Talking with Matt Chesse [Interview]

Fuente: http://majali.blogspot.com/
"It was my pleasure recently to chat with an old friend and former student, film editor Matt Chesse.

Matt is one of Hollywood´s premier filmmakers, having been nominated in 2004 for Best Film Editing on "Finding Neverland" and having edited the Oscar-winning "Monster´s Ball" several years before. Also among his credits are "Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right" (1996), "Everything Put Together" (2000), and "Ellie Parker" (2001). His most recent editing work is on the movie "Stay" (2005), with Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Janeane Garofalo, and Bob Hoskins.

Puccio: Matt, it´s great talking with you again. First, let me congratulate you on your success and say how happy I am for you.

Chesse: Yes, it´s been a good year for our team. "Neverland" was showered with nominations and awards in just about every category. Which is such a gas for Marc (director Marc Forster) and me because we´re, like, only two movies away from Sundance. We did a feature on Digital Video, that got into competition at Sundance, and our movie was exposed to the people who had written "Monster´s Ball." The script for "Monster´s Ball" had been around for a while, but nobody had been able to make it. Every time they tried to set it up it seems like with the actors´ fees balanced against the downness and bleakness of the script, no studio thought they´d be able to recoup their money. But Marc was able to get Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry involved for very little money, like a small indie film, and it started to make sense. That film wound up winning Halle Berry a Best Actress Oscar, our second film! And then we went from that picture directly into this one ("Neverland"), and got nominated for best picture. And I got personally nominated for my editing. Marc and I sort of feel freaked out about it. We pinch each other for the run we´ve had.

Puccio: Would you say that was your biggest break, then, meeting and collaborating with director Marc Forster?

Chesse: Yes, my big break was working with Marc because he´s a lot of things you don´t get in one package in L.A., loyal, talented, zen, with real perspective, and priorities. I had done a freebie for him, on "Everything Put Together," first, because I had access to an AVID, the machine you cut a movie on, at a commercial house. They didn´t have any money for me but they let me cut it, and it really clicked. And when he parlayed that movie into "Monster´s Ball," he took me with him. Which never happens. I´ve done a hundred freebies for people, and the freebie guys never come back. But Marc did, and when he got the deal with Lion´s Gate for "Monster´s Ball," he told them he wouldn´t work without me. I mean nobody in their right mind would say that, in that part of the equation, but Marc did; he just put it on the line with them, and they gave in.

Puccio: And after the success of "Monster´s Ball," it was easier to get on board with Miramax on "Finding Neverland"?

Chesse: Well, they were reluctant, and Marc pushed again. I think that time, I was actually in his contract, so if they hired him, they were in effect hiring me as well. I think they tried to boot me off the project part of the way through, but Marc never let me know that was going on. Then we got great numbers in the test screenings for "Neverland," and that convinced everyone that the team was clicking. It turned out so well, because we balanced the emotion with taste and intelligence. I like to say we walked a tightrope over mush canyon, and everyone got to the other side. No casualties! You know, and I´ve had testimony from all kinds of people who´ve seen the movie that, well, even grown men would cry at the ending. I ran into Bud Court, of "Harold and Maude," after the Oscars, and he said after he saw the movie he had to go into the bathroom to compose himself and all the stalls were filled with grown men weeping. I love that image!

I´m glad that emotional resonance survived the edit. You know, after you work on a movie for a while it starts to lose its coin. After the 127th viewing, its emotional impact is lost on the editor. There are a few scenes that always kill me. Like when Kate (Winslet as Mrs. Davies) is ill in bed and gives the book back to Peter and says, "You´ve got to go to the play; I´ve never been so proud of you"--that just destroys me for some reason. My mother passed away, and that was just such a "mom" moment, and then she kisses him on the head and kind of hiccups. I lose it every time. Then there´s Mrs. Snow, the old lady that Barrie runs into at the end of the movie, and she tells him her husband has passed away, and then he walks away and she says, "Yes, that´s Mr. Barrie." That´s really powerful to me for some reason. The dignity of her delivery. But, usually after a while of working on the same movie, it sort of goes away, but never entirely. Tuning the emotion is a very tricky part of editing.

