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Why you will benefit from sitting through a session of The Sessions

December 19th, 2012

The subject of The Sessions – a paralyzed poet hiring a sex surrogate to lose his virginity – may make you writhe at the thought of a touchy-feely film. Go anyway. While the movie doesn’t have the laughs that Steve Carrell and Katherine Keener served up in The Forty Year Old Virgin, it does deliver a humanness about sex that all of us have felt no matter how abled we are. As I see it, we are all in the dark and isolated, groping for light and connection and hoping for love. And the characters of Mark O’Brien and Cheryl Cohen Greene, played by Robert Hawke and Helen Hunt respectively, are no different.

One on One Movie
The heart of The Sessions throbs with the thoughts and emotions of two people. No one has described cutting such scenes better than Carol Littleton (Body Heat, The SessionsPlaces in the Heart, and The Big Chill and many more): “One-to-one dialogue scenes are difficult because it’s literally about the very thin connection between two people and that connection can’t be violated.  You have to be aware of it all the time.  They may be connecting or not connecting emotionally, but you have to be aware of what’s happening between them the whole time.”

But let’s hear from the editor of The Sessions herself. Lisa Bromwell, A.C.E., wrote in a guest blog in Indiewire on December 5 about the challenge of the movie: “The story of an immobile polio victim living in a big metal box has its own editorial challenges to say the least. For one, it has very little inherent movement. There’s an old editor’s adage that says to make a cut invisible, cut on movement. And I had a main character that could barely move. Big problem.”

Bromwell adds, “Beyond that, there was the tricky issue of getting the tone right. We wanted the audience to be moved by Mark’s journey and touched by the fullness of his life without falling into melodrama. That meant we needed the humor in the script to work without betraying the reality of his disability.”

How did Bromwell solve the problems? She worked with director Ben Lewin, himself a polio victim, moving and eliminating fantasy Mark’s fantasy sequences, adding a VO of him reciting his poetry at the beginning, and making other structuring changes. Regarding structure Bromwell relates, “Ben used time ellipses in the script – right in the middle of an embarrassingly awkward moment with the sex surrogate, we would cut to Mark describing his feelings to his mortified but intrigued priest [played by William Macy]. We realized we could use this device both sooner and more often. As long as we were advancing the story, we could flash forward or back without confusion.”

When female editors are often called for
Steven Spielberg hired in 1982 Carol Littleton to cut E.T. because he believed a Women and Hollywood logofemale editor would bring more humanity to the E.T. character. Things haven’t changed much in 30 years a Lewin also deliberately set out to hire a female editor, Bromwell reports, because he “felt a woman would be more sensitive to the emotionality of the story.” Bromwell reflects, “I don’t know if that’s true – I like a good gunfight as much as any guy. But right or wrong, I think women are perceived as being more nurturing.”

Editors as chefs
Bromwell gives clear insight into a good editor-director relationship when she writes, “Whatever their gender, the editor sees everything – that means all the mistakes as well as every flash of genius. There needs to be a level of security between director and editor so neither censors their thoughts before speaking. It’s often the crazy bad idea that turns out to be brilliant.”

To illustrate her point, Bromwell recounts her experience cooking Chicken Mole Negro one day during her time off: “The multi-page recipe called for nuts and dried fruits and all sorts of fabulous things including peppers so hot you had to handle them with gloves. Finally, after hours of work, the last item you add is chocolate. This sounds like a terrible idea that will ruin the entire thing. But it doesn’t — it’s the key. Just like editing, every little bit counts and sometimes the most unlikely ingredient turns out to be the thing that makes magic.”

Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Joy goes to the movies

Oscar Blog: Animated Shorts

February 22nd, 2012

I guess I should be talking about the editor noms for next Sunday’s, (Feb 26), Academy award ceremony, but, as usual, all nominated editors deserve the award, and, as I stated previously, I hope Thelma Schoonmaker gets it for Hugo just because she’s will break a three way tie with three male editors and be the first editor to take home four Oscars.

So, on to what caught my eye this week: The five animated shorts nominated by the Academy this year:

Dimanche (Sunday) – France

A Morning Stroll – U.S.A.

Wild Life – Canada

La Luna – U.S.A.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – U.S.A.

