Editing is one art form that moviegoers rarely have a firm grasp on.  The process is hardly as easy as just cutting from one shot to another.  Different directors have different editing techniques to make their shot material work and some filmmakers don' even know how a film is going to come together until they get in the editing room.  This years best editing nominees include "The Fighter" (deft), "127 Hours" (pace setting), "The Social Network" (intricate), "The King's Speech" (old school) and "Black Swan" (deliberate).  The latter film owes just as much of its town to Andy Weisblum's work as to fellow nominees Mathew Libatique (cinematography) and director Darren Aronofsky.  

Weisblum has hit another level in his career after successive collaborations with both Aronofsky on "The Wrestler" and "Swan" as well as Wes Anderson on "The Darjeerling Limited" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox."  Fox Searchlight passed along this transcript of a conversation on Skype between Anderson and Weisblum and it's worth a read not just for more background on the creative process for "Swan," but on how Anderson views editing and his intriguing interview skills.

[For more on "Black Swan" check out the film's Visual Effects reel embedded at the top of this post.]

Wes Anderson:
Shall we begin the interview process?
I think I once read an interview with Peter Weir where he said that he did two movies in a row, Witness and then Mosquito Coast, and he said Mosquito Coast was the most difficult movie to edit that he had ever worked on -- it took a long time to cut and it was a struggle -- and Witness was just assembled and then he was done. Where does 'Black Swan' fall on that spectrum of difficulty?

Andy Weisblum:
If you take 'Mosquito Coast' and you cram it into the 'Witness' schedule, you have our experience. It was a pretty intense, concentrated raw period working on that movie. There was a lot of technical logistics and other things that the movie required from us. It was difficult both technically and psychologically, but we got out on the other side.

Wes Anderson:
What was your biggest challenge?

Andy Weisblum:
Performances weren’t a challenge in that they were all there. It was really just a question of calibrating it correctly to get from point A to point B through the course of the movie and letting her insanity spill over. The biggest challenge in the movie is the tone, because it’s not a simple thing to define. It’s not strictly horror, it’s not strictly scary, it’s not strictly campy. It’s kind of all those things. You take this ballet and you put it in this new setting and put realism on top of it and you have this curious hybrid that we had to play with to make it feel satisfying, comfortable and engaging.

Wes Anderson:
You do sense the performances were already there. You sometimes see a movie where someone is great in it and the editor tells you, “yeah we had to carve that together out of nothing.” You certainly don’t get that impression from this film. The thing that caught me off guard the most is how successful and emotional the last sequence is. Through the movie we have established that her challenge is the dark half of the dance. And when we actually get there you are completely swept up in it. You sort of get beyond even seeing the performance of the dance. It’s sort of like, if a dance represents something -- well, that’s what we are watching. That thing itself.

Andy Weisblum:
Right.

Wes Anderson:
If anyone can decipher what I meant by that.

Andy Weisblum:
I think I understand it. People sometimes describe it as a ballet film. Which is kind of the furthest thing from what it is. In so many ways, that ballet is representative of certain things and its representative of her craft, her passion, her art, her perfection. Which can be a substitute for any number of things in a lot of ways, to get at what the movie is about. I think Darren tapped into using the ballet dramatically in a way that really supported the narrative of the story.

Wes Anderson:
Do you guys work late? What’s the routine? And is there one?

Andy Weisblum:
There is definitely a routine. The routine is Darren will come in between 9 and 10. And then leave at 5 or 6 to see his family and do other things. So we do keep a pretty clear schedule. But I think you know on this thing we threw that out somewhere along the way. When we knew we were out of time. So, you know I would say that was true until August, the month of August before we hit Venice. We were working from 8 in the morning until 3 in the morning. So, then it stops changing. Our schedule is a little different when we work together.

Wes Anderson:

Now let me ask this, do you ever think, for instance can you imagine what the process would be of cutting ''Black Swan'' on film? Would that have been impossible?

Andy Weisblum:
Yes.

Wes Anderson:
In particular on that schedule.

Andy Weisblum:
It would have been completely impossible. It would have taken twice as long. As you know, one thing that I like to do is explore a lot of things that go beyond the footage, in terms of digital solutions and split screens and tricks and gags and things like that. They are still organic to what’s been shot but trying to come up with other solutions editorially that we can explore. We wouldn’t be able to do that on film.  I guess it would be another limitation like budget or anything else that we would just contend with. But it’s not something you can imagine. It’s like saying go make a movie without a cell phone. It’s not in the vocabulary anymore.

Wes Anderson:

And I think the idea of making it on that schedule you have the same money and schedule and so on to do. It’s possible in this case, you would not have made this movie at all. You would have made a different movie.

