Thanks to his role in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke’s trophy room will soon need a renovation. The awards that he’s been nominated for, or already won, are piling up, but the man who deserves maybe the most thanks is a name very few are familiar with: Andrew Weisblum. The man employed as the movie’s editor, a role that is always the sorely under-appreciated architect of strong plots and performances, had an indispensable role in constructing Rourke’s performance from the sometimes very raw materials with which he was given to work.
“As always,” notes Weisblum about the improv-heavy movie, “the script is kind of like a blueprint. Darren was obviously looking to capture a certain reality, so he had to keep the options open whenever possible. That meant that in assembling things it was important not to dismiss or eliminate options because they weren’t scripted or because they were tangents. I had to sit there and think about, ‘Well, is this just something he was allowing people to explore to see where it will go or is this something that appeals to him?'”
“We were just looking for the most natural performances,” explains Aronofsky. “And [we were also looking] to keep the energy up and the interest up and I think that is one of the amazing things Andy was able to do really with this job. Any time the film slows down, we were able to go somewhere else and keep things moving.”
“The question always was, ‘Which things serve the character?'” says Weisblum. “Which things were actually demonstrating something about [Rourke’s character] Randy ‘The Ram’? Because, in an improvisation, even though Mickey’s in character, you have to be clear on what the motivations are and whether it’s going to help us tell the story. So that was always a bit of a challenge because there was great stuff, but it didn’t necessarily fit in the puzzle. That’s always hard to do, but you just want to make sure that there’s never any exaggerated stuff or anything that throws the pendulum too far in the wrong direction in terms of the arc of the movie and what you’re trying to do with the character.
“I would assemble scenes, trying to incorporate all the options that to me made sense for where I thought we would be at that point in the movie or the character—and that was tricky. We ended up with a two-hour-and-50-minute assembly because we would have scenes that were scripted at half a page that turned into a couple hours of improvisation. How do you pick which 20-second clip is gonna actually make it into the movie without actually having the movie yet? You could take a year to take a two-hour-and-48-minute movie and make it an hour and 45 minutes.”
Unfortunately, they did not have even close to 12 months in post. “We knew we had to be at the Toronto [International Film Festival],” says Weisblum, “so we only had eight weeks to cut the thing—and then another three were kind of fine tuning. We knew there wasn’t time to dilly dally.” Because of this tight schedule, Weisblum put in copious hours during production to ensure post-production went smoothly. “I had full assembly done within a week of production,” he notes, “the whole movie.”
Cutting this assembly together so quickly and efficiently was made possible by a few key choices made in terms of equipment. To fit the movie’s naturalistic tone and cinematographer Maryse Alberti’s documentary approach, the moviemakers decided to shoot on Super 16 and then went digital for dailies and editing. “We cut on [Avid] Media Composer,” says Weisblum. “We had a full system with a full Adrenaline and a Unity storage system during production. My assistant loaded and digitized and synced up everything in that system. I had, separately, a MacBook Pro with portable Firewire storage and I would use that during production. Stuff would get synced up and then media would get topped to that drive.” Almost every day of production ended with Weisblum at Aronofsky’s home looking at dailies, ensuring quality and coverage.
Thanks to the DNxHD36 codec that was loaded onto Media Composer, the whole process was efficient and straightforward. “It allowed us—with minimal equipment and expense—to work in HD through the whole process,” says Weisblum. “It was great because our dailies were HD so we got to see everything we needed to see; if there were any focus issues, etc.”
Mobility was also a factor. “The file size for the DNxHD36 was small enough that I could have seven or eight days of stuff on one 300 GB hardware drive that I could take anywhere,” marvels the editor. “Because of the setup and how mobile it was, I was able to come [to the set] and, in between setups on something else, go over things with Darren. We could experiment and try stuff and make sure that Darren was happy with what we had and that we didn’t have any issues that we needed to go back to while we were still in production. Having this setup helped us do that. It was so portable and easy.”
“And it was nice because it meant I didn’t have to go to the editing room, if an editing room actually existed,” laughs Aronofsky, “which it probably did. We could just take care of it over lunch.”
“The mobility and the quality—just those two things coupled together are kind of unbeatable,” adds Weisblum.
But, of course, no amount of technology can compensate for a lack of creativity or conviction. Luckily for The Wrestler, Weisblum and Aronofsky are lacking neither and the two minds seemed to have struck just the right balance between trust and hierarchy while holed up in Malta, cutting the picture. Says Weisblum, “Darren’s direction for me was, ‘I want to see your take on everything because we have so many options here and it’s important to me to have someone else’s point of view in the room to feed off of at first.’ And with all those options, that seems the logical way to go.”
Continues Weisblum, “The key to any good director, which Darren has in spades, is [the ability] to be decisive. That’s really the whole job of the director, but that umbrella is huge. What was important was to clear that path to analyze what we had and make decisions.”
The decisions made seem to have been the right ones, as The Wrestler has rapidly turned into an awards season heavyweight, a catalyst for Rourke’s revitalized career and a stunning achievement in moviemaking. Weisblum may not get all the press, but Aronofsky certainly recognizes the editor’s supreme contribution. “Andy’s really tough,” praises the director. “He’s got very strong opinions and that’s great. That’s what you want from an editor.”