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Best Editing Oscar Nominees Share Insights Into Their Work During ACE Session

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“Hurtful.” “Insulting.” “Short-sighted.” 

Those were the words used by American Cinema Editors (ACE) president Kevin Tent, ACE to describe the Motion Picture Academy’s decision to remove Achievement in Film Editing–along with seven other Oscar categories–from the live presentation of awards. Instead the winning artisans in these categories–spanning film editing, sound, original score, production design, hair and makeup, live-action short, animated short and documentary short–had their acceptance speeches edited into the ABC telecast, a change which many regard as giving short shrift to the collaborative nature of filmmaking.

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Tent’s succinct criticism came during his introductory remarks this past weekend (3/26) at the 22nd annual ACE Invisible Art/Visible Artists panel discussion featuring the year’s Best Editing Oscar nominees–Hank Corwin, ACE for Don’t Look Up (Netflix), Pamela Martin, ACE for King Richard (Warner Bros. Pictures), Peter Sciberras for The Power of the Dog (Netflix), Joe Walker, ACE for Dune (Warner Bros. Pictures), and Myron Kerstein, ACE and Andrew Weisblum, ACE for tick, tick…Boom! (Netflix).

Held the day before the Oscars as has been its tradition, the popular ACE session–held at the Regal Sherman Oaks Galleria–was moderated by Motion Picture Editors Guild president Alan Heim, ACE, for the 19th time in its 22 years. Heim is an Academy Award-winning editor for Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and a nominee for Sidney Lumet’s Network. Heim described himself as “angry” over the Academy’s change of policy relative to the editing category at the Oscars ceremony, adding that editors “will continue to fight this.”

Yet neither Tent nor Heim chose to dwell on their objections to editing being relegated to the non-live portion of the Oscars telecast. To do so, they noted, would defeat the purpose of the ACE session itself, which is to focus on and celebrate the art of editing as reflected in the work of the year’s Oscar nominees.

Walker wound up winning the Oscar on Sunday (3/27) for Dune. It was his first career Academy Award on his third try–he was previously nominated for his editing of director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Walker noted that he’s enjoyed a nurturing, gratifying working relationship with Dune director Villeneuve. Dune marked their fourth collaboration, the other two being Sicario and Blade Runner 2049. Their kindred collaborative spirit, said Walker, also extends to other artisans, a prime example being Villeneuve’s long-time production designer Patrice Vermette. Together they took on a complex structure replete with time shifts in order to do justice to the Dune story (the first part, with a second Dune movie coming down the road). Walker confessed to an affinity for time loops, citing for example the one he contributed to for Shame with another long-time collaborator, director McQueen.

Walker described himself as feeling fortunate, like “a pig among the acorns,” to get the opportunity to take on Dune. The COVID pandemic proved challenging, causing a significant scheduling delay, but also carried a silver lining. While there was a “big hole” in the schedule caused by the pandemic, Walker noted that he and Villeneuve kept on working after the initial director’s cut. This, said the editor, “was beneficial to us,” affording them additional time “you never get” normally. They had the luxury of that extra time to figure out how to do things better. The pandemic also meant that Walker could work from home, quipping that he cut a lot of Dune while clad in his pajamas.

The pandemic also played havoc with the screening process, delaying audience feedback which Walker feels can be a useful tool for an editor. Particularly helpful, said Walker, was gaining such feedback from a couple of trusted editorial colleagues–Oscar winners Tom Cross (Whiplash) and Christopher Rouse (The Bourne Ultimatum). Walker assessed that their input was not only valuable but practical and doable.

Pamela Martin
For her work on King Richard, Martin earlier this month won the ACE Eddie Award for Best Edited Dramatic Feature Film. It marked her first Eddie win; she had previously been nominated twice–for Little Miss Sunshine (directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton) in 2007 and The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell) in 2011. King Richard also garnered Martin her second career Academy Award nomination; the first came for The Fighter.

Martin got the King Richard gig due in part to the supportive role she played early on in director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s career. Some five years ago, Martin was a Sundance Directing Lab advisor to Green who was working on his debut feature, Monsters and Men, which rolled out at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival where it earned a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding First Feature. Green reached out to two of his Sundance Directing Lab advisors on Monsters and Men to work with him on King Richard–editor Martin and cinematographer Robert Elswit, ASC. In an earlier Road To Oscar interview with SHOOT, Green shared that he’s long been an unabashed fan of their work, citing Elswit’s lensing of There Will Be Blood and Martin’s editing on such films as The Fighter and Little Miss Sunshine. Green described learning that Elswit and Martin would collaborate with him on King Richard as being “an incredible moment,” marking kind of a “full circle” navigation where he got to team with the masters who meant so much to him. He remembered first meeting Martin at the Sundance Lab and thinking at the time he would try to lay the foundation for some future collaboration. Thankfully, that came to pass.

