“I, Tonya,” the latest dark comedy from Aussie director Craig Gillespie, is getting a lot of awards attention. The cautionary tale about talent, ambition, celebrity, class, bad perms and domestic abuse has earned three Oscar nominations, including one for editor Tatiana S. Riegel, who has also nabbed the American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Award, as well as a Spirit Award nom.
The film, which is stuffed with larger-than-life characters, unreliable narrators and shifting time frames and perspectives, marks her fifth collaboration with Gillespie (she edited his features “Lars and the Real Girl,” “Million Dollar Arm,” “Fright Night” and “The Finest Hours,” as well as the TV pilot for Showtime’s “United States of Tara”). Her credits also include work on such comedies as “Bad Words” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”
“After 10 years, we have a great shorthand together, which is a real luxury with a director,” Riegel says of Gillespie. “We also share the same sensibility, although when Craig first told me about this project, my reaction was ‘Tonya Harding? Really?’ Then I read it and immediately knew it was perfect for him.”
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Riegel wasn’t on set. “I stayed home in L.A. and began working on the first assembly on Avid at [post house] EPS while Craig shot in Atlanta,” she says. “I’d send him scenes, so he could see how it was going and if there were any tonal issues — establishing the right tone was crucial. And Craig shot it all as interviews but also with scenes breaking the fourth wall, so that later in the edit we could try it either way.”
By the time Riegel and Gillespie met up in New York to start the main edit at Harbor Picture Co., they were in pretty good shape, she says. “But there was very little music at that point, so we started experimenting and adding tracks,” Riegel adds. “Because of all the jumping around in the story and all the different time frames, we thought it might be a quite complicated edit, but we’d planned it out so carefully that we had our first cut done in under a month after we wrapped, which is incredibly fast.”
The team then started getting into the minutiae of every scene, Riegel says. “Some are very dramatic, some are darkly funny and then there are scenes that are incredibly emotional. So it’s a very fine line, walking between the tragedy and comedy and all the absurdity, and we’d show it and then go back and fine-tune stuff, then show it again.”
Although star Margot Robbie, who gives a tour-de-force performance as the fiery Harding, trained hard for months to learn the ice-skating sequences, the film used more than 120 visual effects shots created by Eight VFX to enhance the scenes. “Some of it was quite tricky in terms of the edit, as we were on a very tight budget,” Riegel notes. “So it was all very choreographed and carefully planned out.”
Though the work was challenging, Riegel can’t wait to work with Gillespie again. “This film has been a real highlight for me,” she says.