Editing: Alan Baumgarten — <I>The Trial of the Chicago 7</I>
Issue: March/April 2021

Editing: Alan Baumgarten — The Trial of the Chicago 7

For editor Alan Baumgarten, it was his 2017 collaboration with director Aaron Sorkin on Molly’s Game that led to a reunion with the filmmaker on The Trial of the Chicago 7

“For me, the most rewarding thing about working with a filmmaker is the opportunity to work with them again,” Baumgarten (pictured) notes, “and that has happened in my career on multiple occasions.”

For this latest collaboration, Baumgarten says the director approached him and sent him a copy of the script. He immediately loved it, and made sure that his schedule would allow him to work on it in late 2019 and early 2020. 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 takes audiences back to 1968, when police and protesters clashed in the Windy City leading up to the Democratic National Convention. The film is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Sacha Baron Cohen), Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael), Writing (Original Screenplay) and Music (Original Song). Baumgarten himself is being recognized in the category of Film Editing.

“I started at the very beginning of production,” he recalls. That was in October of 2019, when he and two assistants set up editing suites at Pivotal Post in West Hollywood. The production shot for 36 days, beginning in Chicago, where the riots and exterior scenes were filmed, and then moving to New Jersey for the courtroom scenes, among others.

“I was getting footage every day and doing my best to keep up with camera,” Baumgarten explains. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up because I like to do a thorough job and really immerse myself in the material. Then you have more footage coming in the next day, so you kind of have to put together a scene, put it aside and come back to it, and keep movie forward.”

Baumgarten cut the feature on an Avid Media Composer. He completed his editor’s cut around Christmas of 2019, and then spent another 10 weeks working closely with Sorkin on the director’s cut.

“The film generally changes quite a bit from the editor’s cut to the director’s cut to the final lock,” says Baumgarten of the process. “It’s a continuous path of refinement. The changes are significant in that you are making the film better all the time, and that’s the most important thing.

“My editor’s cut is a good starting point, and that’s what it’s meant to be,” he continues. “In an Aaron Sorkin film, we don’t actually take much out. His script is so tight and well thought through in advance, and the structure is all there for me to work with. We are refining. Aaron is changing a take here and there, adjusting a pause or accelerating the pace.”

This refinement, says Baumgarten, includes discussing different ideas — something Sorkin was quite open to. In the case of this film, one new idea involved incorporating archival footage from the actual riots of that summer. 

“We both, together, decided it would serve us well by adding it the film, and in the riot scenes, which was not something that was in the script originally,” the editor points out.

The film’s first riot scene is one of Baumgarten’s favorites, for several reasons. It takes place approximately one hour into the film, following discussion of the event during the trial.

“The first riot was the most exciting because we are delivering something to the audience that was promised and told that would be revealed,” he explains. “It’s the reveal of that riot that I find so interesting, because it’s a fast paced build up in the court room…It’s the first time we experience  — to a large extent — time outside of our story, which was either in the trial or in the ‘conspiracy office’. We’re in a new place, and that’s on the streets. We’re in the park at Grant Park.”

Sorkin and Baumgarten

Baumgarten used different editorial techniques to make the scene so effective. In addition to footage of the riot, he used Abbie Hoffman’s (Cohen) stand-up routine to help visualize the event as it was taking place. In some shots, Hoffman is on stage at a college, describing what he was seeing — police deploying canisters of tear gas. In other shots, Hoffman’s voice carries over to the riot footage.

“I think that’s quite effective when we blend the two together,” Baumgarten explains. “The narrative dialogue is serving almost as a voiceover or narration, where we start on-camera but then we hand off. I find that very exciting, when you continue the dialogue across visual shots. You don’t stay in once place listening to your character. You use a combination of the words and the description of the events.”

On his Film Editing nomination, Baumgarten says, “It’s such a huge thrill and an honor. I am very, very excited.”
After a little time off, he is once again teaming up with Sorkin on another project — Being the Ricardos — a feature about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, which was just about to start shooting when Post spoke with the editor. 

The 93rd Academy Awards will be presented on April 25th.