For her work on King Richard (Warner Bros. Pictures), Pamela Martin, ACE this past weekend (3/5) won the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award for Best Edited Dramatic Feature Film. It marked her first Eddie win; she had previously been nominated twice--for Little Miss Sunshine (directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton) in 2007 and The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell) in 2011. Taking the marquee Eddie for King Richard may bode well for Martin’s Oscar prospects. King Richard recently garnered Martin her second career Academy Award nomination; the first came for The Fighter in 2011.
King Richard introduces us to a couple of talented teen sisters, Venus Williams (portrayed by Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton), whose father, Richard (Will Smith), had a dream that they would become world class tennis players. While that would seem at best a longshot for two Black girls from Compton, Calif., Richard Williams trained them for success--on the tennis court, academically and personally, stressing the importance of self-respect, humility and believing in yourself. Both Venus and Serena got their initial training on dilapidated public tennis courts in Compton--often in harm’s way with neighborhood gangs nearby. Yet while Richard Williams was beaten down literally and figuratively in life, he was not dissuaded from dedicating himself to helping all his kids attain excellence. The patriarch, though, was not alone in shaping and nurturing his daughters--three other sisters also provided support, love and camaraderie, as did their mom Oracene, aka Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), who took on the role of coaching the younger Serena when professional coaches turned their attention to Venus.
King Richard is in the running for a total of six Oscars, nominated not only for Best Editing but also Best Picture (producers Smith, Tim White and Trevor White), Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Smith), Supporting Actress (Ellis), Original Screenplay (Zach Baylin) and Original Song (“Be Alive,” music and lyrics by Beyoncé and Dixson).
Martin got the King Richard gig due in part to the supportive role she played early on in director Reinaldo Marcus Green's career. Some five years ago, Martin was a Sundance Directing Lab advisor to Green who was working on his debut feature, Monsters and Men, which rolled out at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival where it earned a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding First Feature. Green reached out to two of his Sundance Directing Lab advisors on Monsters and Men to work with him on King Richard--editor Martin and cinematographer Robert Elswit, ASC. In an earlier Road To Oscar interview with SHOOT, Green shared that he’s long been an unabashed fan of their work, citing Elswit’s lensing of There Will Be Blood and Martin’s editing on such films as The Fighter and Little Miss Sunshine. Green described learning that Elswit and Martin would collaborate with him on King Richard as being “an incredible moment,” marking kind of a “full circle” navigation where he got to team with the masters who meant so much to him. He remembered first meeting Martin at the Sundance Lab and thinking at the time he would try to lay the foundation for some future collaboration. Thankfully, that came to pass.
Martin too is thankful for getting the chance to work on King Richard, noting that she enjoyed a simpatico creative rapport with Green who was the principal architect of a nurturing working environment and esprit de corps on the film. She was also drawn to Baylin’s script from the outset.
Still, she was initially hesitant about committing to King Richard, having previously cut a tennis feature--Battle of the Sexes directed by Faris and Dayton--which delved into the lives of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs who met in a heralded tennis match that turned out to be a watershed moment for the women's rights movement and women’s sports. Martin was reluctant to tackle tennis a second time, wary of doing “the same thing again.” But as she ruminated over King Richard, Martin saw that this film was different in how the tennis was presented. For instance, she noted that Green was “insistent that there would be no sports commentators...the reason being that these were not professional matches so there were no commentators,” which was true to the early career circumstances of the Williams’ story. Given Green’s unique approach to the sports movie genre and tennis specifically, Martin became confident that King Richard would not have her “going back to the same well again.” Most importantly, she affirmed, the story of the Williams’ family was incredibly compelling--and Green was firmly committed to serving that story.
That commitment remained steadfast even in the face of the unexpected. Principal photography had begun in late February of 2020--only to have production shut down three weeks in due to the COVID pandemic. Upon resuming production in October 2020, the big venue scenes had to be shot with no crowds which made the film “a bigger visual effects job” than what had been originally planned, said Martin who added that the focus stayed all the while on doing justice to the Williams’ family narrative.
Among the challenges that King Richard posed to Martin involved a critical tennis match for Venus Williams early on in her career. That final match in the movie entailed a delicate balancing act for the editor who was looking to settle the story into what she described as “a sort of sweet spot.” On one hand Martin wanted viewers to feel the pain of a loss while still keeping them at the edge of their seat for something more. She explained the audience needed ”to feel the sorrow but not wallow in it. You had to have that really down moment but not too long in order for the subsequent scenes to work....so you feel she is a winner despite the loss. The whole approach that the family has taken is successful because she has pride in herself, carries on, is ready for what’s next.” It’s all underscored by how important the love of the family is in the story, noted Martin.
The Oscar nomination was particularly special for Martin because of the nature of the project and the positive experience she had working on it. Gaining such a Motion Picture Academy acknowledgment becomes all the more “gratifying when you pour so much heart and soul into a film and have such a symbiotic relationship with the people you’re working with. I love the story and am really happy to see it being recognized.”
Martin continued that what resonates most from her experience on King Richard is “how joyful the work and the creative process can be when you’re working with like-minded people who love going to work every day. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to go to work and do what I really love to do. There’s so much joy in doing it when you have a great team on board.”
Martin cut King Richard at Hula Post, tapping into its on-site resources in West Los Angeles and then its remote capabilities (which became instrumental as she connected with her team through a revised workflow necessitated by the pandemic). Burbank, Calif.-headquartered Hula provided Avid workstations, storage, workflow design, creative editorial space and remote editing systems.
As for what’s next, Martin is slated to embark on another film for director Green--a biopic on singer, songwriter, musician and reggae pioneer Bob Marley.
This is the 15th 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/PDF issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. The 94th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood and will be televised live on ABC at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT and in more than 200 territories worldwide.