Offbeat projects can nurture a signature style
Like other industry pros, editors too will spend part of their winter soaking up some praise, sipping some champagne and, perhaps taking home a statuette.
But unlike some of their peers, what sets editors apart from each other is quite subtle, harder to identify than a star’s persona or a composer’s signature sound.
So do editors have an identifiable creative stamp? Even other editors find the answer elusive, if not positively opaque.
“That’s a really tough question,” says Angus Wall, who co-edited David Fincher’s “The Social Network” with Kirk Baxter. “because what an editor does is so inextricably bound to what what the movie is.”
“It’s always hard to know exactly what the editors’ stylistic choices (were) when you see a film, unless it’s really showy — and I think most really great editing tends not to be too showy,” adds Wall, who with Baxter was nominated for an Oscar for Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Like Wall, Andrew Weisblum, who edited Darren Aronofsky’s ballet-themed thriller “Black Swan,” says he can’t often detect definitive editing styles — and that’s a good thing.
“I hope that what I do is as transparent as possible,” says Weisblum, who counts “The Wrestler” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” among his credits. “I hope not to impose a style on it, but to find … the movie that the director is trying to make.”
Similarly, Tariq Anwar says that “the craft is in no one knowing.” Anwar edited Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” which charts King George VI’s struggle with a very un-royal stutter.
Still, some editors recognize a distinctive approach in each others’ work.
For Dylan Tichenor, who edited Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” spotting signature styles is possible “once you really get familiar with their work over a cross-sectional body of work.”
In Paul Greengrass’s “Bourne” movies, for example, editor Chris Rouse creates “these sculpting, flowing (sequences) that move like water, that build up and get fast, and come down and get slow.”
It may be easier for an editor who’s known for a distinct style to spot one in others. Jon Harris, who edited Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” was acclaimed for the jump-cut-heavy verve of Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch,” his first major film. “I dare say that if someone’s perceived at being good at a different style, then they’re going to get asked to repeat it,” Harris says. In the decade since, he’s cultivated versatility, and a view of the editor’s role as 100% storyteller.
“I personally wouldn’t like to think of how I can impose my style,” he says, “but I think if there are patterns in people’s work, maybe it’s through the material that they’re drawn to.”
In “127 Hours,” Harris approached the story of a trapped rock-climber with a pace that ranges from kinetic to calm and uses triptychs that create an effect of simultaneous activity.
While stylish, the film’s flourishes were designed to serve the story.
“Danny (Boyle) didn’t accidentally make a fast-moving film,” Harris says. “He wanted to see if he could make an incredibly fast movie, an exhilarating movie, that was about the guy who didn’t move.” Editing the picture, Harris says, “was sort of like keeping a balloon in the air. By the time it’s finished, you’re not really sure when you were told things. Hopefully, you have this really rich picture and care about the guy.”
For Lee Smith, who edited “Inception,” it’s all about cadence.
“I can certainly see different rhythmic styles with different films with different editors,” he says. “As Chris Nolan used to say to me, ‘There’s a million ways to cut a scene. But there’s only one right way.’ … Your stamp is the million choices that you make.”
Smith has worked on four of Nolan’s films, including “The Dark Knight,” which netted him an Oscar nomination. With “Inception,” he says, “you had a lot of balls in the air. Story-wise, it was all about making it as clear as possible.”
Still, Tichenor says, style is best when it’s subtle. “I don’t think it’s in any of our best interests,” he says, “to be consciously imposing that.”
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