A short film, according to AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) rules, must have a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. The bunch I saw ran from seven to fifteen minutes. While there were female producers and other female crew, the shorts were all directed by men and mostly featured male characters.

As I sat in a local theatre, watching short after short, I was awed by the marvelous ideas and images. I also noticed that animation can play much faster and looser with transitions in time and place, and therefore story as all took leaps unfeasible in live action shorts – or longs for that matter.  As I watched short after short, soaking up the clever images accompanying the good stories, I waited for the film that would soar into the stratosphere with a story and theme above the others. It finally came in the form of…

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Since I saw it this 2-D flick in the theatre, I have now watched it three times online – twice with other people who were equally entranced – and I am still seeing things. View it yourself and see what you think and if you agree that it deserves the Oscar.

It’s a 15-minute fable from Shreveport, LA based Moonbot Studios that uses CGI and miniatures to tell the tale of a book lover and writer who lives in the New Orleans. Since it has no dialogue, it qualifies as a silent film, though there’s music and spare sound effects. Throughout the movie the “Pop Goes the Weasel” melody plays – slow, fast, upbeat, forlornly, etc. – always underscoring the mood of the moment. The animation allows for some unexplained moments – or at least I didn’t figure them out – but they are part of the charm and power of the medium. Also, if you spell out the central character’s name syllable by syllable – “morr is less more” it’s a bit nonsensical.

The real genius of Moonbot’s creation is that it’s both a book and a film, evocative of the “live” paintings in the Harry Potter movies and books but much more. Let me explain…

Shot from short
Act 1

In the first act a Katrina-like storm destroys the city and his book, literally spinning his life in a new direction. In his porkpie hat, body, and actions, Morris is a ringer for Buster Keaton.  The film also pays homage to the Wizard of Oz when it reverses the tornado scene, transitioning from colorful New Orleans to a colorless land of destruction where the storm deposits houses drop from the sky, upside down, and Morris emerges from one of them. The act ends with a black out.

Shot from short
Act 2

The second act then begins with Morris in Bookland (my term) where the color slowly seeps back into the landscape and opened books fly like birds, flutter their “wings” like butterflies, and walk on stilt like legs. The power of the reaction shot is proven once again as books – primarily an old fashioned copy of Humpty Dumpty – react to Morris – laughing, urging, crying, etc. often via flip book motion.

Shot from shortAs the act progresses, Morris revives a book in an operating theatre as one books becomes a heart monitor machine, another a heart pump, another provides operating instructions, and a third looks on – Humpty Dumpty again – with encouragement and concern. He also revives the local population, handing books via a takeout window. The people are colorless until they receive their book – in color – which breathes color into them.  Morris also takes up writing his own book again inside a 19th century library – his new, post-hurricane home – where books form his family.

Shot from short
Act 3

The third act shows Morris, now gray-haired, finishing his opus, and completing the hand off of it and his library-home to the next generation.

The animation allows for some unexplained moments – or at least I didn’t figure them out – but they are part of the charm and power of the medium. Also, if you spell out the central character’s name syllable by syllable – “morr is less more” it’s a bit nonsensical.

Lastly, the film is avilable as an interactive e-Book on iPad, completing the translation of book to film and back and placing it firmly in 2012. In the end it’s the force of story that holds the viewer-reader attention as “book” and “film” meld and the words lose their meaning. Long may the force be with us!

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself in this trailer for the iPad app. Yes! A trailer – another connector between the world of film and books. (FYI: I haven’t accepted a dime from any commercial sources so far on this site and will let you know when I do. I just rave or pan as I see it.)

Awards, Joy goes to the movies

Do go see Hugo

November 29th, 2011

Hugo poster Director Martin Scorsese scores with Hugo, an engaging story and an homage to early French filmmakers George Melies (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) and the Lumiere brothers as well as Gare Montparnesse, a French railway station. Edited by the queen of editors, Thelma Schoomaker, the movie has special appeal to filmmakers, film students, and editors – its 127 minutes flew by for me as I was thoroughly, enchantingly engaged in the story and the muted brown-gray train station world of devices and ordinary people that Scorsese created.

