Trumbo tells the story of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was the most renowned face of the Hollywood ten, individuals blacklisted for their political beliefs in the decade of the McCarthy hearings. Trumbo wrote the screnplays for Roman Holiday and Spartacus during this witchhunt. Bryan Cranston stars as Trumbo and Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper in the Jay Roach film. I sat down with editor Alan Baumgarten to talk about his ongoing relationship with Roach and to find out whether Diane Lane really did juggle those glasses.
Awards Daily: I was sitting down with some Oscar pundits the other day, and we were sharing our love for the film.
Alan Baumgarten: Audiences are really responding to it. They’re loving the story-telling, the subject matter, the way it was presented, and were taken with it, and came away from it, having learnt something. It was very satisfying to feel the audience reaction.
AD: Tell me about editing Trumbo.
AB: It was a fantastic experience. I loved that I was able to work with director Jay Roach again because we’ve worked together many times before. He included me from pre-production to the finish. I was on location in New Orleans which was very productive for all of us. It meant I could do my first cuts so I could show them to Jay. We just built on our previous relationships and brought it to this film which was a great result. We understood what we wanted to get to pretty quickly even though it takes time. The fun was working on the archive footage which Jay got me, really early. I did some research, combing through some of the best footage of that era and of course, this subject that might be used for research for the actors, or just for use in the film.
We mixed some archive footage, we also recreated some footage, and we also got to use some stock footage from the Academy Awards, and also got to use some movie clips. So, it was all great fun.
Really working with a great script, a talented director, and the cast, they were all fantastic. It was a joy to be editing material where you have an abundance of great choices. The actors are all giving strong and delicate performances. All the scenes were stellar, so it was just a real treat to work with that material.
AD: I loved the use of archive footage. It made for a great touch.
AB: Good. We didn’t rely on it too much or too heavily. It served as a balance. His material was a real treat, and hopefully made you want to see those films again. The historical material was to give a context and place the story in a larger arena so you knew what was going on in the world at the time.
AD: What was different about working with Jay this time around?
AB: Ha! Good question. I think the difference was just the fun we had with it. We were just so committed to how special this project was. We made it a real priority to get it right in every sense. We felt a responsibility to the people involved.
We just wanted to do justice to this really important time in American history. It was really important to convey and re-examine those issues.
Jay loves the editing process, from the visual to sound and music. He’s so clever how he shoots and recreates that authenticity. That scene with the congressional committee was shot on a green screen in the background, we matched it directly, one shot after another with the archival black and white footage, so we had to get that room right. Jay went to great lengths with the visual effects supervisor and myself consulting on how to get the still photos, and how to blend them in on the composite to make that room come to life.
The joy of working with Jay is he has the ability to look at detail in the smallest nuance. He was very involved with the rhythm and story, and structure, and dialing it all in to the best possible results.
AD: One of my favorite scenes is the juggling scene.
AB: [Laughs] Diane learned to juggle. We were nervous when the camera was rolling at how well she could it while delivering lines and dialogue. In the end, it was all Diane’s juggling. 99.9% is Diane juggling for real.
It took some time to put that together because it was a head-scratcher. In the out-takes she did drop the glasses many times. Bryan was the most supportive and encouraging, telling her to keep going. He kept saying, “You’re almost there,” because she had been doing it for over two hours. The juggling was right, then the dialogue wasn’t. Also, the insects were a real problem, flying around and swarming over her. She was so great. She gave a wonderful aspect to the film with her caring and concern and just her strength.
AD: What was your favorite scene to edit?
AB: Oooh. There are two from two different categories. In terms of editing, I loved the hearing. I also loved the family business montage, where they’re delivering scripts, answering phones. That was fun.
The dramatic scene with Trumbo and his daughter, the power of those two actors, and what they were giving with their eyes and their performances, and the feeling of the scene, it always moved me. That was outstanding.
The same was with the scene with Edward J. Robinson where he confronts Trumbo at the house. It was very powerful, and to work with that was amazing. I feel proud to be editing that scene, giving it the weight and impact it needed.
AD: On the other side, what was the toughest?
AB: The first cut, that’s where the pressure is, it’s a daunting task. You can get close to perfection, but it’s not perfect. The juggling was challenging but not difficult. Also, To find the balance between humor and seriousness is credited to the writing. Keeping the humor in perspective without it taking away from the seriousness.
AD: What did Jay shoot in, and how did that make your work easier or harder?
AB: Jay shoots a lot of footage, so it’s a much welcome challenge in that regard. I’d rather have too much footage than not enough.