For instance, we had to cut a pop song we had over the end credits, because we thought it was too over-the-top. We had worked so hard to achieve this delicate balance, and the song was pushing too hard and not giving you room to feel. We replaced it with the piano you hear now, which just completely flattened me, knocked me out, when I first heard it. It´s by a Polish pianist that the composer knew, and he just let him riff on pieces of the score, and they had rolled tape, so we had miles of this noodling to choose from. It worked out so amazing because the original song we had at the end just shattered any feeling you had of crying or sobbing or whatever; dried your tears for you, effectively, and what we popped in there was perfect.

Puccio: Speaking of endings, the filmmakers on the DVD´s commentary credit you for thinking up a number of the film´s better moments, including the final dissolve of Barrie and the kid on the park bench.

Chesse: I think it was a combo. Marc always planned for it to fade away as we dollied back. My idea was to leave the hat and cane on the bench, after Peter and Barrie had faded out. The way they had shot it, I had control over all the items on the bench, and the people. And after I had watched it a few times, it felt strange that the inanimate objects we´re going away, too. It just seemed like the soul of those people fading out, those props shouldn´t go with it, so I left those in there, and it did help the eloquence of the shot. The poetry of what we were going for seemed better communicated.

You know they never let me do those DVD commentaries. I think they´re afraid the editor is going to expose too many bumps in the filmmaking process and show where all the Band Aids and staples are.

Puccio: Well, they give you credit, too, for putting in the scene where the maid cuts the article out of the newspaper. Otherwise, audiences would wonder why in the heck Barrie is at the park and has a hole in his newspaper through which he first sees the Davies family.

Chesse: Yeah, if we never saw the maid trim the review, which was not on the original shot list, then it seemed like he had this peeper paper in the park, and he was sort of lurking there with this trick paper and he could leer at people through it.

Puccio: Yes, there´s always that sort of suspect quality about Barrie, anyway, and you certainly didn´t want that.

Chesse: And that´s the beauty of being separate from the shoot. I was in California and they were in England, and I would lay this stuff out. And because I wasn´t privy to their conversations when they were planning this stuff, I had a different perspective on it. They´d say, "Oh, yeah, we all know the maid cut the negative theater review from his paper to spare him" because they all KNEW the maid cut the paper up, conceptually. But we (the audience) didn´t actually see the maid cut the paper and it needed to be in there. That´s why as an editor, you don´t want to spend too much time on the set. You can be much more a part of the audience that way. And share their perceptions, which is key.

One of the things you contribute as an editor is that you bring a naïveté to a lot of those decisions. Even a shot that they took a long time planning, you see it with different eyes. Like some huge crane shot, they´d spend the money, they´d bring it over and it´d be such a great piece of choreography it´s, like, oh, man, we´ve got to use that whole establishing shot; that is so great. And I´ll be sitting there cutting with none of those notions; I just want to cut from that scene into something else, and I might not need an establishing shot. And I´ll just dispose of that kind of stuff because it didn´t cost me anything; so I can dismiss it. And then the director will come in and ask, "What have you done? Where´s that big scene we did?" And I´ll show him what I did and what the alternatives are, and he´ll be, like, "No, you´re right; we don´t need that." If you´re working well with a director, he´ll pay attention to the editor. Marc and I have had disagreements, that does happen, but generally he relies on me to be the guy to save stuff or cut stuff loose. That´s the strength of being secluded in your editing room; you can make those observations free of prior prejudices.

Puccio: And it also points up the trust your director has in you, no?

Chesse: He does tend to put a lot of trust in me, and he backs me in most things. Marc prefers to stay a part of the audience. After it´s shot, he´s not one who likes to do the tinkering or hover over you and go through every inch of footage. He´s very trusting, not only of me but with all of his professionals; he lets them create to their fullest. And if he isn´t getting what he wants, he can always pull it back to his idea. He´s very free with letting everybody collaborate and make a contribution to the overall product. He´s like a conductor of an orchestra. You sort of stand back and let the guy you hired to play the violin, play his violin. He can read the sheet music. You hired him because he plays well, right? I think he winds up with a lot richer stuff because of that. He can kind of sit back, and I´ll just play him parts of the movie, and he can see it like it´s for the first time with a clear mental filter.

