- Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016
Making a major splash with its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and recently topping the Gotham Awards with four nominations--for Best Feature, Best Screenplay (writer-director Kenneth Lonergan), Best Actor (Casey Affleck), and Best Breakthrough Actor (Lucas Hedges)--Manchester by the Sea (Roadside Attractions, Amazon Studios) marks the first collaboration between Lonergan and editor Jen Lame who is most widely known for her work on director Noah Baumbach’s films, including Frances Ha which in 2014 landed an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Editing.
For Baumbach, Lame has also cut While We’re Young and Mistress America. And next up for her is Baumbach’s Yeh Din Ka Kissa. But in the interim, Lame has made a substantive connection with Lonergan, a relationship which at the outset seemed like a longshot--even to her, though she aspired to work with the writer-director whom she’s long admired.
“For lack of a better word, I had been ‘stalking’ Kenny and Manchester by the Sea,” related Lame. “I had gotten two or three drafts of the script through my agent but it seemed like I wasn’t even going to get an interview. Still, Kenny hadn’t chosen anyone [to edit]. I was in L.A. working on a movie and then I heard that I had landed an interview but it had to be over the phone since I couldn’t get back to New York at that time. I thought I would never get the job over the phone but I had no choice. Kenny thought FaceTime over the phone was awkward, which I agreed with. So we got on the phone but Kenny seemed distracted. He was not that far out from the shoot and had a lot on his mind. The interview wasn’t going so well so I took a chance, I had read the scripts and told Kenny what I thought specifically--that I noticed that there were three scenes that had been cut out which I loved, and I thought it was a mistake to take them out. I hoped he would agree and he did--and then our conversation got going. He told me that the scenes were deleted due to production costs. But Casey [Affleck] and he agreed they needed to be put back in. I was no longer the underdog among the editors in the running. If he didn’t agree with me on those three scenes, it would have turned out differently. But if we hadn’t agreed, the fact is he should have gone with someone else.”
Manchester by the Sea introduces us to Lee Chandler (Affleck), a janitor in Boston, who returns to his home, Manchester, Mass., upon the death of his older brother Joe. Affleck’s character will have to stay there longer than he had planned upon learning that he was now the sole guardian of Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Hedges). There Lee Chandler is forced to confront a past tragedy which still remains very much of his present-day psyche. It’s a past that separated him not only from his wife, Randi (Michelle Wiliams), but also the community where he was born and raised. Lonergan has created in his narrative a moving mix of anger, isolation, humor and the struggle to somehow try to cope with profound grief.
The film’s flashback scenes posed a major challenge to Lame. “As an editor I was nervous about making sure the flashbacks were as good as they were in the script,” she said. “They were so effective in Kenny’s script. When I read it, I was overwhelmed emotionally. I had never cried from reading a script before. I wanted to make sure that came through in the film. I was a proponent of not having some sort of weird device for the flashbacks. We approached the flashbacks as not being flashbacks. They are a concurrent story of what happened to Casey’s character before the movie began. They are still real and very present for him today. They are not flashes of memory. He continues to live this tragic event. It’s all consuming for him. It’s his present-day reality. Kenny thought this was the appproach to take as well. And for the audience, it’s a mystery unfolding.”
Also unfolding and developing for Lame during the editing was her creative approach so she cold best work with Lonergan’s material. She noted that Baumbach’s films are much shorter than Lonergan’s, which necessitated an adjustment and a realization on her part.
“As an editor you’re trying to make the best movie you can. You want to make sure everything included is important, that there’s nothing extraneous,” said Lame. “But each movie has a rhythm and life of its own. Always trying to shorten a movie, to get it less than two hours, is not necessarily the right approach. It certainly wasn’t for this film [Manchester by the Sea]. This movie needed to breathe, to be a bit longer. We would tighten it up and it didn’t work as well. The actors were so incredible. We needed their performances to play out. When you over tweak and over tighten, you lose the special rhythm of Kenny’s work. His writing is so beautiful. Kenny’s writing can hold those quiet moments and you need to be respectful of that.”
Production designer Chad Keith deeply values his working relationship with director/writer Jeff Nichols, which thus far spans their first collaboration, Take Shelter, followed by Midnight Special and now Loving (Focus Features). The appreciation is a two-way street as Nichols told SHOOT, “Adam [cinematographer Stone], Chad and I were in a car for months, finding locations, talking about the film [Loving], the narrative structure. We were concerned, obviously, about the look but most importantly how that look could best help tell the story. I can’t say enough about the positive creative impact Adam and Chad had on the film.”
Loving tells the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving (portrayed, respectively, by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton) whose interracial marriage got them jailed and exiled from Virginia in 1958. The Lovings persevered and their resolve led to a landmark Supreme Court decision which upheld the right of mixed race couples like the Lovings to marry. Yet Nichols’ movie offered no courtroom drama, instead centering on Richard and Mildred’s love story and how the husband and wife retained their bond and dignity in the face of a gross injustice.
For Keith, the biggest creative challenge was to do justice to the Lovings. “We had all this research and footage [from a documentary] about the real couple,” related Keith. “It was interesting to work on a film about actual living beings. I’d step back from a location and think, ‘Wow, they used to live around here.’ We drove by their home and soaked all that in. This made me want to do as much as possible to realistically tell their story. We could not ‘settle’ for just any location or look. A lot of times we tried to match up the locations to where they lived and how they lived. There are different sorts of income levels represented throughout their whole family that we wanted to show in the film. We bounced around all over Virginia and in D.C. We had met with their daughter who is incredible. She had come on set a few times and was blown away by what we were doing. She said, ‘You guys nailed it. It’s so like my parents’ house.’”
Bringing a meaningful story to life has been the quest for Nichols and Keith from the inception of their relationship. Keith recalled that it was Nichols who first reached out to him for Take Shelter. “I read that script and I loved it,” related Keith. “I had seen Shotgun Stories [Nichols’ first feature] for which Jeff didn’t have an art department. When I realized this was the dude tho did that, I of course wanted to work with him immediately.”
Keith described his collaboration with Nichols as simply being “like meeting with a friend. You trust each other to deliver and to make it happen. When you are continuously working with the same person, you kind of get to know how he or she works and thinks, which is a big help. We can compare how we have done things on prior projects, learn from that and apply it to what we’re currently doing. Loving is our first big period film. I read the script during holiday break on Midnight Special. We got back together after the break and Jeff asked me, ‘Do you thihk we can pull this off?’ I said yes and we embarked on this period film that had significant meaning but first and above all was a love story.”
In addition to his work with Nichols, Keith has a filmography which includes Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed by Sean Durkin) which like Take Shelter was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Keith also served as production designer on such movies as On The Ice (directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean), which premiered at Sundance, and shared production design credit with Kikuo Ohtah on the David Zellner-helmed Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.
This is the first in a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.
"Manchester by the Sea" written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Jody Lee Lipes, cinematographer; Jen Lame, editor; Ruth De Jong, production designer.
"Loving," written and directed by Jeff Nichols.