A five-time Oscar nominee for Best Achievement in Film Editing, William Goldenberg, ACE--who won the Academy Award in 2013 for cutting Argo--is now once again in the awards season conversation for News of the World (Universal Pictures), directed by Paul Greengrass, who also teamed with Luke Davies to write the screenplay based on the best-selling novel by Paulette Jiles.
The movie marks a reunion of collaborators, two prime examples being Greengrass again coming together with Tom Hanks and Goldenberg. Hanks starred in the Greengrass-helmed Captain Phillips, a 2013 Best Picture Oscar nominee. And Goldenberg first worked with Greengrass on 22 July which tells the true story of Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack and the events that followed. On July 22, 2011, 77 people were killed when a far-right extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, detonated a car bomb in Oslo before traveling to the island of Utoya to carry out a mass shooting less than a couple of hours later at a leadership camp for teens. 22 July focused in particular on one survivor’s arduous physical and emotional journey to recovery.
In a Zoom interview session Greengrass shared that he sees a connection between the distinctly different orientations of 22 July and News of the World. Whereas 22 July delves into the darkness triggered by the rise of right-wing extremist violence, News of the World, he observed, puts us on the road to healing in the aftermath of tragedy, underscoring what can emerge after great divisiveness, in this case during the post-Civil War era. The Civil War left us with 600,000 dead and assorted communities shattered. The rift in America was greater than ever before and it’s at that point in News of the World that two people are thrown together.
News of the World centers on the relationship and the deep bond that is formed over time between Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), a Confederacy veteran, whose profession is that of a non-fiction storyteller, moving from town to town, sharing the news of presidents and queens, glorious feuds, devastating catastrophes and gripping adventures from the far reaches of the globe. As he travels in the backwoods to reach his next town hall gig where he will regale attendees with stirring stories directly from the pages of newspapers, Kidd crosses paths with Johanna (portrayed by Helena Zengel), a 10-year old taken by the Kiowa native tribe six years earlier (after the murder of her parents) and raised as one of their own. Johanna, hostile to a world she’s never experienced and dealing with the trauma of being ripped away from two families, is being returned to her biological aunt and uncle against her will. Kidd agrees to deliver the child where the law says she belongs. As they travel hundreds of miles into the unforgiving wilderness, the two face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces as they search for a place that either can call home.
Goldenberg benefited from the rapport he first struck up with Greengrass on 22 July. The writer-director brought the editor in early on in the process for News of the World, sending him different iterations of the script. Goldenberg would make comments on drafts, outlines, scenes. “I had never been involved in anything that early on, getting a sense of what was in Paul’s head, his intentions,” recalled Goldenberg. “We discussed it so many times along the way, I read so many different drafts that by the time I started (editing), I was much further ahead than what I would normally be. I got the chance to be immersed in the material, which was a real advantage and made the experience that much more fun and interesting.”
Goldenberg described Greengrass as “incredibly gifted” and “the most collaborative director I’ve ever worked with. He is somebody who’s brilliant and knows how to do everyone’s job but let’s everyone do their job. He allowed me a creative freedom that gets you outside the box and makes you more creative.”
Among the prime challenges that News of the World posed to Goldenberg was it being what he described as “a road movie with no B story or C story. It’s all about these two characters on a journey. There’s no other story to cut to. There was no overlapping this or intercutting that, no juxtapositions. You have a four-month journey that needs pace. There are no tricks to turn to.”
Fortunately, continued Goldenberg, that journey became inherently engaging due to the work of Hanks and Zengel. With sparse language for a child character who doesn’t speak English, Zengel gives a masterful performance. Goldenberg assessed, “She’s as good as any actor I’ve ever cut, adult or child. Helena had a complete understanding of what she was doing as an actor--and complete control over it, a control over her craft. There’s a moment between she and Tom when he’s teaching English to her. When pronouncing the words ‘buffalo,’ ‘tree’ and ‘sky,’ she then inadvertently speaks a little German and there’s a look on her face that says everything. We see her remembering, we see everything she’s gone through. The hardest thing as an editor was just not getting in the way of that.”
