London. Rain. Tunnels. Brushing up against wet umbrellas. Giving directions to visitors when I am one myself. It doesn’t matter what country I am in, I must be a beacon, a target for those stranded looking eyes. I see their minds calculating and their bodies approach as they think I could be the one to indicate a direction to the left or right. I give a guess hoping I have pointed the woman in the right direction and then turn left to board the tube to meet up with Oscar-nominated editor Alex Rodriguez.
I am on the subway minding my mind, not the gap, and arrive at the Thai restaurant where we have planned to meet for lunch, off the record. He arrives with his wonderful six-year-old daughter who speaks French, English and Spanish and is learning how to whistle, doing a wonderful job despite the fact she has lost her bottom tooth to the Tooth Fairy. After lunch, we grab a coffee and head to his house, three umbrellas pushing against the rain that is coming down at this point as if some two-bit plant with a water hose is directly over our heads. The sound of the rain makes my comment on the way to his house difficult to hear. I ask, ‘How do you handle this rain?’ he responds, “I don’t handle it.” We laugh and head into his house for an on the record conversation.
Erika Latta (MM): I met you for the first time in Paris. It was cold that day as I recall. I had never met you before and I didn’t know what I was getting into–neither did you. You were directing and I was acting in your short film. At that point you had co-edited Y Tu Mamá También and were the assistant editor on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, both by Alfonso Cuarón. When did you first meet Cuarón and how did you start working together?
Alex Rodriguez (AR): He was looking for an assistant editor for Y Tu Mamá También and Sandra Solares recommended me. Along the way he upgraded the credit to “Associate Editor” then to “Editor.” I was actually also the post-production supervisor. It was one year of post-production for Y Tu Mamá También in New York, as Alfonso lived there at the time.
MM: What is striking to me from your work in Children of Men is that you don’t notice the editing, which is beautiful. There seems to be a marriage between the movement of the camera, the acting, directing and the editing that is subtle and intuitive as breathing. Was Children of Men more difficult to edit then projects you have done in the past?
AR: Yes. It doesn’t look difficult, but it was more difficult. First of all, working with Alfonso Cuarón… you need a lot of energy. The approach to editing Children of Men was very similar to Y Tu Mamá También. Actually, he really had it in his head the way he was shooting–very long shots, just one long take–and then for the editing it was more about the rhythm between all these long scenes trying to address the story from the narrative point of view.
MM: I know that you were asked to be on the set during the filming pretty constantly because of that reason–because of the long takes.
AR: Yeah, you have to be there to make sure all the takes will match.
MM: For example, the car scene in which Julianne Moore’s character is killed. The camera is inside, rotating 360 degrees to capture both the inside action as well as the outside view of the rebels coming from the forest to attack the car in what appears to be a single take. Were there any cuts inside that sequence?
AR: (laughs) Yes, there were. There were some cuts. The take was almost physically impossible to shoot the whole take, so it was shot in segments and each segment was joined digitally. But the framing of the camera was very similar, so it’s only a few frames that needed correction.
MM: The other memorable shot was the birth of the child. How difficult was that to edit?
AR: The take was chosen the day of the shoot, because it involved visual effects and adding the build up of the sound. But it is only one take.
MM: I have a friend in New York, a war photographer, who told me that the scenes in Children of Men paint the most realistic version of what it is like to be in the fields of battle. The camera continually shifts perspectives of what Theo (played by Clive Owen) experiences, having the camera both behind him and in front of him, the camera is constantly shifting as he goes through the landscape of the film.
AR: And at some points it goes to strict points of view, the camera goes behind him and in front of him with a strict point of view. So you have all the positions of his perspective. You are always stuck with the character. Everything you see he sees or lives.
MM: Having worked on several projects with Cuarón, have you developed a shorthand or are you screaming and kicking together in the editing room?
AR: No that can happen everywhere. No. Good times. Good fun. The whole process–watching all the footage, selecting takes and building it up–Alfonso is very present. He is always there. Some directors prefer not to be involved and I think that is a shame.
MM: Do you think that is true what they say that the second part of directing is editing?
AR: I wouldn’t say that because it is not only that. If you don’t have a good picture you can forget about having a good film. No one is going to continue watching it. If you don’t have a good photographer then it is useless actually to even try making the film. If you don’t have a good script why bother? It all starts with a good script and then from then on everybody who is involved has power. The only thing with editing is it is coming back to the script. It’s a bookend of the whole project. So, it is very important. You are writing, rewriting with the images and sound available. So, you are reconstructing the ideas that were put in the script and then there is still rewriting. You always modify. If you do a transcript of the film as edited finally into a script mode, there would be new scenes or deleted scenes or changed dialogues. You know, as if you were doing another draft of the script but it is already in pictures and sound.
MM: You were born in France and are both European and Latin American. You have lived in Paris, Mexico City and now London for several years. Do you think the projects you are compelled to work on speak toward a feeling of displacement?
AR: I never think about it. I am in England, but I could be in Hong Kong. The more you work in English and Hollywood projects, if you want to continue in that path, then you narrow your opportunities.
MM: Recently you have worked as an editor for the segment of “Parc Monceau” for Paris, Je t’aime in Paris and in Mexico City you worked with Gael García Bernal editing his first film, Déficit. I know that each city offers different obstacles and challenges to a production, but do you feel more comfortable working in Mexico versus Europe?
AR: I don’t know, working in Mexico City is working my hometown. It’s also different; it’s pretty much the only place I can go in the evening after work and know what is happening and know where to go and what to do and what not to do. I know pretty much everybody in the business there so obviously…
MM: Better tamales, too.
AR: Yeah, better food. Definitely.
MM: I want to talk little bit about music and how important it is for your editing process?
AR: Very important. Being part of the selection process and being behind the creation of music as it all goes together with the editing of the film. Sound-wise, obviously sound editors put the rhythm and the hints in the film. Music-wise, it is a great moment being able to listen to all kinds of tracks and listen, choose and try. Great fun. I don’t really like, depending on what type of film you are working on, but I don’t like films with heavy scores, they annoy me.
MM: How does your experience as an editor influence how you work as a director?
AR: I think Alfonso influenced me in a way particularly in the first short films I am doing now. Not that I am trying to copy him, but having an example or idea and sticking to it.
MM: But, I mean your work as an editor… knowing how a shot can be edited?
AR: Well, you’re not going to shoot useless shots. Hopefully you’re not thinking ‘I need to cover here and there.’ No, you shoot what you need to shoot. What has been influential is watching how other directors direct–more so than knowing what you need, don’t need or how to edit the film.
MM: The last time I saw you it was in New York. All your close friends were organizing dinners night after night to celebrate your first Oscar nomination for editing Children of Men. How was your first time at the Oscars?
AR: It was great. Very quick. It was fantastic.
MM: Did you get any gift bags?
AR: No, but when I was getting into the theater I saw Martin Scorsese sitting there. I said to myself, ‘Well, it is now or never.’ I went straight to him and I said ‘Hi.’ He didn’t look at me at all. I said. ‘Well, I am nominated for editing for Children of Men.’ He just raised his head, smiled, gave me his hand and that was it. Then he won.
MM: So you passed on your good luck to him.
AR: (laughs) No, on the contrary. I shook the hand of a winner. I met Thelma Schoonmaker the day before. She is a fantastic woman. The few hours we spent talking together were the big highlight of the Oscars for me.
MM: What is your next project?
AR: I am trying to shoot a short film between each film I edit, sometimes two, if I can. And just continue to go on. I am not sure what I will do next. It’s a mystery.