Oscar Contenders: Editors Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall

Oscar hopeful The Social Network

Good editing can be explained as a combination of great storytelling, and crafting great performances with an overall stylistic approach that works naturally with the film, and the vision the director has for that film. It’s seamless … you shouldn’t know it’s there – it blends into the storytelling so that the audience feels that they are experiencing the film as it unfolds … in real time.

One collaborative team whose work surpasses the mark are Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall ACE, co-editors and hot favourites for an Oscar nomination for the Film Editing category for director David Fincher’s “The Social Network”.

Angus Wall

Angus Wall is known to many in the ad industry for his editorial work on Nike and BMW and as co-founder of West Hollywood editorial shop, Rock Paper Scissors. Wall first met David Fincher 20 years ago, doing commercial work for Fincher, and later editing the titles for Fincher’s film Se7en. Later still, Wall graduated to “editorial consultant” on Fight Club and co-edited Panic Room with James Haygood, (Fight Club). Australian commercial editor Kirk Baxter, joined Rock Paper Scissors in 2004, working with Wall on Zodiac (2007) as an “additional editor”. Wall put Baxter forward as co-editor on Benjamin Button and the rest is collaborative editing history.

Kirk Baxter

The Social Network screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, wrote a dense 160-page draft, which would normally translate into 160 minutes of screen time. With this much content in script stage, a big challenge for Baxter & Wall was the fear of over-extending the finished cut. The fear was very real when the production delivered 268 hours of raw footage. Known as a meticulous craftsman, David Fincher’s attention to detail, and Aaron Sorkin’s script structure, meant that they would both be intensely involved in the editing process.

Says Wall, “A lot of movies you do re-sequencing of scenes. I think we lifted three or four lines out of the movie. With Aaron and with David directing, our job becomes about making something as perfect as it can be. It’s not finding the through lines of the movie, unless you’re talking about performances, because just editorially, we have to make sure we have the best and most genuine performances in. But the construction of the movie really all came out of the script.”

Says Baxter, “It was performance and timing. It was a delicate thing. One sort of wrong beat of the eyes can show a look of guilt or holding on something a little bit too long. The movie was trying to be extremely sure-footed with everyone believing they were right.”

“One of the things David really wanted to stress was to just be propulsive in terms of the editing and make sure we were slightly ahead of the audience, but not too far ahead,” Wall says. “So it was trying to find the right balance where you had little micro-pauses to let things land where they needed to land.

David Fincher

In this clip from The Social Network, watch the way Baxter & Wall cut together the Henley Race at Harvard. Rooster Post managing partner/editor Bob Kennedy, makes this observation about the following sequence …

“What I really love about the Henley sequence is the way they play with screen direction and composition between shots. The camera axis is not just ignored, but deliberately crossed to maximize the energy of the finish. Check where your eye is going from shot to shot: your eyeball is being choreographed. Most of the time, they lead your eye directly to the perfect placement for the next scene, but towards the end, they start working your eye back and forth across the frame to add to the sense of frenzy.”

But it’s not just the editing that makes this movie an Academy Award contender. According to Kirk Baxter, “What gives editing a helping hand comes from within the script. If something is moving along quite rapidly and taking you to different places, then the editing gets pushed to the forefront. Technique tends to stand out, but the task really is to make everything land and deliver a message at full understanding. It’s a much bigger picture – the whole movie is your real job. It just begins with that technique part.”

Angus Wall goes on to say, “When it feels like it’s a new experience, when you’re sucked into the movie and you’re not aware that you’re in a theater. You’re experiencing things like the characters, living vicariously through them. It feels like you’re part of the movie. To me that is a signal that everything is working on 16 cylinders.”

Rooster Post editor Dave De Carlo offers up this Pro Video Coalition ProBlog article for anyone wanting more about the The Social Network editorial process with lots of insider details from Angus Wall. De Carlo also mentions a great article worth a read about the film’s VFX from FXGuide and the VFX Blog.

Nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards 2011 will be announced on January 25th. The awards ceremony happens February 27th with producer-director Francis Ford Coppola receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Award.

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