Five Minutes with: Mark Sanger, Oscar-winning editor of Gravity

Film expert on editing techniques and how technology is changing film production

Digital Studio, Arabian Business' sister publication, caught up with Mark Sanger, Oscar-winning editor of Gravity, to hear his views on editing techniques and how technology is changing film production.

What were some of the challenges you faced working on Gravity?

The biggest challenge was working out how we were going to achieve Alfonso Cuarón’s vision and then once we’d worked out technically how we were going to do it, it was about ensuring that we did justice to the performances of the actors because the actors came in and were the life and soul of the story.

We needed to make sure we never lost focus of that, with all of these tremendous visuals that were going on around it. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s performances are what drive that story along and when we are immersed in all this technology and we have got all this hardware around us, it is always important to ensure that the performance and the story-telling comes out.

What were the highlights of working on Gravity?

The collaborative experience; there was a bunch of crew members who came together in a way that is unlike any film that has been made before, in that it’s often a lot more compartmentalised than we would all like. Under the stewardship of Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity was a production where we all communicated on a completely new level.

The highlight for me after all of that time looking at the film from a technical aspect, was seeing the actors come in and deliver these performances which really gave life to this film. When you saw those performances at that stage – that is when it really got exciting.

Were you surprised by the reaction?

Completely! We were so focused we couldn’t see the wood for the trees, we had no idea whether an audience would engage with the film. We thought it was good but certainly we were very happy when the audiences took to it in the way they did.

There are some films I’ve worked on where you have been so close to it that you thought, ‘Well this is definitely going to engage people’ and it just doesn’t, but with Gravity it was something very special and really quite unique.

How has your job changed in the past few years with new technologies coming on to the market?

It depends how far you want to go back. I started on film at the point where Avid and Media Composure were just taking over from the celluloid editors and in that time period there has just been a complete wave of change.

I think what has happened in the past five or six years is that people have got over that sort of initial ‘digital high’ that they had when originally using the digital technology and now are treating editing with a little bit more respect.

Certainly now there are movies being edited with a little bit more discipline, treated almost as if they were edited on film in some instances. It’s great to embrace technology but it’s also ultimately important to respect it and not let it dictate your creative decisions.

What are the major challenges of editing films in your opinion?

The big challenge is telling the story. Your job as an editor is to tell the story in the way the director originally envisaged and there are often an infinite different ways you could tell that story given those raw materials. So what the challenge really comes down to is using those raw materials to best tell the story in the way the director envisaged.

The story or the ultimate vision of the film can change as you’re going along, so it’s not necessary to become too restricted by your own initial thoughts, but also to allow the story to grow as well and nurture it as it’s growing.

It must be tough sometimes deciding whether to keep certain scenes?

There are a number of different decisions you can come up with. Just when you think the movie is as good as it can be and you spend months shaping and designing that with the director, that is often the point when you have to stand back and say, ‘OK let’s just look at this from an objective perspective’, and sometimes to be brutal in those last stages is a healthy thing. Equally, brutality in those last stages can be a damaging thing. It is a very thin line we walk in those late stages of post production.

Which directors have inspired you as an editor?

My favourite films are the films of Billy Wilder and Sergio Leone. I love the films of that era, American cinema from the 1970s. Certainly in terms of editing I love films like the French Connection, the Exorcist. Those movies are some of what inspired me to become an editor in the first place. Sergio Leone had an editorial style that influenced millions. I’d say that was probably the foundation.

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Posted by: Tom Reimel

Gravity was a delight from start to finish. The visuals alone were arresting and provocative; the story of survival was compelling. it is fascinating to hear Sanger explain the making of this remarkable film.

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