Puccio: That brings up another point I was going to ask about. There are probably a few readers of this interview who really don´t understand the importance of the film editor.

Chesse: Yeah, people tend to think that all the editor does is put the scenes in order, take out all the bad parts and leave the good parts in.

Puccio: I remember a quote from George Lucas, who said a few years ago, "Film editing in my opinion is the core of the cinematic art form."

Chesse: Well, he started out as an editor himself, and I respect him a lot. "American Graffiti" just blew my mind when I first saw it. It was right up there with "Butch Cassidy" and "The Graduate" for me as a kid, you know. But even though everybody knows the film editor is important, I think there´s still a feeling that there´s an above-the-line and a below-the-line when it comes to filmmakers. The line usually goes from the stars and the director and the producer and the screenwriter and stops, and below the line are the cinematographer and the other craftspeople, the editor being usually two or three people down from the cinematographer. Case in point, at the Oscars this year, we (the editors) were the only people who weren´t cut to during our category. They showed a clip and they showed a photo, but they never actually showed us in the audience. We were all there with cameras on our faces ready to be shown; I was wearing a tux that cost me more money than I would have paid if I had known I was never going to get cut to. And you consider that we´re all editors and we all know the importance of a cut, and they never cut to us. So there is a "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" sort of a feeling about being an editor, where everybody values your expertise, but they still want you to stay out of sight.

Puccio: Well, that´s why I wanted to bring it up, because I think the editor´s job is pretty important, and you folks deserve due credit.

Chesse: Well, I certainly hope I don´t come across seeming like I think I´m a bigger part of the process than I am; I´m not. Everybody tends to feel like "I made that movie," but it´s a collaborative medium; everybody contributes. Creatively editing is its own reward because you get to sit in that room, at the crossroads, at the juncture where the magic is happening, the epicenter. And you´re flying the plane! You´re there where the alchemy is; you are the conjurer. And if you nail that sequence, and you wind up with movie magic or whatever, like when you have a really memorable sex scene like we did in "Monster´s Ball" or that classic movie moment at the end of "Neverland" on the bench, and you made those cuts, it´s the most exciting place to be. If it sticks, it belongs to the ages. And you get to do it and still remain a little anonymous. You don´t have to deal with the studio or actors or raising the money or a lot of the hassles or frustrations that go along with it; you´re protected. And if it turns out great, you can say, "It all went through these hands."

Puccio: It sounds like you´re encouraging a multitude of young high school and college film enthusiasts to fly off into the world of film editing.

Chesse: Don´t let that out. It´s like you´re giving away my biggest secret. People still think that editing is done in a dark room by yourself with no windows. People always say to me, "Wow, how sad; you´ve got to spend all your days in this box and you never see the sun," and I always go, "Oh, it´s OK." And I never tell them nowadays you work on a computer monitor. I work in a beautiful suite with a beautiful couch and great swivel chairs, and I´m in a great state, and I´m not closed up in some dumpy old room in the back of the lot. I work in a great environment. I love my cutting room. It´s beautiful. But I never tell people that because I don´t want everyone to want to do it.

Puccio: Well, you have now.

Chesse: Great! Shhh… But, really, it´s kind of a luxury, that when the movie doesn´t turn out well, I get to say, "I did the best I could with what they gave me to work with." But, when it´s good, I can claim, "It´s all me." So there´s a positive to anonymity, coupled with the power. I´m anonymous, but I have a lot of power over the final product. It´s like my wife has said, she´s been in production, and she´s said, "If I´d known how you guys work, I´d have gone into post production because you´ve got it so koosh." You´re out of the hurricane of shooting; you´re out of the cyclone, just sitting there feeling the cinema.