The main drama centers on  Melies and Hugo Cabret, a boy with huge watery blue eyes (perfectly acted by Asa Butterfield). Melies, represents the exuberant, free-for-all inventiveness of the birth of filmmaking. He despairs of his achievements, living in obscurity and believing that all of his films have been melted down to make heels for shoes. Hugo – as youth in film often does – brings Melies out of his self-imposed exile and gives us hope for the future of film and humanity: We know that this quiet, mechancially talented boy will achieve breatkthroughs of his own.

Hugo, Editing, and Film Literacy

Hugo gets off to a marvelous start with a shape match cut from the gears of a clock to the hubTrip to the Moon poster of Paris centered around the Arc de Triomphe (which it does in reverse order later in the film). In another poem to editing, the movie employs an automaton as a subtle Kuleshov device. (See August 16, 2011 post for defintion and background of Kuleshov.) The automaton seems asleep, sad, and determined, depending on the shots Schoomaker surrounds it with.

The movies recounts how early moviegoers reacted to movies, such as the famous incident where Parisians thought a train was really coming into the station in on of the early Lumiere brothers’ shorts and reacted by trying to leave the theatre. Hugo also shows many scenes from Melies most famous film A Trip to the Moon, a pioneer fantasy film of special effects.

There are other odes to film secreted within this film that I probably missed. Go and see them and report back to Joy. One word of advice: Don’t see the 3D version. Ordinarily I make sure to see the 3D version of a film if there is one, but for the first time, I regretted this choice. Though I laud Scorsese for employing it, from the first frame on, the 3D made me feel distanced from the story and its characters; they loomed out of the screen bringing farther from its heart and message.

Joy goes to the movies

David Lean Revisited: Spotlight on an Editor/Director/Writer Extraordinaire

November 1st, 2011

On October 27 I leave (with my trusty companion and webmeister who made almost all the arrangements), on our first trip to India. But have no worries! I’ve blogged ahead on some interesting subjects and have scheduled them to be posted while I’m away.

As part of preparing for this three week adventure, I’ve been reading everything I can, talking to everyone I know who’s been, setting up (via my publisher) to meet a couple of filmmakers, and viewing movies. The other night I watched A Passage to India which was written, directed, and edited by David Lean and his final movie.

Another Lean-directed movie

Film is a dramatized reality and it is the director’s job to make it appear real… an audience should not be conscious of technique.

David Lean

On Friday, November 22, 1963, a friend invited her three closest friends – including me – out for dinner and Lawrence of Arabia poster to see a movie to celebrate her birthday. Lawrence of Arabia was an endless array of bloody, desert battles to my twelve year old mind, further savaged by the periodic intrusion of the day’s assassination of a president I revered. I have not seen the movie since.

I have, however, read about it, learned that Anne V. Coates won the Oscar for editing it in 1963, and watched a clip of the famous “match edit.” It’s composed of a day interior, side angle shot of Lawrence/TE Eliot (actor Peter O’Toole) blowing out a match which cuts to a sunset shot of a huge desert vista. This apparently, is one of Lean’s trademarks. He has Adela Quested (actress Judy Davis) hold a match to her face to illuminate the darkness of the Malabar Caves in A Passage to India.

Passage to India poster Both movies are journeys that strive to illuminate countries, cultures, time periods, and characters. Lean acknowledged that he filmed the action left to right in Lawrence to emphasize that the film’s a journey.

A Passage to India shows a number of gorgeous vistas of the Indian countryside that knocked my socks off along. But these scintillating wide shots weren’t there to wow me but to move the story forward. They were interspersed with the personal story – close-ups of characters, of a British flag on an elegant car, and of other significant details. Hand in hand, the wide and close shots give the audience time to draw back from the drama while deepening its awareness of the land of India.

Lean’s movies reflect their character’s society and culture, the land they find themselves in, and aim to enlighten us about their inner and outer worlds. Yet both keep you at arm’s length like you’re a tourist. Lean underscores this with his remark, “I think people remember pictures not dialogue. That’s why I like pictures.”