Goldenberg noted that two other factors drew him to News of the World. For one he got his first opportunity to edit a western, a genre that was also new to Greengrass. Additionally, the editor observed, “I’ve worked on so many films that are dark. They were wonderful experiences but this film shows how two worlds can come together, how strong love is, how two people can come to an understanding, how that kind of thing can overcome some of the divisiveness we’re experiencing. It’s such a positive message.”
Goldenberg’s alluded to four other career Oscar nominations were for The Insider (shared with Paul Rubell and David Rosenbloom) in 2000, Seabiscuit in 2004, Zero Dark Thirty (shared with Dylan Tichenor) in 2013, and The Imitation Game in 2015.
News of the World also marked the first western for production designer David Crank, although he was experienced in the time period having served as art director on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Crank found himself reunited with Tom Hanks on News of the World while embarking on his first collaboration with Greengrass. Working with both on News of the World was a delight as Crank related, “It could have been a nightmare moving around as much as we were in coverage had the two of them not been nice people. The mood on the set was always nice. Tom is relaxed. He worked with Paul before. He always seems to know what he’s pointed towards.”
Crank had previously worked with Hanks on Greyhound (Apple TV+) which like News of the World came out in 2020 but the two projects were a year apart in production.
Crank had the daunting task of recreating Texas after the Civil War for News of the World, doing justice to each distinct stop on the journey of Captain Kidd and Johanna. “Every town had a reason for being there. Every town stands for something. You had to come up with a look based on understanding the world and character of that town,” said Crank who extensively researched Reconstruction Texas, culling through historic photos of people and their environments.
Many of the settings along the way were meticulously created in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Bonanza Creek Ranch served as a hub of sorts. The variety tackled by Crank ranged from small bustling towns to God-forsaken locales. There was a treacherous rocky hillside that Kidd and Johanna had to navigate in a rickety wagon and then on foot to elude and ultimately confront a violent group of attackers. There were vast stretches of plains and swiftly disappearing Indian country, a rough-and-tumble manufacturing town, ad hoc military outposts, an old school that Crank remodeled to become a windswept Spanish style cathedral, a Spanish pueblo abode in Santa Fe that was converted into Kidd’s San Antonio home, and the high-maintenance, always work-to-be-done farm of Johanna’s aunt and uncle.
Crank credited his art direction colleagues--supervising art directors Natasha Gerasimova and Billy W. Ray, art director Lauren Slatten--and set decorator Elizabeth Keenan with helping everything come to pass. This was the first time he worked with these artisans.
Also invaluable, continued Crank, was his collaborative relationship with cinematographer Darius Wolski, ASC. “Darius was with me in Santa Fe about two months ahead of production. We scouted a huge amount together, talking about things, and a lot kind of organically came out of that. It was unusual to have a DP there but it was quite a luxury.”
Another luxury is being in current awards show consideration at the same time on a second film--the aforementioned Greyhound, a World War II naval drama directed by Aaron Schneider. In the film, Hanks plays a humble captain who for the first time is shepherding a convoy of boats across the Atlantic, guarding them from German U-boats in a middle ocean territory bereft of air support known as the “black pit.” Crank’s work on Greyhound spans a WWII destroyer from bridge to tiny sonar room. A real ship and a fake ship were the prime venues, with Crank’s challenge being to match them seamlessly in the film right down to the machinery and resources in each.
Greyhound and News of the World add to a body of work for Crank which includes an Emmy-winning turn as an art director on the John Adams miniseries, as well as Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award nominations for Lincoln as an art director and most recently Knives Out as production designer. As an art director, Crank was part of the teams that won Excellence in Production Design Awards for John Adams and the feature There Will Be Blood.
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 93rd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, March 15, 2021. The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021.