Andy Weisblum:
Completely different movie and we wouldn’t have experimented as much as we did and found this thing. I don’t know what it would have been, if it wasn’t edited digitally. It’s hard to think about that. It’s just a tool we have now that’s part of the language of what we do and its part of the language on the set too. There’s a fix it in post conversation. We can work around shooting in that mirror or we can just shoot in it; get the right shot and deal with the crew in three months. It’s constant; it affects everything.

Wes Anderson:
So, I know the movie is shot on 16mm, except a little bit of digital stuff. How did you feel about it, what was the experience and also, could 16mm be a better prospect for some things or do you think we are months away from everything being shot digitally?

Andy Weisblum:

Well, I don’t think we are months away from everything being shot digitally, although not being a DP and not fully being in that loop, I could be wrong. But, I do know the super 16 was something that came up when Darren went back to basics, if you will, on the Wrestler and part of it is that there are several motivations for it. One is budget. The other is the convenience on set; being able to just run and gun and just pick up that little camera and do it and not have to worry necessarily about the same lighting package and so on. And the third is aesthetic. It looks and feels vérité or documentary and Darren is in love with grain. He just loves film grain; he loves the organic nature of it and is happy to have twice as much as any normal film.  So that is not an obstacle in his point of view.  It was interesting with the digital stuff, which was very basically, the subway scenes, which blend very seamlessly. But we did have to experiment with the amount of grain we added to it, to see what would sit well in the rest of the film.

Wes Anderson:
You grained it.

Andy Weisblum:

We grained it up.

Wes Anderson:

Let me ask this.  I know from time to time from working together, as everyone does, we occasionally refer to previous films: how we did it on this, how we did it on that. And you worked on I think, correct me if I am wrong, two DePalma films.

Andy Weisblum:
Yes.

Wes Anderson:
And really your mentor as an editor comes from that experience. Yes?

Andy Weisblum:
Yes. Bill Panko is somebody who gave me one of my first breaks in a cutting room. Taught me a lot about how the process should work and the craft of it I guess. And that was on film.

Wes Anderson:

What films did you work on with him?

Andy Weisblum:

I worked on 'Snake Eyes' and 'Femme Fatale.'

Wes Anderson:
… 'Carlito's Way'

Andy Weisblum:
My wife worked on 'Carlito's Way', but I worked peripherally on it. I was in another cutting room, along side of him while he was on 'Carlitos Way' and that is where I really fell in love with the editing process, watching him work on that.

Wes Anderson:
Here is a broad question: how do you feel about close- ups?

Andy Weisblum:
They are used for emphasis, they are the most important tool and it’s important not to overuse and abuse them.  It’s important to find the moments for them and make sure you set up geography and context and have an understanding of the space before you hit them. But interestingly enough and something I haven’t talked about, is that Darren has some very specific rules about magnification and when you are tight and when you are wide. It’s very classical in a way he approaches that. He never wants to bounce around in terms of sizes, he really wants to go in and go deeper.

Wes Anderson:
Closer and closer.

Andy Weisblum:
Yes, and be very decisive about when we are doing that.  In some ways it’s as important as the performance. It’s choosing when you’re going to focus in and make the meat of the moment, whatever the scene is. So that’s always a conversation.

Wes Anderson:
Right, right. I feel I tend to under use the close-up. Somewhere along the way I read there’s not a close-up in 'The Searchers' until 40 minutes into the movie or something. And it’s a huge impact when we finally go to it. And I’ve always thought 'lets save the close-ups.”  Maybe I’ve read Bogdanovich or somebody saving the close-ups. And over the years, I think I took it too much to heart. And I feel, particularly when we did Life’s Aquatic, I just don’t feel like I did enough or got close enough a lot of the time.  I have very few scenes ever where I wish I shot them wider.

Andy Weisblum:
I will say something else that became clear to me working on 'Mr. Fox' after 'Darjeeling.' One of the things that’s great in your film is your talent with blocking and figuring out the body language of the way the actors relate to each other in the context of the scene and in the frame. And that’s really the way into a scene for you in a lot of ways, more than just the rhythm of it, but that quite often you set the stage very literally for a scene and figure out some of the comedy is in that, some of the characters in that. There are always things that you indicate from that. And you use it as a storytelling tool in a way. I felt like you found ways where you figured out how the scene should play on the set instead of getting the coverage to have flexibility later. There is a lot of merit to that. It’s just a different tack. And then of course with the puppets you can always go back and get a close–up if you need it.

Wes Anderson:
Exactly. Did you guys pre-vis the climatic scene of 'Black Swan'? And if so, was that prepared as an animatic or was it only storyboarded?

