Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

Oscar Spotlight: Editing

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is very closely correlated to Best Picture. For 33 years, 1981-2013, every Best Picture Winner was nominated for Film Editing. Two thirds of Best Picture winners also win for Editing.

[What broke the mould? In 2014, Birdman won Best Picture but was shut out of the Best Editing nominations. Those went to American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash; Whiplash won.]

Editing is the invisible art that even editors struggle to describe.

Nebraska editor Kevin Tent: It’s hard to articulate what editors do, but when it’s bad, you’ll know it. When it’s good, you’ll never know.

Gravity co-editor Mark Sanger: The editor needs to provide a canvas that complements all of the other aspects to tie them together. If an audience has engaged deeply enough with a story to nominate it for best picture, then they understand the pages were bound together in the editing.

Any clearer? Basically, what Oscar voters are thinking is:  Are there special challenges that go into it? Multiple story lines? Non-linear? Does it flow well, is the story clear? Is the film visually exceptional? Is the movie long but doesn’t feel it? Directing a movie is telling (showing) a story; editing a movie is how well you can tell it. Sometimes good editing means you don’t notice it at all, it seamless pulls together all the elements of the movie. Other times, it might purposely draw attention to itself: Wolf of Wall Street’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker says “In ‘Wolf,’ we’re doing shocking cutting deliberately, because their world is out of control, and wild.”

Only the principal editor is named on the award. He or she may sit down and do the first edit of a movie by themselves, but the director is almost always sitting beside them for the polish of the film, and their work becomes blurred with judgments about pacing, film language, and martinscorsesethelmaschoonmakerpowellgadves9f5idlmore. Lots of directors have a go-to editor as this person will be their right-hand in making the film complete. They get to know each other very well, and must share a vision for the film, while pushing each other to make the best film possible. Michael Kahn, the most nominated editor is Oscars history, and tied for most wins (3), is a frequent collaborator of Steven Spielberg – they’ve worked together for nearly 40 years. Schoonmaker and Scorsese are also collaborators over several decades. Some of these editor-director ‘marriages’ last longer than the real ones do in Hollywood.

You probably can’t truly judge an editor unless you’ve seen the raw material they had to work with, but there are some things to look out for: is it focused? graceful? do they keep you on the edge of your seat when there’s action? are you riveted during a great performance? does it keep your interest throughout? are you ever confused, or left wondering what’s happening in a scene? do they stay on a particularly good moment for as long as it holds emotionally, or cut away too soon? What’s left out is just as important as what’s kept. And sometimes staying, rather than cutting, is even more powerful. Yup, it’s a lot to think about and certainly would require more than one viewing to really judge. There are only about 220 members of the Editing branch of the Academy, and they’re the ones who pick the nominees. Then everyone gets to vote for who wins.

This year’s nominees:

John Gilbert, for Hacksaw Ridge: Gilbert was previously nominated for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the Academy likes war movies in terms of editing. The battle scenes have lots of intense editing, and Gilbert agrees that these are what the Academy is responding to: “They’re made up of fragments of images, a lot of it is very short shots and high john-gilbert-1-1000x1482intensity. The idea was to put the audience in amongst it and people really feel it in the battle scenes, a lot of people sort of cover their eyes, there’s a lot of bloodshed and mayhem, and it’s quite sustained.” While the initial work of stringing the film together can be done quickly, perhaps in a week, the real meat comes afterword, when director and editor sit down together to make all the difficult choices. “I worked with Mel Gibson for about 10 weeks on it. I originally thought that 10 weeks was not going to be enough. About half the movie is battle scenes, with a lot of quick-cut action, and a lot of choices due to the amount of footage I had. Mel had been in during the shoot and we went over some sequences in great detail, looking at re-speeding shots, and trimming frames, taking quite a bit of time. There are always key scenes where small changes in performance and timing can be critical and we worked hard on them.” Gilbert is quick to point out that editing is a collaborative process: “The assistants break it down into scenes for me, and I skip through the circled takes to start with, just to have a look at what sort of coverage I’ve got. I like to get an idea in my mind about the shape of the scene, where I’m going to use the wide shots, where I’m going to use the close-ups, and how to best use the coverage I have. I like to find what I think are they key moments in the scene and make a note of any magic I find in the performances. I make a ‘selects’ sequence as I go, which I make in story order, and that becomes the basis for my first edit. It is also useful if the script supervisor has a good relationship with the director and is able to give me insight into what they were thinking, and any moments they loved when shooting.”

