Peter Boyle has been editing movies for more than 20 years, cutting projects as epic as “Waterworld” and as intimate as the film for which he is nominated for an Oscar: “The Hours.” The latter also garnered him his first American Cinema Editors Eddie nomination.
He’s seen editors move from physical cutting and splicing to digital editing systems, and though — like most editors — he’s embraced the new technology, he can see it changing his craft slowly, unmistakably.
“The rule book is getting slowly thrown away,” says Boyle by phone from San Francisco, where he’s spending the kudos season cutting the Philip Kaufman thriller “Blackout.”
“First of all audiences are accepting of more edits within a scene. Secondly we’re getting more material so we can do more edits. And I think the (digital) equipment lets you do more quick cuts in succession. So provided the eye is guided from one to another, you can do things which perhaps would have been taboo a few years ago.”
Today, he adds, editors are often asked to not just cut dialogue, but move lines around to change a scene’s shape or tone. “There’s a lot of trick work and sleight of hand that goes on in editing. It’s not so much what’s left or what’s left out, it’s the way material is arranged. We have the ability to be creative in editing and I find that enormously enjoyable and rewarding.”
Boyle was a particularly important contributor to “The Hours” because in order for the film to hold together, it was vital that he find visual connections between the three storylines. So he pored over the footage to find even the subtlest similarities between the performances of Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep.
“Sometimes it was as simple as a look that would lead you from one actress to the other,” Boyle says. “And the eyes have it. The eyes will often give you enormous information.”
By and large, he prefers seamless editing, but on “Hours” he had to make the cuts between the story’s strands more apparent. “I would hope that the actual transitions from one actor to another were noticed, because they have to make you think to a certain extent. There has to be a parallel connection that would jog the memory.
“You couldn’t have a seamless edit in ‘The Hours’ when you pass from one story strand to the other, so you might as well make the most of that and make your point.”
Boyle prefers to get instructions from the director then go off on his own to assemble versions of a scene. That made his collaboration with “Hours” helmer Stephen Daldry ideal in some respects. “The great thing about Stephen is he would want an effect, and then he would say ‘Right, it’s down to you to get that effect,’ ” he says.
Taking the lead
“And he’s very generous. This was only his second film. He’d say, ‘Well I don’t have so much experience, what would you suggest?’ And that’s a wonderful luxury, and a great honor really.”
Boyle likes working with the experienced Kaufman just as much, but he says the process is different. “Philip can talk more specifically in terms of angles and sizes and which way to go, and to be more ruthless in the editing, taking out moments that aren’t finally necessary.”
Working with such diverse talents hasn’t given Boyle any hunger to direct a film himself.
“(An editor sees) so much of what the director has to go through to get a performance,” he says. “You’ve seen all the takes in dailies and you’ve been on the floor and you’ve been behind the scenes. Unless you’re driven by the desire to direct you wouldn’t want to take on that mantle.”