13/02/2011

Talking with Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter [Interview]

"As a filmmaker, David Fincher has the reputation of an extreme perfectionist, so finely attuned to detail that he doesn’t trust anyone else to get even minor secondary shots. That vision earned him an Oscar nomination as the director of “The Social Network” – but what about the guys who have to work with him? While Mr. Fincher is celebrated for doing dozens and dozens of takes , what’s often forgotten is that other people then have to look at each and every one of those takes to put the film together. Apparently they don’t mind; the editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, and the sound designer, editor and mixer Ren Klyce have all worked with Mr. Fincher multiple times, on films like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Zodiac.” They are all Oscar-nominated for “The Social Network,” and are working with Mr. Fincher on his next film, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
We got them together for a phone interview recently. Mr. Klyce called from his studio in San Francisco, Mr. Wall from his office in Los Angeles, and Mr. Baxter was in the building that Mr. Fincher owns in Hollywood, which he uses as a production hub. It’s a pretty distinctive location. “They’ve used it in movies – they used it in ‘L.A. Confidential,’” Mr. Baxter said. “It’s got a huge tower in the middle of it. It looks like someone giving you the bird.” They talked about cutting down Aaron Sorkin’s script without cutting too far, Mr. Fincher’s superior visual sense and his habit of talking to himself.

Is Fincher as exacting in the post-production studio as he is on set?

ANGUS WALL: Ultimately, he’s that exacting. He’s very good at giving you direction. He can advise you on how to think of something conceptually as well as advise you in the pronunciation of the word ‘the.’ I don’t mean to make light of that. There are times when the pronunciation of a word, particularly in this film, is critical. The nuance of how someone says a word is part and parcel of their particular performance. With a movie like this, with such an abundance of words and the fact that there are these elliptical conversations, where particularly in the opening scene of the film, they’re really having three conversations at the same time, it’s important that every possible nuance be milked.


How do you deal with that in the editing room?
WALL: It was a little too short at the first assembly. Because it was an 160-odd page script, there was a lot of pressure on ourselves that it not be 160 minutes long. As we were assembling, we cut things as tight as we could – we wanted things to be short. [But] when we first viewed the assembly, there were things that we realized blew past, that we realized we had to add – little things, like very little things, like frames, to have dramatic moments last. I think it was an hour and 57 minutes, and it’s just shy of two hours now.

So you barely added anything.
WALL: When a film is as ballistic as this one is, adding frames here and there actually had a pretty profound impact.
 
Do you have to deal with all 99 takes, or whatever, of every scene?
KIRK BAXTER: There are circled takes. He may shoot 99, but we may get, in that case, something like 60. It’s a lot. There are that many for a reason, because there’s a very specific thing that he’s going for. We actually use bits and pieces out of a lot of those takes. It’s not like there’s a hero take that has everything we want. We actually have to scrub every bit of those.
REN KLYCE: With the circle picks that you guys have with 60, we get all 100 takes of the sound. So after David has thoroughly exhausted what he can get, what’s in the bin from Kirk and Angus, then he’ll lean on the sound department to see, is there anything we haven’t found that we have to troll through. Sometimes David will watch, and he’ll start muttering whatever the line is – ‘It’s on your blog, it’s on your blog,’ by Eduardo’s character – and he’ll be saying it in a way that he wants to hear it. So you know that’s something David isn’t satisfied with.
BAXTER: Yeah, you always have one ear on the back of the couch listening to him. He’s usually after clarity and simplicity.
WALL: There are instances where he does just three takes.

Do you ever go on set?
BAXTER: Rarely. I tend not to enjoy it. I don’t like seeing the surrounding of the set, I don’t like knowing that it’s [false]. I take everything for granted, that it’s a real place.
KLYCE: The mood on the set can be stressful and oftentimes tense. You don’t want to have the memory of, that’s when David was really frustrated of such and such. There’s a different kind of layer of memory that gets put on a scene, whether it be a location or a sound stage, where your memory of it is ruined in a way. The rug’s been pulled out on you.
BAXTER: And then when David arrives and says, look at the cement between those bricks, it doesn’t look real –
WALL: He’ll really obsess over something your eye won’t really see. We worked on a film, “The Game,” and he was obsessed with the walls, they were slightly buckled. And he wanted it to be straight like marble.
BAXTER: I remember in ‘Benjamin Button,’ when he was concerned about [the young Cate Blanchett’s] wig, we were cutting the scenes with the wig on, he was saying the wig looks terrible, and I was like, is it a wig? It’s her hair! I couldn’t tell. He reshot it, and you look at the new scene and it’s like, that’s so much better. It’s only by going through David’s journey that you realize.

What do you think of your Oscar chances?
WALL: I think it’s impossible to predict.
BAXTER: I thought “Inception” was going to get nominated, so it’s hard to know what’s going on.
WALL: Unless it’s a movie that’s cut where the editing is very apparent –
Like “127 Hours,” which was a surprise nominee in that category?
WALL: That’s a movie where the editing is in your face. Editing is a tool for expressing something. In “Social Network,’ it’s a different thing. I don’t know what it is specifically – it’s trying to immerse you in an experience so the boundary between the movie and the viewer disappears.
BAXTER: Essentially all you are doing is servicing the story. I find it very difficult to speak about in these kind of moments – it really is just all about those elements coming together. Because you’re cutting fast or cutting slow or letting that moment resolve. It’s hard to pinpoint when it works. It’s easy to pinpoint when it doesn’t.
WALL: It’s hard to call out one part of the film, as a craft, it’s hard to extricate one part of it. It’s wonderful to see the movie get attention. I truly don’t think any one of us thought that was going to happen.
BAXTER: I said it out loud! We’d all just come off ‘Benjamin Button.’ I said, this is an odd movie for us. But ultimately, the best editing Oscar should go to the best-told story. Were we the best-told story? I don’t know."
By Melena Ryzik on February 11, 2011.
Source: http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/

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