Best Editing Oscar: Spoiler Alerts From 'Argo' Through 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Dark Knight Editing Contender - P 2012

Dark Knight Editing Contender - P 2012

The editors of 7 of this season's contenders on picking the right shot, when to cut, and - in 'Dark Knight Rises,' when to "give the audience the payout they would want."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

William Goldenberg
As six American hostages make their escape from Tehran, crucial plot lines simultaneously taking place elsewhere heighten Argo’s nail-biting— if fictionalized — climax. “A lot of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats had to do with choosing the right performances,” says Goldenberg. As the hostages, pretending to be Canadian filmmakers, are driven to the airport, Goldenberg intercut scenes in Washington of the CIA scrambling to book their tickets whilein Hollywood a makeup artist-turned-operative tries to keep the ruse from unraveling. Adds Goldenberg, “We wanted to make it feel like this is happening and the timelines were correct.”

Alexander Berner
Cloud Atlas
A film that comprises a mosaic of stories and time periods — including a journalist working to avert an industrial disaster in 1973 and an attorney who harbors a slave in 1849 — presented multiple challenges for Berner. “It’s basically not to be looked at as six different stories — rather as one,” he says. The editor linked them by cutting around, for example, a letter read by Luisa Rey, the journalist in 1973. “What was said in a letter might support something in a different story,” he says. “If it was about love,” for example, Berner would cut to a scene about love in another story.

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Lee Smith
The Dark Knight Rises
As the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy speeds to a conclusion, an injured Bruce Wayne tries to escape from his imprisonment and a clock ticks ominously on a nuclear bomb as supporting characters race across Gotham to defuse it. “It was a lot of storylines coming together,” says Smith. “It was about being sure the audience follows the stories and upping the suspense.” Smith’s editing was influenced by the motivation of the film’s mysterious hero. In the nuclear bomb sequence, Smith let the audience believe that “Batman had no choice but to murder himself. The idea was not to giveaway anything by showing the bomb’s explosion,and then give the audience the payout that they would want”— to see Batman alive.

Chris Dickens and Melanie Ann Oliver
Les Miserables
“The main thing director Tom Hooper wanted was to preserve the performances as they were given in order to make it feel as if it was happening in real time and there was no trickery in terms of the editing,” says Dickens, who cut the film with Oliver. The pair chose a single close-up for Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Says Oliver: “It shows the power of Anne’s performance. As she dies within the first 20 minutes of the film, it needed to have this ever lasting sort of effect. You really seemed to listen to the lyric much more in close-up than in the wide shot.”

Tim Squyres
Life of Pi
“We had an awful lot of shots of a kid, a boat and a tiger,” says Squyres about the challenge of editing Ang Lee’s surrealistic epic, set in a life boat adrift in the Pacific occupied by the shipwrecked Pi Patel and a Bengal tiger. Squyres used that minimalism to the film’s advantage in a scene where Pi delivers monologue in close-up recounting his ordeal. “That is the most gut wrenching part of the movie, and it is interesting that it is just someone sitting there telling the story,” says Squyres. “We wanted to stay on him as much as possible. I think it helps the audience focus and listen to this story.”

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Jay Cassidy
Silver Linings Playbook
At the end of a dance number, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper try to perform a lift, but she gets stuck. The comedy of the moment was enhanced by Cassidy’s judicious foreshadowing of the scene earlier in the film. “We had them at dance rehearsals performing the lift unsuccessfully,”says Cassidy. Preview audiences reacted more strongly when shown a cut that used the rehearsal footage. “The audience learns they are having a little difficulty with the lift, and you forget about it,” says Cassidy. “Then when it comes back to the dance, you have a point of reference.”

Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow “shot pretty much the whole film with four cameras and did whole scenes without cutting,” says Tichenor. “There were so many great moments; it was like a jigsaw puzzle.” Goldenberg describes a key sequence in which CIA agents find a courier for whom they had been searching for a decade. “The suspense is generated from a frozen moment of expectation— taking a lot of sound out, having extreme close-ups of the actors and seeing sweat on their foreheads.” Adds Tichenor, “Something is about to happen, but you hold it off from happening because you want the audience to feel what the characters are feeling.”