To say that comedies find difficulty being nominated for Best Film Editing would be quite the understatement. So the nomination of Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers for David O. Russell”s “Silver Linings Playbook” is a testament to the esteem in which their colleagues hold them and their film.
The editing of “Silver Linings Playbook” is not as showy as some of the work from the duo’s fellow nominees, such as “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” but they never felt the need to be excessively flashy with their craft. “The first obligation is to tell the story,” Cassidy says. “We have to just to go with the material and tell the story as [director] David [O. Russell] has conceived it.”
But there were still challenges. In particular, Cassidy notes the difficulty in balancing the comic and serious tones of the film. Even so, they knew what they were getting into. “The bipolar shifting back and forth was in the script,” he says. “That part of the road map was very clearly articulated by David before we got involved.”
Adds Struthers, “The other thing we”re trying to do is recognize this is a personal film for David and it”s his story to tell. The editing should not be in the way of that, ever.”
The importance of this film for Russell became apparent in the editing process, during which the director was very involved, Cassidy says. “He thinks the editing is an extension of the writing. He”s worked it out on the set with the actors.”
Struthers notes that despite this, however, Russell was “very fun to work with. He also trusts us to make the film better, which is of course a great feeling.”
But perhaps the greatest contribution that Russell gave the editors was how he films. Neither Cassidy nor Struthers were in Philadelphia during filming but they nevertheless felt like they were because of a unique approach of Russell to filming – starting the camera on any given day and then never turning it off. The editors were therefore able to see what has been praised as the film”s greatest asset – its acting – being molded.
“He wants the actors to get in the moment and stay in the moment and repeat the moment,” Cassidy explains. “He”s doing it for the sense of the scene and the only way he can do that is to put the pressure on the actors. The actors are all on the set. They don”t leave the set and they work the whole time. The intensity is incredibly refreshing. Like the theatre, they can never go out of character. It”s one of David”s techniques. The fact is that he”s successful with it and actors who work with him say it”s one of the most rewarding experiences they”ve had.”
“We could hear David giving the actors directions,” Struthers says. “The performances that it produces for us in the editing room far outweigh any cost of having to go through more material.”
In helping Russell find his voice, however, they certainly encountered challenges.
“With Bradley Cooper”s character, there was a tremendous range in terms of what his behavior could be,” Cassidy says. But in order to not lose their audience, they needed to ensure that they didn’t want the character sent back to the looney bin, that they were on board for his journey in a rooting capacity. “You have to understand this imperfect person,” he says.
Struthers agrees that taking Cooper”s character too far, too soon was a real risk. “We had done that in earlier cuts,” he admits. “For the end of the first act – where he takes his medication for the first time [after his blow-up with his parents] – to have the impact that it had, we didn”t want to take him too far too early. We wanted it to have to the emotional impact that it had.”
While “Zero Dark Thirty” had multiple editors, as did the last two winners in this category (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Social Network”), most films rely on just a single editor. So how did their collaboration work?
“I was on to begin with,” Cassidy says. “When Crispin came on, he took some chunks and worked on them. There were scenes when the re-cutting got going and other times where it was more efficient for one of us to keep on a scene because he had started it. We divided it up somewhat arbitrarily and sent it back to each other, and to David.”
Struthers found the rhythm created by this could be refreshing as Russell would go back and forth between the two of them. The reward was great. “Our first preview was a very powerful experience,” he says. “Very intense and memorable.”
Cassidy was previously nominated five years ago for Sean Penn”s “Into the Wild,” though the experience of awards season success is still overwhelming. “It is such a compliment to be included with the group of films that have been nominated,” he says. “And to me, I have friends that have been nominated. You know your work has been recognized by your peers in a way that is enormously gratifying and humbling.”
Struthers, on the other hand, is a first-time nominee – indeed, the only one in the category. (The trend of having few first-time nominees was seen across many many branches this year.) “It”s very exciting, quite unexpected,” he says. “Look at the people we”re up against. It”s amazing to be considered [among] this terrific competition. I wasn”t ever expecting it.”
Looking back at the overall ride of “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cassidy cites Jennifer Lawrence”s speech in accepting the SAG Award as capturing how he felt about the film. “She said it so well – David made a film for his son,” he says. “The very first conversation I had with him on the telephone was about his son. That was always the thing driving him. With a little distance, you can see that from an artistic endeavor, that was the thing that was driving him. He”s somehow given something to his son. He can find a place in the world in spite of all the issues he”s had. When something is coming from a very personal point of view for a filmmaker, there”s a certain respect for what”s driving the guy who wrote this.”
With their roles in the cutting room, Cassidy and Struthers are proud to have helped their director achieve his vision. We”ll now have to wait and see how they do at the ACE Eddie awards (where their odds seem very strong), and then the Oscars.