Gregory Plotkin, Tatiana S. Riegel and Joe Walker share their approaches.
[Warning: The following story contains mild spoilers about I, Tonya, Get Out and Blade Runner 2049.]
Each film in this year’s awards discussion had its own unique editorial approach, whether that be Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, the story of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (played by Margo Robbie); Get Out, Jordan Peele’s thriller that follows Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a black man who is invited to visit his white girlfriend’s family; or Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic, that kicks off with Ryan Gosling as K, a Blade Runner searching for a former Blade Runner, Deckard, which again is played by Harrison Ford.
I, Tonya uses documentary-style “interviews” with the principal characters. Editor Tatiana S. Riegel says that when she first read the script, these “unreliable narrators” meant “the biggest challenge was going to be the tone. There are some very brutal and disturbing and tragic elements to her life, and there’s also a lot of comedy in the film. So it became a balancing act.” She cited as an example what starts as a dinner conversation between Tonya and her mother (Allison Janney) that “escalates to the mother yelling and eventually picking up a knife and throwing it at her. So this ends with this shocking, horrible thing and then a long moment of tension. What is Tonya going to do? And they she slams the knife down. And then its broken with the bit of comedy from our interview with the mother saying ‘everyone has problems’ and it’s a huge release of tension.”
In editing, they also tested and used voice overs and a few takes that break the fourth wall. “So as her head may be slammed against a wall, she turns to the camera and talks to us. That’s Tonya looking back on it, which gives you a sense of survival, and also a sense of her emotional detachment. I think it also allows the audience to see it in a slightly safer place but not sugar coat it.”
Get Out is told through the eyes of Chris. “The audience had to be with this guy—make him smart and do what they audience would want him to do, and unfortunately get in a bad situation,” editor Gregory Plotkin explains, adding that he also didn’t want to give away too much, too soon. So conversations in scenes from a garden party to a dinner become increasingly uncomfortable. For the dinner table scene—featuring Chris, girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), her brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) and their parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford)—Plotkin says he had to build tension, drop clues that something isn’t right, keep the geography of the table and the conversation going, keep Rose sympathetic, and conclude with Jeremy attacking Chris. “I created these looks between [the parents] as the conversation starts to escalate. It was one of those little clues I was trying to give the audience that something was afoot.”
In a scene that takes place the following morning, Chris confides to Rose that he thinks her mother hypnotized him. “It was actually shot where she says ‘she hypnotized me once too; I know what you are going through,’ says Plotkin. “But we felt [the audience might think] she was hypnotized through the entire movie. Jordan and I both felt we should leave it out.”
For Blade Runner 2049, editor Joe Walker summed up that they wanted to create a “dreamlike atmosphere that takes time and [creates] tension. The way the film is structured is an inexorable tread into the unknown interspersed with bouts of brutalization and shock.”
He relates that the scene during which K and Deckard fight each other in a closed-down Las Vegas venue with holograms of performers was reinvented following Villeneuve’s notes to make it more tense and more about the manhunt. “The original concept was many music tracks at once, with a cacophony of sounds from which emerges Elvis at the end,” Walker explains. “We recut the main performance to make it more of a manhunt between the two. And on the second unit there was this amazing footage of dancers waiting for the music to start, and we fashioned some of those images into the sequence, to increase the ghostliness of it. Presumably they are dead people who had been sampled. And then the [sound editors] revolutionized the sound so that we had one or two bursts of music and then just as quickly disappearing.”