- that Ivan Reitman produced. I was basically sitting in the editing room as we were shooting, editing it with the editor. We had a screening, and nothing worked. But Ivan said, 'It's not so bad. You just do a little of this, you take a little of that and do that.' I thought, 'I want to be where he is, in his objectivity, rather than so intimately involved with every cut and every shot that I can't see the forest for the trees.'"

On "Promises," he and Cronenberg were "in the zone," according to Sanders. "We weren't trying to force anything or fix anything." Easiest of all was the film's infamous bathhouse scene, in which a naked Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) fights two Russian thugs to the death.

"I did it in a few hours one afternoon," Sanders says. "I put all the masters together -- end to end -- so I could see where it was all going, and I used that as a template. It had the stuff that it needed, so it told me what to do."

"He nailed it so perfectly that I couldn't improve it by one frame," Cronenberg says.

ACED: The ACE Eddie Awards roll out the red carpet on Sunday

Filmmaker Norman Jewison will be honored with the Golden Eddie during the American Cinema Editors' 58th annual ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday. "He was selected because he has such a great history of wonderful filmmaking," says ACE president Alan Heim. "The editor and the director work very closely together to bring out the director's vision. People talk about editing being the last rewrite of the film, but it really is," Heim says. Jewison's director-producer credits include 1971's "Fiddler on the Roof" and 1987's "Moonstruck." His work has garnered 46 Academy Award nominations, while he has personally received seven nominations as well as the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1999. In addition, ACE editors Bud Smith (1973's "The Exorcist" and 1983's "Flashdance") and Millie Moore (1993's "Geronimo" and "Cagney & Lacey") will be recognized with lifetime career achievement awards during the ceremony. Over the last 15 years, two-thirds of the films that editors selected at the Eddies have also been best picture Oscar nominees. -- Carolyn Giardina

Even though it was their first collaboration, director Julian Schnabel trusted editor Juliette Welfling enough to give her a similar degree of independence on Miramax's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." She cut together a "first draft" of the film in France, where the film was shot, then took it to New York to work on it with Schnabel.

Welfling believes Schnabel did not give her any specific guidelines due to the unusual nature of the film, which has the camera taking the perspective of the one good eye of paralyzed fashion editor Jean-Dominque Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) for most of the first half.

"It's not the kind of movie you can be precise about, because it's more the feelings that are directing the way it is," she explains. "I think he really wanted his editor to bring him something, you know. Then, if he did not like it, he'd say he wanted it another way. But he never stopped me from trying things or saying what I had in mind." Both Schnabel's and Welfling's work on the film have been nominated for Oscars.

Conversely, director Adam Shankman was very precise with editor Michael Tronick about the cut of New Line's "Hairspray."

"I gave him very specific notes while I was shooting about what my favorite takes were, so he understood the direction I was going in with the performances," Shankman says.

Shankman would come to the editing room, view Tronick's cuts and give him more specific notes, then leave him alone again to revise his work. "I wanted him to have as much creative freedom as he could and be able to kind of plead his case without me hovering over him."

Says Tronick: "There's a phrase I sometimes use with other people: 'Let's just let this marinate.' That process was not part of 'Hairspray.' Adam could make up his mind on the spot, as far as something he liked or didn't like."

Director-star Denzel Washington agonized more over the cut of "The Great Debaters" (the Weinstein Co./MGM), particularly the debate scenes themselves, in which the underdog team from Wiley College takes on a string of higher-ranked competitors in the 1930s.

"We worked long hours on those debates picking the best pieces out of everybody's debate and searching for the best reaction shots that would match the emotion of the debaters," says editor Hughes

Winborne, who won an Oscar for 2005's "Crash." "And it was hard. We tried not to make it so lopsided in favor of the Wiley College debaters. At Harvard, we actually went back and timed the speech of each debater to make sure they were equal."

Like the intellectual contests in "The Great Debaters," the action sequences in the Lionsgate Western "3:10 to Yuma" presented some daunting editorial puzzles for director James Mangold and editor Mike McCusker.

The film was supposed to be set in the summer, but production delays forced a winter shoot in New Mexico. The weekend before shooting the climactic gun battle, a freak storm dumped nearly two feet of snow. Workers shoveled the snow and distributed 89 dump truck loads of dry soil on the ground, but no matter how they cut the scene, traces of white stuff were visible in the background.

"We were spending a lot of man hours on whether or not people are going to notice snow," recalls McCusker, who also cut 2005's "Walk the Line" for Mangold. "Ultimately, Jim said, 'If the audience at this point in the movie is thrown off because there's snow in the background, then we haven't really done our job in effectively telling the story.'"