• Richard Knightwell

Oscar nominees I have known

Over the past couple of months in my day job as a journalist I've had the pleasure of interviewing two of this year's Academy Award nominees: Tatiana S Riegel, nominated for best editing on I, Tonya; and Julian Slater, up for both best sound editing and best sound mixing for Baby Driver.

Seeing as every interview, every article, every piece of writing is an exercise in editing, interviewing a couple of editors was a gratifying experience. The full transcript of my phone conversation with Tatiana Riegel was 6,650 words, and by the time I'd edited it into a form I was happy with it was down to 2,953 words. Unfortunately I still needed to cut it in half before it could be published. Snipping a few words here, an odd line there just wasn't going to cut it -- so to speak -- but then I realised I could apply the very principles Riegel was talking about. I just had to be ruthless.

"It's so hard," Riegel told me. "Writers, directors, even editors fall in love with scenes and moments that are terrific in and of themselves but overall are not helping the story... Sometimes you have to kill your babies."

That discussion also includes a few useful reminders for writers, such as thinking about how something will play out visually. "Sometimes something that is completely clear in the script is absolutely not clear in this movie," Riegel explained. Other things are almost too clear: "you don't need a particular actor saying a line of dialogue, because we're seeing exactly what happens. We can just show it rather than have them say it."

Riegel also reminds us of the famous maxim about getting in and out fast. Often the final edit will "come into the scene much later than you do in the script, or leave the scene much earlier."

It was fascinating to learn how much a film can change in the editing process. It's often said that a movie is made three times: once when you write it, once when you shoot it and once again when you edit it. "I've worked on many films where we've completely changed the structure," Riegel revealed.

As much as anything else, that's a reminder that film is a collaborative process, and what you write may not end up on the screen.

Meanwhile, interviewing Julian Slater was a blast because the sound employed in Baby Driver is so exhilarating and it was fascinating to hear him describe how they did it. For example, he and his team developed a whole new process to weave every sound in the film in with the music: where most sound editors count timecodes or frames, on Baby Driver Slater and his team worked in beats and bars. It also helped that he made lots of noises as he talked, vroom-ing and woo-woo-wooing to explain how engines and sirens worked in the film. Here's a snippet from the interview overlaid with the film's opening car chase:

This interview offers writers more than an intriguing insight into one particular corner of the production process. Baby Driver reminds us of the value of a unique concept, and this interview is a reminder that a film is more than just what's written on the page. Even when writing, you have to think about visuals and sound as well.

Fingers crossed for Tatiana and Julian on Sunday. Luckily for them, my track record is pretty good for interviewing people who go on to win: last year I interviewed Adam Valdez of visual effects company MPC just days before he and his team won the effects Oscar for their work on The Jungle Book.

In our interview, Valdez explained how 800 VFX technicians around the world worked on creating the environment and animal characters of the film, all of which were entirely computer-generated. The team began in India, studying the shapes and texture of trees, moss and bark. Then they studied a menagerie of animals, inside and out, so they could build CG models of each creature's skeleton, musculature and fur. "Artists at MPC are anatomy specialists, sculptors, students of physics, and actors," Valdez told me.

Writers also have to be masters of many arts. You might not have to know how light diffuses across the surface of a leaf or how a panther's fur ripples, but you do have to create a story by starting with an idea that must be built from the inside out. You build the skeleton of structure, layer it with the musculature of research, and cover it with the glossy fur of character and drama.

Writers are also sculptors, students, and actors, as well as editors, journalists, researchers and salespersons. Some might even be specialists on anatomy too, but that's another story.

You can find links to these and more interviews with the likes of Taika Waititi, Denis Villeneuve and Luc Besson on the Journalism page. To talk about script coverage or script notes, drop me a line about my script reading services.

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