On the day before the Academy Awards®, ACE presented its 16th annual Invisible Art, Visible Artists panel at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. During the packed event, this year’s Oscar®-nominated editors discussed their films, their careers and their craft in front of an eager and enthusiastic crowd.
The panel of editors included Hank Corwin, ACE (The Big Short), Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road), Stephen Mirrione, ACE (The Revenant), Tom McArdle, ACE (Spotlight), and Mary Jo Markey, ACE, and Maryann Brandon, ACE (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). ACE and Motion Picture Editors Guild president Alan Heim, ACE, moderated the discussion.
On how he started in the business, McArdle explained how he discovered filmmaking in college: “One of my professors suggested that editing was the final rewrite and I thought that idea fascinating. Then, after school I became a PA, then assistant editor. I got to edit a micro-budget feature pretty soon after that, and just kept editing since then.”
Corwin described how his experience was a little more prosaic: “I wanted to be a writer and I followed my girlfriend to New York. I worked at the public theater, then as a security guard. I worked at the American Journal of Physics and I got fired.”
Corwin jokingly explained how he seems to get fired from a lot of jobs, which received a large laugh from the crowd. “But it was very serendipitous because I subsequently got work carrying cans at a commercial editing house in New York and that’s how I got started.”
Sixel explained how, similarly to Corwin, she thought she wanted to be a writer and even became an English teacher, but became increasingly curious about how films were made. She emigrated from South Africa to Australia to work in film.
“I had sort of a naive idea that I’d work in the Australian film industry and [on arriving] I met a woman who was a film editor who said, ‘I don’t have a job for you but would you look after my kids?’ So, for six weeks, I was a nanny and I completed a puzzle with her seven year old that she claimed no one had ever finished, so she gave me a job as an assistant editor.”
Mirrione told of how the follies of a fellow film student led to his own discovery of editing. A friend, who was about to shoot a short film, suggested that he come and create a ‘making of’ documentary about the production. As he filmed, Mirrione noticed that his overly-confident friend did not plan properly and had technical issues with his equipment on set which led to some disastrous outcomes.
It wasn’t until he got his footage in the editing room that Mirrione discovered, “This is kind of like magic. I can take this horrible thing that happened and turn it into this really funny project. This incident fused all of the things that I was passionate about and that’s the first time I discovered editing.”
Markey got her start while working for Robert Redford as an assistant and ghostwriter. “I came to realize that all the studying I had done for my degree in English was really very relevant to what film editors do – it was about storytelling, it was about point of view, it was about very deep character analysis,” she said. “I just fell in love with the idea of merging my former study with this incredibly interesting craft and Redford helped me get my first job as an apprentice.”
Brandon found her path into editing while in college. “Someone in the theater department encouraged me to get involved with filmmaking in my last two years of university and I ended up applying to NYU graduate school,” she related. “I spent three years guerrilla filmmaking in New York – and if that doesn’t kick your ass I don’t know what does.”
To finish her thesis film, Brandon ended up editing at the Brill Building in New York. “I watched all of the big features being made all around me and my very dear friend Dorian Harris kindly gave me an apprentice job on The Cotton Club. It was just the most fun I’d ever had and I realized I’d found my people and found my calling.”
For the next portion of the event the panelists each presented a scene from their nominated film. From Spotlight, McArdle chose the montage toward the end of the film of the printing of the paper that carried the Catholic Church abuse article. To create a dynamic tension by compressing time, McArdle intercuts between the paper being printed and the paper being delivered, with the character’s reactions to the article. McArdle explained how they had a timeline issue trying to condense this section and it was in the editing room that he came up with the idea of shooting inserts of the printing press. “I like having the printing press shots too because the film is sort of a celebration of old school print journalism,” he said.
From The Big Short, Corwin chose the scene where Steve Carell’s character, Mark Baum, is overwhelmed by the corruption and greed in the banking industry and opens up to his wife about his brother’s suicide. In the scene, Corwin uses jump cuts and overlapping dialogue to create unique visual and audio narratives that highlight the same emotional note. He explained that this version of the scene “had more resonance and was more profound” than in the original script.
From Max Mad: Fury Road, Sixel described a scene during which Max arrives at the war rig as Furiosa and the escaped women are resting after a chase through a sandstorm. Shot in fast bursts of expertly choreographed movement, the rumble between Max, Furiosa and the women dramatically shifts and flips the upper hand between the two sides.
“In this scene – as throughout much of this film – the action was the narrative,” explained Sixel. “The scenes have a structure and rhythm which couldn’t have happened without the action choreography.”
From The Revenant, Mirrione selected the scene during which Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a vision as he lies, fevered, in a healing lodge being built around him with stone, wood and snow. Glass has a vision of a collapsed church in the wilderness where his son’s spirit visits him. Mirrione discussed his use of shots at various speeds to create a dream-like effect for the sequence. “The hope is that the audience will, in a subliminal way, feel pulled into the scene in a way that they’re not just observing the movie but experiencing it,” he said.
Markey and Brandon chose to show a scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens during which Rey, Finn and BB-8 are frantically fleeing a squadron of stormtroopers. They hijack the Millennium Falcon, which results in a high-speed aerial dogfight. Markey edited the first half and Brandon edited the second half. Through the excitement and explosions, character traits are revealed and a bond is formed between the characters. “It became clear to us that it was going to be Rey’s film pretty early on and I really tried to do most of the Finn/Rey scenes from Rey’s point of view,” said Markey.
Brandon added, “I think [director J.J. Abrams] really takes time with emotional moments. He has a great eye for action, but I think he should be credited more for giving an audience all the emotion because it really does drive every scene.”
ACE wishes to thank this event’s Platinum sponsor, Blackmagic Design; and Gold sponsors, Avid, MPEG, and Moviola Digital.