Joe Walker, for Arrival: Walker worked with Denis Villeneuve last year on Sicario and again this year on Blade Runner 2049, so they’re forming quite a successful partnership. He was previously nominated for his work on 12 Years A Slave. As Villeneuve and Walker wrapped up Sicario, Villeneuve passed him the script for Arrival, and he was immediately drawn to it for its “strong female lead. It was educated and it was grown-up, and I was fascinated by the joe-walker-800x600application of my craft to it, in so far as it’s right in the middle of what I think is our super power as editors, which is the manipulation of time.” Arrival is told with little glimpses of memory, other times, other places. How do you sew that all together? “Many things were just grabbed moments that were sort of very emotive and beautiful, a hand touching a baby’s hand in a cart, or an out-of-focus shot of a horse in a stable. They could have gone anywhere. Trying to build that into the narrative and marble this narrative through with these little glimpses of a memory, if you like.” Arrival doesn’t have a strictly linear approach, nor is it classically circular or backward or necessarily out of chronological order. It simply does not exist within our perception of time and order. It’s interwoven, with all moments touching each other, if you can think of time reaching around on itself. “To really be moved by the ending, we felt we had to adjust that. We had to make sure that the wall that we built at the beginning wasn’t so solid that we couldn’t kick it down, but also we had to choose a real moment where people will definitely get it. That’s right at the heart of editing and narrative storytelling, working out when you’re just ahead of the audience, or in parallel with the audience, and never behind. We always wanted to compliment the audience’s intelligence so that they could figure it out themselves.”

Jake Roberts, for Hell or High Water: Jake “NOT the Snake” Roberts has worked on some pretty great films, including Starred Up, Brooklyn, and Trespass Against Us, but this is his first Academy Award nomination. He was a film buff grown up and expected to be a “film maker” img_8854but fell into editing rather accidentally, and fell in love with it quite whole heartedly. “The alchemy that occurred when you juxtaposed certain images or performances and added music or sound effects was ‘filmmaking’ to me in the most literal sense. I’ve been editing ever since.” On the particular challenges of making a neo-Western like Hell or High Water: “The challenges were mostly about tone and pace. It’s a serious film but has plenty of laughs in it so we had to be careful not to let it get too heavy or too silly and walk a line between it’s extremes. Likewise we wanted the film to be languid in places and for the audience to be able to hear the space and the silences but equally for it to play plausibly as a mainstream thriller.” How does he evaluate editing? “Never stop asking questions of the material. What do I (as the audience) want to see next? What information, be it visual or expositional, do I need to follow the story? What don’t I need? What is repetitive? Why don’t I like that character as much as I should? Why does it feel slow here?”

Tom Cross, for La La Land: He’s only been the lead editor on films since 2010 but he’s already got one Academy Award under his belt, for – you guessed it – Whiplash. How does Cross describe his collaborator, director Damien Chazelle? “Very, very prepared. In that way, it really helps me as an editor to put the movie into the first cut. The other thing that is so great about Damien, as a director, is that he is a true believer in what film editing can do. He gets very excited about solving problems, whether they be story problems or a character problems. I shouldn’t really say “problems,” but issues. He gets very excited about solving certain issues lr-tomcross_whiplashthrough editing. To his credit, he’s a brilliant writer and a visionary director, but he also is not afraid to change something in his script, whether it be dialogue or action, in order to fit what the film has to be.” How does Whiplash compare to La La Land? “In the case of Whiplash, the directive was to tell a story at a break neck pace, and with a certain amount of precision. As if the character of Fletcher was editing the movie itself. In the case of La La Land, Damien had similar directives for the editing. He had different styles that he wanted to do scenes. He used certain romantic scenes that would play out at a slower pace, and maybe less cuts. He knew that in order for that to really work and have the right emotional impact, he would have to offset that in other scenes. Other scenes have quick cutting, or fast cutting, or are told with dissolve, or other optical techniques. I think that something that excites me about Damien’s work is that he really looks at how editing can help tell the story. He’s a real believer in varying the pace and varying the speed of the cuts in order to accentuate moments when he wants to have something play slower and more romantically.” Lots of the movie relies on old Hollywood techniques to help make the film feel more dream-like, sweeping camera movements and dissolving scenes. In that way, the editing too is a throw-back. Some scenes that are meant to be more ‘modern’ (like the concert footage with John Legend) feature a lot of cutting, but others, such as when Mia and Seb dance in the observatory, are a single, brave take. And for all La La Land’s big, showy, numbers, there are also quiet scenes that convey a lot of emotion. “There were items where the editing would have to take a back seat and be very invisible. That could be seen in the dinner scene where they break up. It was directed to me as an editor to use these four shot units—we had a medium shot of Sebastian, a medium of Mia, a close of Mia, and a close of Sebastian. That’s all you have.”

