Cutting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
COW Library : Cinematography : Debra Kaufman : Cutting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a notoriously complicated story and, in its just-released 2011 version, Dino Jonsäter had the crucial job of editor. This is his first Hollywood film, but Jonsäter made a name for himself for his skillful job on Let the Right One In, the 2008 Swedish film of a bullied boy who is befriended by a girl who happens to be a vampire. It's no coincidence that both movies were directed by Tomas Alfredson, a Swedish director who met Jonsäter through mutual friends in Stockholm. Prior to Let the Right One In, Jonsäter edited dramatic TV series.
Working with Tomas was the luckiest thing that happened to me professionally. Because he's a former editor, he knows editing which makes it very easy and special to work with him because I can speak to him as an editor in the process. I learned a lot from that. I see how a lot of what I learned from that first movie was from him as a director but also from him as an editor. We found a mutual way for looking at stories and characters: getting exhilarated and holding back, trusting the images and being able to stay with the images and the feeling. We developed a common language during that process.
Editor Dino Jonsäter and Director Tomas Alfredson (on right)
Even before we started working on Let the Right One In, I think we sort of found a way of working before we started working. You have to get to the place where you feel a mutual respect and understand what the director wants to make. We found some sort of confidence that I was able and willing to get into his vision, and respect it.
I was on quite a few TV series before then so I was quite used to working on drama and development. Editing is an abstract thing in the sense that it is very much about -- when you get to work well with someone, it's about trust and the feeling. In addition to trusting the material and trusting the images, what I learned from Tomas was giving the material a chance, not tossing things away too easily. Usually there's a scene in the beginning that could be slow or awkward or challenging to the viewer and those scenes are usually the first ones that end up on the floor. I also learned that editing is a process -- and it takes time. And sometimes it takes time in a way that you can't do much about. You have to sit there fiddling until things emerge. If you're too impatient, at some times you can jump to conclusions and go too fast through the process. Sometimes you have to leave it alone and come back to it.
(L to R) David Dencik as "Toby Esterhase," Colin Firth as "Bill Haydon," Toby Jones as "Percy Alleline," John Hurt as "Control," Gary Oldman as "George Smiley," and Ciarán Hinds as "Roy Bland".
With Tomas I can speak directly about cutting. I don't have to detour around something else, but I can talk about cutting in a very direct way. At times he takes a scene out of my material, fiddles around with it and gives it back to me. That way, he has a chance with his own hands to show me what he means. That's very fruitful and has enabled us to try a lot of things that you might not if there was a director that didn't have the experience.
(L to R) Actor John Hurt, Director of Photography Hoyte van Hoytema, Director Tomas Alfredson, and Actor Gary Oldman on the set.
I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the other John le Carré books when I was much younger. I absolutely loved them. I had my own relationship to it. I couldn't dream up a more interesting book to work with. When I found out that Gary Oldman was doing the lead, I was amazed. Gary Oldman is one of my all time favorite actors. So there was no doubt that I wanted to do it but I also understood how challenging it was going to be. It was immensely complicated as an 8-hour series, so I knew that it was going to be difficult to squeeze that out into 2 hours. What Peter [Straughan] and Bridget [O'Connor] did with the script was fantastic.
I have a quite strong relationship with the U.K. -- I'm something of an Anglophile -- so I was like a kid in a candy store to get all those small elements in the film. Tomas and I are both very interested in details. The details reveals what a scene is. There is a lot of detail in editing. You can stitch a film in many different ways. You usually take an enormous amount of material and take it down to something that's a big chunk of storytelling. Then you start working with the delicate cutting of small scenes and also the bigger story structure. You have to do that in parallel. You have to work out the details at the same time that you're working out the big chunks of moving around scenes and the plotline.
Svetlana Khodchenkova stars as "Irina".
When you're taking on a film, the director has a vision of how it'll be cut, and I have a vision. But it's important that every film has a way it wants to be cut, and not necessarily the way the director, producer or I intended. It has its own will. Finding that is, I think, the challenge. To find that out, you have to go into the details and see how every scene and each character works. That's why you have to go into detail cutting very early. It's also respect for the viewer. If we make a deal with the audience to sit down and watch our film, if we don't take care with every detail -- with respect -- I believe it's not a nice thing to do to the audience. Working on every detail is what makes the movie solid and trustworthy and creates a bond with the audience.
