×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘What Men Want’ Editor Helped Give the Movie a ’30s Screwball Comedy Feel

Editor Emma E. Hickox comes from a showbiz legacy family. Her father was director Douglas Hickox (“Sitting Target”), and her mother, Ann V. Coates, won an Oscar for editing “Lawrence of Arabia.” Even though young Emma learned much about the industry as a child “through osmosis,” she says that it was important for her to make it on her own.

“I wanted to direct theater,” says the London native, who had worked in L.A. as an unpaid assistant. “When someone said they were looking for an apprentice editor, I wasn’t keen at all. Then they told me how much they were going to pay, and I said, ‘See you on Monday!’” 

Once in the editing room, Hickox fell for the job. Hard. “I love filing and being organized,” she says. “I’m very precise, so I adored being an assistant editor.” Working under Frank Morriss (“Romancing the Stone,” “Bird on a Wire”), Hickox learned that an editor has to be able to translate the director’s notes into film and not let her ego get in the way. 

Her working relationship with director Adam Shankman over the past 17 years (“A Walk to Remember,” “Rock of Ages”) is testament to this dynamic. When they teamed for “What Men Want,” Shankman told Hickox that he wanted the movie, which Paramount will release Feb. 8, to have the lightning pace of a 1930s screwball comedy. She explains that he shot with that energy, everyone performed with that energy, and then she cut it with that energy. “It moves really fast,” she says.

At any instance in the film when someone has an on-screen thought, Hickox had to register that moment without breaking the rhythm of the scene. The general rule was that when a man had a thought, he couldn’t be talking at the same time. Another rule in the editing room was that anytime any character had a thought, Hickox had to cut to Taraji P. Henson’s lead character, Ali, to show her hearing it. 

“We couldn’t just let the rest of the conversation play out,” she explains. “We always had to see her clock the thought.” 

Hickox and her team kept changing the jokes until they got the big laugh they wanted from any particular thought. “We had an enormously good time in the cutting room,” she says, “and the only male in there — my assistant Joshua Kirchmer — had the enormous task of voiceovers when we were trying to see what jokes worked best.”  

Hickox says she cuts instinctively: “I don’t think about how long or short a cut is; I just know it’s right.” It’s like working a manual transmission on a car, she notes. “In the beginning, you’re thinking about shifting and clutches, and by the end you could be talking on the phone and drinking hot coffee and not thinking about driving at all; you’re just instinctively driving.” 

More Artisans

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His 'Pavarotti' Documentary Sing

    Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in [...]

  • Lesley Barber Film Composer

    How 'Late Night' Composer Lesley Barber Channeled Paul Shaffer for Talk-Show Theme

    When director Nisha Ganatra started planning “Late Night,” the new Emma Thompson-Mindy Kaling film about a failing late-night network talk show, she knew she’d need a house band and a theme for the program. Her first call was to composer Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), with whom she had worked a few years ago on [...]

  • Ma Movie Set Design

    How 'Ma' Filmmakers Turned a Garage Into Octavia Spencer's Party Basement

    In the new psychological thriller “Ma,” a middle-aged woman played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer befriends a group of teenagers and invites them to use the basement of her house as a place to party. Of course they accept, and much of the film happens there, though the subterranean space we see in the film [...]

  • Jim Frohna Big Little Lies Cinematographer

    'Big Little Lies' Gets a More Naturalistic Look for Season 2

    Jim Frohna has a knack for framing female-centric stories that are lyrical and dramatic. As Jill Soloway’s shooter since her debut feature, “Afternoon Delight,” as well as several seasons of “Transparent,” Frohna has become a preferred DP for capturing the female gaze. So when conflicts in scheduling kept director Jean-Marc Vallée and DP Yves Bélanger from [...]

  • Fosse Verdon BTS

    How 'Fosse/Verdon' Recreated 'Big Spender'

    The making of one of filmmaker Bob Fosse’s early triumphs, the sizzling “Big Spender” sequence from the 1969 musical “Sweet Charity,” kicks off the opening moments of the first episode of FX’s bio-limited series “Fosse/Verdon” in the same sultry style for which the legendary director-choreographer was known. It juxtaposes the film’s dancers in a sinuous, [...]

  • Andy Vajna Remembered

    Hungary's Film Business Copes With Life After Late Producer Andy Vajna

    When the producers of Lionsgate’s “The Spy Who Dumped Me” were struggling to get a permit for a key location on the streets of Budapest several years ago, they knew exactly where to turn. “I called Andy,” says Adam Goodman, whose Mid Atlantic Films serviced the shoot. “I said, ‘Look, we need your help.’” Goodman [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content