Best Editing: Steven Soderbergh (as Mary Ann Bernard) for Haywire
Release Date: January 20
Woo-hoo! Editing! I’ve always wanted to give out a Forgotten Oscar for editing, but I haven’t seen a film worthy enough before this year. Everyone, get excited! We’re going to talk about the sexy and thrilling art of cutting a film!
But seriously, let me geek out for a second and tell you why I’m so psyched to give out this Forgotten Oscar. I’ve been a filmmaker and editor for the past 15 years or so, and I’m really passionate about editing — mostly because no one outside of the film world has any clue what the hell it is. Editing is a tricky thing to nail down. It isn’t just linking the story together, it’s interpreting the raw footage you shot, and finding ways to put it together in a way that makes sense, on a shot-by-shot basis. It’s a tangible, practical art, and it’s often very difficult to grasp if you haven’t done it yourself, because when it works the best is usually when you don’t notice it at all.
Furthermore, as an audience member — or even as another editor — we have no idea what kind of footage was captured during the shoot. Did all the shots go as planned, so when you edit you don’t have any trouble putting things together, and everything goes as it should? Or maybe the shoot was a disaster, where nothing went right: it rained on all the days you were scheduled to shoot outdoors, someone got sick during a key scene, some natural disaster postponed your shoot by a few days and threw everything off. Maybe, when things went wrong, you could afford to keep shooting even though you went over your budget — or maybe you couldn’t. As an audience member, we have no idea. When a film shoot goes south, that’s when a good editor can save the day: she can use the footage that’s there to create something that, while it may not bear much resemblance to the original concept, tells a coherent story that, hopefully, is a good film. Jaws is a great example — the fake shark didn’t work most of the time, when it did it looked ridiculous, and the film went way over budget. Editor Verna Fields found every usable frame of the shark she could, and, instead of showing the shark throughout the film, the shark was only shown in small doses, which was arguably a much better — and scarier — way to make the film. There’s a saying that you actually make your film three times: the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you cut. It inevitably changes as the process goes along.
So, with all this said, there is a film this year that is so well-edited that, despite the fact that I have no knowledge of how easy or difficult the footage was to edit, I have to acknowledge its greatness: Haywire. Somehow this film flew under the radar, although I have no idea why: it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Contagion, Ocean’s 11) and stars Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, and Bill Paxton. The story is pretty straightforward spy stuff: Mallory Kane (played by Gina Carano) is a tough-girl secret agent who is double crossed and has to kill her way to freedom.
>> READ: Phoenix review of Haywire <<
What makes the film great, in addition to the strong cast, is Carano: a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter and American Gladiator, Carano is a huge improvement from the usual bad-girl leading ladies like Angelina Jolie who might be able to beat you up but can’t beat the shit out of you until you are bloody and unconcious. Carano could seriously fuck you up, and Haywire uses her talents to their full advantage — and here’s where the editing comes in. There’s a trend in editing in recent years of cutting things so obnoxiously fast that you can barely tell what’s going on (The Bourne movies and Dark Knight trilogy come to mind). This is frustrating, because you don’t get to see the characters really fight in longer uninterrupted takes, and I get the sense that the actors can’t really do any of the moves depicted on screen, which takes me out of the movie. So I was psyched when I discovered that Haywire doesn’t rely on super-quick cutting in its killer action scenes, but uses a slower pace where you got to see just how the characters were hurting each other, running across buildings, and throwing each other through glass doors. It’s a much more satisfying way to watch an action movie, and if you don’t believe me go back and watch a classic action flick from the 80s, before this ultra-quick trend started: Die Hard, Predator, and The Terminator are all great examples. This isn’t the Oscar for most editing, it’s for best editing, and they aren’t necessarily the same thing. I hope more action filmmakers approach editing the way that Soderbergh did in Haywire.