The A.C.E. Eddie Awards give film and television editors the opportunity to recognize their colleagues’ excellence, and to be acknowledged in return. For practitioners of “the invisible art” – a pursuit that viewers and, for that matter, most people who work in film production don’t really comprehend – such an evening is delightful, perhaps even essential.
Listening to presenters and recipients’ insights and anecdotes at this year’s ceremony, I was reminded of a concert I attended as a young teenager. The great Ravi Shankar played sitar, accompanied by tabla player, Allah Rakha. During their performance, the maestros occasionally shared a smile. When asked why, Pandit Ravi Shankar said they did so at moments when a more knowledgeable audience would have applauded.
Presenting the 2012 Golden Eddie for career achievement in directing to Alexander Payne, Reese Witherspoon recalled asking him what part of filmmaking he liked best. She thought it was a rhetorical question; surely his response would be, “working with actors.” So she was deflated when Mr. Payne said he liked editing above all.
A room full of editors smiled the Ravi Shankar smile; we’ve all heard the same thing from directors. The set is chaotic, the cutting room serene. During principal photography, momentous decisions must be made in front of a large crew while, during post-production, bold experiments can be conducted in private. When cast and crew complete a scene, they don’t return to it, whereas a director can re-visit each and every moment of a story ad nauseam in the edit bay. Problematic moments disappear. Great moments are unearthed or even manufactured.
Ms. Witherspoon described such an editorially fabricated motif in ELECTION. She was surprised, upon viewing the film for the first time, to see freeze frames of her goofiest, most awkward facial expressions peppered throughout. Together, Alexander Payne and editor Kevin Tent, A.C.E. had combed footage for the actress’s silliest looks, some lasting only a tiny fraction of a second. Then they froze these shots and lingered on them during dialogue scenes, thereby establishing the story’s comical tone and, at the same time, commenting on Ms. Witherspoon’s character.
During his acceptance speech, Mr. Payne spoke not just about creating humorous moments during post-production, but about Mr. Tent himself -- glowingly and with great warmth and wit. He made it clear that respect, trust and (yes) love, are cornerstones of his relationship with his editor. This public acknowledgement of the intimate connection between director and editor made us smile the Ravi Shankar smile again. In post-production, we’re together 50 hours or more per week for months on end, and we become as close as family.
Clint Eastwood expressed similar high regard and affection for his cutter, Joel Cox, A.C.E., when presenting the trophy for career achievement in feature film editing. “My theory,” Mr. Eastwood said, “is surround yourself with good people and let them make you look good.” He continued, “If it isn’t relaxing and fun to do, there’s no reason to be doing it at my stage.”
The esteemed actor/director also spoke nostalgically about working with Mr. Cox, years ago, on upright moviolas. Today, of course, they use a digital system. For Mr. Eastwood, the newer technology provides more creative freedom. His editor will suggest things, “and I’ll say, ‘Sure, try it.’ Now with Avid, it’s so much faster and you can put it together two or three different ways.”
Accepting the Eddie from his director, Mr. Cox expressed pride in editors who began their careers as apprentices and assistants in the Eastwood cutting rooms. His remarks brought to mind how important it is to learn from masters of the craft, as Mr. Cox himself did. The ready availability of editing software hasn’t diminished the need for traditional apprenticeship one iota. To be sure, one can figure out which keys to hit on one’s own. But truly understanding why to cut to a close-up, for instance, and at precisely which instant, can only come from watching and listening to accomplished directors and editors at work.
The hundreds of decisions made in an edit suite each day require precision and subtlety, a fact acknowledged by award presenters and recipients alike. In the world of film editing, one frame more or less – a twenty-fourth of a second – can be the difference between clarity and vagueness, between laughter and deafening silence, between rapt attention and boredom. And only those who have toiled in cutting rooms truly get this.
Awarding Kevin Tent the Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic) trophy for his work with Mr. Payne on THE DESCENDANTS underscored the vital and primary importance of editing precision in bringing the best of an actor’s work to the screen. Their film is a dialogue-driven relationship drama, and that fact resulted in a huge Ravi Shankar smile. For editors know that an engaging performance in a given scene almost never comes from an uncut recording of a single good take. Great performances are carefully pieced together in the cutting room -- sometimes a word or two at a time -- from many different takes. This is what Mr. Tent’s award was about.
Of course, all the nominees in for Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic) built performances the same way. HUGO, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, MONEYBALL and WAR HORSE showcase great acting because they were edited with precision and subtlety, combining superlative moments from an array of takes to create magical, mesmerizing performances.
The same is true of nominees for Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy or Musical). MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, MY WEEK WITH MARYLIN, BRIDESMAIDS and YOUNG ADULT all deserve the acclaim they’ve gotten. In singling out the work of Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius’s on THE ARTIST, A.C.E voters recognized not only the power of editing to bring out the best from actors, writers and directors, but the fact that this picture’s editors did so without dialogue and sound effects – tools on which we normally rely quite heavily.
Documentaries, which don’t use professional actors or scripted scenes, of course, present editing challenges unlike those that arise in feature films. Because a doc’s dramatic moments aren’t scripted, they must be created in the cutting room. The same is true of non-fiction story structure.
Choosing Lewis Erskine and Aljernon Tunsil’s work on FREEDOM RIDERS for the Eddie, then, hailed them as storytellers. Nominating David Tedeschi for LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, and Joe Bini and Maya Hawke for CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, did the same. Hailing their work again made us smile a` la Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha, because we know documentary editors to be writers, not “technicians,” as the general public often sees them.
Like non-fiction film, television makes unique demands on editors. True, tv shows require precision in editing and performance construction just as features do, but cutting for the small screen is done with much tighter schedules, taking weeks instead of months. Sometimes, in fact, a half hour show only has days between the end of shooting and its airdate.
That’s why, again smiling the Shankar smile, we applaud all the television editing winners and nominees, particularly Doug Ibold, A.C.E., recipient of the career achievement Eddie for television editing. His work on MIAMI VICE was groundbreaking across all audio-visual media. That, and his editing on such shows as MAGNUM, P.I., QUINCEY, M.E., LAW AND ORDER and LAW AND ORDER, S.V.U. have become part of the fabric of American pop culture’s history.
All the 2012 nominees and winners are to be congratulated! And thanks are in order as well: to A.C.E.’s peerless executive director, Jenni McCormick, who produced the awards dinner, and to all who worked behind the scenes to make the evening a huge success. Thanks, also, to the evening’s host, actor/comedian Patton Oswalt. Mr. Oswalt seemed truly amazed at the fast pace of the presentations. But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise; editors have no patience for scenes that go longer than they should.