February 15, 2008 / 5:46 AM / 10 years ago

Director and editor chemistry key to a film's success

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When Tony Gilroy’s mother heard that he was going to have his younger brother John edit his directorial debut, “Michael Clayton,” she was worried her boys would clash.

Oscar nominated director Tony Gilroy smiles as he arrives at the 80th annual Academy Awards Nominee Luncheon in Beverly Hills, California February 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

It wasn’t an unreasonable fear. Any two people locked in a small space for weeks on end struggling to transform hours and hours of raw footage into a concise, entertaining work of art are bound to have conflicts. When those two people are brothers with a history of sibling rivalry (“Tony is taller,” John says; “But Johnny can kick my ass,” Tony admits), the potential for disagreement is exponentially higher.

But Tony, who received Oscar nominations for writing and directing the George Clooney legal thriller, found that their differences produced not violence but a better film.

“It took about three days to figure out that there’d be a kind of push-me, pull-you (dynamic),” he says.

“I would always be pulling to not explain things and turning the thermostat down, and Johnny would always be pushing to turn it up, and the by-product of that would be room temperature. And we were both really happy with where we were going to land.”

“It’s very good to see different perspectives,” concurs director Marc Forster, who has worked with editor Matt Chesse on six films, including 2007’s “The Kite Runner,” 2004’s “Finding Neverland” (which earned Chesse an Oscar nod) and 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.” “Matt and I have a very strong connection and love for cinema and a love for similar movies, but he sometimes sees things differently than I do. My attention span is a little shorter than his. Sometimes he likes to let it breathe a little more than I do.”

They are reteaming a seventh time for MGM/Sony’s upcoming James Bond film.

Long-standing editor-director relationships like the one between Forster and Chesse are not uncommon: Editor Joel Cox has worked with Clint Eastwood for more than 30 years, and Thelma Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor since 1980’s “Raging Bull.” And brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have been collaborating for decades under the moniker “Roderick Jaynes,” an Oscar nominee for “No Country For Old Men.”

“I think it’s a trust-based relationship,” says Chesse of the editor-director union. “You see all the warts and all the stuff that nobody gets to see, and you shape it into something that hopefully leaves people without any doubt of the director’s vision.”

Director David Cronenberg and editor Ronald Sanders have worked together since 1979’s “Fast Company.” On their latest film, “Eastern Promises,” they followed the same pattern they have developed working on such films as 1986’s “The Fly” and 2005’s “A History of Violence.”

During the shoot in London, Cronenberg did not look at any footage, except for the occasional dailies, which he finds less necessary today with instant on-set video playback. In the meantime, Sanders cut together an assembly of the film in proper narrative order that he screened for Cronenberg two weeks after principal photography wrapped. Cronenberg then joined Sanders in the cutting room to polish the edit.

“I feel that the only shot I’ve got at being fairly objective is to be surprised by my own movie,” says Cronenberg of his willful ignorance of the first edit.

“It comes from my first movie — (1975’s) ‘Shivers’ — that Ivan Reitman produced. I was basically sitting in the editing room as we were shooting, editing it with the editor. We had a screening, and nothing worked. But Ivan said, ‘It’s not so bad. You just do a little of this, you take a little of that and do that.’ I thought, ‘I want to be where he is, in his objectivity, rather than so intimately involved with every cut and every shot that I can’t see the forest for the trees.”‘

On “Promises,” he and Cronenberg were “in the zone,” according to Sanders. “We weren’t trying to force anything or fix anything.” Easiest of all was the film’s infamous bathhouse scene, in which a naked Nikolai (Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen) fights two Russian thugs to the death.

“I did it in a few hours one afternoon,” Sanders says. “I put all the masters together — end to end — so I could see where it was all going, and I used that as a template. It had the stuff that it needed, so it told me what to do.”

“He nailed it so perfectly that I couldn’t improve it by one frame,” Cronenberg says.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter.

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