Sense of History Felt At ACE Session Featuring Oscar-Nominated Editors
Andrew Buckland (l) and Michael McCusker, ACE, Oscar-winning editors on "Ford v Ferrari," at the ACE "Invisible Art, Visible Artists" discussion on Saturday, Feb. 8, in Hollywood (photo by Peter Zakhary/Tilt Photo)
Reflections from McCusker and Buckland on "Ford v Ferrari," Schoonmaker on "The Irishman," Yang on "Parasite," Eagles for "Jojo Rabbit," Groth on "Joker"
  • HOLLYWOOD, Calif.
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There was a clear sense of history at the American Cinema Editors (ACE) “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” discussion this past weekend featuring this year’s Oscar nominees for best film editing:  Tom Eagles for Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight), Jeff Groth for Joker (Warner Bros.), Michael McCusker, ACE and Andrew Buckland for Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox/Walt Disney), Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE for The Irishman (Netflix), and Jinmo Yang for Parasite (Neon). McCusker and Buckland later wound up winning the Academy Award, the first of their careers.

The historic nature of the ACE session started with it marking a milestone as the 20th annual such event. Furthermore the venue for the panel talk, American Cinematheque at The Egyptian Theatre, is vintage Hollywood, nearing its 100th year anniversary as a movie palace. But perhaps the most meaningful historic aspect is how artistic achievements stand on the shoulders of those made by their predecessors. That was evident in a brief exchange between Jojo Rabbit’s Eagles and discussion moderator Alan Heim, ACE, an Oscar-winning film editor for Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and a nominee for Sidney Lumet’s Network.

Heim asked Eagles if there was trepidation about doing a satiric hybrid comedy-drama with Adolf Hitler as a little boy’s imaginary friend, Hitler being portrayed by the film’s director and writer, Taika Waititi. Eagles recalled Waititi saying at one point, “This is the beginning and end of my career.” However, the editor then looked at Heim, noting that what made it easier was “we had the ground broken for us...We knew we had that going for us.”

That reference to the ground being already broken was to Mel Brook’s The Producers, for which Heim served as a sound editor. In that 1967 film, Dick Shawn portrayed a comedic Hitler.

Heim in turn noted that The Producers had such a path cleared for it some three decades earlier by Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film, The Great Dictator.

Speaking of rich history, Schoonmaker has one with director Martin Scorsese, dating back to their first meeting at NYU and then going on to successfully collaborate on a staggeringly inventive, influential filmography, with Schoonmaker earning eight Oscar nominations, including winning for Raging Bull in 1981, The Aviator in 2005 and The Departed in 2007.

Schoonmaker said that the longstanding relationship with Scorsese has been built on “trust” and the absence of politics. She shared that Scorsese knows she “will do what’s best for the film” and that her priority is “to give the director what he thought the film should be first.” Schoonmaker said she’s blessed to work with Scorsese, and it’s been gratifying to see him once again reach great heights with The Irishman. She cited “the deceptive simplicity of this movie” with “no flashy camera moves” and tour de force performances, including that given by Robert De Niro. Schoonmaker said of De Niro, “He doesn’t move much but you can feel everything he feels” in a scene. Citing the “subtlety and beauty” of De Niro’s performance, Schoonmaker said she was “disappointed” he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

For The Irishman, Schoonmaker noted that Scorsese wanted the killings to look “bland,” reasoning that “the blandness of the violence” underscores the mindset of people who “don’t think morally.” For them, it’s “just a job.” 

She added that people are generally “quiet” in The Irishman, “not wild and crazy like Pesci was in Casino.” For The Irishman, Scorsese stripped down the movie. “He didn’t even want Foleys,” she recalled, adding, though, that “we snuck some in on him.”

Similarly, McCusker and Buckland have a history with director James Mangold, which continued on Ford v Ferrari.

McCusker recalled cutting “my first feature” with Mangold and then the last six, a continuity from which springs “a camaraderie” and “a shorthand.” McCusker said he’s privileged to get to “work with friends and share that experience,” citing not just Mangold but Buckland. “Working with Drew (Buckland) sends me beyond the stars,” he affirmed.

Buckland returned the compliment, noting that he’s gratified just knowing that “Jim and Mike like what I was doing.”

McCusker, Buckland and Mangold first met on the director’s feature, Kate & Leopold. McCusker was first assistant editor on that film with Buckland serving as a NY assistant. Buckland said that he and McCusker became fast friends. After getting an Oscar nomination for Walk the Line, McCusker invited Buckland to be his first assistant on Mangold’s Knight & Day. Buckland moved up to additional editor, collaborating with McCusker on Mangold’s The Wolverine. Then outside the Mangold universe, McCusker and Buckland teamed to edit director Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train. This marked Buckland’s first gig as a full fledged editor. McCusker and Buckland also edited a TV pilot, White City, and they then came together again to cut Ford v. Ferrari

In accepting the Oscar for Ford v Ferrari, McCusker said, “James Mangold, it’s my great, great pleasure to have sat and watched you become one of the best directors in this business in the last 15 years.

Parasite, Joker
The big winner on Oscar night was Parasite which won for Best Picture, Best International Picture, Best Director and Original Screenplay. Writer/director Bong Joon Ho made Academy Award history on several fronts, including most notably with Parasite (South Korea) becoming the first foreign-language movie in the 90-plus year history of the Oscars to garner the marquee Best Picture honor.

Parasite continued editor Jinmo’s working relationship with director Bong. Their shared filmography also includes Okja, which debuted at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Jinmo, a first-time Oscar nominee for Parasite, related that some shots in the movie were particularly challenging as they necessitated that he combine two different elements into one so that it would look like a single shot.

In discussing his career path, Jinmo noted that he originally had directorial aspirations. He grew up in Korea and then attended Bard College in New York. Jinmo started out as an on-set editor in Korea, reasoning that he could learn a lot in that capacity from directors which he could later apply to his work as a filmmaker. But instead, he continued to cut and discovered his personal affinity for editing. He established good relationships with leading directors who later gave him the opportunity to become their main editor. One of those directors was Bong.

While Parasite was the leading winner at the Oscars, Joker garnered the most nominations, a total of 11, winning for Best Lead Actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and Best Original Music Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir).

Groth too has a history with his director, Todd Phillips. Prior to Joker, their collaborations included The Hangover Part III and War Dogs.

Like all the editor panelists, Groth screened a scene from his nominated film. He chose a subway sequence from Joker in which Phoenix as Arthur Fleck decides to push back against those who ridicule him, namely three men on the train. Fleck turns, said Groth, from “the hunted to the hunter” as the Joker character emerges and takes shape. Beyond the major action on the subway, Groth singled out the scene for “the moments in-between” which reflected “moments of transformation” for Fleck. 

The subway sequence defines the Joker character, though some might cite a later scene when we see Fleck in full Joker regalia dancing down a steep flight of stairs outside in NYC.

Groth said that the Oscar nomination, his first, was a tremendous honor that wonderfully emerged after keeping his “head down working for 20 years.”

The “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” session was produced by Diane Adler, ACE, Erin Flannery and Jenni McCormick. ACE president is Stephen Rivkin, ACE.

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