Film Audio Artisans Use Their Tricks for Time Travel

The best editors are masters of pacing. They can sweep the audience up into an action film with dramatic, bold cuts or gently usher us through more subtle moments with an invisible hand. Regardless of the pace, they take the viewers where the story wants them to go.

This year, film editing nominees “Spotlight” and “The Revenant” used a slower, more deliberate pace to develop their narratives, while “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “The Big Short” often leaned into a frenetic editing style during battle sequences or climatic moments. And each followed a kind of inner logic dictated by its subject.

As “The Revenant” took audiences along for a tortuous journey, editor Stephen Mirrione had to make decisions about how much he could show before viewers would be overwhelmed. He found that details were important but so was a certain restraint.

It became a challenge during the now famous bear attack sequence to convey the extent of injuries inflicted on Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. Mirrione aimed to put the sequence together to indicate that the bear was defending her territory and cubs without being gratuitously violent.

“Spotlight,” which focused on a group of reporters determined to expose sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, also sought to hold on its serious subject matter while moving the story along. While it followed in the tradition of films like “All the President’s Men,” the pic still had to find its own way to make shots of reporters doing research seem meaningful.

Popular on Variety

“The more we stripped things away to follow the beats of the investigation, the more we found audiences becoming engaged,” says editor Tom McArdle. “We noticed viewers started connecting emotionally with the film when the first survivor, Phil Saviano, came into the office. So we went back and tightened everything before that moment.”

In “The Big Short,” Hank Corwin moved between editorial styles that were frantic and unconventional in an effort to give all characters their own pacing and signature. As the storylines of all the main characters came together, the overall editorial style converged into the same note and built toward a tragic and comedic end.
“I remember learning that these guys got sick to their stomachs when they did these deals because they knew it was wrong,” says Corwin. “There’s this anxiety and nervous energy that drives the story and makes it sad and funny at the same time.”

Margaret Sixel, editor on “Mad Max: Fury Road,” was tasked with shoring up a substantial amount of the footage from this return to a beloved franchise. In this case, early screenings showed audiences actually felt there was so much action on screen that it was difficult to follow. So, Sixel set about examining the framing of shots and then making adjustments. In the end it helped bring the fight and chase sequences down to the right length, while preserving their intense pacing.

“If the action scenes were incoherent then the film would have been a disaster,” says Sixel. “I certainly didn’t want it to be a meaningless assault of color and movement.”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” worked multiple battle sequences as well. For editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey these scenes were not just part of this film, but also part of the history of all the “Star Wars” films. Markey says she was most challenged by the village massacre scene in the beginning of the film since auds were not really sure who the characters are or where the film is going with them.

“We wanted to do something fresh, something new and I think we got there in that sequence,” says Brandon. “These kinds of moments really set the pace for the rest of what follows, too.”

More Artisans

  • Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: ENDGAME..Tony Stark/Iron Man

    How 'Avengers: Endgame' Publicity Team Made Headlines By Saying Nothing At All

    Secrecy and strategy were fundamental when it comes to marketing the MCU films. After 14 years and 22 films, those two factors were crucial when it came to planning the rollout for the final installment,  “Avengers: Endgame.” Earlier this week, the publicity team behind the film’s campaign was nominated for the ICG Publicist Awards. Union [...]

  • The Farewell Movie BTS

    Academy Falls Short on Diversity, but Foreign Films Crash ACE Eddies Party

    The American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards, which will be handed out Jan. 17, will for the first time give voters a choice of selecting a foreign-language film in each of the three categories. The trio in contention are: “The Farewell” (comedy), “Parasite” (dramatic) and “I Lost My Body” (animated). “This is the first time in our [...]

  • Best Documentary Scenes from 2019

    Directors Describe Their Key Scenes in the Past Year’s Top Documentary Films

    The directors of this awards season’s documentary hopefuls explain the ticking hearts at the center of their shortlisted films. Apollo 11, Director: Todd Douglas Miller  Setting the Scene: The pre-launch sequence for the first mission in which humans landed on the moon, featuring NASA workers and regular citizens alike. “It encapsulates everything and highlights a lost [...]

  • Paris Recreated for Movie Productions on

    TSF Recreates Paris on Former Air Base for Movie and TV Shoots

    As French outfits move to expand their studio offerings, industry eyes have turned to a 20-hectare stretch of land 20 miles south of Paris. There, in the commune Plessis-Pâté, sits the TSF Backlot 217, a converted air base that has become one the Gallic industry’s banner initiatives. One of France’s leading production suppliers, TSF scoped [...]

  • DSC07163.ARW

    Streamers Urge French Production Sector to Go Green

    For the French industry, the drive to open up additional studio spaces has gone hand-in-hand with the push for green production, because for the most part, they share the same root cause: The international streamers that are causing a surge in audiovisual production tend to have strict criteria when it comes to sustainable development. “Companies [...]

  • CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update

    CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update French Production Infrastructure

    Speaking at an industry round-table at the Paris-based Production Forum on Thursday, Dominique Boutonnat, president of France’s National Film Board (CNC), announced a new plan to update local production studios in order to make them more internationally competitive. The modest plan, which involves new funding, training sessions and additional research, follows a March 2019 report, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content