Meet the Editors Behind 2022’s Top Oscar Nominees

Editor’s note: We were privileged to have the opportunity to speak with all of the editors nominated for Best Film Editing for this year’s virtual roundtable. In addition, we interviewed four of the editors who cut Best Picture-nominated films, so we included them in this roundtable for an extra dose of behind the scenes insight.

It’s always an honor and a pleasure to talk with some of the best editors in the business one on one. But when it comes to Oscar season—especially with the Best Film Editing category not having its rightful place in the broadcast—there’s extra incentive to return to those conversations.

In this special virtual roundtable, we’ll revisit the interviews with the six editors nominated for Best Film Editing (along with four who edited Best Picture nominees) and shine some extra light on the enormous creative contributions editors make in crafting award-worthy films.

We hope you enjoy seeing how the common threads emerge in this collection of insights.

The editors

As is always the case, this year’s roundtable includes an impressive international group with numerous awards and nominations among them. So far this year, Pamela Martin took home an ACE Eddie for her work on King Richard, as did Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum for their work on tick, tick…BOOM! And, of course, the Oscar went to Joe Walker for his amazing work on Dune (which also earned Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best VFX, Best Score, and Best Production Design). But awards aside, it’s clear that all of these editors have winning careers.

The nominees for Best Film Editing

Hank Corwin – Don’t Look Up

Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum – tick, tick…BOOM!

Pamela Martin – King Richard

Peter Sciberras – The Power of the Dog

Joe Walker – Dune

Editors for Best Picture nominations

Úna Ní Dhonghaíle – Belfast

Andy Jurgensen – Licorice Pizza

Cam McLauchlin – Nightmare Alley

Azusa Yamazaki – Drive My Car

Landing the gig

Working with top directors is every editor’s dream, and developing the skills it takes to find yourself in that position is vital.

But there are also the “soft” skills that lead to the kind of enduring relationships that many of these director-editor teams have. Let’s see how these editors have navigated their career paths.

McLAUCHLIN (Nightmare Alley): I met Guillermo [del Toro] on Pacific Rim when I was working in a lab in Toronto, which is now Company 3. I was doing dailies, digitizing on the Avid, and moved into telecine transfer, working with colorists. That was at the point where people were starting to shoot aerial footage or where they needed to run the camera for a long time. It was new technology, and I became the guy that just figured it out in the lab.

Then I moved into the DI (digital intermediate) department because that knowledge and skill set pushed me in that direction—working with clients and colorists, and working with directors and editors.

It was always my intention to be in picture editorial, but I just happened to come in at that entry point. I actually very much appreciated that experience. I know a lot of editors come out of school and begin as picture editors, but they have no idea about the other components of the job.

I finally left the post lab world and found myself working in independent film as an assistant, cutting short films on the side. I then found my way into the union as a PA. Then the assistant editor I worked with—Laura Johnson—gave me a lot of experience and ability to become more involved in the process, and we worked on a lot of great shows.

Eventually, Guillermo found his way to Toronto by way of a Lovecraft film that he was going to make. Unfortunately, it fell apart—though it’s still in del Toro’s mind—but then Legendary came in with Pacific Rim. I was able to get my résumé on the top of the pile and I got in. At the beginning of the production, I was in Toronto and the editor was still in L.A. and the American assistant was there, too.

While the editor was still in L.A. on day one of the shoot, Guillermo called the production office and asked for someone from editorial to come downstairs to see him. By sheer fortune, I was that person. He was doing storyboards and I walked up to him and I said, “Hey, I’m from editorial.” He said, “We’re shooting a scene this afternoon with a bulldog and the bulldog obviously can’t bark, so we need to find some sound effects, and I’ll be up at lunch.”

I was just learning the ropes of the big, big shows and how it works with studios, so I kind of fell into this pocket of doing sound and music.

I sweated the next couple of hours, but managed to get the right sound! I wasn’t THE first assistant editor on the film but found myself in a creative position early on with Guillermo. I was just learning the ropes of the big, big shows and how it works with studios, so I kind of fell into this pocket of doing sound and music. I did a lot of temp music for him on that film until a much more talented music editor came on board, but I was there to quickly help him and support his ideas in the creative process early on, and we just kept going.

Each show seemed to develop where at some point the editor might have to leave, because Guillermo really explores the material and takes his time. So at certain points in Crimson Peak, the editor had to go back to Spain and I took over and it just led to a shorthand that he and I began to develop. When it came time to do Nightmare Alley, I guess he just felt that I was the next choice.

JURGENSEN (Licorice Pizza): I started working with Paul [Thomas Anderson] on Inherent Vice in 2014 as an assistant editor. Paul also does these side projects from to time—music videos or things for Jonny [Greenwood]—and he just started calling me to help him out. That started our relationship. We’ve also done a bunch of Haim videos.

I think he’s just slowly welcomed me into the circle and trusts me now.

He got to know that family through doing music videos, and I’ve pretty much cut all of those. I think he’s just slowly welcomed me into the circle and trusts me now. A lot of the people that work with him have worked with him for a long time. We know his sensibilities. The way he makes movies is so unique, so I think that’s part of it.