Andy Weisblum:
Well by virtue of the fact that we had an elaborate visual effect to accomplish, we had to do an animatic for that one final shot of the coda dance when the feathers come out and everything. It would have put us at risk if we didn’t really work out technically what needed to happen because we were trying to achieve a very complicated motion capture shot on location as apposed to a sound stage. The guys at Look Effect needed to know where they were setting up MoCa Cameras and all that business and where our camera would be. So there was that. Other than that there was little to no storyboarding by design for the whole movie. It was more open to what happened during the day. And I think for the dancing stuff that was a little bit less true because they shot some. Both Maddie and Darren shot some foot camera video just to get a taste of what their shot should be and also to help Benjamin, Natalie and everybody figure out exactly what they needed to focus on, chorography wise. You can do a whole ballet shoot and figure it out later. But that’s not really fair to everybody who has to dance it and have it be realistic. It was a way to kind of hone in on what was necessary. There are 20 different reasons that something can hit you at different times, whatever it is.

Wes Anderson:
When we worked together first on 'Darjeeling Limited,' you had just edited Zoe Cassavete’s movie, 'Broken English,' and before that you had worked with Darren on 'The Fountain' as the visual effects editor.

Andy Weisblum:
Visual Effects Editor. Yeah.

Wes Anderson:
 And your background for sometime before that was focused on visual effects.

Andy Weisblum:

Yes.

Wes Anderson:
Talk about it as an editor from visual effects rather than an editor from assistant editor.

Andy Weisblum:
Right. Well I think that it’s a tremendous part of what I do.  I think in every scene I look at the ways we can flip the footage or change it. It’s no different than what we’ll do with sound and dialogue. Cheating 10 takes of dialogue into one mouth from one take or dialogue editing or sound design or everything else you can; its just image design.  You can keep changing the image in a way that wasn’t possible before. I guess I learned that a little bit. I learned it a lot on 'The Fountain.' We really played around with that on 'The Fountain,' because we almost looked at every shot as a possibility of visual effects because it was already and it didn’t explode our budget to think about it that way. So the footage on that film was so mined and explored and repurposed in so many ways. Taking shots from scenes shot late in the movie, putting them early in the movie and just constantly, slowly restructuring. And that was just as much a visual effects exercise as an editing exercise. It was a collaborative effort. You know it’s a film where our friend Jeremy Dawson was the visual effects supervisor on it. And he’s very close with Darren and was a true collaborator on that film. And I worked under him. We were all together in a group. So there was always a collaborative dialogue between visual effects and editing, they merged.

Wes Anderson:
Here is a wrap up question. More of a statement for you to respond to. I feel -- and it takes us back to the opening comment -- my experience with movies and also what I’ve been taught is: it’s never like 'Witness.' The job of the editor is to take all these different things and force them to work as a movie. Comment on that.

Andy Weisblum:
Editing is rewriting. That’s all it is.  You take; you have your concept of the movie that’s the script and everybody agrees on what the movie is going to be based on that concept. The financer, the studio, the director; it’s an expression of your vision in conjunction with how the writer and the actors see it and everybody agrees and you go to locations that have nothing. There are no resemblances to wants reflected in the original concept and then there are budget problems and then the actors totally misinterpret what you suggested and the production designer used pink instead of blue; or they had the wrong lens there that day. You have to contend with all that business and there’s a whole pile there that has gone all the way in the other room from where the script originally was. And then we have to sit there and figure out how to get it back to the original intention, or what’s the new intention. You know it’s not all negative whatever came out of that set experience. It’s sometimes a discovery that takes somewhere new, that’s great. Yes sir.

Wes Anderson:
I remember once when we were doing 'Bottle Rocket.' When you said that actors sometimes misinterpret. Which happens when we didn’t get the thing we were suppose to get. But then sometimes you get something you have no idea of, even in the editing room; even when you are looking at the dailies. I remember in 'Bottle Rocket' we had a moment where either Luke or Lumi Cavazos forgot their line or they had crisscrossed each others lines or something and suddenly they reached a moment where neither of them knew what to say. And they were stumped. They just looked at each other for a moment and then she left the shot.  It was a nice moment. I left it in there. I cut it out finally for the pace of the thing. I was showing it to a friend. I said, “Do you see what I cut? The part where they looked at each other?” He said, “Yeah, you cut the moment where they fall in love.” That’s what happened there. That’s where they fell in love.

Andy Weisblum:
You always have to be open to those surprises, and experiments to mistakes sometimes turn into gifts.  That’s part of it certainly.  Well thank you for this, this is great.

Wes Anderson:
Thank you.

Andy Weisblaum will attempt an editing upset when the Academy Awards are announced Feb. 27 on ABC. 

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