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon for Moonlight: If Sanders and McMillon win, they’ll make history. moonlight-editorsActually, they already have; McMillon is the first African American woman to be nominated as an editor. She’d obviously also be the first to win! Sanders and McMillon divided the job between the two of them, with Sanders primarily focused on the first two segments and McMillon working on the third. The third, of course, was the toughie, and McMillon had to convince writer-director Barry Jenkins to move substantial pieces around in order to maximize and earn emotional involvement. Once he was on board “we found a place for everything, it became organic.” “Barry’s really focused on what life feels like,” Sanders said, specifying cutaways of a hand sifting through sand, or Naomie Harris moving in slow motion through the yard. Sanders and McMillon tinkered with sound design, and chose abrupt cuts to black, but kept a respect for the elegant camera work. “When you get such beautiful footage, you have to treat it like another performance,” Sanders said. He also explains the particular challenge of working for college pal Jenkins: “maintaining Barry’s filmmaking voice, which was observational and ponderous, and always wanting to preserve that, but still needing to keep things moving.”

 

So does that make things clearer, or muddy the waters? And who’s your pick for Oscar?

 

 

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Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Cinematography

Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America

13th

Documentary Short

Extremis

4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land

Passengers

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costumes

Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Animated

Kubo And the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Editing

Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

TIFF: Arrival

Arrival is exactly the kind of sci-fi film I’ve been waiting for all my life.

There are no guns, no star wars, no green men, no space cowboys, no mutually-assured destruction. The aliens touch down, and we’re not sure what their intentions are. Do we fire lasers at them? No. We study them. We gather together top academics, and we attempt to learn, peacefully (with the army on speed dial, just in case).

Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks. Of all the people on Earth talking to arrival-movie-1-600x399aliens, she’s the one who listens well enough to actually crack the code. And it’s a hell of a code, unlike anything our puny human brains can really comprehend. This deep gulf of understanding makes plenty of people nervous – people with their fingers hovering over big red buttons. Annihilation-type buttons. Dr. Banks puts her own life at risk to keep things from escalating to an out-and-out global (universal? galaxal?) war.

Amy Adams is as good at playing Dr. Banks as Dr. Banks is at solving language problems. Both are beautiful to watch. Director Denis Villeneuve worked doggedly to make sure all the science is sound, but it’s also almost magical. It makes me want to call it the movie Interstellar aspired to be: rooted in science, hinging on human connection.

Arrival is the most intimate of sci-fi films, the aliens (if that’s what they are) almost incidental to humanity’s expanding comprehension of time and memory. It’s like poetry. And it doesn’t hurt one bit that visually, it’s slick as hell. Bradford Young’s cinematography is nearly stark, but it is absolutely arrival2arresting. It works in synchronicity with a hauntingly beautify score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Twinned together they remind you that though the plot feels startlingly realistic for a sci-fi film, there’s something otherworldly at play. Young’s work is atmospheric, Jóhannsson’s is pulsating.

It’s refreshing to have an alien encounter that relies on communication rather than violence, and to have a woman stepping in as Hero(ine) feels only natural. In fact, the only part of the movie that didn’t gel for me is a 2-minute montage that serves to pilot the plot further ahead and is narrated by Ian (Jeremy Renner). The rest of the story is told completely through the eyes of Louise, so to have her voice suspended during these few scenes is jarring and emotionally blunting.

Adams, though, is faultless; she turns out a character that is mature and complex, and I won’t be one bit surprised to see her name alongside Natalie Portman’s, and likely Emma Stone’s, come Oscar time.

Canadian Film Day

FacebookAvatar_ENIt’s National Canadian Film Day! I’m sadly spending it watching American movies in New York City, but not to worry, I celebrated a bit early before I left, and I’ve got just the thing for this fantastic day in cinema (which for some reason is commemorated on                     4\20…stupid Canada.)

