The biggest challenge that editor Jay Cassidy faced cutting Into the Wild for director Sean Penn was in the nonlinear structure of the film. For the script readers, Penn had written the original screenplay in a linear fashion starting as Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) begins traveling across the United States, ultimately arriving in Alaska. But that was not Penn’s intended order for the finished film.
“Sean knew Alaska would be intercut. Making that work would be figured out in the editing,” Cassidy said. “We cut the film together in linear continuity, made the individual scenes work and then went back to intercut.”
It was all part of the editing process in Cassidy’s continuing collaboration with the director. The two originally worked together when Penn was trying to get The Indian Runner, his first feature directing project, into production. Mutual friends introduced them. The actor-turned-director was working on a “proof of concept piece with the actors,” he said. “It was a compendium scene to show the cast and Penn’s directing abilities to the money people. I edited that scene to help jump-start the production.”
The project went ahead and Cassidy joined the company to edit the full film. He has edited all of Penn’s features since. To schedule around actor availability and take advantage of the different seasons throughout the year, Into the Wild was shot over eight months, with a number of starts and stops and several company moves around the country. During production, Cassidy sometimes traveled with the company, but at other times stayed in Los Angeles to edit. During the production breaks, Penn would come into the edit suite to catch up on the dailies and finesse the cut.
According to Cassidy, the greatest responsibility in editing the film was to “portray Chris with integrity” and stay true to the real-life story. Not only did Penn want the blessing of the McCandless family and novelist John Krakauer, who wrote the book, he wanted to get a sense of who Chris McCandless really was. To achieve this, McCandless’ own writings were added to the screen as written quotes.
– By Mary Ann Skweres
Oscar, Best Achievement in Editing, Into the Wild
ACE Eddie, Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic, Into the Wild
ACE Eddie, Best Edited Documentary Film, An Inconvenient Truth
Written by Mary Ann Skweres