I mean, really, that´s why I got into movies in the first place, because I like watching the movies, and now that´s what I do professionally. I´m like the super audience, and I can manipulate the movie I´m watching, but I´m really just a part of the audience. I´m really just trying to please myself as though I were buying a ticket to see the thing. And then to serve it up to your director, if it´s someone like Marc who you dig and admire and want to please, and you get them to go "ahhh." It´s like musicians feel when they know they´ve got a hit, and I get that feeling with Marc a lot when we´ll look at something and know it´s right. Like that sex scene in "Monster´s Ball," where we went back and forth with the censors, whittling it down, and we still made our goal to make it as good as that scene in "Don´t Look Now," the movie with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland; remember that sex scene where you´re not quite sure if it´s happening now or it´s a flashback or a flash-forward, and it´s really cool. I just wanted ours to be as good as that, and I was really happy with the way it turned out, and the way it sticks with people. We finished and felt like we had some pretty special stuff, and we were psyched.

Puccio: I see your next movie is "Stay," with Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Hoskins, and others. Is there anything you can tell us about it?

Chesse: Well, it's a "psychological thriller," if you will. It's about a psychiatrist who becomes involved in trying to stop one of his patients from attempting suicide. As he learns more about the kid, played by Ryan Gosling, who is now one of my favorite actors, his world starts to unravel. It's very trippy. Bob Hoskins plays a blind professor, and he is amazing. Ryan Gosling, he was in "The Notebook," is just superb. Naomi Watts, who I did an indie with called "Ellie Parker," is great in the film. We were up at Sundance this year together, with this DV film we produced, and we were laughing that as I was cutting "Stay," which is the biggest budget yet for Marc and me, and starred Naomi, I was also prepping "Ellie Parker" for Sundance, which is the lowest-budget film of all time, also with Naomi. We started it five years ago, before "Mulholland Drive" came out and she became a huge star. So, it was fun to be tying those two things up at the same time and see how far we'd both come. I don't want to lose my connection to Sundance and the truly indie world of filmmaking because great things go on there, and that's where the exciting directors and exciting ideas are going to be coming from. Scott Coffey, the writer/director of "Ellie Parker," will take off, I'm sure, and then I'll have another director out there with projects that excite me. So, it's a healthy balance.

Puccio: You know, you´ve crushed my illusions about Hollywood filmmakers. You work in a beautiful office suite; you come home each night to a loving wife and family; you told me earlier you´re asleep by 10:30. You could be my accountant. I suppose there´s still a lot of glamour, though, compared to, say, working at Tower Records?

Chesse: Hey, watch it. I worked at Tower Records for years, right out of high school. Maybe that was a joke because you remember me there, in Concord. I was on the Friday night main register from 8-12. That was the equivalent of rock-star status in Contra Costa County! No, I do feel very blessed with my situation and the good response our work has garnered. I love what I am doing, but perhaps I wouldn´t be so in love with it if I was toiling in obscurity and could not afford to support my family. It's a lucky card I've drawn, and I try to give back every chance I get to balance my karma out. I return every phone call or e-mail I receive from aspiring filmmakers or editors or assistant editors, and I try as much as I can to point people towards their dream job, give referrals, and give them perspective from the inside of this business. As much as I don't want everyone to know how sweet a job I have, I do want to share the wealth.

Puccio: Any final words of wisdom or inspiration for aspiring young filmmakers?

Chesse: I think that filmmakers should listen to their gut and not try to court Hollywood success by doing what they perceive is the norm or is commercial. You should make your mark by standing out and making an original impression. Hollywood is desperate for ideas, or they wouldn´t be doing remakes constantly. If you bring your imagination and originality and style to the project, they will come running. Look at "Donnie Darko." Nobody understood what that guy was up to, but now it's a huge cult hit, and he can write his own ticket. Or "Napoleon Dynamite." Nobody else could have told that story but that filmmaker, based on his experience and sensibility. Nobody in Hollywood would have bankrolled that thing, because it was too quirky and personal. Now they all want to know what those two guys have up their sleeve next. They are all standing in line to pay for their unique vision. Say what you have to say, because no one else can, and that's what you have to contribute. That's your value. And, that's my two cents!"

Fuente: www.dvdtown.com

No comments: