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Contender – Editor Melanie Oliver, The Danish Girl

December 22, 2015 | By

Melanie Oliver

Melanie Oliver

Although the film The Danish Girl seems to have tapped in to the current LGBT cultural zeitgeist and is very “of its moment,” the movie was actually in development for over 10 years. Director Tom Hooper and editor Melanie Oliver have been collaborating just as long. In fact, Oliver has edited everything for Hooper with the exception of the Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech (2010). When the two collaborators were working on John Adams for HBO, Oliver received The Danish Girl script from Hooper, about one of the first publicized transgender cases, she felt incredibly emotional while reading it. She felt especially for the Gerda (Alicia Vikander) character, Einar Wegener‘s wife before he transitioned to Lili.

“Tom wanted to reach as many people as possible and be mindful of exploring a Patti Smith/Robert Mapplethorpe relationship.” Oliver wanted to be clear that it’s “a film about individuals, not just gender identity. It’s about having the courage to be yourself. Gerda’s compassion went out to Lili and she painted portraits of her up until she died.”

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl

Growing up in New Zealand, Oliver worked in a postproduction company and landed a job picking up rushes. Only 17 at the time, it was there she met a major mentor and friend, director Jane Campion. Campion took the time to talk to the teenager about the rushes and all manner of film. They had incredible conversations, and to this day, Oliver considers herself lucky to have been able to spend so much time with the esteemed director. After all this time, Oliver was delighted to find that Campion called her to congratulate her on a job well done, after the release of the breathtaking film, Jane Eyre in 2011.

Although The Danish Girl is based on the 2000 book by David Ebershoff, Oliver revealed that Hooper also liked to refer to Lili’s diaries. Lili Elbe (played by Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne), formerly Einar Wegener, pioneered the transgender community. Her life was complex and tragic and she had planned on killing herself as a means to end the internal turmoil of feeling as though she was two people within the same body. With the encouragement of a progressive doctor and Gerda, Lili’s plans were thwarted and she was able to live in an unconventional marriage for a time. In Lili’s diaries, she thanks Gerda for being stronger than she could ever be.

Oliver confessed that this film, out of all her work with Hooper was especially challenging to work on, because there was no storyboarding. “Tom shoots very intensely, like a documentary. He doesn’t shoot in a systematic way. As an editor, that’s a lot of material to get through.” Throughout it all, she was “trying to get to the honesty. It’s empowering, but not a celebration. The assemblies are long and I was sculpting it down.”

Although Oliver noted that she didn’t know much about the subject matter at first, she didn’t want the film to be an alienating world. To her, the story is about individual courage, and the wherewithal to stand for who you truly are in life.

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