English movies on India
A Jewel in the Crown poster
Like A Jewel in the Crown, the BBC series which also debuted in 1984, A Passage to India is a very British movie with an educated English eye to life in India for both Indians and English during colonial rule. We see the racist myth of Scarlett O’Hara played out in indophobic manner as Indian men are distrusted around English women and falsely accused of rape in both shows. Both shows works against this stereotyping and try to portray English and Indians of all stripes but remain firmly rooted in the upper class British world. Lean clearly liked living and breathing with his characters, remarking, “I like making films about characters I’d like to have dinner with.”

David Lean on Editing

When the great actor says the line, you can put scissors precisely at the point A and it’s wonderful. When the star says the line, you can hold for four frames longer because something else happens.

David Lean

The video below – at 2:18 minutes in – captures Lean talking about A Passage to India and his approach to editing. But first, a few last thoughts. Lean kept the horizon in view in the majority of his exterior shots. How’s that for a spiritual concept? Both A Passage to India and A Jewel in the Crown as well as a host of other movies (The World of Apu and Slumdog Millionaire to name a couple) have taught me more about filmmaking and prepared me for India: I look forward to making my own journey. And I do plan to see the updated version of Lawrence of Arabia one of these days!

David Lean’s Career Highlights – A Partial Filmography

1984 A Passage to India

1979 Ryan’s Daughter

1965 Doctor Zhivago

1962 Lawrence of Arabia

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai

1955 Summertime

1954 Hobson’s Choice

1952 Breaking the Sound Barrier

1950 Madeleine

1949 One Woman’s Story

1948 Oliver Twist

1946 Great Expectations

1945 Brief Encounter

1945 Blithe Spirit

Editing practices, Joy goes to the movies

Transported by Midnight in Paris

June 20th, 2011

I needed a break from prepping the second edition of Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video for delivery next month, hadn’t seen a Woody Allen movie in a couple of years, and am a fan of the “eternal city” (guess I’ll have to like it on FB) so hit the local multi-plex and took in Midnight in Paris. It’s Allen’s love poem to Paris, a city worthy of many love poems. This one was a frilly postcard or sensual poster that you want to place on your wall and jump into as desired.

Midnight In Paris PosterThe movie begins in modern times as Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) a 30-something Los Angeleno tags along on a business jaunt to Paris with his fiancée’s family. Gil’s a writer with a novel in his front pocket who reproaches himself for being a highly successful hack screenwriter. Suffice it to say his goofy, gee whiz character didn’t remind me of any screenwriter I ever met. But he was a likeable, earnest fellow without a mean bone in his body and he worked for this movie.

The heart of the movie – and the heart and soul of the character – is that he’s in love with 1920s Paris. He knows the cast of characters: Gertrude Stein, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Djuna Barnes, Hemingway, Dali, etc. and soon he gets to meet them. As he stands on a curvy Parisian street, a vintage Rolls Royce sweeps in and he’s transported back to the period he’s romanticized. It’s a wonderful transition device. What writer wouldn’t want to step into a RR, meet a champagne-swilling literary group including the Fitzgeralds, and arrive at a bar where Hemingway (Corey Stoll) engages you in no-nonsense writer’s talk? I loved the simple but elegant time travel device which bridged fantasy as well as time. It was simply one of the best I’ve seen in movies and will make editing transitions the subject of the next Cut of the Month. But back to the movie.

Midnight in Paris is a sweetly sentimental movie, a bon bon without the usual Allen bon mots. A minor effort, it succeeds majorly because it keeps it simple. Paring down, going for one thought/feeling/concept is a small triumph in these days of big effects, wide 3D screens, and epic films planted on wondrous new planets rooted in clichéd old plots. There were clichés here (fiancée’s a harpy with no profession and boorish Republican parents) but Gil’s desire to escape to an earlier time perceived as a golden era, was a worthy question to ponder. Don’t most if not all of us fantasize about a past era – maybe even in our own lives – and too often, romanticize it? Consider the Civil War re-enactors, the WWII buffs, and all those enchanted with the Titanic. I loved the Gil’s (Allen’s) conclusion: That all eras are tough and fraught when they’re being lived but can seem washed in a golden light when viewed from the perch of history.

If you see the movie and have more insights about its editing, chime in here.