MARTIN (King Richard): Reinaldo [Marcus Green] told me that the reason he called me was that two of his references for King Richard were Little Miss Sunshine and The Fighter [both of which she edited]. I look at the sports movies I’ve done not as sports movies—they’re dramas with sports in them, and a lot of people are very interested in the sports part of it because it’s hard to do, but I look at them as family dramas or character dramas.

I met Reinaldo about five years ago at the Sundance filmmakers lab when he was workshopping Monsters and Men. I was just there for a week as was Robert Elswit, the director of photography on this movie, and he came to me about five months before the film was up and running and ready to go and said he would love to talk to me about his film, so he sent me the script, and we got together over breakfast and talked about it.

Months passed, and he came back to me again and said, ‘It’s happening, are you in?’

I asked him a lot of questions about how he was planning on doing the tennis because I knew what the pitfalls were, having done it before, and I wanted to see what his plan was for it. We talked about the characters, and in a typical meeting, I might point out things in the script that could be better or maybe that are unnecessary before they shoot. Then we left it alone, and months passed, and he came back to me again and said, “It’s happening, are you in?”

And between the time that I first met him and that call, I had the opportunity to read a lot of other scripts that were coming in looking for editors. King Richard was by far the best script I had read, so I decided that it would be foolish not to take it. It really spoke to me on many levels, so I said “Yes.”

WEISBLUM (tick, tick…BOOM!): I first met with Lin [Manuel Miranda] in late 2019 for an extra-long time just reminiscing about New York in its semi-grittier days of the late eighties, early nineties. We talked about our recollections of youth in this place and time that the story is set in with [Jonathan] Larson, the theater community, and what that whole generation represented to Lin.

I think we both connected on a lot of the same understandings of those things that had happened in both of our worlds. So, he asked me to join him. [Because COVID led to a schedule conflict] I had to transition out and then Myron seemed like a very logical choice for us because of the great work he did on In the Heights and his familiarity with Alice [Brooks], our DP.

To research (or not)

Many of the films this year are either remakes of previous movies or adaptations from novels.

Although each editor has a different approach when it comes to choosing whether to reference previous source material, the takeaway seems to be that it’s best to rely on what’s there in the dailies rather than being influenced by what they’ve previously seen or read.

I make it a point to not read it and only deal with what is presented in the script.

SCIBERRAS (The Power of the Dog): I only read the script that Jane [Campion] had written and got sent by Libby Sharpe at See Saw Films. If I haven’t read the book already, I make it a point to not read it and only deal with what is presented in the script, and not be able to fill in any blanks that the audience wouldn’t be able to.

You want to work with what the actor is giving you and what the director is working with rather than trying to steer it towards what you remember from the book or your first impression of that.

I feel like it’s really important to know as little as possible and be as close to the audience as you can be to really tell the story that you’re telling because there’s always so much left out in an adaptation, and it’s also just the way that things are told visually versus internal thoughts, narration, and all those kinds of things.

WALKER: I read the book before I read Denis’ [Villeneuve] script and I did think he’d bitten off a lot. We were in the middle of Blade Runner where we were already walking on sacred ground cinematically trying not to mess it up. Then, you go from that to Dune where the fans are going to come with baseball bats if they’re unhappy—that is what Denis said to me.

You go from that to Dune where the fans are going to come with baseball bats if they’re unhappy.

I think it’s a magical book and I think it’s very timely for a book written in the late sixties. I could totally see why it captivated Denis. It has so many themes that he’s interested in. Environment and the relationship between women and power is a big ingredient.

I deliberately avoided watching the film again. I hadn’t seen it since I saw it in the cinema when it was released [1984]. David Lynch changed my mind when I was 18 to such a large degree when I saw Eraserhead. So, I have the utmost respect for him. I don’t think he was happy with Dune, but honestly, the main source for us was the book and only the book.

McLAUCHLIN: I had seen the original film Nightmare Alley when I was in university, only because it was sort of a cult classic film noir. But beyond that, I didn’t know it came from a book.

Then when I met with Guillermo, he was adamant that we don’t go back to that material. He said, “If you haven’t seen the film, don’t watch it and if you haven’t read the book. Don’t read it.” He didn’t want us to go in there with any sort of preconceptions of what the material was going to be. He co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. That was the launch pad.

Facing the blank timeline

Every editor has their own unique approach to how they face the blank timeline—how they watch dailies, how they organize their scenes, what they like to do (or don’t like doing at all). It’s also interesting to see how many rely on handwritten notes!

MARTIN: When I get the dailies, I sit down, and I watch everything, and I take handwritten notes. Parts that I like, takes that don’t work, just little notes. I have a huge thick notebook full of handwritten notes for every movie, every single take, and angle.

If they’re shooting multiple cameras and it’s not handheld, I am able to watch multiple cameras at the same time and take notes on those performances, and by doing that process, I familiarize myself with all the angles, and sometimes I have a very clear idea of if I love a specific shot for the beginning of this scene, or I must use this piece in the middle of this scene.

Mostly when I start to cut, I don’t do any string-outs. I hate them.

