Friday, May 25, 2018
  • Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017
Cutting and Casting Alexander Payne's "Downsizing"
Hong Chau (l) plays Ngoc Lan Tran and Matt Damon portrays Paul Safranek in "Downsizing" (photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Insights from editor Kevin Tent, ACE, and casting director John Jackson
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Editor Kevin Tent and casting director John Jackson share a common bond--a lengthy, ongoing collaborative relationship with director/writer Alexander Payne, their latest round of creative togetherness having been on Downsizing (Paramount Pictures), a feature that’s part sci-fi, part romantic comedy, part adventure, part social commentary as well as bits and pieces of other genres.

Matt Damon stars as a working class guy seeking a better life through shrinking himself. Damon and assorted others are taking advantage of a revolutionary technology that can reduce people to five inches tall--not only decreasing their environmental footprint but increasing their buying power, meaning for example that a middle class income family can purchase a miniaturized mansion for a fraction of what it costs in the “grown-up” world. New mini-communities--for that matter, a miniaturized society--have become a growth industry. 

The emerging miniaturized society has problems and pitfalls akin to those in the larger sized world. Yet it also has what makes life worthwhile, including love as Damon--whose wife backed out at the 11th hour from being miniaturized, leaving him solo in a strange world--finds an unlikely romance, a Vietnamese political prisoner turned miniature house cleaner portrayed by Hong Chau.

Downsizing is the latest entry in Tent’s shared filmography with Payne, which has yielded a Best Editing Oscar nomination for The Descendants in 2012 and five American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Award nominations--for Election in 2000, About Schmidt in 2003, Sideways in 2005, The Descendants in 2012 and Nebraska in 2014.  Tent won the ACE Award for Best Edited Dramatic Feature Film on the strength of The Descendants.

While Downsizing is certainly more visual effects intensive than Payne’s other features, Tent observed that the Damon-starring vehicle is deep down much like the writer/director’s previous films--imaginative, full of humanity, compassion and humor. “What it came down to was this too was a performance-driven movie,” observed Tent. “So we approached it like all of his other films. We worked closely together and focused on performance. Alexander is a very good editor in his own right. We’d battle things out once in a while but mostly we have similar tastes. We believe in the takes we chose.”

Tent also credited the visual effects team, including the contingent from Industrial Light & Magic, with doing their jobs so well that he and Payne were afforded the luxury of being able to concentrate on the characters and the narrative.

“Sometimes you get so wrapped up in a movie, you’re taking on the challenge to wrestle it to the ground, that you’re not conscious of certain things--although you are subconsciously,” said Tent. “Towards the end of this film, when I saw the journey these characters went through, especially Matt’s [Damon] character, those last couple of shots, it fully hit me that this is an Alexander Payne film. There’s sentimentality and truth. In that regard it’s just like all the others, except this time there were a lot more, much bigger moving parts.”

Tent affirmed that his “partnership” with Payne can take on any narrative. They were partners from the outset of their working relationship dating back to their first film together, Citizen Ruth, a 1996 release. Tent initially met Payne through a mutual friend, Carole Kravetz. Tent went to Los Angeles City College with Kravetz who suggested him as a possible editor for Citizen Ruth. “I also worked at Roger Corman’s with Carole,” recalled Tent. “I think she gave him [Payne] a couple of names to consider and I was one of them. We met and hit it off. He’s a director who follows his gut and he chose me. Starting with that first movie, we worked as partners--and we’ve been partners ever since on every film.”

John Jackson
Casting director Jackson also goes back a long way with Payne. “He’s from Omaha. I reside in Iowa right across the Missouri River. He came into town to make Citizen Ruth,” recollected Jackson. “I got the job for location casting, including principal casting roles they didn’t want to bring actors in from L.A. for. He came back a few years later to do Election, then for About Schmidt, both of which I worked on. Then starting with Sideways, I did all the casting, including in New York and L.A. I think Downsizing is our seventh film together.”

For Jackson, the process with Payne has been steadfast. “We talk about a film from the standpoint of the script and the characters, the standpoint of whatever world he is trying to create on screen. That informs everything we do. It’s an ongoing process of direct, unfiltered communication between us. My job is trying to bring to life the film that he wants to make with the characters. We’re operating from a very real place, the human tone of the entire film. I come in at the beginning and stay on all the way through production.” 

Downsizing, though, was different, said Jackson in that, “It opened my eyes to truly international casting, taking me to L.A., New York, Toronto and Norway. Dealing with different cultures on a much grander scale was a huge adventure. The scope and logistics of the film were gigantic comparatively speaking to Alexander’s other films. All of his films are creative and challenging and I feel incredibly fortunate to be included in the experience.”

The casting of Chau represented quite a find in that she brings a distinctive energy and humor to the film. “We looked everywhere--established actresses, people who hadn’t acted before,” said Jackson. “She’s been a working professional for years and I give credit to the company that represents her, Silver Lining Entertainment and Jason Shapiro. He stayed on me so I give props to him. It was obvious to me when I first met her that I had to introduce her to Alexander. We were also looking at actresses in Vietnam, women from all over of Vietnamese heritage. It was a long process before Alexander made the ultimate decision. She was terrific.”

This is the fourth of a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. The 90th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Alexander Payne, director/writer; Jim Taylor, writer; Phedon Papamichael, DP; Kevin Tent, editor; John Jackson, casting director.