Editing practices, Joy goes to the movies

Trouble in Paradise – A study in life, comedy, and editing

April 5th, 2011

I had always heard about this movie and the Lubitsch touch and finally caught it in on Netflix. Trouble in Paradise PosterIf you haven’t seen it, do it! If you have, re-view it. This 1932 movie shows what an ingenious director can do in the face of technical challenges. It was shot at the beginning of the “talkie” era when sound recording equipment famously “chained the camera” because it was too bulky and noisy to move.

Director Ernst Lubitsch had a superb cast and script (written by Samson Raphaelson) and knew what to do with the camera. In the dialogue scenes it stays put but he cuts away frequently to break things up, shoots from all angles, and cheat actions. Watch this seminal scene below. It not only sets up the characters but engages us so much that when it cuts away to the door and then the curtain, we don’t notice that Gaston Montescu (played by Herbert Marshall) doesn’t close the curtains – they close themselves – after which he re-enters the scene to be with Lily (the extremely talented Miriam Hopkins).

Natural born thieves, natural editing Modern editing

The editing for this 83 minute movie is as sly and sophisticated as its amoral characters, professional thieves by trade and choice. And even sexier. The cutting intimates intimacy – Gaston sleeping with two gorgeous women – which scored its being banned after three years under the Hays code and not seen in the U.S. from 1935-1968. Even better, the women and the men, both rich and scheming, are not stereotyped, but seen as equals in their sexual desires, silliness, and attitudes toward money.
Trouble in Paradise scene

Wealthy widow and perfume company owner Mariette Colet (Kay Francis, terrific as always) employs the thieves.

Trouble in Paradise is superb study in editing for its comic timing and economy of edits. It is no stale, slow moving classic movie. Although the camera pauses for the dialogue scenes, they are well-written and timed and Lubitsch kept the camera or actors active when words don’t need to be recorded. The director also employs sound effects along with deft picture cuts to move the movie along.

As with the best of comedy, the cuts and the plot points they move to counter to expectations. The opening scene counters clichés by showing a Venice gondolier poling a bag of garbage along the canal. Nothings is conventional about this movie as it counters are expectations time and time again. Lubitsch also creates some clever scene transitions. One uses a series of deco clocks to show the advance of an affair; another has the Eiffel tower broadcasting frequency waves like the RKO logo to signal the thief couple’s move from Venice to Paris.

Trouble in Paradise scene We enjoy spending time with this couple as do the uber-rich people they swindle, though we know we’d have to watch our wallets and jewelry around them I also enjoyed seeing character actor Edward Everett Horton – younger and rounder than I’d ever seen him before.

Finally, this movie sets a high standard for romance, comedy, and editing because goes beyond  the glitzy world of its characters to look at how to accept of life in the face of the sometimes gritty, soul-challenging business of living it.

Rival suitors played by Charles Ruggles (l) and Edward Everett Horton (r).

Lubitsch himself

Like many Jewish director-producers in the 1920’s, Lubitsch escaped the hard lives of his parents in Europe and crossed over to the U.S. to create Hollywood and its movies. For a premiere look at this subject, check out Neal Gabler’s award-winning, highly readable book, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.)

The Lubitsch touch

Many of have tried to describe the spin Lubitsch puts on his movies. One of them, director Billy Wilder, Trouble in Paradise Poster another Jewish European escapee, had a sign in his studio office that said, “How would Lubitsch do it?” Many more have appreciated the Lubitsch touch, as I suggest you do, simply by experiencing his films (filmography below). Biographer Scott Eyeman, expresses the touch this way:

With few exceptions Lubitsch’s movies take place neither in Europe nor America but in Lubitschland, a place of metaphor, benign grace, rueful wisdom…To the unsophisticated eye, Lubitsch’s work can appear dated, simply because his characters belong to a world of formal sexual protocol. But his approach to film, to comedy, and to life was not so much ahead of its time as it was singular, and totally out of any time.

The Lubitsch touch apparently extended to women in his personal life. He died at 55 in 1947 of a heart attack, purportedly while entwined with an aspiring actress. How’s that for a Lubitsch ending?

Lubitsch Filmography (U.S.)

