“I love dialog,” says Christopher Tellefsen, the film editor for Capote. “My whole modus operandi is to go and discover the internal rhythms of the films I’m working on. That’s what excites me.”The first feature Tellefsen edited was Metropolitan in 1990 for director Whit Stillman, a very talky film, an intellectual comedy that had monologue after monologue,” he recalled, “with affluent young New Yorkers rattling on about upward mobility.”The key to editing Capote, said Tellefsen, was finding that tempo. “The rhythms of this picture are very deliberate, as some kind of inexorable fate builds for Truman Capote when he leaves the salons of Manhattan and travels to Kansas to meet the killers for the book he wants to do, and he gets more involved with them than he bargained for, but finally needing them to be executed so In Cold Blood will have an ending,” he said.“It’s an internal portrait of an external person,” he added. The challenge “was keeping it alive at all times cinematically.”The film was shot in Winnipeg, Canada, and Tellefsen began editing at his home in Sag Harbor at the east end of Long Island.“I’d get calls from the producer saying director Bennett Miller was shooting too much. I said, ‘let him shoot.’ He would never leave a scene until the performance was there for us to find, which made my job much easier.”Tellefsen said his being away from the 33-day shoot worked out well. He was able to start on what he calls his “knee-jerk first cut,” which wasn’t much longer than the final film that comes in at just under two hours. “There wasn’t a lot of fat, but it was just a starting point, as Bennett and I delved deeply into the rhythms.”He’s been the film editor on a number of other intellectually chewy productions, including The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Man on the Moon (1999), about comedian Andy Kaufman. Both were directed by Milos Forman. Also, The Human Stain (2003) directed by Robert Benton. In another vein entirely, Tellefsen edited a film with a supernatural theme, director M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004). “Shyamalan liked to precisely storyboard almost every scene so my job was very different as editor,” he says.Tellefsen, 48, essentially taught himself to edit. He was an art student at Cooper Union in New York City in the late 1970s. “I started to take experimental film courses and I fell in love with editing.”His career path was serendipitous. A first job for Italian broadcaster RAI consisted of doing 16mm documentaries about eccentric aspects of New York City. He started doing short films for a company called Apparatus, one of whose members was Todd Haynes who had just done Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Then Tellefsen got a job working on director Martin Scorsese’s film archive, and was hired as third assistant editor on The Color of Money working with editor Thelma Schoonmaker. His big career break came when he was asked to edit Metropolitan in 1990.
Written by Jack Egan