Editor Jennifer Lame Reflects On The Motivating Challenge of  "Oppenheimer"
Jennifer Lame, ACE (photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Film marks her return engagement with writer-director Christopher Nolan--and earns Lame the HPA Award for outstanding editing of a theatrical feature

Editor Jennifer Lame, ACE described the script for writer-director Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures) as being inspiring and stressful at the same time.

“I loved the script when I read it,” related Lame, noting that it felt “magical” and “so special.” Lame added, “For me the challenge was trying to make sure whatever I contributed to the film would get back to that immediate emotional reaction I had reading the script--to translate that to an audience so people would feel the way I felt.”

Stirring that feeling, continued Lame, took on a greater weight in that on paper this film might seem as if it’s not for everyone. But she affirmed, “I feel like it is for everyone. Whatever I contribute has to make that come across. That was stressful. When working for something so great, the scariest thing is that you screw it up, that people don’t connect with it like you did.”

The story that she wanted to connect viewers to was laid out in Nolan’s script, an adaptation of Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” The script delves into the life of theoretical physicist Oppenheimer (portrayed by Cillian Murphy) and conveys the thoughts, ideas and concerns within the brilliant mind of the man who served as director of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico during World War II and became known as “the father of the atomic bomb.” 

Helping Lame in her quest to do justice to this story was her creative rapport with Nolan, initiated during her collaboration with him on the 2020 release, Tenet. Lame hearkened back to that time, recalling that she felt like a long shot at best to get the Tenet gig. But she was so enamored with Nolan’s movies that she took a flier and came out from New York to Los Angeles to meet the filmmaker. They talked for about 30 minutes with Lame taking the opportunity to ask him some self-described “nerdy questions” as a fan of his work. Lame recalled that Nolan couldn’t tell her much at that time about the script for Tenet, only that it was shaping up as a project that would be “difficult to edit.”

Lame returned to New York and received a follow-up call from Emma Thomas, Nolan’s producer and wife. Lame said Thomas asked her why she wanted to work on Tenet. The editor explained that while she did not have any deep aspirations to work on a big Hollywood action movie, she was drawn to the prospect of collaborating with Nolan and Thomas in that they have demonstrated a versatility and unique talent for making brilliant large, epic movies as well as smaller intimate films. Nobody else has achieved this to that extent--which is “special and I would like to be a part of that,” affirmed the editor.

To her astonishment, Lame got the job and like any first time with a director had to fumble around a bit to arrive at a shorthand. Helping in that regard was her experience in working with writers-directors who love the editing process--such as Kenneth Lonergan on Manchester by the Sea, and Noah Baumbach on Marriage Story, The Meyerowitz Stories and Frances Ha.

Tenet was a learning curve,” observed Lame relative to becoming simpatico with Nolan.

“I had worked with that auteur personality before,” continued Lame, noting that she and Nolan bonded over their enjoyment of the editing process and “the obsessive nature we both kind of have.”

At the end of their Tenet collaboration, Lame remembered wishing for the opportunity to work with Nolan again, now that they had connected and were on the same wavelength. 

Lame noted that an invaluable dynamic in Nolan films is the coming together of department heads to do justice to a story. An example of this on Oppenheimer was the rapport Lame enjoyed with sound designer/supervising sound editor Richard King. As heads of their respective departments in postproduction on Oppenheimer, Lame and King shared ideas, suggestions and had a healthy back-and-forth dialogue. King (who will be profiled in a future installment of this Road To Oscar Series) related that Nolan and Lame provided him with substantive feedback, and generated their own sound ideas which were cut into the film. Lame described King as “a huge asset” to her as an editor.

Earlier this week for her work on Oppenheimer, Lame won the HPA Award for outstanding editing of a theatrical feature. 

The HPA honor adds to awards recognition for Lame over the years which has included a BAFTA Film Award nomination for best editing for Manchester by the Sea in 2017, as well as two American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Award noms--for Manchester by the Sea in 2017 and Marriage Story in 2020.

(This is the fifth installment of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 96th Academy Awards will be announced on January 23, 2024, The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10, 2024.)

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