Martin too is thankful for getting the chance to work on King Richard, noting that she enjoyed a simpatico creative rapport with Green.

Still, Martin earlier told SHOOT that she was initially hesitant about committing to King Richard, having previously cut a tennis feature–Battle of the Sexes directed by Faris and Dayton–which delved into the lives of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs who met in a heralded tennis match that turned out to be a watershed moment for the women’s rights movement and women’s sports. Martin was reluctant to tackle tennis a second time, wary of doing “the same thing again.” But as she ruminated over King Richard, Martin saw that this film was different in how the tennis was presented. For instance, she noted that Green was “insistent that there would be no sports commentators…the reason being that these were not professional matches so there were no commentators,” which was true to the early career circumstances of the Williams’ story. Given Green’s unique approach to the sports movie genre and tennis specifically, Martin became confident that King Richard would not have her “going back to the same well again.” Most importantly, she affirmed, the story of the Williams’ family was incredibly compelling–and Green was firmly committed to serving that story.

In fact, for the ACE Invisible Art/Visible Artists session, Martin selected for screening the scene depicting Venus Williams’ first professional tennis match. Panel moderator Heim observed that the match played out in some respects like “a car chase.” Martin explained that she had “to cut it like an action sequence” in that audiences “had to feel it,” experience the reactions of her family when the early going of the match wasn’t going well for Williams and then how she tapped into her inner strength and that of her family to turn things around and ultimately prevail. Since there were no play-by-play match commentators, the action–and the way it was edited–had to convey the dynamics of the tennis match and what it represented.

Martin added that what resonates most from her experience on King Richard is the bond she developed with her collaborators, from director Green on down the line, making friends whom she hopes to work with again.

Hank Corwin
Don’t Look Up marks editor Corwin’s third career Oscar nomination–all have come for films from director Adam McKay, the others being The Big Short in 2016 and Vice in 2019. For the ACE discussion session, Corwin selected the final dinner scene from Don’t Look Up, a dead serious culmination to what often plays like a comedy. In ways it underscores the inherent challenge of the movie–balancing the serious with the satirical. A planet-destroying comet is on a collision course with Earth–yet the perilous problem doesn’t seem to rank as a top priority for the political powers that be or the public at large. The parallels to global warming and the COVID-19 pandemic, in which science isn’t being heeded, are all too real. Yet the satirical McKay manages to keep us entertained and preserve the humor somehow in the face of impending doom.

For Corwin the dinner scene is “very personal to me.” He even put his wedding video in as an element intercut into the sequence, along with footage of nature–whales, hippos and other animals. We see what’s at stake as humans and the planet’s creatures meet their demise. The emotional sequence reflects Corwin’s awe of the universe, nature, people and family, what he described as “the quest for spirituality” and “the commonality that unites the universe.” Corwin even deploys “little freeze frames,” which some have incorrectly regarded as mistakes, to underscore the awe of the mundane, what we at times take for granted. It’s a way for him to “crystallize these little moments” as the prosaic becomes special.

Corwin noted that climate scientists have expressed their love for the film, relating to the sobering reality that at times it seems that no one is listening to them. Corwin told SHOOT that this feeling informed his edit to an extent. Scientists feel like their own cries have been cast into the wilderness, said Corwin who in that context felt it was important to show very basic elemental physical nature–including the animal kingdom–which represents the truth and reality that hang in the balance.

Fellow Oscar nominee and panelist Kerstein said that the Don’t Look Up scene screened for the ACE gathering serves as exhibit A that Corwin is a master of intercutting.

Peter Sciberras
Peter Sciberras picked up his first career Oscar and ACE Eddie Award nominations for The Power of the Dog, which also marked his first time working with writer-director Jane Campion whom he’s long admired. The opportunity came through Libby Sharpe, one of the film’s producers. Sharpe knew director David Michôd for whom at the time Sciberras was editing The King. Through that it’s-a-small-world connection, Sciberras got a chance to read Campion’s adapted screenplay based on the Thomas Savage novel “The Power of the Dog.” Sciberras loved the script and got an interview with Campion.

While working with Campion was a gratifying experience and among the highlights of his career, Sciberras also benefited from connecting with artists already familiar to him. He for instance enjoyed a close rapport with DP Ari Wegner, ASC, ACS. Sciberras and Wegner have known each other for some time, their residences about a 10-minute walk apart.  While the two were so busy they couldn’t talk extensively throughout The Power of the Dog, they managed to exchange emails here and there and chat on weekends. Sciberras felt he could reach out to her, talk about a potentially interesting shot, brainstorm as to how a scene could be made better. Sciberras noted that Wegner would even ask him at times if he had all he needed for a certain scene or sequence. He told SHOOT it was a grand luxury to have “free communication” with the cinematographer.