Canadian cinema will never compete with Hollywood, in part because we don’t have the people or the resources, but also largely because L.A. is already 80% Canadian. Even Matt’s brother lives there! (Hi, Mark). Well, okay, that figure’s a bit high, but all the talented ones are Canadian. Deadpool is Canadian. Seth Rogan. Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams.CZgTE5PWwAAfFcE Shatner. Michael Cera. Ellen Page. Jay Baruchel. Catherine O’Hara. Eugene Levy. The Sutherlands. Will Arnett. Victor Garber. Michael J. Fox. All the funny people from SNL. There are talented Canadians in the director’s chair as well: Cronenberg. Cameron. Atom Egoyan. Norman Jewison. The Reitmans. Sarah Polley. Patricia Rozema.

To celebrate more specifically, here are some little gems of Canadian cinema that I think you’ll enjoy no matter what nationality you are.

Mommy-by-xavier-dolan-cannes-posterXavier Dolan’s Mommy: Before Dolan was directing Adele, Jessica Chastain, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon, he was just a young Quebec boy with a lot of ambition. His movies have been increasingly polished and mature, culminating with Mommy, a disturbing movie about a complex mother-son relationship.

 

Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal: Although best known for his Oscar-Jesus_of_Montreal_FilmPosternominated Les invasion barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), an older work in his catalogue, Jesus of Montreal, is quite a trip. A group of actors are hired to put on the passion of the Christ in Montreal. Jesus is interpreted a little differently than usual and the church is not happy. The movie works on its literal level and also as a biblical allegory, so you can watch and rewatch this one and always come away with something new.

incendiesposterDenis Villeneuve’s Incendies: He’s now known for Prisoners and Sicario (and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel) but shortly after Polytechnique, he directed one of Canada’s best films of this millennium. The story follows twins as they follow they unwind the mystery of their immigrant mother’s life after her sudden death. The film is haunting, sharp, and will make you put your head down and weep.

Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y.: You may know Vallée from Dallas Buyer’s Club220px-CrazyFilm or Demolition, but Canadians got to know the filmmaker long ago, with solid movies like C.R.A.Z.Y, the story of a young gay man growing up in his conservative father’s household along with 4 brothers in Quebec during the 1960s and 70s. The soundtrack’s spot on, the writing is honest, and the acting is top-notch.

My_winnipegGuy Maddin’s My Winnipeg: Described by Maddin as a “docu-fantasia” and by perplexed critics as a surrealist mockumentary, nobody knows exactly what the hell this is, but it IS both an experiment and an experience in cinema. Maddin casts someone else as Maddin and then paints a mythologized, metafictional tribute to his beloved town of Winnipeg. If you love movies, you have to check this out. You’ll feel it in your toes.

Being fairly well-versed in national cinema, Matt, Sean and I also watched a movie by a local filmmaker by the name of Quiz_Film_300x300Vincent Valentino. We met him briefly at the Monster Pool Horror Anthology and have wanted to see more of his work since. He just happened to have a little ditty about washed up porn stars that starred lots of familiar-to-Ottawa faces, plus the always-arousing presence of Ron Jeremy. And how better to celebrate Canadian Film Day by having a laugh with your friends.

 

Polytechnique

I cringed my way through this movie – impossible not to if you know what’s coming, and what Canadian doesn’t?

This movie revisits one of the saddest days in our country’s recent history. On December 6, 1989, a man armed himself with a riffle and showed up to Ecole Polytechnique to hunt women – feminists, he called them. He shot 28 people and killed 14 women, targeting them specificallygrab1 and even excusing the men from classrooms.

In order to preserve the dignity of the victims of this tragedy, director Denis Villeneuve makes them into fictitious composites, but their truths still ring out. They are students. Their only crime is pursuing education in a field (engineering, mostly) that their shooter deemed “for men.”

Villeneuve shoots his movie in black and white. I discussed this choice before: Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more transcendental way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.

But is it right to be dispassionate about so sore a subject? Rewatching it, I’m feeling the sangdirector’s passivity in the first half, the deaths seeming abstract as they happen off-screen. Later, a pile of bodies is shown out of focus  Most of the horror is kept from us, the worst of it coming from the startle of gunfire as it rips through particularly quiet moments in the film. Perhaps we are meant to take it in without tears or judgement, and simply ruminate on what happened, and why. It certainly feels as though Villeneuve has gone to great lengths to give us plenty of room to do just that.