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November 2014
Issue: March 1, 2013

Post Script: 'Moonrise Kingdom,' 'Black Swan' editor Andrew Weisblum

By: Marc Loftus
Manhattan Edit Workshop launched its “Inside the Cutting Room” series last month with a sit down with editor Andrew Weisblum, ACE. Hosted by author/film historian Bobbie O’Steen, the two-hour event looked at Weisblum’s career as a film editor and his relationships with two very different directors: Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom) and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan). 

Weisblum got his start in film working on-set and quickly realized it wasn’t for him. He was lucky enough to get an internship on Naked in New York in the early 90s, and later, assistant editor roles, including work on Chicago. Chicago, he says, was more complicated than initially anticipated thanks to its visual effects. The challenge allowed him to do mock-ups and led him to become the VFX editor by default, which would become somewhat of a specialty for him.

The Fountain represented his early work with Darren Aronofsky. “Everything was potentially a special effect,” he recalls of the film. “We imagined 100 different ways in the cutting room. There was a lot to chew on and figure out.” The project, he says, pushed him to look past what the footage was initially intended for. 

The Wrestler continued his relationship with the director. “Darren, as a director, and person, is very loyal and interested in what you have to say, and wants your input creatively,” he notes. “We got along very well.” Interestingly, Weisblum says he gets very little direction prior to putting together his assembly for the director, which presents its own set of challenges.

“There was a lot of improvisation around a simple script,” he recalls. “We wanted to capture real moments that could help compliment the story and feel authentic. It was a big challenge to strip things down to the best story and character moments that made the most sense to the audience. There’s no reason to like him,” he says of the Randy “The Ram” character. “He doesn’t treat people well.”

In Black Swan, Weisblum also had lots of footage to sort through. He estimates six to seven hours of material alone for the early scene that introduces the character of Thomas to Natalie Portman’s Nina character and the rest of the ballet troupe. As an editor, he says his role was to continually escalate the unraveling of Portman’s Nina character, but in a way that viewers could relate to her point of view. “It had to be a gradual build,” he recalls. “She could not start out insane.”

Wes Anderson, he describes, as “very different, but very trusting and collaborative…There’s no rule book. It’s what he likes,” says the editor. “Once you pick the take, it’s far from over. We look at speed ramps... It doesn’t stop.”

The Darjeerling Limited was his first film with the director and they realized they had to embrace the unpredictability of shooting in India as well as on a train.  More recently, he collaborated with the director on Moonrise Kingdom. In this case, the challenge was implying that two 12-year-olds were falling in love, even if the footage and dialogue performances may have suggested then didn’t have any interest in each other.

“He usually doesn’t do a lot of rehearsal,” says Weisblum of Anderson. “He did record them before they started shooting. They did dialogue recording so they would become more and more comfortable.

“The magic just didn’t unfold in front of the camera,” he continues. “It was awkward for the kids, and we used every angle we had to shape it into a really surreal rhythm.”

Two-thirds of the dialogue in the dance scene on the beach, for example, is not from that day’s shoot. “Editorially, it was pieced together,” he notes of the sequence. There was a lot of thinking on their toes. The scene centers around the two children kissing and dancing — all of it awkward. “They shot additional coverage two days later,” says Weisblum. “They shot an insert of the record player and the feet coming together when they were kissing. It’s an incredibly strange scene so we said, let’s embrace how weird it was.”

As an editor, Weisblum says he appreciates the power of storyboarding, noting it to be “an efficient way to plan what you want and try out ideas.” Technically, he says, he is acutely aware of what is possible with the footage he receives. He edits on an Avid and will work with a VFX editor on more complex scenes. He’ll use After Effects and Photoshop to create quick mock-ups himself, and says he tries to never get too bogged down in aesthetics, instead focusing more on whether a scene’s timing works. 

“I am always looking to push a scene. Maybe there is a way to clean it up or cheat something?” 

Jump cuts, he notes, can be an effective way to cut time. And while he doesn’t like having to follow rules, per se, he understands why certain techniques should be observed.

“I don’t like having rules, but I know it makes things stronger some times. It’s not a bad thing to have discipline.”