In The Cutting Room
A Sunday morning may not have seemed the most appropriate time to screen the controversial film In the Cut . But a respectable (and not so respectable) crowd turned up at Sydney’s Chauvel Cinema on 23 November for the ASE screening, then adjourned upstairs to pry into the cutting process with editor Alexandre de Franceschi ASE.
Anna Craney reports.
Sara Bennett chaired the session and began by asking Alexandre what he did to prepare for the editing In the Cut.
“There was a lot of time to get used to the idea” he said, “a year and a half between when I first read a script and the edit”.
One month before the edit he took time off other editing work. He swum a lot so he was in good physical shape. He knew Jane Campion’s work well and had read the novel, as well as many versions of the script. Although he’d watched some film references including Looking for Mr Goodbar he said: “I don’t like much having references because it all changes when you see the rushes and you get something you’re not expecting”. He believes it’s important to be able to see the reality of what has been shot.
Sara: The film is a psycho-sexual-thriller: that’s a balance between three different elements. What was the core of the film?
“The script didn’t make up its mind: it was ambivalent,” said Alexandre. Jane was more interested in the romance. The assembly was 3 hours, the first cut was 2 1/2 hours and in this version there was more romance: the “love story” was more apparent. Malloy (the detective played by Mark Ruffalo) was more open and giving and the audience knew him much better.
“That created the problem that you would never believe he was the murderer,” said Alexandre.
“We looked at it and said ‘It’s a pretty film, well acted, but boring - let’s see how far we can push things to the thriller side’.”
Jane went on holidays for two weeks and Alexandre cut. He says they had spoken about the direction the film might go “but not how to get there: I just did it.” When Jane came back she got a shock: the film was very scary.
“Then what we tried was to combine the two,” said Alexandre.
Jane Mills: The choice of Que Sera Sera as the titles music reminded me of Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It reminded me appearances can be deceptive and gave me the framework to wonder.
Que Sera Sera was the first choice of music for the titles (the Doris Day version). It went in and out of various cuts until the composer, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, came and said “I can do a version that will help you out”. And he did a version with slightly off-key piano and lovely vocals.
“The intention is to put you off-balance” said Alexandre, “to make you think ‘something’s not quite right’.”
Sara: The ending in the film is different to the book.
“The book and the film have different paths - I think for the best. The book is more gruesome and full on,” said Alexandre. The film is about a woman investigating the dark side of her sexuality...
Sara: A woman who wants to take risks?
Alexandre pointed out that Frannie (Meg Ryan) didn’t know about Malloy’s possible link with the murdered woman when she first meets him: she’s attracted to a man who she thinks gets blow-jobs in basements.
Audience: Many of the scenes are covered in close-ups? Perhaps this reflects a female essence, a kind of murky emotional intimacy?
Alexandre thinks In the Cut is definitely a feminine film. As for the choice of close-ups: “things happen in the cutting room and you wonder after how it happened”.
Alexandre noted the camera was always moving, handheld. Often there’s only part of the frame in focus although he was “careful not to be too soft too often”.
“The film doesn’t want you to sit and be comfortable: we want you to go home and think about it for a couple of days.”
Audience: There’s some quirky humour in this film?
“You need a bit of relief” said Alexandre, “and these things happen - like the dog tangled in its lead. Life is not just being serious.” The humour is very deliberate yet unexpected - often next to a very serious moment.
The film has had a very mixed reaction in America?
American audiences have either loved it or hated it. Alexandre commented that critics of the film have often focussed on Meg Ryan’s role: “They think ‘We’ve lost our nice girl’.”
The American version is censored. The censorship board had many women and they loved the film. But the penis shot in the basement scene had to go, as did much of the sex scenes. As things went by they lost more and more things. Alexandre complained: “They don’t mind body parts coming out of washing machines, but the sex...”.
On the other hand people who like the film have written very beautifully about it. “Strange people,” said Alexandre.
Sara: Could you talk about instinct versus intellect in the process of editing.
Alexandre commented that as an editor you know the story inside out. “Once you start cutting you have to let that go: you don’t think, you see what works,” he said.
“Then, looking at a cut, the intellect starts again,” he said. There’s an interlacing of the objective and the subjective. “To step back and see it fresh is the hardest thing to do”.
Alexandre spoke about the importance of not watching the film too often. He’s talked to some directors who want to see a cut every week. “There’s no way you can see it every week” he told them, “you can see it every month if you’re lucky!”
