EditFest London, 2018
Two-time Oscar® nominee and two-time ACE Eddie Award winner Chris Lebenzon, ACE, shared a glimpse into Dumbo, the latest “extraordinary world-building” project from director Tim Burton, in a fascinating career retrospective to cap the sixth EditFest London, held June 30 at BFI Southbank.
Sessions on editing TV crime drama and working as an assistant, as well as invaluable insights from feature editors including Eddie Hamilton, ACE, and Joe Walker, ACE, additionally contributed to a fabulous and warmly-received event.
Of his 25-year working relationship with Burton, Lebenzon said, “Tim monitors the cut as we’re shooting so I have to be up to camera with every shot. A scene shot during the day will be assembled by the end of the day. That said, he gives me a lot of freedom in post-production to refine the cut. We’ve worked together so much now that we can finish each other’s sentences.”
He shared clips from two of Burton’s classics, Sweeney Todd and Ed Wood, and also commented on Dumbo, the live-action retelling of the Disney classic which the pair have been working on in the U.K. for more than a year.
“It is going to be emotional yet exciting,” he said, adding of the CG title character “we’re working with VFX to refine Dumbo’s performance. He’s the main character so we have to get it right.”
Naturally, there was room to enjoy several sequences from Top Gun, the film that skyrocketed the career of Tom Cruise and also made Lebenzon one of the hottest editing talents in town.
“The early screenings of Top Gun had not gone well,” he recalled. “In our first screening there wasn’t yet a strong story or well-developed characters. We went back to [producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s] office and he described it as ‘one long sunset.”’
The final blockbuster hit built on director Tony Scott’s stylish visuals and was largely composed in the edit by Billy Weber and Lebenzon. This included hiring Cruise back from the set of
The Color of Money for a reshoot, effective use of pop songs, and weaving together a narrative out of mountains of aerial footage from cameras on the wings, on the ground and in the cockpit of U.S. Navy jets. “The original script called for a scene during which the pilots engage the Russians and win the fight,” he remembered of the climactic aerial battle. “We had to piece together a story, but the aerial footage was driving that story rather than the written story driving the images.
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Since Tony shot the actors wearing pilot masks – meaning you couldn’t see their mouths moving – we could rewrite the story, giving the actors new dialogue. Tom was frustrated one day and there’s a shot of him in the cockpit with his mask on, shouting for his assistant. Of course, I didn’t use the sound but I loved the intensity in his eyes so that shot is in the final cut.”
During the conversation, moderated by journalist Carolyn Giardina, Lebenzon also shared adrenaline-pumping clips from Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State, both helmed by Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. “I’ve learned not to feel pressure; it doesn’t help me creatively,” he said. “But the studio executives, who are also our collaborators, can lose their jobs after a few misfires so that anxiety filters down to all of us. Even if a film makes $150 million it’s often considered unsuccessful these days. The cost is so high that there is a need to hit a home run every time up at bat.”
If there was a central message from EditFest’s feature editing panel, it was ‘say more with less.’
“Lots of creativity comes from recognizing what the problem is – and often asking hard questions such as ‘do we need this line of dialogue.’” said Joe Walker, ACE – who presented previs from the ‘hologram’ Las Vegas nightclub scene in Blade Runner 2049. “There are times when no words are far more effective.”
Presenting a short sequence from Wonder Woman, Martin Walsh, ACE, said, “Every shot has some VFX in it and it began life at 15 minutes long with thousands of feet of footage to sift through but we realized that all the audience really care about is Wonder Woman. So that was our guiding principal. Editing is as much about what you left out as what you leave in.”
Alex Mackie, ACE, showed a scene from The Siege of Jadotville and added, “Pauses or looks and glances rather than exposition can give the audience something to think about because they are forced to imagine what they don’t hear.”
“I am always looking to find the next few frames I can get out,” said Tania Reddin, editor of WWI drama Journey’s End. “Can we make the scene do the same amount of work in less time? Can you find a shortcut connection between A and B?” Another theme from this session was about having the courage of your convictions. “I’d rather be a diplomat than doormat,” said Walker. “You are hired for your opinion.” ACE President Stephen Rivkin, ACE, who chaired the session and also presided over the event, stressed the importance of understanding the basic story points that need to be conveyed in every scene you cut, how it fits in the overall film, and the diplomacy it takes when you feel a scene is not working. “It’s important to judge the right time to suggest something may not be working.
