“To tell the truth, this was the first time editing a whole movie by myself,” admits Anne-Sophie Bion, formerly an assistant to the renowned French editor, Hervé Schneid, (Amélie) who taught her, “if editing works without sound, it can only be better with it.” When editing another film, Bion practiced cutting by shutting off the audio to see if the picture worked silently. When she was actually tapped to edit the modern day silent film, The Artist, working without dialog did not faze her.
The biggest challenge in editing the silent film was structural – where to place the dialog cards common to the format. It also was important not to use too many of them. Bion watched silent movies to get a sense of where the old-time directors placed cards. “Sometimes you start with the actor speaking a few words, then you put in the title card, and then the actor finishes the sentence,” explains Bion, “But then you can also put in another actor who talks. It depends. It’s a feeling.”
In determining the pacing of a scene, the dialog line generally helps an editor. On The Artist, even though the picture was filmed without sound, it did have a dialog line. The actors had lines written for them and they actually talked. “I learned in the editing room to read the lips to get a benchmark. When I watched a scene, I could actually hear the actors speak, so for me it was like editing a normal talking movie,” says Bion. “You also find a rhythm with the facial expressions.”
Bion was also aided in finding the pacing by having the title cards written into the script, which in a few instances were also added for story clarity. She also found some added benefits in the format, “What was really nice about editing a silent movie is that you can cut a whole sentence or word without changing the story. That is easier than in a talking movie. All the important information about the character and the story is in the frame. The story has to be told through the frame.”
The film was edited in the same way as the original silent movies were edited, with the music being composed after the film was finished. Bion edited the first cut totally in silence. Although music helps carry the emotion of the story, Bion comments that, “You can see the movie without sound or music and it works, but I think if you put a totally silent movie in the cinema today, I don’t think anyone could stand to watch it.”
Bion shares one thing that was easier on a silent film as opposed to a picture with audio – her assistant, Camille Delprat, did not have to sync sound!
Bion worked closely with writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, who is also credited as an editor on the film. She received several referrals and got the opportunity on the film because he wanted to work with a young editor “without any rigidity.” Because he was so close to the project, he knew exactly what he wanted and at first didn’t even want to look at her editor’s cut. Once she convinced him to screen the edit, he was happy and they proceeded to fine cut the picture. “It was quite hard to find my place at first,” says Bion, “But Michel shared a lot and gave me the most beautiful present of working on this movie.”