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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Richard Pearson, Editor, Rent

Award Contender-Richard Pearson, Editor, Rent


When director Chris Columbus was looking to hire an editor for his film adaptation of the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning stage musical Rent, he was happy to discover Richard Pearson’s extensive background editing music videos. Pearson recalls that in the interview the director commented that it was hard to find editors with any actual music experience. Pearson began editing videos and commercials in the late ’80s through Propaganda Films, where he worked with directors like Spike Jonze, Michael Bay, David Fincher and Antoine Fuqua. He moved on to episodic television and miniseries, finally getting his feature film break with Frank Oz on Bowfinger. Since then Pearson has edited such diverse feature films as The Bourne Supremacy and Men in Black II. Rent is set in the East Village of New York during the 1980’s. The gritty rock opera takes place over a year in the life of a group of bohemian friends struggling with life, love and AIDS. Columbus wanted to maintain the urban reality of the play and, despite the tendency of film musicals to feel staged, his goal was to make these sequences flow naturally from the world of the characters: the songs needed to originate from what was happening emotionally within them.Pearson’s guiding principle in the editing of musical sequences is the same as cutting a traditional narrative. “The story, the tone and the intent of the scenes are what drives how I cut,” explains Pearson. “We were all interested in treating the material with respect, but also mining it for what we could.” Because of the nature of shooting a musical, some of the songs would come in piecemeal. Pearson would assemble the material that he had over the music bed, leaving holes for the missing pieces. These cuts would be referred on set as the production continued shooting, so that all the bits could be integrated into the final sequence.Each of the musical numbers was designed to have its own distinct stylistic feel and visual approach, but Columbus didn’t really want a music video style of cutting. Pearson comments that “stylistic influence can get in the way of these stories—particularly with Rent. It’s so strong that it doesn’t need to be dressed up. It needs to be supported, but it doesn’t need to be blatantly overcut. It stands on its own, but certainly I could draw from the experience that I had in that music video world.” By virtue of the way the film was shot, it was important to not cut away from the action too quickly. As opposed to the quick-cutting of a musical like Moulin Rouge or the Broadway framework of a show like Chicago, the Rent is more of a look back to traditional musicals like West Side Story that allow the audience to get an overview of the choreography. Pearson says, “The film wanted to be a meal to sit down and enjoy.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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