Mostly when I start to cut, I don’t do any string-outs. I hate them. I’ve never, ever done them, and I find it very counterintuitive to my process. I go right into what I call a rough cut, not an assembly, but a rough cut, and I don’t overthink where I’m beginning the scene, or where I start the scene.

Sometimes it’s very obvious because I see a really beautiful shot that would work well as a transition, and obviously, you’re cutting the film out of order, so you often don’t have the scene that came before or that comes after, but I just pick a spot because I know it could change. It’s probably going to change, and it doesn’t really matter, but I go on a ride with the scene which is how I would describe it.

Whatever angle I decide to start with, I look through my notes to find my favorite one, and so I start there, and I don’t cut until my eyes want to see the next thing. So if I’m cutting a conversation and I really want to see that person’s reaction, that’s when I’ll cut, and I will then look through my notes and shape the scene as I go.

I also used to be a dialogue editor back in my early days, and I do a lot of smoothing out as I’m cutting the initial scene because I know that if it bumps, the cut will bump, and it will bump the director on first viewing. So I do a lot of dialogue work as I go, smoothing everything out, and if that means I’m pre-lapping or post-lapping, that’s what I do.

I even do line replacements when necessary if I’m having difficulty matching mics or matching performances. So when I finish the first pass, I have something that’s semi-polished, and it’s also pretty quick because I’m trying to keep up with the camera, so I’m speed editing, and I often will cut multiple versions because I might see another approach to it and want to try that as well and give the director maybe two or three choices.

Some directors also want to talk to me every evening and download their day, saying, “I did all these scenes, and I just want you to know that my favorite take was this in general.”

I don’t pay that much attention to the circle takes because I find that the perception of how things play on set is often quite different than how they play on the screen. That’s why I watch everything and take notes on everything and cut it to my specifications and liking.

JURGENSEN: [note: Licorice Pizza was shot on film, so they watched film dailies prior to getting digital dailies.] For dailies, we will have a little group of people—the camera crew and some other key members—and we can just see how things play and what gets laughs. I’ll take notes and we’ve usually figured out a lot of our favorite takes. Paul and I have chosen takes that we like and I star those. I’ll have a big binder at the end that I use to help build the movie later.

As I’m watching the stuff again in the Avid, I’ll add markers. I’ll usually do a color for myself—which is stuff that I like—and then I’ll also do a different color for Paul of things that he has responded to or things that I’ve written down that we like.

Then, usually you have your scene bin and there’s each take in a row for every setup. I’ll just click and drag up our favorite takes. I’ll move up the best take the most, and if there’s a second or third favorite take, I’ll just move it up a little bit. Sometimes I’ll put a “***” or, “best first half,” or something like that in the clip name.

For me, I’ll always have the notes when I have a scene up so that I can look at them. But if I just open up my bin, I can see right away which ones are my favorite takes. Visually it is just so much easier for me to pinpoint. Then, I can click on those and see certain moments in the markers.

We don’t do ScriptSync. I’ll just open up the scene and I’ll see my favorite takes. Then, I’ll usually do a little selects sequence in that bin and pull my favorite things. Sometimes, I’ll do a rough cut of the scene and so that’s how I get to know the footage again.

SCIBERRAS: I have all my dailies laid up with each setup in one timeline back to back. Then, I just give them different colored marks for how I feel about it just in a rating system of one to three. As I’m watching, I’m just reacting and just tapping a marker.

Then, I get through the timeline and Avid just drops all the markers on, so I know exactly where I was feeling something or when I was looking for something. Then, I’ll go through and organize it a little better from that, but that’s essentially my process in watching dailies. I try not to stop and start too much. Just let her run.

I’ll watch one whole setup, then get into the next setup. I just essentially go through it in one sitting, but one set up at a time, so that I can try to be as attentive as possible while watching it the first time. I feel like just a mini-break between setups, 30 seconds even, is enough to reset the attention span because watching dailies is hard.

Just a little break between each one helps me stay really focused for the next because I found early on that when I used to run it all in one, I could feel my attention span lowering at a certain point, and I thought, “I need to find a way to keep that at a high level all the way through.” That’s why I started doing that.

I always do a quick flip through and just know all the setups before I start watching. So, I’ll be able to say, “Okay, I’ve got this shot, this shot, this shot…” because I like to not completely work out the structure, but have a rough idea of what the structure of the scene might take. What angles do we have if a character is traveling across the room? Where will that be?

It helps to know that a particular moment might be crucial, to pay extra attention to certain bits, and start to figure out the scene before watching dailies.

It helps to know that a particular moment might be crucial, to pay extra attention to certain bits, and start to figure out the scene before watching dailies just to get a rough sense of how it might go together. Then, I start watching dailies. By the end of that, I’ve usually got a pretty fair idea of how it’s going to be structured by the time I start cutting.

Often I’ll do it on a video track just above the dailies. Then when doing selects with Jane, I’ll do another row, another video layer of selects with Jane, so I know what selects were together versus when I first watched it. That gives me a good indication of, “We’re all loving this section. Great,” or, “My first reaction to this was good, but second was maybe not so good.”

DHONGHAÍLE (Belfast): I am very old school, and particularly for a film like this I watch absolutely everything. So I just ask the assistants to have it on frame view in Avid. I used to have it on text view, but I’ve moved and grown from frame view because in some films you just have to be in frame view. But I begin by watching and I start to pick out things that really resonate with me and start building a palette.

