Filed in: Awards, Contender Portfolios, Editing, Featured, Film
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Contender – Editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Hugo

December 21, 2011 | By

Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker on the set of Hugo, from Paramount Pictures and GK Films. (Photo by: Jaap Buitendjik).

Although working on the film Hugo in 3D was a first for editor Thelma Schoonmaker, A.C.E. and director Martin Scorsese, she didn’t feel it changed her normal editing process much. Many 3D films are edited in 2D, with the extra dimension not being seen until the film is actually screened, but Schoonmaker was able to edit in 3D, so she could see what the final shots would look like and correct any problems. “Particularly when I was working with Marty, we would edit 3D,” shares Schoonmaker. “But the main work of the 3D was being done on the set by Marty who was working very closely with the stereographer, the cameraman and the visual effects people, trying to push 3D in the way he wanted to – not for cheap effects, but to envelope the actors. That was being done by him and I just got it. I only had to be aware when there were moments that were special in 3D, making sure I was seeing that correctly.”

Schoonmaker credits the technical personnel at Lightworks for making sure she could quickly switch her editing system between 2D and 3D. For her assistants, she admits the medium created a very different workflow, with a tremendous learning curve and technical follow-up through to the end of post.

One challenge to the editing was the amount of visual effects. Schoonmaker thinks of VFX supervisor Rob Legato “like a brother” and comments, “He throws himself into the film and does all kinds of magical things, sometimes very quickly on a laptop before a screening.” Legato created 800 visual effects, including the incredible tracking shot along the train platform that opens the movie. “It was a monster shot that was in many, many computers all over the world for a very long time,” she continues. “It’s quite stunning.” Schoonmaker worked with pre-vis to shape the edit, giving her a general idea of how any particular VFX shot would work within the story, but admits, “You never get the full impact until the shot goes in. When we finally saw the film with all the shots fully realized it was a joy. It was like Christmas!”

Sacha Baron Cohen in Hugo.

Shooting the visual effects on greenscreen sets like the train station – with its platform and real train – was difficult, but did not cause as many problems as in other films because the actors on the film were so good, and as Schoonmaker points out, “We were really working with their performances.” Legato gave editorial temps to work with so they would not have to deal with the greenscreens in the edit. Although Schoonmaker feels that they got “fantastic results” using the technique, she remembers, “It was like being in hell. It was awful, being surround by green. We tried to get rid of the greenscreen as soon as we could because that is really hard to put up with.”

One of the trickiest parts in the storytelling that Schoonmaker faced on the film was cutting the peripheral characters that Scorsese wanted to flesh out more than they were in the book. “It was a big challenge to try and get them to work right and not interrupt the narrative too much,” reveals Schoonmaker. “We did interrupt the narrative quite strongly, but I was just hoping the audiences would go with that. I think they do.  It is a little bit unconventional, the structure of the film. That is something we worked on and polished.”

“We share a lot of the same passion for filmmaking. We love it deeply. It’s in our blood,” affirms Schoonmaker about her long-standing partnership with Scorsese. “He taught me everything I know, so his taste is my taste.” She believes their differences also contribute to the success of their working relationship, “I’m a calmer person.  He goes through very strong emotional moods because he’s constantly challenging himself, asking have I done right here? It’s good that I work more diligently and don’t go through the ups and downs that he does. It helps him calm down.”

With this film, as in all their past collaborations, Schoonmaker modestly claims that she was doing what she always does anyway, “getting the best of what Marty has laid down.”

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