Editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE first worked with director Guillermo del Toro on the pilot for FX Network’s The Strain, a series which del Toro created and for which he served as an executive producer. Their fruitful collaboration prompted del Toro to again gravitate to Wolinsky for a feature cut from fable cloth and set during the Cold War era of America in 1962.
That story turned out to be The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight), which has garnered assorted accolades, including 13 Oscar nominations and a DGA Award win for del Toro. The film introduces us to a janitor named Elisa (portrayed by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) who works in a hidden, high-security government laboratory. Elisa is a mute, trapped in a life of isolation. Her life, though, takes on hope when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment--a hybrid man/sea creature with whom Elisa makes a special connection. Elisa and this amphibian man (Doug Jones), who too is mute, fall in love.
Included in the mix of Oscar nominations for The Shape of Water are Best Picture, Director and Editor. The latter marks the first career Oscar nom for Wolinsky who also garnered for The Shape of Water his seventh ACE Eddie Award nomination (the other six all being for his television work, including wins in 2003 and 2008 for The Sopranos).
In retrospect, Wolinsky observed that his work on The Strain put less of a strain on him for The Shape of Water relative to del Toro’s preferred editorial process. “Guillermo likes to come into the cutting room on a daily basis and work with the editor as he’s shooting. For me,” said Wolinsky, “that’s unusual. The norm has been for me to get the film each day, assemble the project and then later on show all the work to the director after shooting is completed, at which point we team to shape the work to reflect his vision. Initially, working Guillermo’s way is a little scary as you’re being judged each day. But I was used to getting daily feedback on The Strain so that helped. I learned on The Strain that Guillermo thoroughly understood the editing process. I didn’t have to polish everything each day. He understood it was a first pass, and gave me valuable feedback. I became more comfortable with this day-by-day collaboration. He has brilliant cutting ideas, really pushing the envelope to see what works. We had a great hands-on back and forth on The Shape of Water.”
This back and forth was more than just an exchange between editor and director, continued Wolinsky, noting that del Toro also wrote the story and teamed with Vanessa Taylor on the screenplay. “Guillermo has a wonderful mind, fully understands the material and its intent. He has a clear vision yet is very open to others’ ideas. Among the many good things about working with him is I feel open to proposing ideas and options to him, even if they’re off the wall. And if those ideas don’t get adopted, sometimes just discussing them leads to other possibilities and solutions.”
Wolinsky added, “Considering how much work there is for him, it’s remarkable that Guillermo commits all this time to editing, coming in every day to work with the editor. Getting instant feedback from him lets me know exactly where I’m at and helps us to go forward. Right away we make changes in a scene if something isn’t working. He lets me know if I’m on the right track.”
The modus operandi of director and editor working together every day yielded at the end of shooting what in essence was a director’s cut, which then could be further shaped on to attain the final desired result.
While The Shape of Water presented the inherent challenge of being a love story between two mutes, it was still very much a performance-driven edit in that so much is said without dialogue. Wolinsky embraced that challenge, noting the stellar acting performances made it easier as did the work of so many others, including cinematographer Dan Laustsen, DFF. Perhaps the most challenging sequence, assessed Wolinsky, was when Elisa helps the creature escape from the high-security facility. “There were so many moving parts, all the characters coming together from different locations,” said Wolinsky. “It was great tackling that with Guillermo.”
Prior to The Shape of Water, Wolinsky was best known for his work in television. His editing over the years has earned four primetime Emmy nominations, including a win in 2011 on the strength of the pilot for Boardwalk Empire. His other three nods came in 2000, 2001 and 2004 for episodes of The Sopranos.
And his alluded to six ACE Eddie nominations in TV consisted of one for a special, Something to Live for: The Alison Gertz Story, four for The Sopranos, and one for Boardwalk Empire.
While active in features from time to time, The Shape of Water is Wolinsky’s highest profile theatrical film to date, one he hopes will translate into more such opportunities so he can continue to diversify beyond his TV base. He described the Best Editing Oscar nomination as “an amazing honor. It’s the most prestigious award in our industry. Very few people relatively speaking get into this position.” Wolinsky then expressed his gratitude to del Toro and the other varied artists who contributed to The Shape of Water.
This is the 13th 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 SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. 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.
Guillermo del Toro, writer-director; Vanessa Taylor, writer; Dan Laustsen, DFF, DP; Sidney Wolinsky, editor; Alexandre Desplat, composer; Paul D. Austerberry, production designer.