Sciberras also benefited from his ongoing collaborative relationship with supervising sound editor Rob Mackenzie, a member of the team nominated for Best Sound for The Power of the Dog. Sciberras told the ACE audience that he has worked with Mackenzie on “almost every film I’ve done.” Collaborating once again with Mackenzie helped Sciberras delve into the “atmospheric space” that was so essential to telling The Power of the Dog story.

Sciberras was drawn to the tension and psychology of the film as Campion sought to elegantly build momentum throughout. For the ACE session, Sciberras chose a scene in which protagonists and antagonists Rose (in an Oscar-nominated supporting actress performance by Kirsten Dunst) and Phil (her brother-in-law portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, a lead actor Oscar nominee) are playing the same tune–Rose downstairs on the piano, Phil upstairs on the banjo. Subtly but unmistakably you feel the terror Rose feels in relation to Phil. The scene was shot on two different days in two different places, with Sciberras left to bring the two together, underscoring the impact of editing.

The artful bringing together of opposites in terms of people and environments is felt subconsciously and psychologically in The Power of the Dog. Sciberras had to dovetail, for example, with the work of production designer Grant Major, another Oscar nominee for his work on the film. One such Major-created environment inherently carrying contradictions was that of the western ranch.  While the wide open beauty of nature on and around that expansive ranch appears liberating, by contrast the characters there seem confined, almost imprisoned in some instances in that setting. That’s yet another balancing act–this one rooted in somehow marrying wide open environs with cut-off, at times almost suffocating personal space.

Interestingly both Sciberras and Corwin have backgrounds in editing commercials for top-drawer directors. Corwin founded Lost Planet, a house through which he and others have cut assorted notable spots. And Sciberras continues to be at edit house Exile for select short-form and branded projects.

Andrew Weisblum, Myron Kerstein
Editors Weisblum and Kerstein helped to bring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut, tick, tick…Boom!, to life–but they teamed to do so for the most part separately, a working relationship spawned by the pandemic. Weisblum began tick, tick…Boom! but COVID-related delays and a prior commitment to another film–director Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale–meant that the editor had to move on, succeeded by Kerstein whom Miranda gravitated to after working with him on In The Heights, which Miranda wrote and produced.

While Weisblum and Kerstein didn’t spend all that much time together, they made the most of their overlap and stayed in touch, yielding an Oscar nomination that they share for tick, tick…Boom! This was the first Academy Award nod for Kerstein, the second for Weisblum who was a nominee back in 2011 for Black Swan.

Weisblum completed a director’s cut of tick, tick…Boom! but the lockdown threw off his schedule with Miranda. Weisblum said that being able to pass the baton onto someone such as Kerstein was fortuitous. Still, Kerstein had a steep learning curve which centered on getting to fully know the project, hearkening back to the dailies. 

Kerstein knew, though, that he had an Oscar-worthy performance by Garfield who wound up being nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of composer Jonathan Larson. Kerstein also had the benefit of Weisblum’s work, wanting to preserve a significant part of that while adding his own take on what needed to be done in order to do full justice to the story. Ultimately, affirmed Kerstein, having two editors’ brains working on one challenging project was a major advantage. 

The pandemic made it difficult to gather people in a room for test screenings of the film. Such test screenings often provide valuable feedback which informs the cutting of the film. Kerstein and Weisblum had to do without that feedback for an extended period. Weisblum noted that audience reaction would be particularly useful in terms of getting the right take on Larson who could be perceived as a bit selfish about his art. The editors didn’t want to cross that threshold where the audience wouldn’t feel empathy, care or concern for Larson’s character as he was grappling with his life and his music. 

Kerstein noted that he was influenced by panel moderator Heim’s work on All That Jazz. Kerstein said that his editing of tick, tick…Boom! was informed by that Fosse film and that he often thought when faced with a cutting decision, “what would Alan (Heim) do.”

Kerstein’s credits also include editing the Sundance film Garden State as well as director Jon M. Chu’s box office hit, Crazy Rich Asians, and HBO’s Golden Globe-winning series Girls. Kerstein additionally made his directorial debut in season 2 of the Apple TV+ drama Home Before Dark.

Weisblum has cut consistently for such notable directors as Aronofsky (Black Swan, mother!, Noah, The Wrestler) and Wes Anderson (Isle of Dogs, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited). In fact, Weisblum edited Anderson’s The French Dispatch right before embarking on tick, tick…Boom!



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