I always cut on the Avid. I did give Final Cut Pro a try. Call me old-fashioned but I had quite a few problems with that. During the editing of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we switched from version 5.1 to 5.5 and from a Unity-based system to a standalone system. During the shoot in the U.K., we started cutting there with a Unity system and then went back to Stockholm to cut for another few months with my own standalone system. We brought all the materials back to the Stockholm. The switch was seamless; I didn't even think about it. My assistant editor Mark Trend, made that switch function totally smoothly.
Gary Oldman stars as "George Smiley".
The big difference in version 5.5 for me was -- besides the timeline -- the smart tools. Starting off, I thought they were awkward but I didn't understand them at first. Then I used them the right way. What is good with Avid is that you can customize things and get them to work for you. Another editor can probably benefit from the smart tools other ways than I do. What I appreciate is that I can customize the new tools to work in my "old fashioned" way. Now, compared to 10 years ago, I would say I use Avid very much the same way. But the improvement for me is that I can use it in more ways and with much higher speed. I have new workarounds. I like the ways that Avid has its own system, its own territory so to speak. You don't have to mess with some outside system, which makes my concentration so much better. With FCP, I was forced to go out of the editing tool all the time. I'm thinking about upgrading to version 6.0 but, with Avid, it works so beautifully I wouldn't change anything else.
It's also good to have the tools simply work, because the stakes for editing are definitely higher in such a complicated story as Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. There's a complexity in the fundamentals of the film, but you have to let go of the idea of explaining it all to the audience. You have to make it so complex that the audience understands that they can't understand all of it. We had to get the emotional story -- George Smiley's story -- in the foreground and get the enormously complex plot in the background, unfolding. That's very tough to do because, as an editor, you're very keen to explain things. Staying away from that is a challenge but we also couldn't make it too complicated or you put people off. We were balancing on a knife's edge. We had to make it trustworthy and credible but also so complex that you couldn't penetrate it...but not so incomprehensible that it put people off. That was one of he biggest challenges in the film.
Gary Oldman as George Smiley
The opening scene contains a lot of what the film is about: paranoia and complex situations that are understandable. There is another scene I'm very happy with, towards the end where Smiley waits for the mole to appear in the next room. Hardly anything else is going on but building tension in that room. Typically, the editor creates tension by bouncing back and forth between things that are happening but we did it differently here, staying with the one thing that's happening. Since the movie works with so many layers, among four different times in parallel, a lot of scenes are re-telling things to someone else or remembering, and you have to adjust cutting to that. Jumping in and out of those different time capsules was an enormous challenge. It's very straight cutting -- no dissolves or special effects -- but I had to alter the pace to whatever time the scene was in.
I believe very strongly that you have to work with sound as much as you can in the offline. You need the hardware and skills to work with more advanced sound tools. Thirty years ago, editors were much more involved in the sound editing as well. To me, it's important to work with the sound people early on, since it's such an important ingredient to add atmosphere and tension. It helps to find the right atmosphere.
Gary Oldman (L) as "George Smiley" and Benedict Cumberbatch (R) as "Peter Guillam".
I worked quite closely with supervising sound editors Stephen Griffiths and Andy Shelley and their team from the beginning and started doing pre-mixes quite early. I think that worked out quite well. As you bring more and more people in to watch the film, however, you have to be careful what you show them. As an editor and director, you're used to working with rough material, but when you show it to people, the sound is the first thing that kicks them out of the story. Especially for screenings, sound is very important to get right.
Director Tomas Alfredson (R) on the set of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
In that very last scene of the film, the edit works through the main characters, as more of a montage and very different from the rest of the film. We were strict and didn't give too much away during the film, really pushing the audience. We didn't give any easy way out during the film. So, at the end, we could give something away, and that was really rewarding.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy trailer
Images from TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY a Focus Features release. Credits Jack English