Editor David Leonard recently cut Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome at Wild(child) Editorial in New York. The film, which premiered at The Venice Film Festival to a standing ovation, weaves together stunning cinematography with documentary-style footage to create a complex and illuminating examination of Oscar Wilde, the man, and Salome, his once-banned play about illicit love and brutal revenge.
Directed by and starring Pacino, Wilde Salome could be described as a film about a movie about a documentary. The innovative exploration of the writer and his play, and an actor and a roll crosses the traditional boundaries of filmmaking, weaving together three distinct threads of content: A cinema verite-style documentary about the making of the film and recreations of pivotal touch-points in Wilde’s life, the film of the play itself, which is shot on 35mm film, and documentary footage shot with a SD video camera that followed Pacino to Ireland, England, and France as he researched the writer’s life and interviewed experts about his subject.
A deep passion for the play and fascination with Wilde led Pacino to begin work on the project over five years ago. A number of early rough-cut versions had taken it in different directions as his vision evolved.
Leonard was first signed on to finish shaping the film into its final form in October 2009. Working with existing material, it fell to Leonard to create a cohesive and compelling movie that achieved balance between the distinct threads.
“Al is very much about experimentation and the process of discovery,” said Leonard, who cut the movie on Wild(child)’s Avid system. “He had lived with the film for a long time, and it had gone through numerous incarnations before we began talking about what he wanted the editing to achieve. There were some elements from the last cuts that he wanted to continue shaping, and some fresh ideas and new things he wanted to try. He would tell me what he wanted to see and feel, discuss a scene, give me notes and then come back, respond to a scene and we’d continue the process of shaping and refining.”
Pacino described his film as, “… not a documentary. It’s not a film. It’s a much more ambitious and complicated gesture of cinema. I wanted to make a kind of collage.”
Leonard, who learned his craft assisting in the cutting rooms of directors Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Paul Schrader and Tim Burton, on films like Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ, said, “As an editor, the challenge was not only to capture the visceral feel Pacino wanted to achieve, but to reach a balance and fluidity between the documentary-style footage and the dramatic film. It was a unique challenge and opportunity to come into the editing process at a late date and add a fresh perspective to the film.”
Pacino noted, “David’s commitment and individuality are a real gift. I always trusted his taste and judgment and felt I could rely on him to deliver what was needed. He always got it done and then some.”
Pacino sought out a mix of outlets for his longtime passion for the famed writer. At the same time that he was directing the film and playing the role of King Herod opposite Jessica Chastain as Salome, he was performing the same part on stage in the 2006 production of Salome, also opposite Chastain.
Leonard first introduced Pacino to Wild(child) Editorial when the actor/director had asked him he if knew of a space in New York that would work for an interview with Katie Couric for the TV show, 60 MINUTES.
“He was blown away when he stepped out of the elevator into the huge, sun-filled lounge,” recalled Leonard. “The space is loft height and the stark, all-white modern minimalism and open architecture does give it an unexpected ‘wow’ factor. When he commented on how much he loved it, I asked him if he wanted to edit the film there. He was still surprised that he was in an editorial house when he said yes.”
“But ambiance isn’t the only thing Wild(child) has going for it,” Leonard added. “It also has premiere edit suites, talented people and a strong infrastructure, which is what makes it my favorite place to edit in New York.”
“I found Wild(child) Editorial to be wildly accommodating,” said Pacino. “Without a doubt it was the most pleasant atmosphere I’ve ever done postproduction work in.”
During editing, Pacino made himself comfortable at the Flatiron-based boutique. “He would arrive at about 4:00, after he finished rehearsal; work with me and then hang out – relaxing in the lounge, playing ping pong, making calls – until around 7:00 when he left for other appointments,” recalled Leonard.
Editor Yvette Pineyro, owner of Wild(child), says, “Wilde Salome is the kind of tour de force that takes filmmaking to the next level and it gave us a privileged peak into the creative process of an iconic talent. It was also great to see Pacino settle in and make himself at home at Wild(child).”
“Wild(child) is very proud of its association with David Leonard and the prestigious roster of films he has brought here,” Pinyero added. “We always strive to stay diverse and David brings a fresh cinematic perspective that we strive to incorporate into our spot work.”
Among the films Leonard has cut at Wild(child) are director Raymond de Felitta’s City Island starring Andy Garcia; The Guitar, directed by Amy Redford with Saffron Burrows, and War Boys, directed by Ron Daniels with Peter Gallagher. The Leonard edited film, Two Family House, also directed by Felitta, took home Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award for a dramatic film.
Currently David Leonard is in California working with Pacino on yet another related project, a film of a theatrical production of Salome.