By doing that, it immerses me in the footage. So then, when I actually come to edit, I can remember the specific takes that are really interesting, and I can put them into my timeline and build around them.

I always work with sound early on because I think sound can enrich a film to such a degree.

I always work with sound early on because I think sound can enrich a film to such a degree that if you didn’t do the sound work, you might end up cutting something that actually could be held. So I watch everything and keep anything that I think is really interesting—like shots of the actors before or after the take—that’s going to have a truthfulness or authenticity. Then I began to build it and work the sound design, and figure out how we’re going to use music, particularly in a sparse way, to keep the movements through the film and not become too indulgent.

I actually don’t bother with markers unless there are a few different things to think of that are good. Let’s say, for example, with Jude [the main character in the film], there could be rolling takes, so there could be many performances on one take, so it might be a very long take. I do ask the assistants to put little markers on every new performance on a rolling take, and whatever I liked, I would actually cut onto a timeline, and it’d be all my favorite bits. I’d go through all the rushes and do my “Úna Selects” for those different bins. Then I would go back and begin to build it.

If time was precious and I didn’t have time to do sound design, I would send that to my assistant, either the first or second assistants with some direction, and they’d build it and send it back to me while I was editing other scenes. That way, I could watch it and tweak it if the sound was perhaps not totally correct, or if it was good but needed a little bit of volume modulation.

Or if it was great, I would just say “Thank you so much!” And then give them another scene. It’s a real labor of love, and by the end of that day, I’ll have crafted scenes that feel rich, not only editorially but also in sound.

WALKER: A key way to figure out the structure of a scene is to look at all the material and then realize that it’s nearly always the case that the main source is in the close-up. If the scene has one that’s something where you are trying to figure out how to get there, and at what point do we get there? Because it’s got an intensity that all the other shots don’t have, all the other ones are giving you atmosphere and content and performance and everything, all the nice things, but it’s the close-up where you really go “Bang!” that’s the point.

When I see the dailies, I can often see that moment clearly, and I’ll jump forward to that moment in the scene and put the shots on either side that I need, and then I can figure out how to get to that moment from there. I sort of cut backward sometimes.

YAMAZAKI (Drive My Car): My assistant goes through the new rushes and organizes them for me first and puts together the reels, and then I watch them from beginning to end and make notes. There’s no concept of a bad take. So unless there is a technical problem that’s obviously not good, every take is a possibility. In general, my approach of taking notes is very analog. Sometimes I’ll use an iPad, but usually I like to write down what I think or what I’ve noticed as I watch the rushes. But I don’t do any editing.

With Mr. Hamaguchi, we have a unique workflow. He likes to finish principal photography before we start editing so he can concentrate on directing. After that, he comes into editing and then we watch rushes together. Sometimes we’ll spend days going through it together.

Storytelling and structure

Getting the first assembly done is one thing.

But if you’ve got actors who improvise, or a story point isn’t quite hitting, or the film’s too long, how do you decide what stays, or goes, or needs something else to make it work?

CORWIN (Don’t Look Up): The pursuit of tone was perhaps the most difficult part of cutting this film, along with knowing that you wouldn’t know how the tone was really working until you were at the end of the film. It became a laborious process. There were times when it became a little bit overwhelming for me as an editor.

There were times when it became a little bit overwhelming for me as an editor.

Ultimately, I didn’t know until my cut would be an hour down the line. Either we started feeling fatigue or things felt a little bit too light or slapstick even. Then, if we made the film too dark, it would really resonate throughout and then the film would become really operatic.

With the way I cut, there’s no one way. So we experiment. You’ve got all of these characters who are some of the great living actors, so I have plenty of material. It just became an exercise in letting go of great moments. Each time I got rid of something, it was like a little death. This evolves into a longer conversation about how we shot this film and how the actors improvised. Adam gives them great freedom. Obviously, they cover a script, but they’re all fantastic.

Take the first Oval Office scene. You had these great actors in a room for two days, and they’re running between four and six cameras. You just have to ascertain what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. McKay comes in, who truly is the king of comedy, and he was like Attila the Hun having me strip out funny moments. With great regularity a director rips out the heart of their editor, and he was no exception.

WEISBLUM: Originally as conceived, it’s very well planned out moment to moment with where we are on stage, how that reflects or transitions to the autobiographical story that opens up around it, and how they play off of each other. So, a lot of that was intentional as written and in some ways very precisely shot for those moments, while all the stage stuff that then became narration at some point was all shot on stage so that we could use it. It was still planned when we would be on stage and when we wouldn’t.

As a starting point, we were faithful to those intentions, but then you start to open it up, play around with it, and start to collapse things a little bit and realize that, expositionally, you have to get more efficient with certain things. It was the normal things that happen in a movie when you have a runtime that’s a little over two hours and you want to get it under that magic number so that the first third or first half progresses at a different pace than the rest of the film so that you get past the setups.

That started late in the director’s cut and continued [when Myron picked up the film from Weisblum] later on in terms of collapsing introductions to characters, using a juxtaposition of flashbacks from 1990 to earlier, and narration from the stage to convey things a little bit more simply.

