×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Editors Master Time to Shape Their Stories

One of this year's films appears to be a single long take, another tells a story that extends over 12 years

A film editor’s primary task is to shape time itself.

In that respect, two of this year’s films — “Birdman” and “Boyhood” (pictured) — presented some of the greatest challenges ever faced by this group of artisans. One story was told in what appeared to be a kinetic and continuous single take while the other unfolded over 12 years.

While most editors work with the benefit of a final script or collect footage in a short period of time as they put together a cut of a film, Sandra Adair had neither. As Richard Linklater’s editor since “Dazed and Confused” in 1993, Adair knew the helmer’s process, but they’d never done anything quite like “Boyhood,” which was shot in pieces over its 12-year span.

“I’d come in each year and take about a month to put together the material,” says Adair of the film that follows the life of a boy as he ages from 6 to 18. “It was an exercise in restraint to not try to anticipate or manipulate, so I looked for moments that moved me, that had some realness to them.”

Adair also had serious technological hurdles. She began editing on an Apple Final Cut Pro system but eventually moved to an Avid Media Composer because the filmmakers felt it was more reliable for a long-term project. Adair’s assistant, Mike Saenz, organized much of the work behind the scenes.

“Just to be able to find any single piece of film was work,” Adair says.

While Adair had to ease back and allow “Boyhood” to develop, Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise, the editors of “Birdman,” worked with helmer Alejandro G. Inarritu to make the bulk of their plot and camera decisions ahead of the shooting.

Inarritu’s decision to make the film appear as though it was all shot in one take meant the cuts had to be orchestrated and the camera moves were planned in detail to give the editors what they needed. It also left the editors with fewer options in post.

“Everyone is more exposed this way,” says Mirrione. “The actors, the director, the two of us as editors, we’re all out there because we don’t have the opportunity to switch perspectives and focus on a different actor or a different part of a scene when we’re editing, so everyone has to be working at their highest level all the time.”

With a short 29-day shoot on the schedule, the editors asked Inarritu to film the rehearsals so they could put a rough cut together and troubleshoot early on in pre-production. From there Crise, Mirrione and Inarritu made tweaks that they hoped would keep errors at a minimum.

“So many things could have gone wrong with a project like this and there wouldn’t have been a way to fix in post, really,” says Crise. “I felt like I was going down a toboggan run and I just had to focus on the movie as a whole.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    'Harriet' Costume Designer Paul Tazewell on How He Crafted Harriet Tubman's Look

    For many, Harriet Tubman’s journey is one we’re taught about in school. We know she’s a heroine, an abolitionist who led slaves to their freedom via the underground railroad. Unless you’ve read the books by Kate Clifford Larson or Beverly Lowry, “We didn’t receive the whole story,” says costume designer Paul Tazewell. Until now. Kasi [...]

  • 'Joker' Cinematographer Lawrence Sher Wins at

    'Joker' Cinematographer Lawrence Sher Wins at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival

    “Joker” cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s bid, along with director Todd Phillips, to try something “perhaps even a bit artful” won big Saturday in Torun, Poland as he took the top prize at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival. The Golden Frog for cinematography, along with the audience prize, went to his work filming Joaquin Phoenix in the [...]

  • Rocketman Taron Egerton

    'Rocketman' Hair and Make-Up Artist Talks Transforming Taron Egerton

    Hair and make-up artist Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou sums up “Rocketman” as the story “of a great icon who hits rock bottom. You see the great things happen and he hits rock bottom. By the end, he’s pulled himself together and he’s still standing.” For the viewer, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but as Yianni-Georgiou says, [...]

  • Roger Deakins 1917 Movie Cinematography

    'Midway,' '1917' DPs on Unique Challenges War Movies Present

    Cinematographers who set out to shoot war films like “1917” and “Midway” face a bigger challenge than navigating explosions or running alongside the actors in the midst of a special effects battlefield. They have to find a way to tell the combat story that will captivate audiences that have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Stars Discuss Film's Costume Design

    Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio rave about “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” costume designer Arianne Phillips in a new featurette obtained exclusively by Variety. “She’s so incredible. She contextualizes the time period and people really will be transported into what fashion was like in the ’60s,” Robbie says. “I was blown away by the [...]

  • Rocketman

    'Rocketman': Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing 'I'm Still Standing'

    Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content