Andrew Weisblum was the perfect choice when director Darren Aronofsky needed a “hungry editor” for his reality-based film The Wrestler. After 13 years of assisting, primarily in New York, Weisblum had only edited a handful of features (including The Darjeeling Unlimited and Broken English). The pair had met when Weisblum was visual effects editor on Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain.
The biggest challenge in editing The Wrestler was posed by Aronofsky’s intended vérité approach to the film, which relied on improvisation to bring out performances from the many non-professional actors that had been cast. “The story was very simple and straightforward,” says Weisblum. “Darren set up situations where he would put the actors in real-world situations and try to get the intention of the scene or story to happen over the course of the day that they were shooting. Of course, we would do what was scripted, but there were all these experiments going on, so we had a lot of improvisation and experimentation to mix together. We had to pick through the best of it so that the improvisation made sense for the characters and performances while still telling the story.”
Weisblum’s second challenge was to blend together the mix of styles and tones—from straight dramatic scenes to reality-based situations, such as shooting in a real deli where customers would actually come up and order—into a consistent movie experience. Many scenes were shot very efficiently, in a straightforward manner, but others would just roll until Aronofsky found “something that was successful and magical for him,” according to Weisblum. “As an example, the scene where Randy goes to the 99-cent store to buy props for the wrestling match; in the script it was written as about a quarter page but I had two hours of footage! We had to turn that into a scene. You come up with something more interesting that way, but you still don’t want to belabor it.”
Weisblum found that the use of improvisation was an intelligent way of working with the actors to bring out the performances and “get them to a place were they were really feeling what they were doing and experiencing what was happening.”
Weisblum is especially pleased with his editing of the first day’s material, where Randy (played by Mickey Rourke) goes to buy steroids in preparation for the big comeback rematch with his archrival. These first dailies contained a lot of improvisation with non-actors who were, as Weisblum puts it, “really a little lost. I knew right away there was going to be a lot of work involved putting that scene together and having it come alive,” he says. “Darren was concerned about capturing the reality, so the performances were there to find. There was noting fake going on. I was really proud at how that sequence turned out. It gave me confidence for the rest of the movie.”
Throughout the shoot, Weisblum and Aronofsky worked together very closely. Weisblum would come over to the director’s house nightly after the shoot to view dailies in HD. They took notes on the improv, but Aronofsky was open to the editor taking a stab at anything he found interesting in the dailies. Because of the compressed schedule, they also viewed cut material as it was completed. The quick turnaround of scenes allowed the director to make sure he had the performances he needed from the improvisational scenes and gave him the ability to re-shoot any additional material before the scenes were wrapped. Weisblum admits, “It was risky and exciting, but Darren had a very clear vision about doing it this way.”