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Editors watch for basics

Pros look for an engrossing movie -- and a little flair

Forget tricks of the trade. For most of this season’s Oscar-nominated editors, film — their own, and those by their colleagues — is all about authenticity, where total immersion is key in both edit bay and movie theater.

So when they’re judging another editors work at Oscar time, it’s not about nitpicking.

“I’m just looking, like everybody else, to be engaged in a good story and then lost in it for however long it takes,” says Tariq Anwar, who edited Tom Hooper’s drama about a stuttering King George VI, “The King’s Speech.”

“It could be a story that’s been told a thousand times,” says Angus Wall who, with Kirk Baxter, cut David Fincher’s Facebook film, “The Social Network.” “But if it’s presented in a different way so it feels like someone’s actually in the room and this thing is happening, and they don’t know which way it’s going to go — if it’s told in a way that’s unusual, or forces you to live it for the first time, that’s kind of great. That’s what you strive for as an editor, is to give something that’s like a primary experience.”

Jon Harris, cutter on “127 Hours,” says film editing really has very little to do with sewing shots together.

“Generally the really important un-noticeable editing work occurs in dialogue scenes between good, complex characters,” Harris says. “When it is finally finished it will be as though it could never have been any other way. But often you have completely re-ordered the information in a scene simply because of the way it sits on screen at that particular moment in the story.

“So film editing is so much more like book or magazine editing than people realize.”

For Pamela Martin, who cut David O. Russell’s gritty boxing dramedy, “The Fighter,” “Every single moment has to play real for it to be true.” As an editor, she says, “You have to just have a sense of that, you have to know where the eye wants to go and follow that.”

But favoring a feel-test doesn’t mean that nominees don’t relish a flash of technical savvy here or a wild flourish there. For Kirk Baxter, it was just such “little moments of excellence” in “The Fighter” that caught his eye. “There were these great jump cuts; I get excited by those.”

For both Baxter and co-editor Wall it was editing that wasn’t nominated that also stirred excitement. In Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which Lee Smith edited, “You’re on a wild ride,” Wall says. What “Inception” shares with “The Fighter,” Baxter says, is “aggressiveness — which is what brings editing into the forefront.”

Wall, for his part, notes of the cutting on “127 Hours,” “There are moments where you feel a kind of anxiety, and that’s very expressive editing. It’s not trying to be linear and present this reality, it’s expressing what it felt like to be stuck down there and trapped.”

Among fellow nominees, however, “The Social Network” was one of the films that clicked including for Andrew Weisblum, who edited Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller “Black Swan.” “It was a tight script, clearly, but it was also an interesting balancing act,” he says. “It’s kind of a courtroom drama as character study, so you have these two driving forces working against each other. Courtroom dramas are usually suspense films of who did it, but ‘The Social Network’ has none of that agenda.”

For the nominees, editing movies may be similar to seeing their pics. In editing, Wall says, “you have that same feeling of being transported somewhere every day.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing:
Editors watch for basics | High notes from sound contenders | ‘Salt’s’ Russell racks up noms | Vfx realism serves story | Wonderland of hybrid thesps

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