McLAUCHLIN: As an editor, you have to carry the audience along with you. There’s always a dialogue that I have internally while I’m cutting between myself and the audience.

Then there’s the dialogue I have with the director. At points, you abandon certain perceptions of what the film is and you just sort of experiment. A lot of the times in the Carnival we were playing a lot with the structure because the scenes are sort of modular. We were able to move them around fairly quickly and reshape the path that Stan was taking—learning from his father figures and mentors—the carnies and Zeena and Molly.

But we were able to quickly put together some sort of crazy idea structure there and then watch it and then pick up something that we would learn from that. With Guillermo, it’s all playfulness. Anything goes. We can throw that line of dialogue from that scene in this scene. It’s really just measuring what the film needs and getting to that point where you’re definitely hearing what the film has to say and allowing those moments of creativity to spark. It might be the wrong idea, but it could be the idea that leads to the right idea.

MARTIN: King Richard is the origin story for Venus and Serena, and at one point in the movie, the torch is passed to Venus. We had an issue in the first scripted version that was cut, and we knew we had all these great pieces, but the order of it wasn’t quite right.

We kept changing the opening, and the opening was never feeling fully fleshed out. We kept being told we would find it in the edit, or we would go and get pick-up shots. So the movie that you see, the first act, has a lot of scenes that have been reordered, and we even tried removing things and just starting on the streets of Compton. Everything we tried wasn’t quite working, and then Reinaldo and I had the idea to move this coach-shopping scene and combine it with the collecting tennis balls scene, and it immediately puts the film in his voice.

We kept changing the opening, and the opening was never feeling fully fleshed out.

From his point of view, you see him getting rejected over and over. When we saw the effect of those scenes upfront, how tired he looks at that job, it was so much more impactful, and then he still opens the tennis magazine and tries to find another coach. He does not give up, and it really helped launch the movie from Richard’s point of view from the very opening, and that was created in the editing process.

Pacing and dynamics

It comes as no surprise that many editors also have musical backgrounds, which helps inform the pacing of a film—what we think of as dynamics.

It’s the way that the editor helps the viewer through the story, taking them on a ride with peaks and valleys, and allowing them to experience the journey in the way the director intended.

WALKER: Dune is one massive work of rhythm for me. I studied classical music at York University and it was nasty 20th Century—Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Berio, Lutosławski, Ligeti, and all those kinds of brutal styles. It’s not surprising that I get on with Denis and his tastes.

When I was writing music, it’s not so dissimilar. I was pushing things around with a mouse originally on an Atari ST using midi files and things. Then, you start developing a sense of foreground and background. There are a lot of similarities, but the main thing is pace and rhythm. I’d say editing was slightly more enjoyable to me, and I’ve also got the additional benefit of performance and working with this great cast. That rhythm could be the sound of a thumper, or it could be the raising of an eyebrow, the rhythm of the cut itself, or the kind of global tectonic plates moving underneath the story.

This film has an interesting rhythm because it starts quite gently actually and builds up your interest in the characters. Then, I think it’s accelerative and becomes very dynamic.

SCIBERRAS: There are all types of tension in this film. It goes from a more physical threat to a more sexual tension as well. It’s this really broad spectrum of the different types of tension you can bring in and often they’re happening at the same time towards the end of the movie. It’s just intuition, I guess, in working on the scenes.

The big thing for us was recognizing whenever we could feel the tension was lowering from the assemble to the first cut.

The big thing for us was recognizing whenever we could feel the tension was lowering from the assemble to the first cut and it was really about finding a way to keep it up the whole way. A lot of that was taking things out and just not letting the film meander or lose focus on what the source of tension was.

There’s one scene on the stairs with George and Peter taking some furniture from Phil’s room to George’s new room, and they had an altercation on the stairs. It felt great in itself, but you could feel that the second that had happened, the next few scenes lost their tension because you had a peak and then a trough followed.

So, there was a lot of that kind of work of figuring out exactly where the tension was coming from and maintaining it. There are all the nuances in the nitty-gritty of scenes: the fine cutting, the subtle looks, and just filling it with ambiguity because I think a lot of the tension comes from not knowing where things are going.

CORWIN: They say God is in the details. This is a movie about an unimaginable catastrophe and it starts with the sound of a tea kettle. Then, we go to just a tiny shot of hot water being poured into a cup. For the opening, I could have had this grandiose discovery and I love the intimacy of it and how personal it was. It’s the only time Jennifer Lawrence’s character is happy in the entire movie. It was joyful and I just wanted to internalize it for her.

In the last two reels of the film, the last 20 minutes, it becomes very contemplative, beautiful, and terrifying. In order to make those really work, I had to build the anxiety and the acceleration of what was going on in order to be able to have that release when they discover the comet in the night sky.

When I cut these things, I liken it to cutting in a collage form as opposed to a montage. I may use a sound or an image that won’t have resonance for another five minutes, 20 minutes, or even half an hour later.

It’s like playing this crazy chess game when it’s in different dimensions.