It can make the difference of whether a creative editorial proposal is accepted or rejected.”
“The right time is when they are about to strike the set or move to a different continent to film,” said Hamilton, who spoke about his work on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. “If alarm bells ring watching dailies then you have to say something. No one wants to hear it, but it’s much better to do it there and then rather than six months later when the cost implications will be huge.”
After hearing the various potted histories of how each of the editors had found a break into the industry, Rivkin joked, “Every way is valid but on this evidence there is a common thread of lying (even if you don’t know how to do something) and being very persistent.”
The topic of breaking into the industry was also explored during a session on moving from assistant to editor, and here, the panelists and moderator/assistant editor/editor Robbie Gibbon agreed there’s no one way to become an assistant or an editor.
“The one common trend is to say, ‘Yes, I can do that,’” found John Venzon, ACE, whose recent credits include The Lego Batman Movie.
“The thing you want to hear from your editor is, ‘I’m so busy,’ because you can say, ‘Is there anything I can help out on?’” And he added that when opportunity comes your way, say yes, and then figure out how to accomplish the task.
Agreed Steven Worsley, “Never turn down an opportunity; when an opportunity is presented, you have to just take it.”
He related that he had such a moment when he was asked to edit a trailer for War Book.
Worsley also gave a shout out to ACE executive director Jenni McCormick, who told him when Chris Rouse, ACE, was going to be in London to cut The Green Mile; Worsley reached out and the result was a valuable experience.
Indeed, finding and developing relationships was a common thread that ran through the discussion.
Eve Doherty talked about her break cutting the pilot for what became comedy Hang Ups, an ad-libbed series for U.K.’s Channel 4. “I think it’s about finding those working relationships. On the basis of the pilot, they gave me work on the series.”
And Adam Gough was an editorial trainee on Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film, Children of Men. Years later, Gough would reunite with the director, cutting a web promo. “Alfonso Cuaron was looking for someone and I was available … he remembered me making tea.” Gough is currently editing Cuaron’s upcoming Roma with the director.
Charlene Short, who was assisting on Fortitude when she got to cut a trailer, asserted, “You also have to tell people you want to edit, they aren’t going to assume it.” While aspiring editors may have a plan in mind, Venzon warned: “You cannot have expectations, because the timeline to become an editor is not in our hands.”
Another session offered a deep dive into cutting crime dramas for TV, with four ‘crime scene investigators’ who discussed their work while identifying some common threads in the genre.
Stephen O’Connell, who shared a clip from Fortitude, summed up, “If there’s something universal, I think it’s a curiosity about other people’s stories. … then it’s about style. What is the style? The tone, music, pace, rhythm [that we use to] reveal things.”
Elen Pierce Lewis (Luther) noted that “every drama I approach differently because I react to the material, but if you take anything from a crime-drama series, it’s probably the music and the mood. You never stop learning in editing. For each, the material and director is different. With crime drama the dialogue is quite expositional.”
Andrew John McClelland (Line of Duty) agreed, adding, “Within the genre there are different types [of approaches]. …Once you identify that, then I think one of the most important things an editor does is set the tone.”
During the session, moderated by CinemaEditor’s international editor, Adrian Pennington, Lewis warned that in many “crime dramas the victims are women and sometimes it can be gratuitous.”
But O’Connell added that “there’s a big difference between gratuitous and message driven. When you are responsible for telling a story that is going to inform people through entertainment, some of the grimness is important.”
Asked about how the small screen itself informs editorial choices, such as use of close-ups, Una Ni Dhonghaile (Three Girls) said, “I respond to the material – if there are wide shots that capture the story, I’ll use that. A lot of people have big screens. But there are moments when you realize that something is going on [that needs a close-up]. But it’s not something I do consciously.”
EditFest included a look at platinum sponsor Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve as an editor’s tool, presented by assistant, visual effects and online editor Will Steer. The annual cocktail party closed the event.