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‘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.” 

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