So, it becomes a question of tone—it’s like playing this crazy chess game when it’s in different dimensions. You’re constantly refining and revising. Throughout the film, I have moments where we freeze. They almost become postcards of a reality, a scrapbook that gets launched into the universe of what humans were like.

It’s separate moments either when they were really anxious, they were very loving, and very joyful in the launch. We have moments where I freeze in moments of great joy. I wanted to have this catalogue of emotion told in these stills. I find stills coming off of a moving image can be extremely powerful, especially as an editor. If you don’t just freeze a frame but you jump ahead even ten frames, it’s jarring to the eye. It’s a matter of affecting brain chemistry and eye chemistry.

KERSTEIN: There are splits everywhere in this movie, little jump cuts, fluid morphs. Andy [Weisblum] did a lot of it and I did as well. It just becomes almost second nature to us now to be pacing things up and trying to fix continuity or just trying to make it feel organic. I don’t manipulate footage as much as other editors maybe. I still like the purity of the performance. I don’t go too crazy on that kind of stuff, but for pacing I definitely try to do that all the time.

YAMAZAKI: So at the beginning of the shot of Kafuku and Misaki by the ocean, it was the cinematographer’s idea to keep both of them in the same frame, and that’s a beautiful shot. Mr. Hamaguchi has a principle about editing that every shot has an expiration date.

Because we’ve worked together before, we have a shared experience on when the right moment to cut is.

In this scene the best way for me to describe it is we cut to the closeup at the end because the moment has come that the overhead shot, the shiny moment of that shot, just kind of expired at that moment.

DHONGHAÍLE: As Ken was shooting, he was getting the tableaux and he was picking up a few closeups. As an editor, my challenge from a pace point of view, was how to marry those tableau style scenes with keeping the film moving and the audience engaged.

We found that sometimes if you have too many of those tableau scenes in a row, there could be a risk that the film would plateau. So that’s where Ken and I made a good team; we kept just forensically looking at the rushes and questioning what we could move around.

Sound effects and audio environments

Most editors will incorporate sound effects into their very first scene assembly because picture and sound are so intertwined. Whether they do it themselves or have their assistants work on it for them, seeing the picture without at least some effects truly is like only seeing half the picture.

McLAUCHLIN: Because I came from an assistant background—I think sound is something, as an assistant editor, you really try to help put a stamp on. To develop and make the world come alive it’s essential to your world-building. Guillermo’s an amazing world-builder and sonically he approaches that the same way he does with picture. So it’s very full. It’s very lush, and the tracks are pretty dense from the get go, sound design-wise and sound effects as far as creating that landscape.

I do the regular “newsworthy” items, but then as the scene starts to take hold and you’re living with something that is working, and as scenes before and after shape and you do sound transitions then we start a dialogue with the sound team. They did a fantastic job.

I rely on a library of sounds that I’ve taken from places over the years. And I actually recently just acquired the Mark Mangini sound library. He did Dune.

It’s always a process. It’s always gradually going into the direction where we get it shaped and the ideas are all there. They might not be the best quality sounds, but then once we get it to a place, Guillermo and I will call up Nathan Robitaille, our sound designer, and talk about what we like in the scene, sound-wise and reference that we did this here and this here—but make it better.

DHONGHAÍLE: I asked Ken what his audio memories were from his childhood so I could have them ready in anticipation for the shoot, because we shot in Surrey, and needed to create a soundbed of Belfast for the first day of principal photography in editorial.

Sound and music, for me, are rich characters to add to the film, and Ken mentioned a few things like the ice cream van, the ship horns, the constant trains, the rag-and-bone man, the coalman, the milkman, and so on. He had these very beautiful memories that meant we could add these sounds at any moment that helps the audience, on an implicit level, fully realize this is an ordinary city devastated by this extraordinary rise of violence.

Maybe you’re in a scene of danger, and you put in the ice cream van. It was the counterintuitive stuff of trying to convey that this is a city with children going to school, and the ice cream man is coming despite the fact that the British army has arrived and is putting up barricades. And even the people in the streets are putting up their own barricades. This builds the tension while also continuing the normality of everyday life.

WALKER: I’ve got a sound team where I can just get on the intercom and say, “Can you pop in please?” Or, “Can we talk?” During the pandemic, we were texting all the time and you could just say, “Hey, I need the sound of a Sardaukar guard.” Then, people would also record their own things sometimes, and I would record my own things too.

There’s a human spider in the film, and at one point I thought, “Actually, the detail that makes that thing really creepy is the way it’s pushing a bowl around on the floor.” So, I went and spent half an hour recording myself pushing a bowl around. I had to act as a human spider.

Music, scores, and composers

Some editors like to work with temp music, while some would never consider it.

Others might do a combination of temp or needle-drop music. And then there are the times when choosing not to use music creates a very different kind of atmosphere.

In a year when Best Score is also one of the non-live broadcast awards, there was an actual musical (West Side Story), three movies that relied heavily on songs (tick, tick…BOOM!, Licorice Pizza, and Belfast), and composers like Hans Zimmer (who won the Oscar for Dune), Jonny Greenwood (Power of the Dog, Licorice Pizza, Spencer), and Nicholas Britell (Don’t Look Up) in the mix. How could we not talk about the huge role music plays in movies?

