They remain nowhere near as well-represented as their male counterparts in the editing Oscar realm — the best-known is Thelma Schoonmaker with eight Oscar nominations and three wins — but women such as Úna Ní Dhonghaíle (“Belfast”), Pamela Martin (“King Richard”) and Teresa Font (“Parallel Mothers”) are seeking to make their mark in the race.
Dhonghaíle was almost finished cutting “Death on the Nile” with Kenneth Branagh when he mentioned “Belfast” to her. “Kenneth shot in a very painterly style. A lot of the scenes were held and had a depth of field,” Dhonghaíle says. “The mise-en-scene was just as important as the rhythm of the film.”
The editor points out there was a simplicity to Branagh’s shooting style and sometimes footage was abundant, but other times, she had only one or two shots to work with. But, every time, she says, “We interrogated the structure. [Sometimes] we shortened them or even moved them where it could have a more visceral and emotional impact.”
“King Richard” editor Martin knew very little about Richard Williams, father to tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, but she had cut her fair share of sports movies, such as “Battle of the Sexes” and “The Fighter.” For “King Richard,” director Reinaldo Marcus Green didn’t rely on announcers to drive the emotion of the tennis matches. “I had to look at what tools I had,” says Martin. “I learned from ‘The Fighter’ that when you’re cutting any sporting event, and you have to abbreviate time, you have to decide what story you’re telling in each match.” That meant utilizing Kris Bowers’ score and the film’s sound for quick cutting or reworking scenes until she landed on the right balance of drama.
Martin’s biggest challenge was the opening. An early cut had her put it together as scripted, but it didn’t sit right. Green and Martin discussed finessing the scene with Will Smith’s Richard Williams shopping for tennis coaches and picking up tennis balls, but the key “was to get inside his head,” Martin says. By the end of that scene, we’ve seen Richard pick Venus and Serena up, shop for coaches and be in the tennis courts before he gets to his night job. “That paid off in spades,” she says.
With Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers,” Font was on the set by the filmmaker’s side. While the two discussed the script, Almodóvar would decide which were the best takes. “He would say, ‘I like this performance and this reaction,’ and nothing else,” Font says. That left the editor in control of fine-tuning her cut to make it work emotionally, especially in the scenes where Penélope Cruz’s Janis is alone in the apartment with her newborn child. Font says capturing Cruz’s expressions and lingering on them were key to driving the narrative through her editing. “She had this look in her eyes without uttering a single word, and you could feel what was going on in her mind,” explains Font.
While these are just a few of the notable female editor contenders in the running, there are more. Claire Simpson did double duty for Ridley Scott on “The Last Duel” and “House of Gucci,” while “West Side Story” was cut by Sarah Broshar and “Passing” by Sabine Hoffman. There certainly isn’t a shortage of women editors this year — it’s just a matter of when will there be more women nominated in the category?