Editor Joan Sobel continues the relationship with writer/director Tom Ford that was established when she edited A Single Man. In Nocturnal Animals she is tasked with weaving together three interconnected storylines. In this “story within a story” coldly, unemotional art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) reads a novel by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). As the violent thriller unfolds, Susan flashes back to their past relationship and her own dark truths.
“Tom wrote a great script. He masterfully wove those three stories into the script,” commented Sobel. “But the script is one thing. The movie becomes something else. It becomes bigger. That was the fun, the creativity, taking these three stories and weaving them together, finding places where you enter or leave – the things that correlate, the transition moments. Whether it’s going to be something visual or a sound. Something emotional that takes you back and forth between these three stories, because all three of them are related.”
It was important to keep the pace going and keep the audience enthralled. Sobel faced the challenge that the movie is all in Susan’s head. Everything in the story is about Susan. Although the character does not talk much, the editor was able to keep her present because actress Amy Adams “has such expression in her face and her eyes.”
An important aspect of the film was translating the feeling of what it is like to read a novel. Much like in a movie, a good novel grabs the reader, transporting her into another world. The movie is about that experience and how a novel changes the reader.
According to Sobel, creativity in editing comes from the storytelling aspect of the art, how the story is told. The foundation for the editing came from the themes of the film – love, revenge and regret. The editor admits that she gets lost in the editing. It is her passion. She is so focused that hours can go by without her getting up, and suddenly it is nighttime.
Sobel’s process includes reading the script more than once. The second pass she reads out loud, which makes her “see things in a different way.” It helps her visualize the story and better understand character motivations. Inherently that reading also gives her a rhythm that carries over when she starts editing. Once dailies come in, she watches “every little piece” looking for moments, gems in the footage, such as a gesture or a look.
“Especially with Amy, if you don’t watch everything, you are going to miss that wonderful gesture that she might have done, the way that her eye suddenly darted to a different position. I mine those moments and build the performance from that,” explained Sobel. “There is so much in this movie. It is really very rich. There are so many layers to it. We were always trying to make sure the audience had a great time, and that it affected them. ”