JURGENSEN: Paul is so in tune with music. He always has been. So, he was choosing songs as he was writing the script and there were a lot of things in the script that notated certain songs. The process is that he plays a lot of music during dailies, so that’s a way in which we can whittle down a playlist. Or some songs that are going to potentially be in a sequence he will whittle down by saying, “These are maybe the favorites.”

I don’t show him a big assembly of the movie. That’s not how we work. We do the dailies, I take the notes, and I have my own process of going through the digital dailies again and making selects.

Sometimes, I’ll do a little rough cut, but he doesn’t want to just watch a four-hour version of the movie where I’ve just put all these songs in. That’s just not his process. I can have it on the side, but he doesn’t want to see that. He wants to build it with me. We just try stuff. That’s what’s so great. You can have different tracks. In fact, the “Stumblin’ In” track wasn’t actually period accurate. We tried a bunch of songs, and sometimes a song just feels right. It’s just the perfect thing and we had to use it.

“Life on Mars” was in there from the beginning and we never changed that. Also, “Let Me Roll It” because of the way that Paul timed the choreography with them laying on the bed, looking over, and their pinkies touching. It wasn’t like we made it to be a music video, but there were certain moments of the song that we wanted to heighten with these images.

It was always the idea to just do score at the beginning and end. You could say, “Oh, well why didn’t you do score during the truck sequence?” and maybe other directors would have done that, but we thought it worked so well not having music there. The movie is almost wall-to-wall music, and once you hit that section, it’s dry for about 15 minutes.

It’s only the truck sounds that you’re hearing. You’re hearing some distant songs playing at the gas station or whatever, but that’s it. So, it’s a good contrast. I think it plays better by just hearing the neighborhood sounds and the truck sounds, especially when it [the truck] is going backwards. You’re more in it.

McLAUCHLIN: When I try music on anything, I’m really trying to tap into how it can present ideas and questions in the audience musically without hitting people in the head. In a movie like this, you really need to be very careful, which is why it was really tricky to temp.

It’s a beautiful soundtrack just in terms of the sound. At one point there was a lot of source music in the Carnival, and it was difficult to layer in score because we wanted it to sound like a contemporary piece of cinema. Any time we put music in, the film was apt to tell us it just didn’t want it. The soundtrack we fell in love with for a while was no soundtrack. It was just the natural carnival.

It’s such a rich tapestry of the games and the winds and the flapping of the tents. Rhythmically, it weaves into the dialogue and into the camera movement. So there is such a dance between all these things. Then once you bring music in, the tango is quite difficult, and when you find that in the edit, the film is quick to tell you it doesn’t really need it.

SCIBERRAS: Jonny Greenwood didn’t actually score to picture. There was editing done to the cues to the picture towards the end, but he scored to the script. We had maybe 80 to 90 percent of the score in the first week of the cut.

We used the music in a very transitional and supporting way, especially through the first two-thirds of the film, but we also wanted the music to build into the story for the last chapter. So, the last chapter, except for maybe one moment, is the only chapter with underscoring within scenes.

Everywhere else, it helps you travel to the next and supports a feeling that hopefully was in those scenes. There’s definitely no telling stings in the score here.

DHONGHAÍLE: Originally we had some other music ideas at the time, but then very quickly, we moved away from that and went for a more sparse score using only Van Morrison tracks that resonated on a sort of human level with Ken.

After watching the first cut, Ken felt from a memory point of view that Van’s music and the lyrics really chimed with him. Van also supplied two cues called “Instrumental One” and “Instrumental Two.” Both of them were roughly five minutes each, and I was able to cut them in different moments in the film where we didn’t want to use a track that might be lyric-led, where we just wanted a motif. So it kept us tonally with Van Morrison, but they’re really just two cues that I could use to segue from one to the other, and sprinkle throughout the film.

WALKER: I first started collaborating with Hans Zimmer in 1988 before he left for Hollywood on his last picture in the U.K., so we go back a long time. The ideas just flow between us. One of my favorite moments on cutting Dune was at one point, he was noodling around on the keyboard, and he was trying to find something, and I just said, “Hans, what are you actually looking for?” And he said, “I’m looking for a tune with the efficiency of the word ‘f**k’.” It’s a very efficient word; it’s international. It’s universal. It’s super-efficient but also malleable.

If you’re a composer and you’re writing a little fragment that can become a love theme, a chase theme, a worm theme, whatever it is, it’s universal. It’s something you can say, “I f-ing love you.” Or you could say, “I f-ing hate you,” and it’s just as punchy and efficient.

The director-editor relationship

In the business of making movies, the director, editor, and cinematographer are regarded as the creative triumvirate.

So how do directors and editors most effectively manage that relationship, turning it into more than just the sum of its parts? What is it that helps make a true partnership between director and editor? And what do they most appreciate about the collaboration?

Make sure the director feels connected to the edit during production.

MARTIN: Every day I’ll send an email to the director, and I’ll go in sequential order, and I’ll say, “Scene three: I roughed the scene together today; it’s working really well, especially the comedy when they do X, Y, or Z.” I might say “I had a little trouble with this one performance, they seem a little stiff,” or “It wasn’t quite what I expected.” I always tell my young editor friends what I do to make sure the director feels connected to the edit during production. It’s something that took many years to figure out.