1940’s
The Shop Around the Corner (also prod.) 1940  Remade in 1998 as You’ve got Mail.
That Uncertain Feeling (also prod.) 1941
To Be or Not to Be (also co-prod. co-story) 1942
Heaven Can Wait (also prod.) 1943
A Royal Scandal (prod. only) 1945
Cluny Brown (also prod.) 1946
That Lady in Ermine (completed by Otto Preminger post humous) 1948

1930’s
Paramount on Parade (co-dir. with 10 others) 1930
Monte Carlo 1930
The Smiling Lieutenant (also co-sc.) 1931
The Man I Killed/Broken Lullaby 1932
One Hour With You 1932
Trouble in Paradise (also prod.) 1932
Design for Living 1933
The Merry Widow 1934
Desire (prod. only) 1936
Angel (also prod.) 1937
Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (also prod.) 1938
Ninotchka 1939

1920’s
Rosita 1923
The Marriage Circle 1924
Three Women (also co-story) 1924
Forbidden Paradise 1924
Kiss Me Again 1925
Lady Windermere’s Fan 1925
So This Is Paris 1926
The Student Prince/The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg 1927
The Patriot 1928
Eternal Love 1929
The Love Parade 1929

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Joy goes to the movies, Sound & music editing

Made in Dagenham – Some days there are victories!

January 27th, 2011

This movie called to me for several reasons: good reviews, director, topic, headlining Scene from Made in Dagenham 1actress Sally Hawkins, and supporting cast including Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. The movie dramatizes the 1968 strike by 187 female machinists at the Ford plant in Dagenham, UK. They fought to be re-classified as skilled labor which led to…well, go see the movie!

The editing on the movie is refreshingly traditional: Invisible edits, no quick cutting, odd or repeated angles, discontinuity, fancy VFX, in-your-face edits, or music video-type montage sequences. In fact, there are no montage sequences at all and I didn’t miss them. The editing matched the story, as it should, regardless of style. Just as modern style editing plays a vital role in making The Black Swan a strong, edgy movie so traditional style serves Made in Dagenham.

The movie is linear with mini-subplots that provided short bursts of the characters’ home lives, Scene from Made in Dagenham 2 then propelled them to take action, neatly and quickly sending the action forward and back into the main story. The short interludes of period music served to pep up the story and also drive it forward. The traditional editing style included wide shots of the workers’ blockitechture housing and the factory and framed the band of women against the larger forces at work against them: the monolithic Ford company, autoworkers’ union, and British government.

Why is it always a small, skinny woman who stands on something above the factory floor to get her Scene from Made in Dagenham 3co-workers’ attention and foment a strike? This is one place where the movie’s a bit too Norma Rae – but it’s underplayed and perhaps an obvious bit of homage. That said, Sally Hawkins is a reason to see any movie. Also, the ever-excellent Miranda Richardson adds a steely verve as an MP dismissive of the sheeple who work for her and determined to meet the strikers.

Made in Dagenham is a feel good movie about workers and women’s rights worth seeing for all the reasons mentioned above. If you see it, report back on the editing and how you feel it serves or doesn’t serve the picture.

Note: After I wrote this, A.C.E. nominated Made in Dagenham for an Eddie for best editing of a musical or comedy feature. Good luck to editor Michael Parker!

Awards, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Joy goes to the movies

A Study in Spareness

January 16th, 2011

Thanks to Netflix, I finally caught Lars and the Real Girl and I am glad that I did. It’s a spare, sweet movie that carries viewers along due to its exquisite directing, cinematography, writing, editing (thank you Tatiana S. Riegel), and acting. Set in the gloomy-lit, chill of winter in the northeast, this contemporary drama is a perfect study of the subtleties of human growth. The frames literally frame characters – in doorways, hallways, rooms, etc – allowing the audience to delve into their world.
Lars' Doctor and GF

Framing Lars’ doctor (the ever-superb Patricia Clarkson) in her office with his

gf in the bg on the examining table.

Lars (Ryan Gosling) suffers from an initially unexplained trauma and cannot bear to be touched. A shy, earnest woman at his job (Kelli Garner) gently pursues him but he chooses to remedy his ailment by ordering a blow up sex doll and treating her as his girlfriend, minus the sex. Lucky for him, the real girl as well as his family, community, co-workers, and friends embrace him and his gf with acceptance and understanding, allowing him to heal in his own way and time.

