They say two heads are better than one. This may be validated on Oscar night, because two of the noms for film editing have gone to duos rather than individual cutters. Mike Hill and Dan Hanley were nominated for “Frost/Nixon,” and Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall got the nod for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
The latter twosome’s collaboration began when Wall brought Baxter aboard to help out with the editing of David Fincher’s “Zodiac.” When Fincher asked Wall to edit “Button,” Wall requested that Baxter also join the team again as editor. Fincher agreed.
“David sees the virtue of having more than one editor working on a project,” Wall says.
“He benefits from that,” adds Baxter. “There were instances where I cut scenes and David was happy. Then Angus continued to explore and found something else. In two cases, that stuck to the final of the film.”
Wall notes that editorial collaborations come naturally. “Unlike with camera or a lot of other departments, it’s easy to parse a movie into parts that can be edited by various people.”
Perhaps even easier if the famously detail-oriented Fincher is the director. “When you’re working for David, your motivation is not to help the film but to help him,” says Baxter. “So it’s easy for Angus and me to become the same person. David handles the cutting room to perfection. He’s accessible every day. He’ll watch a scene, give his notes and leave. Then you get to work and explore without pressure.”
While the Baxter/Wall collaboration is relatively new, Hill and Hanley have been co-editing Ron Howard’s movies since 1982.
Like Fincher, Howard “likes having two editors,” says Hill. “It has always worked out for him, much to our good fortune. If you’re a team, you have a guy you can bounce things off of. I might be locked into something I can’t get away from, but then he’ll see something else. We help each other that way. We work on each other’s scenes.”
“The first couple of days, we’ll flip a coin (to decide who will) start with the first scene,” adds Hanley. “If I cut one scene, then Michael cuts the next one that comes in. It all falls into place after that. There were a lot of big, meaty dialog scenes in ‘Frost/ Nixon.’ We split those up. I’d say, ‘I’ll do the last interview; do you want to do the phone call?’ ”
“If one guy wants to do a certain scene for a particular reason, he’ll do that one,” says Hill. “We get along great, and that’s why it works. After all these years, we don’t have any ego problems.”