|Robin Williams in One Hour Photo|
For most individuals new to the cutting room, lingering
in the student-indie film world is an inevitable way to pay dues.
Jeffrey Ford has had it easy: from Little Odessa to As
Good as it Gets, Ford has been blessed with a filmography of
indie hits and box office phenomena. His latest film, Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo, is proving to be both.
With an unexpectedly moving and deftly nuanced performance
from Robin Williams at the center of the film, early Oscar buzz
is richly deserved. Taking a few minutes from his editing suite
in Montreal-where he’s working on Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass-Ford
spoke with MM about his film school experience, the long-held desire
to edit and just why it’s called the cutting room floor.
Jennifer Wood (MM): I know that you graduated
from USC. Did you study editing while in school?
Jeffrey Ford (JF): I graduated from USC in 1991
with a degree in film production. It was great experience. USC,
in my opinion, is the best film school in the world, not so much
for the facilities or the faculty, but for the students that attend.
It’s an incredible gathering of ambitious, talented and passionate
people who love film and really want to be part of the art form
and the industry. I had a great time there and I continue to work
with people I attended film school with.
The great undiscovered gem of USC’s film school is
the critical studies department-incredible faculty and classes about
film history and theory that are so essential. Most people think
it’s about learning three point lighting and how to sync dailies,
but critical studies classes are about the theoretical aspects of
film and you really lean how film grammar works and how you can
use it to tell a story in a truly cinematic way.
MM: Had it always been your desire to be
JF: I always loved editing; it has always been
my favorite part of the process. I cut a lot of stuff in school
and sort of got a reputation for my cutting and sound work. When
I graduated, I worked as a camera assistant on commercials and music
videos to pay the bills before I got into feature post-production.
MM: What was the first film you worked on
and how did you get the job?
JF: The first film I worked on, in the editorial
department, was Little Odessa. I got a call one day from
my friend James Gray, who was going to New York to make his first
feature, Little Odessa. He said: “You have to be on the film.
What do you want to do?” I offered to work on the camera crew, but
the positions were filled. There was an assistant editor position
available, so I took it. I flew to New York on my own dime and worked
as a local (it was a non-union show). It was a great time and great
film to work on, but the New York winter was brutal. The job was
a bit more than I bargained for since I was synching dailies and setting up and operating the location projection system each night.
They were long days, to be sure. The editor, Dorian Harris, was
fantastic and I learned a lot. I really got the bug on that one!
One Hour Photo (2002)
The Yards (2000)
As Good As It Gets (1997)
‘Til There Was You (1997)
The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Things to do in Denver When
MM: While many who are new to the business
seem to flounder for a while in the independent world-cutting films
that never see the light of day, or even a video store shelf-your
track record indicates all well-received films (Little Odessa,
Assassins, As Good as it Gets). Have you always been discerning
in choosing projects, or did you just get lucky?
JF: As an editor, I love performance-driven
films about really complex and interesting characters. I guess I’m
just a sucker for 1970s American films like The Conversation and A Woman Under the Influence. That’s my taste and that’s
what I look for. It’s hard these days because those films are few
and far between. As an assistant, I had the good fortune to work
with Richard Marks. He works on great stuff since he’s just about
the best there is. I got lucky working with him.
MM: What sort of lessons did you learn from
Marks? While it’s not traditionally considered part of an editor’s
job to be a mentor to his/her assistants, did you find Marks naturally
had this capacity?
JF: Working with Richie was one of the best
experiences I have ever had. I learned so much from him, both directly
and by osmosis. He’s a great teacher and has taught many-he has
a real legacy in this business. I already knew the fundamentals
of editing, but I learned so much about technique from watching
the dailies, then watching Richie put it together. I saw his methodology
for making choices, I saw the problems he faced, I heard the notes
he was given and saw how he approached them. It was eye-opening.
Also, working closely with him, I was a fly-on-the-wall
for conversations with the directors. You hear what they talk about
and how they talk to each other. I also learned how to organize
and prioritize and how to be a leader of a crew. It was boot camp!
I consider Richie to be one of the greats of all time. He has an
incredible natural talent and can cut performance and story like
no one I’ve seen and he’s a genius on a dub stage. Again, I got
lucky-and I worked harder than I ever had on his crew.
MM: From an editing standpoint, what are
the things that excite you in a script? What are the challenges
you look for?
JF: It’s always a challenge to craft a subtle
performance that feels real and dramatic and works to tell the story.
There are narrative obligations and problems to solve that can be
challenging, but getting the acting right and creating characters
is always the most interesting part. So much of a performance is
dependent on editing, and ultimately it’s that performance that
tells the emotional story. One false step, one moment of bogus behavior
or a bad line reading can sink a scene. It’s delicate work, very
detailed work, but that’s the part I live for!
MM: How did you first come to be involved
with One Hour Photo?
met Mark one day when I was editing The Yards. He dropped
by the cutting room and was taking snapshots of James and I as we
were working. About a year later, I got a call from him and he sent
me the script for One Hour Photo. We had a meeting and it
was clear that I had really connected with what he had written.
I think we felt we were in sync from the beginning. About two weeks
later I was in the cutting room watching the first day of dailies.
MM: Though the film is Mark Romanek’s first
feature, he was an experienced music video director, and had worked
with many of the film’s principals (DP Jeff Cronenweth, etc.) before.
Was it at all intimidating to come into a project where there were
already so many established relationships-where much of the team
knew what to expect from the director and what he would be looking
JF: It was a pleasure to work with the One
Hour Photo crew. Cronenweth is the greatest, most easy-going
guy in the world and was a delight to work with. [Production designer]
Tom Foden is fantastic; [costume designer] Arianne Philips is the
best… it was just like being invited to a really cool party with
really mellow people. I miss them all!
MM: The entire story depends not just on
the acting, but on the behavior of Robin Williams’ character, Sy-most
of which is very subtle (a slight grimace, the way he is looking
at someone, etc.). How did you approach the editing of the film?
JF: One Hour Photo was unique because
it is a film that is designed to be very manipulative, but it can
never break trust with the audience. In some scenes you love Sy,
you identify with him… in others you fear him or are put off by
him. Modulating Robin’s performance and the reactions to his behavior
was difficult. We had to sustain this level of suspense and tension
while telling the story and presenting a unique and complex character.
If Sy ever became predictable, the film would fail. There was a
substantial amount of footage and Mark and I reviewed every frame!
We cut and recut and recut and really worked it over. That is the
fun part for me, digging in and making the film do things that you
never thought it could do.
MM: Did you know, coming into the project,
that Robin Williams was going to be playing the role of Sy? Was
what you envisioned of his performance different from what you saw?
Was there any one scene that you’re still kicking yourself about
winding up on the cutting room floor?
JF: I knew Robin was the lead and I considered
it a challenge to cut a performance for him, especially with this
dark and nuanced character. I think he’s an endlessly interesting
actor and has never (until now) played a part that tests his range.
As far as deleted scenes, the film is very tight, but everything
on the cutting room floor belongs there-that’s why they call it
the cutting room floor.
MM: Often times, the general moviegoing
audience will attribute the successful execution of a film to one
aspect: the script, the acting, the direction, etc. It’s rare that
someone will comment that the editing of a film was part of its
effect. Do you think that the role of the editor is an almost "invisible"
JF: Anyone who singles out one aspect as the
key for the film’s success is simply not very well-informed about
the process. Everyone has to be on their game for a film
to be great. In the end, everyone who makes the film-the director,
the cinematographer, the editor, the actors-all should be invisible.
We all work to create something that is bigger than each individual
contribution. If you see one aspect, you’re missing the whole experience.