SCIBERRAS: Jane’s really happy to try anything and is very free with that. She also just really trusts her instincts in a way that’s very clear, which makes trying things so fun because it always felt like if it wasn’t right, it would go back; if it was right, it would stay. It felt really playful. By the end of the film, me and Jane’s minds were essentially connected. Jane’s got a very good way of making everyone see the world through her eyes, so then you’re essentially Jane.

JURGENSEN: Now that I’ve been around for so long with Paul, I can just look at him and see when he’s liking something or when he’s not. It’s just that nonverbal communication, body language, or sometimes we can just look at each other and nonverbally nod to say, “Okay, that’s a perfect moment.”

Paul’s style has always been to not make things too cutty. So, the challenge is always trying to figure out the right moments to cut. You want to keep the best performances, but he’s fine sometimes just staying on a character and hearing another character over the shoulder, just watching the one on screen react. It may not be the most perfect timing, but he’s okay with that.

Nowadays, we’re so used to everything being cut so tightly and the rhythm of scenes being so perfect. I’ve really taken that to heart because you then take the sequence and just make something a little off, half second off or just staying on a shot with maybe a little bit more of a gap than there should be, but it just feels more natural. It feels more human and it adds something.

Also, with things like camera bumps and little camera movements—if something’s egregious, of course, we’ll fix it—but Paul likes having that little human touch to it. In fact, maybe only two shots are stabilized in this movie—I pulled back and realized it was too much. We needed to see a little bit more of a human touch to it because it was too perfect.

McLAUCHLIN: Guillermo knows what he wants. It’s sort of the beauty of him. He knows we can solve things in post with surgery and being crafty, so he’s never that concerned. To him, the dialogue between the actors and the camera is paramount to the storytelling. So it’s really that dance that he lives with and we make it work.

There’s always a solution. He’s an alchemist, really. You can bend the footage to your will. There are some corners we can paint ourselves into, but the feeling with him and working with him is there’s always a way to get out of it.

He’s someone who clearly knows the direction of the storytelling he wants, but he’s very open.

He’s an amazing collaborator. He’s someone who clearly knows the direction of the storytelling he wants, but he’s very open—especially in the edit—because the moment you enter the edit it’s really you and the director in the film. Anything goes.

We can throw that line of dialogue from that scene in this scene. It’s really just measuring what the film needs and getting to that point where you’re definitely hearing what the film has to say and allowing those moments of creativity to spark. It might be the wrong idea, but it could be the idea that leads to the right idea.

CORWIN: Every editor should have an Adam McKay in their life, at least once. Sometimes he’s so clear that it’s a little uncanny. I can’t do my voodoo moves on the guy because he knows what he wants. He wrote it. It’s wonderful because then whenever I’m cutting, I love just talking metaphorically with the director about what he’s trying to say. He’s sitting behind me. He grunts and throws a Nicorette at me. Honestly, it’s actually very Socratic.

We ask each other questions. Again, he’s sucking on his Nicorettes because he’s trying to quit smoking, always. We just get into it. More often than you’d expect, he’s right.

Before, he was using comedy that was very narrative, and I’ve been trying to work with him to make it much more metaphorical and he’s just become such a great filmmaker. I noticed that he’s truly one of the greatest filmmakers I’ve ever worked with.

WALKER: Denis isn’t one to kill something and just change it for the sake of it. If it works exactly how he wanted it, then that’s it. He saves his energy for the scenes that need more work. The edit of this film somehow happened in the air between us, and it’s partly the periods of time spent identifying what a problem might be and then finding the solution, which often takes a shorter amount of time than finding what the problem is by really discovering why something isn’t ticking as it should be.

DHONGHAÍLE: There are elements that I can find that I think have a lyricism or poetic realism value for me and where I think myself and Ken are well-matched in some of the things we both like. But then there are other times where we are not on the same page and what I enjoy about working with any director is being challenged. I could edit something and think it’s magnificent, and Ken can challenge me and say “Hang on. What about doing X, Y, and Z?” Which makes me think, “Oh my gosh. You want to destroy that masterpiece we’ve created!” But he is fearless, and we see what it looks like with it out. It’s all great conversations to help us lift the edit.

That’s a wrap

We hope that getting these different perspectives on the craft of editing demonstrates that there are as many ways to approach a film as there are editors.

Still, as patterns emerge, you can see what tried-and-true techniques help those at the very top of the industry succeed—and see how you can apply some of their learnings and insights to your own work.

Again, sincerest thanks to all of the editors who generously gave us their time. If you’d like to learn more about them, check out the original interviews on the Insider.

Steve Hullfish

Stephen Hullfish is an internationally respected producer and editor, and has written six books about the professional scene in Hollywood. He has edited seven feature films, including "Courageous" and "War Room", as well as "The Oprah Winfrey Show". Steve has also worked with industry leaders like Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic, Fujifilm, and Tektronix on technical and creative projects, and produces bespoke training for companies like the NHL, MLS, NBCSports, and Turner Networks.

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