The movie frequently juxtaposes horizontal and vertical images to underscore its characters’ reflections and actions. The pair of shots below illustrates this.

  • Lars scene 1
  • Lars scene 2

Vertical icicles contrast with a horizontal shot of Lars in bed with his doll gf.

As winter thaws to spring, Lars begins to realize that he has outgrown his doll-friend and reaches toward the real girl. Lars is the quintessential anti-intervention movie, showing how tenderness, not tough love, can be the correct cure for a person who creates a fantasy in order to survive.

Study this movie to learn about lighting, setting up and framing shots, and editing to create and sustain the ever-tenous membrane of connection between characters,

Lars and the Real Girl ©2007 Twentieth Century Fox, All Rights Reserved.

The author acknowledges the copyright owner of the above motion picture from which single frames have been used for purposes of commentary, criticism, and scholarship under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Editor’s role, Joy goes to the movies

Editing, Actually

December 6th, 2010

In my Web meanderings this week, I came across a site that gives a good ride through Hollywood movies. www.filmsite.org honors filmmakers of all types (actors, editors, directors, etc.) as well as all genres (horror, comedy, sci-fi etc.) Written and edited by Senior Editor and Film Historian Tim Dirks who launched the site in 1998 it now runs it under the auspices of American Movie Classics (AMC). Dirks does a great job detailing each movie for plot and whatever subject he’s concentrating on so it’s worth dropping by the site periodically. I enjoyed re-viewing old movies and learning about ones that I never got around to seeing.

Editing example

Here’s an edited version of Dirks’ intro to a 10-part series surveying editing sequences with interjections from moi.
Best Editing Sequences
This survey of the best examples of feature film editing stretches back to the earliest silent films. The very first films were called actualities – they were short, single-shot films with a stationary camera, viewing a scene (a train pulling into a station, workers leaving a factory, etc.), without editing of any kind.

Dirks lists a series of classic scenes which exhibit masterful editing:

  • Film-within-a-film dream sequence of Sherlock, Jr. (1924) [As an editor and former projectionist I’ve always loved this film and cheer his choice.]
  • Chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Crop-dusting chase sequence in North by Northwest (1959)
  • Shower scene in Psycho (1960)
  • Phone booth bird attack scene in The Birds (1963)
  • “Ballet of blood” ambush in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  • Subway chase scene in The French Connection (1971)
  • Dawn workout sequence in Rocky (1976)
  • Death Star battle scene in Star Wars (1977)
  • Rolling boulder sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Example from Part 10 of Dirks’ series on best film editing sequences

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Ellipses indicate where I have edited Dirks’ commentary.
Best Editing Sequences
This unforgettable anti-drug cautionary tale was composed of many inventive, rapid and stylistic jump-cuts (called a “hip-hop” montage), split-screens, extreme close-ups, assaultive audio, and distorted images in the unrated (originally rated NC-17) film’s tense and final 15 minutes (assembled together in a montage) to illustrate how lives were utterly shattered and affected by diet pills and stronger drugs…

…. the independent film had about three times the number of edits (2,000) when compared to an average film (600+), especially during the ending when each of the shots were shortened and then presented in an intensely-rapid pace along with a memorable soundtrack.

This is a film I missed and his commentary definitely makes me want to see it. My only quibble is that once again, when talking about the editing, Dirks, like so many other film commentators, fails to mention the editor. He lists only the director, Darren Aronofsky, overlooking Jay Rabinowitz, the editor.

Other areas of commentary

Here are some other subjects Dirks explores. Click to go to any of them.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Joy goes to the movies

Editing and The Social Network

October 29th, 2010

This week I took in The Social Network – the movie. I give it a rave for four main reasons: acting, pacing of the editing, writing, and social commentary. The movie reminds us how fast and furiously Mark Zuckerbergthe times are-a-changing as it turns the recent emergence of Facebook into instant history. And his story; the tale of the intellectually (and now financially) well endowed Mark Zuckerberg. At 19, while at Harvard, he created this new institution cum communication device that so many of us scoff at yet jump on every day.

Why the praise?

