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Invisible Art, Visible Artists

July 17, 2014

Oscar nominees attract a capacity crowd at the annual event

By Eric Kench


After several days of downpour in Los Angeles, the rain clouds miraculously parted on March 1 just as the first group of attendees began to line up outside Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre for the 14th annual Invisible Art, Visible Artists panel, presented by ACE and the American Cinematheque. Held annually on the day before the Academy Awards®, the event brings together the Oscar®-nominated editors to discuss and answer questions about their films and the craft of editing.

Once the theater was filled to capacity, moderator and ACE vice president Stephen Rivkin, A.C.E., introduced this year’s panelists: Jay Cassidy, A.C.E., Crispin Struthers, A.C.E., and Alan Baumgarten, A.C.E. (American Hustle); Christopher Rouse, A.C.E. (Captain Phillips); Martin Pensa (who edited Dallas Buyers Club with the film’s director, Jean-Marc Vallée); Mark Sanger, A.C.E. (who edited Gravity with director Alfonso Cuarón); and Joe Walker, A.C.E. (12 Years a Slave).

Rivkin started the discussion by asking the panelists to talk about their mentors, and if there was a particular film that in-spired them to become editors. Cassidy, who started his career in the ‘70s on documentaries, commented that there were several films that had a great impact on him, particularly Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Strangelove. He added that “the inspiration continued to this day, including the films that are represented here, and I’m awed by how great they are.” Struthers, the youngest editor on the panel, who co-edited last year’s Silver Linings Playbook with Cassidy, joked that he’s from “a different generation,” and listed more modern-day classics such as Star Wars, Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction.

Baumgarten related that “a specific men-tor, it would probably be Mark Goldblatt, [A.C.E.] who I assisted for many years … standing behind the Moviola next to him really helped shape how I think about editing and is where I got my first start.”

Editors mentoring their younger assistants has been a long tradition in the world of editorial. Rouse, who earned his third Oscar nomination for Captain Phillips and won an Academy Awardfor The Bourne Ultimatum, has worked under some of the best. When asked who his mentors were Rouse stated, “I was so blessed to have so many great mentors throughout the years. I’d say Bobby Jones [A.C.E.] and Hal Ashby; I worked with Hal for three years when I was a kid, and I’d say they were huge influences for me.” Rivkin chuckled, “that’s some serious mentoring right there.”

Pensa, a native of Montreal, commented that it was the American films by directors such as Hitchcock and Kubrick that had the most profound effect on him. “I real-ized how much the language of film and the complexity of film, through Hitchcock and Kubrick especially, taught me this was where to go.” Pensa commented on how Vallée was a great mentor during the editing process and also gave him his first shot at editing a feature film.

Sanger, who started his career as an assistant and then VFX editor, related that as a child in London he was transfixed and inspired by the spaghetti westerns that would play on late-night television. “Certainly Sergio Leone, in terms of the language of film, was the first influence, and the American cinema of the ‘70s is a key interest of mine and that’s what kind of drove me.”

Walker, on the other hand, started his career as a composer and began assisting for an editor in London who became his mentor. “His choices were so perverse and interesting and I just thought it was a fantastic job when I worked with him and I grew to love editing in his hands.” Walker received a laugh from the crowd when he added that this editor also liked to drink at lunch, which allowed him to cut more scenes on his own.

Next came a screening and discussion of clips from the nominated films. TheAmerican Hustle team chose a scene they had all had a hand in editing. The clip, which spanned two dialogue-driven scenes and included six of the major characters, employed overlapping dialogue and transitional music cues to demonstrate how
the characters’ lives are becoming inter-woven. Said Cassidy: “For no good reason the music just changes, but it reflects the moment. You can get away with so much stuff like that, you don’t have to be literal. That’s my message to the crowd here, just do it.”

Moving on to Captain Phillips, Rouse showed the clip of Phillips receiving care from a medic, following his rescue from a band of Somali pirates. The editor explained how the guttural scene was shot last minute on the set with very little planning, to play as an emotional and cathartic release after the trauma of the kidnapping. “My jaw hit the ground when the dailies came in and (the cut in the film) was in fact my first cut, I didn’t change a frame of it,” he said, receiving a round of applause from the stunned audience.

Dallas Buyers Club centers on Ron (Matthew McConaughey, who won an Oscar for the role), who is fighting to survive the AIDS virus while being persecuted by the people around him. Pensa chose a scene where the main character’s willpower is being pushed to the limit. In the clip Ron returns to his trailer to find it vandalized. As he rummages through his belongings for hidden cash, there are jump cuts that illustrate his state of mind. Pensa explained that the trailer scene “was shot continuously … but we thought this guy is a mess – if he had to remember that moment it would be a spontaneous memory of it … so we felt the need to just cut it to stay with the character’s emotional state at that point.”

Sanger chose a clip from Gravity that didn’t have a single visible edit in it. In the scene, satellite debris comes crashing into the space shuttle and crew. “The way Alfonso works is that we were in pre-production, production and post-production from day one, every single day.” Sanger elaborated that, early on, he and Cuarón would read through the script and construct and block the scenes with little models, something he described as “pre-blocking an edit.”

The 12 Years A Slave clip illustrated the mysterious passage of time through the eyes of its protagonist, Solomon Northup, who stares into the distance off screen for a long beat and then suddenly it cuts to a jump forward in time. Walker commented that as an editor he “works with time. You’re sort of telling the audience what’s real, and you give the audience time to invest in the characters on screen.”

Editors, post professionals and film students mingled with panelists and sponsors long after the program ended. ACE would like to give special thanks to Blackmagic Design, which returned for the second year as Invisible Art, Visible Artists’ platinum sponsor, and to gold sponsors Avid, Moviola Digital and Motion Picture Editors Guild, who, along with silver sponsor AJA Video Systems, helped make the event possible.

Posted in Cinema Editor Quarter 2 – 2014, Vol 64 Editor’s Cut

And here is the video of the event