Cuts We Love – Before Sunrise

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2nd Qtr, 2019

Edited by Sandra Adair, ACE, the second film with her longtime collaborator, director Richard Linklater, turned out to be the first of a trilogy featuring Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), two strangers who meet on a train in Europe and decide to explore Vienna.

“Rick, Ethan and Julie all worked on the script together (Kim Krizan is also credited) and then they rehearsed intensively for weeks before shooting.

Once the cameras were rolling, there was a natural tone to their performances,” Adair says of the film, which followed her collaboration with Linklater on Dazed and Confused.

“Nothing was improvised at all and that may dispel a myth because the actors seem so natural and spontaneous.”

That lightness of touch is certainly one of the film’s charms and testament to Adair’s skills as much as the performances. It’s a tone established for the trilogy in one of the opening scenes where Jesse invites Celine to get off the train.

“From the moment I read the very heavily-dialogued script for Before Sunrise, I understood how important the chemistry between the two lead actors was going to be,” Adair relates.

“Rick likes to try to capture an entire dialogue scene in one take, either with Steadicam or a two-shot, but he also covers the scenes traditionally with medium shots, over-shoulders and close-ups. I definitely had many options to select from.”

It was important to set the tone of the film from the very beginning. “In this scene, I wanted to develop a ‘love at first sight’ kind of attraction between the two of them. He is courting her, trying to be persuasive, funny, smart, upbeat and there’s a sense of possibility and excitement,” Adair explains.

“The selections I made on Celine’s reactions were to reflect her growing attraction, starting by being a little shy at first and as the scene progresses she starts to play along. She’s skeptical at first but also a little coy. So, it’s like cutting a little cat-and-mouse game.”

She adds, “There is a great deal of power in an expressive and rightly-placed reaction shot. How one character’s words fall on another’s face, seeing how that dialogue is landing on the other person, can have a great impact.”

While the film’s story is minimalist in that it is largely two characters walking and talking, it also takes place over one night. “Knowing the night is going to end, there’s an element of a ticking clock that builds some tension about whether or not they’ll part ways and if they do, if they’ll ever meet again,” says Adair.

“The main challenge in editing this scene was finding a rhythm with the dialogue while simultaneously keeping the characters playful, seductive and building some intimacy, always keeping them connected to one another.”

While Adair finished editorial from Austin, Texas, assistant editor Sheri Galloway got to visit the location shoot. “This was the first Avid show that Sheri and I had ever done. She learned Avid over there and helped me get familiar with it upon her return.

“Before Sunrise has a very natural pace. It’s romantic and if you rushed it you would totally ruin the illusion of being in real-time. Editing it in a way that is non-manipulating and natural feeds into the whole way the Before films are conceived.