‘Traffic’ Editor Examines Editing Lore in PPW Keynote

It was a film school project that led Stephen Mirrione to his career as a film editor.
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It was a film school project that led Stephen Mirrione to his career as a film editor.

The Academy Award winner presented Saturday’s Post|Production World keynote remarks in a session moderated by Carolyn Giardina, film and technology reporter for The Hollywood Reporter.

“What’s always interested me in editing is the sense of taking a reality and putting it together and making something new with it,” Mirrione said. “The thing that showed me that I wanted to be an editor was the first time I put together a little documentary project at film school. That’s when I first appreciated the power of design and transformation.”

Mirrione’s comments on his personal philosophy of editing were illustrated clips from many of the films he had worked on, including “Swingers,” “Traffic,” “Babel,” “Good Night and Good Luck” and the just-released “Leatherheads.”

FOUND FOOTAGE

Mirrione remarked that one of his editing techniques was in treating shot footage as if it were “found” footage, or footage that could add more reality to a particular scene. He demonstrated this with clips from “Go,” explaining that it was a very low budget movie and only limited resources were available to him.

Mirrione said the original scene lasted about two minutes and was shot with a single camera on a small set. By pulling in other footage from the same production, Mirrione was able to expand the scene to four minutes, adding depth and perspective with footage obtained from other scenes of the same film.

“The important thing for me is any time when I’m working with another image, I want there to be a reason for it,” said Mirrione. “The same is true when I’m cutting dialogue as well.”

SMOOTHING JUMP CUTS

The editor also described his frequent use of pre-lapping of audio in making smoothing jump cuts and at the same time making them more interesting and creating more audience interest in the scene.

“When you’re cutting dialog between two people and you want to cut to [something], but it’s an awkward moment to do that, what I’ll do is pre-lap the person speaking on the other side,” Mirrione said. “The natural inclination is when someone starts talking you want to see who’s talking.”

Mirrione said that sometimes it is good to break some of the hard and fast rules in filmmaking, if it helps achieve something positive. A viewing of the 1964 Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night,” directed by Richard Lester, helped him reach this epiphany.

“It really opened my eyes,” Mirrione said. “I was at the point where I was really still trying to follow all of the movement. I was very, very obsessed … and then suddenly I … realized they are doing so much more by not caring if a shot out of focus, but [if there is] a smile on someone’s face that has a feeling to it, that means so much more than constantly being perfect.”

Mirrione began his Hollywood editing career in the early 1990s, first volunteering his services on student film works at UCLA and USC. He received a 2001 Academy Award for his editing work on the drama “Traffic,” and was nominated for a second Academy Award in 2007 in connection with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel.” ©2008 NAB