Editing: Paramount Pictures' <I>Downsizing</I>
Issue: January 1, 2018

Editing: Paramount Pictures' Downsizing

Editor Kevin Tent has a long-standing relationship with director Alexander Payne. The two collaborated on the features Sideways, Nebraska and The Descendants, so it comes as no surprise that Tent would cut his latest film, Downsizing.

The Paramount Pictures feature stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig, and tells the story of a couple who decide to undergo a new procedure that will miniaturize their bodies. At just a few inches tall, individuals can now live in luxury while minimizing their financial needs and impact on the Earth. But the process also introduces unforeseen issues. Poor neighborhoods pop up just outside of these idealistic miniature communities, and refugees are literally escaping civil war by mailing themselves inside boxes of commercial products, such as flat-screen TVs. Viewers see Damon’s Paul Safranek character in his ‘downsized’ new life, as well as juxtaposed against full-sized environments.

Tent took time to speak with Post upon the completion of the film, which opened in theaters in late December. Here, he discusses his working relationship with Payne and how Downsizing came together.
You’ve worked with director Alexander Payne many times at this point, on films that vary in style. Who is influencing who when it comes to the look of a film?

“I think we influence each other. We go through everything together. We go through all the takes together and are constantly tweaking things, changing things and editing. I think it’s probably a combination of both. I think of it as the footage goes into the cutting room and then comes out, and I don’t know who does what in there? We are constantly working with each other and going back and forth.”

Downsizing really allows the footage to speak for itself. The takes often run long. Was that a conscious decision?

“We try not to cut too much, and that is something we’ve tried to do really since Election (1999), which had tons of cutting, and lots of fonts, freeze frames and wipes, and everything like that. We try not to over cut. We let the performances play. That’s kind of our little theory — that we believe in the strength of performances. That people are entering the film through the characters. If they are strong and convincing, then the audience will be convinced with the movie. We made a conscious effort to do that. In fact, we started that with About Schmidt (2002). We wanted to make the performances work really well without over cutting. When we have such fantastic actors like we had then and have now, it makes it a lot easier.”

How long ago did you get involved in this project?

“We go way back. [Co-writer] Jim [Taylor] and Alexander sent me about 60 pages of the script about 12 year ago, and as I said the other night at a screening, I have been waiting for this day ever since. I have been constantly reading drafts, giving them thoughts since they started working on it. And it’s taken a long time to finally get it off the ground, but here we are finally.” 

How does the film evolve during the edit process?

“Usually, what I do is, I watch dailies every day and start cutting. And I talk to him every day. If I don’t talk to him every day, I’ll send him an email saying this is what I saw in dailies: ‘This looks good. This looks good. Watch for this.’ He likes that I saw it and made sure everything is good. Then I send him scenes and he’ll watch those. They were on location and I was in LA, so he’ll take a look at those and give me comments, but he doesn’t get really too detailed with notes at that stage because when he comes back into town and we start working together, we basically start from scratch. We watch dailies all over again and start cutting the movie.

“Then, what we will do is watch what I had done originally, and we’ll compare it — if he likes a take better or thinks we should do this. By they he has some perspective on it too. He’ll remember what he liked on-set, and I think he double checks himself to say, ‘I like that take or like that idea.’”

Does Alexander Payne sit in on editing sessions?

“He loves it in the cutting room. He is there pretty much all the time. Sometimes I will say, ‘Give me an hour on this,’ but for the most part he is there.”

Are you working from a home studio or at a facility?

“I do have home studio but I wasn’t able to do that for this movie. It was just way too big. We had a cutting room in an apartment/loft kind of thing on Melrose and Larchmont right near Paramount studios, which worked great.”

What editing system are you using? Do you have a preference?

“I do have a preference for Avid. It’s what I know best and it’s never let me down. It served us so well on this big movie Downsizing. We had everyone hooked up to ISIS. It worked great. I am a big fan of the Avid and so is Alexander.” 

Is all of your media stored on-site?

“It was all on site, locked up in a closet, safe and sound. And we were all linked up to it. Our visual effects editor was linked up to it - Joe Carson. Our assistant, Mindy Elliott, everyone was connected to it. Mindy Elliott was our main first assistant editor. She is amazing. She is so organized and so professional. She does all of our hiring. Then we have a second assistant editor and a PA. We had a big staff. And… the visual effects team had their people over there — (VFX supervisor) James Price and (VFX producer) Susan MacLeod. We had an army.”

What format was it shot on?

“I think they shot with an Arri, and it was all digital."

So they were shooting high res and then giving you 2K or HD media?

“That’s exactly right…They shot 4K, especially for all the visual effects stuff, and we cut in 2K or maybe less.”

Are you able to keep up with the dailies, or is it too much material? 

“I definitely kept up with dailies, and they started shooting in April of 2016. There was a little bit of an overlap. I was finishing my own movie at that time, so there was another editor who helped out doing some of the cutting for a month or so…Then I kept up. I was cutting dailies up until they finished shooting. Alexander came into the cutting room in September of 2016 and we finished in August of [2017]. Basically, almost a year to get the whole thing done. We did a lot of previews and a lot of screening, and the visual effects, it takes a lot of time to get those right. So it was a year.”

What kind of feedback is Alexander providing during the edit?

“It’s always different. Sometime he’ll ask if Jay Cassidy is available, (laughs), who is an awesome editor, or will say, ‘Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.’ We really start from scratch and watch all our dailies and go through them. He’s always got a good sense of humor and is fairly positive. He may joke around that he wants to call Jay Cassidy, but I don’t think he has yet. (laugh)”

Are there any scenes that you really like in this film?

“There are so many things that I love in the movie, but one of my favorite sequences that is really long is the whole downsizing sequence, where they go and get downsized. It’s a combination of everything. It’s a combination of performances — Kristen Wiig saying goodbye, and Matt Damon hugging is so good and visually it looks so amazing. And it was choreographed so well that the editing looks so good in it. Rolfe Kent did the greatest music on it for that whole big eight-minute sequence, which is pretty long. When that comes on I am so entertained, even after seeing it 10 billion times. I still think it’s a great sequence. It actually went together very easily and very well. The only challenge was getting it condensed. There’s still a lot of stuff that’s not there. In the first cut it was probably four extra minutes longer.”

What are your thoughts of the finished film and its message?

“I don’t know if it can change the world, but hopefully it can get people to think. That would be great.”