It’s always wonderful to see a character-driven movie, especially one about a brilliant but impatient, imperious, socially inept and off putting character: Main character Zuckerberg, as acted by Jesse Eisenberg, Savarin and  Zuckerbergwho invents friending, is, by the end of the movie, friendless. Zuckerberg’s friend, Eduardo Savarin, played by Andrew Garfield, serves as the film’s conscience. Even as he sues, doubts, and distrusts Mark, Eduardo wants to believe him.

It’s a tribute to Aaron Sorkin’s script that all the major characters are complex – sympathetic and not so sympathetic and ultimately human. Even the minor characters – which include all the female characters – are complex except for the party girls and boys. I liked the woman who when flamed online by Zuckerberg, does not let him off the hook; if only Zuckerberg could figure out to apologize, he might stand a chance.

No ordinary flick

In keeping with the latest social, technological trends, the film (guess we should drop that term) was shot digitally on a RED camera, actually two to three cameras for each scene.

This picture is also unique because it is driven by dialog. Unbelievable but true, especially in a male-centered film. The action scenes, such as the crew race, are puffery and lead to the weighty action scenes as Jesse Eisenberg playing Zuckerbergopposed to the typical action film where the dialog is poor and serves as set-up for the heavy duty action sequence. The scenes are taut, the characters interesting (men only, except for one woman), and the dialog and yes, social interactions move it along.

I always remember what Carol Littleton, A.C.E., (The Other Boleyn Girl, Tuesdays with Morrie, ET and many more), once said: “One-to-one dialogue scenes are difficult because it’s literally about the very thin connection between two people and that connection can’t be violated. You have to be aware of it all the time. They may be connecting or not connecting emotionally, but you have to be aware of what’s happening between them the whole time.”

In the last post I talked about the power in actors’ eyes: Notice the intensity in Eisenberg’s.

Angus Wall, half of the pair of editors on The Social Network along with Kirk Baxter, says in an interview by Oliver Peters(who pens Digital Post, a helpful, technical editing blog), “From the start, Kirk and I cut the scenes very tightly, using faster performances and generally keeping the pace of the film high. When the first assembly was completed, we were at a length of 1 hour 55 minutes – actually a minute shorter than the final version. Unlike most films, we were able to relax the pace and put some air back into the performances during the fine cut.”

However, in reading Peters’ interview, I found out there was more to creating the movie than being deft at dialogue and story.

VFX

Yes. According to Baxter, who edited The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, “there are about 1000 effects in The Social Network.” Two major characters, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, are identical twins played by two different actors. Baxter reports that the movie “has a lot of digital matte paintings, but there is also face replacement much like in Button…there are two characters who are twins, but in fact the actors aren’t, so a similar process was used to turn one of the actors into the twin of the other. Although the story isn’t driven by the same sort of visual effect, like the aging technique that was a dramatic device in Benjamin Button, it still has a lot of effects work.”

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
Editor as magician

Did you notice the room switch? Baxter reveals the The Social Network, “was very well scripted and directed, so not a lot of storytelling issues had to be resolved in the edit. In fact, there were a number of scenes that were great fun to put together. For example, there’s an early scene about some of the legal depositions. It takes place in two different boardrooms at different times and locations, but the scene is intercut as if it is one continuous conversation. David [Fincher, the director] gave us lots of coverage, so it was a real joy to solve the puzzle, matching eyelines and so on.”

Editors’ POV

Wall gives his and Baxter’s point of view: “This is a movie about the birth of a major online power, but what happens on the computer is a very minor part. For us, it was more important to concentrate on the drama and emotions of the characters, and that’s what makes this a timeless story. It’s utterly contemporary…but a little bit Shakespearean, too. It’s about people participating in something that’s bigger than themselves, something that will change all of their lives in one way or another.”

Last word to Zuckerberg

Vanity Fair dubbed Zuckerberg “our new Caesar” in its October issue and ranked him #1 power broker, ahead of Steve Jobs, Oprah, and others. In The Face of Facebook, an article about the man and the movie in The New Yorker on September 20th, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas reports that in the bio section of his FB page Zuckerberg states, “I’m trying to make the world a more open place.”

In light of the popularity of FB, its recurring privacy issues, and Zuckerberg’s powers and plans, we’ll see how it turns out.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Joy goes to the movies, Visual FX editing