He underlined the importance of choosing the right time to see the film. “At some point you say ‘This is a good stage to watch the movie’.”
He likes to have the whole assembly before a screening, then to work very quickly on the first cut trusting his notes. Viewing was done from Avid but in a proper theatrette with a large screen and no interruptions. Alexandre works on the sound quite a lot as he goes, so he has quite a decent mix. He commented that these days picture and sound quality from Avid is quite good. Only later a pos-conform may be needed for screenings.
Sara: I believe Jane initially wanted to work on film?
“I didn’t say ‘Over my dead body’ - not straight away” said Alexandre, “I thought I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” He told Jane that he thought she’d feel comfortable working on Avid. He works with full screen image, watches at real time and makes edits. “The machine doesn’t have to get in the way,” he said. He acknowledges there can be a tendency to cut very quick on non-linear, but it doesn’t have to be that way: “it’s just a tool.”
Alexandre did start editing in Sydney while the film was being shot in New York. But generally during the assembly Alexandre likes the director to be there (and Jane was adamant about being there) as a lot of time is spent watching rushes and choosing performances. But after the first cut, he likes to keep the director out a bit to preserve their subjectivity.
“If they get too involved, then they can get lost quite easily” he said, “sometimes I get lost in a scene and go ‘Help!’.”
Alexandre believes it’s important that the editor and director are working in tandem.
“My job as an editor, first and foremost, is to get in the head of the director and work out what film they want to make,” he said.
Jane Mills: I was impressed by the skating scenes that are clearly not flashbacks, but are dream or fantasy.
“Those scenes came and went in the script and also in the film,” said Alexandre. They were originally going to be shot as opticals but in the end were shot on a location. They were in the script as they occur in the film, except one at the end that was added in the edit. The speeding up and down was done in camera, and Alexandre believes this looks much better than opticals. “They gave us all kinds of options: 6 fps, 24, 48 and more,” he said.
Audience: I liked the visual clues in the film, particularly the lighthouse motif?
“Originally there was much more lighthouse” says Alexandre, ”but I thought ‘We’re giving too much away - and it’s too phallic’.” He was pleased that those that remain still work as clues.
Alexandre pointed out that there’s lots of jump cuts in the film but that “you don’t see these things - that’s the subtlety of the film, the combined effect of the camera and the cutting and the sound helps a lot.”
Audience: It’s a very quiet film. Was there much ADR?
The location sound was mostly quiet and even when it wasn’t they kept it despite the noise. The only exception was the lighthouse scene at the end which required ADR due to the noise of traffic and rain.
Alexandre generally likes to work a lot on the sound as he goes, because he feels it’s important to the edit.
“I give the sound editors a full soundscape” he said, “but the big luxury would be to have a sound designer working in parallel, because they know it much better than me.”
Audience: Did Jane Campion teach you anything new to you in the edit room?
Alexandre laughs. “Jane is quite an amazing editor herself.”
He said that when he started “I was feeling very good. I thought ‘I must be good: Jane Campion has asked me to edit her film’. But what I find every time is that I don’t know anything: you learn on every film.”
“Jane brought a lot. She had a lot of ideas very complimentary to mine,” he said.
Sara: I’m not sure about the “walk to redemption” at the end - it sticks out a bit?
Alexandre says that originally the redemption walk was much longer. But the effect was that “the film lingered - you wanted to get out,” said Alexandre. Also it was shot by the second unit using a double. For NYers the walk now is very short - much shorter than than the actual physical distance.
The walk is very important to the story and it took a long time to reduce it: to convince Jane it had to come down. Jane had originally wanted a 2 1/2 hour film. “It took a lot to say 2 hours is as much as we can sustain,” said Alexandre.
Audience: On the DVD will there be scenes that were dropped?
There may be a couple of different scenes on the DVD but in the end there were only 3 or 4 scenes lost. Rather it was a matter of shortening scenes, for example, the scene where Frannie asks Malloy “Are you a liar?” Malloy originally launched into a long explanation and came across as the nicest man. Now the scene is cut at that point: he comes across as a liar.
Alexandre found that dialogue that was needed to make the script understandable was often redundant once the visual and aural language of film came into play.
Sara commented that the cutting of the “Are you a liar” scene is a mark of good editing. Often as an editor you can tell when something has been cut. That scene is very disturbing, but not for that reason.
The audience thanked Alexandre for his insightful comments, and stepped out into the daylight. But no doubt many reflected on the noir world of In the Cut over the next few days.