I sat down to talk with editors Jay Cassidy and Alan Baumgarten who had just put the finishing touches to Joy a few hours before it was screened on the Fox lot. Find out about their ongoing relationship with David O’ Russell and how they work together.
AD: Talk to me about working with David [O. Russell] before, how he brought you back for this one, and working together again?
Jay Cassidy: You’ll notice there are four editors credited on the movie and that was primarily a case of bad scheduling for Alan, who was still working on Trumbo, and myself for a Sean Penn picture, so we began very separate. Alan arrived at the end of shooting, Tom Cross and Chris Tellefsen were engaged, but both of them had other movies to go to. It was always to be Alan and myself to finish it, but we had kind of a clumsy beginning. It actually worked very well for us just having the four of us together for the period of June and July when we were all working together. Then, we ended up finishing it. It meant that the film got the attention it deserved, editorially.
Alan Baumgarten : We thought this through and planned it in advance, which was really key. When I got the call, and I’m sure Jay as well, back in October well in advance, from David saying that he was ready to go, we were thrilled. I was very excited and then he sent the script and it was “Oh dear, another film where my dates don’t line up quite right. How can we make this work?” David said that we’ll figure it out and let’s all talk and make a plan. The idea of being asked back to work with David a second time was fantastic, having been very fortunate to work, the first time, on American Hustle with David and Jay. It was wonderful to have a repeat experience and finishing the film with Jay, as we did just a week or two ago, has been great.
AD: When was it finished? Because, when I spoke to you Alan in November, you were still working on it.
AB: I was and we were working even up to this morning. There’s a little adjustment in the credits and one shot had to be polished with the color and it’s done and approved. Literally, over these last several days, we’ve been doing some of the technical approvals that are required to make sure the finished product is just where it’s supposed to be.
JC: And the last visual effects…
AB: And a sound change and a music change. It really never ends. It ends when they pull the film away from us. We all feel the same and there’s a sense that it’s not done until you can’t work on it anymore.
AD: So is it locked now?
AB: [Laughs] The film you saw, is the film.
AD: What did David say to you about his vision?
JC: He’s a consummate story teller. He doesn’t say “I have a vision,” he tells you the story. He tells you the story many times over the course of months and that’s his way of getting to the essence of the story and getting to the things that are important. We’re not the only beneficiaries of his retelling; he does it with the actors, he does it with the studio execs to make the movie, and he’s really good at it, but it’s just part of his process. As a writer, he writes it, and then when he’s shooting it, he’s constantly having to tell the actors the story and making adjustments as he goes and when he gets into the editing it’s the same process. You distill the essence of what’s good by taking things out and finding the true heart of the movie.
AB: His vision unfolds early for us and gradually as he tells us the story. It becomes clear what he’s looking for in terms of describing a woman’s journey across four generations was the simple first step. Then he would fill it in with all the details and richness that would be entailed in this woman’s story, her journey. You would hear about this through phone calls and visits in person as he was writing and finding the story. His vision would be told to us, as Jay said, all throughout.
JC: It’s so loosely based on the real lady. I remember when he made up the character of her sister and having a little rivalry between them. He’s so interested in family dynamics that he was like “Okay, I’m going to put that in because we need that rub in the family; the father who has daughters by two failed marriages.” It’s too rich not to explore and that’s really what he’s interested in, is the way the family dynamics play themselves out, in this case, for the empowerment of this woman.
AD: The use of the soap opera to show time passing was a stroke of genius.
JC: That was certainly an idea that came from the editing. We had this beautiful soap opera and it was such a gorgeous shot. We were thinking that it would just appear on the TVs, but you looked at it and it sort of set a world for the movie that elevated. We sort of made that discovery in July and then it went away for a while, as an opening, and then it came back and I’m very glad it came back.
AD: I liked at the beginning and then at the end when the mother’s in the kitchen.
JC: With Toussaint the Plumber? That is a great story as well. Just like with the sister, I think there was a phone call in November, maybe later? David was already in prep on the movie, he was back in Boston. There was a first draft of the script, which we’d all read and it was still being enhanced and he was working on it quite a bit. And he, all of the sudden, in one phone call said, “I think Jennifer (Joy) is going to be involved with her mother fixing plumbing. There’s going to be problems in the house with the pipes and the hair is going to clog the drains and she’s going to have to deal with that. Then, there’s going to be a plumber and he’s going to be Haitian.” We were just like, “Wow, where does he come up with that? It sounds great,” and now look how it ends up in the film. He said it would give Terry another dimension, more involvement. She’s involved in watching the soaps and this gives her a bigger dimension. It’s great to see how that came about just through his imagination.
AB: It also came after the table read. They realized the Terry character needed some life of her own that happened in this period. However you could have imagined a lot of things, it’s hard to imagine, I mean, David’s mind coming up with Toussaint the plumber [laughs]. Please. That complication in the family, allowed you to see more humanity in Terry. She’s not a one note, sitting in the bed watching soap operas, kind of withdrawn from life. That’s the richness in David’s work and it comes from his appreciation of people and families and observing functional and dysfunctional families.
JC: That’s what it’s all about: the relationships. Joy and Edgar, her ex-husband who lives in the basement, are the best divorced couple in America. It’s also the way David focuses his films on those relationships. It’s all about the characters and the families and people rather than the plot. It’s not about the mop, just like American Hustle wasn’t about the scam or The Fighter about boxing, or Silver Linings about mental illness, per se. The film is so much more about the relationships between the people and beneath the surface.
AB: It’s kind of accommodations that get made in families. People are like, “Okay, well I’ll put up with my ex-husband being in the basement and I’ll put up with my father being in the basement because he’s just been thrown out by his girlfriend.” People feel when they watch it because they’ve made their own accommodations to their family in their lives. They feel there’s a real reality in the portrayal.
AD: Talk to me about the software that you use. I want to hear more about the technical aspect.
AB: Jay’s an expert in that. So I’ll let him handle that.
JC: It’s the same that everybody uses, the Avid Media Composer. It’s set up in a way that we can share the media and share the project. For most movies, there’s some other things around, but most movies that’s what people do. You like to be able to have a shared project and share the media. The Media Composer’s really the only choice for that; it’s kind of the only industrial strength package out there. That’s what we used.
AB: We used the latest and the greatest, thanks to Jay reading up on the software and the newest versions and everything.
JC: The psychology of when they upgrade the software, some people say, “Oh, you’re on the bleeding edge,” but usually the things they put in the software as fixes and new features are worth the pain, if there’s any pain. And we didn’t have much pain, we were using the most recent released software and we didn’t have many problems. That company, Avid, is listening to editors and doing things for new work flows, with all of this material is now file based. You have a file and that’s what your picture is. The software is accommodating these workflows that you couldn’t have even imagined five years ago. Actually, for me, I kind of don’t like to do it the same way twice. It’s like, “Where’s some interest here other than the movie?” At least it’s sort of an interesting tick like, “Oh okay, well we have to do that now and it’s actually more efficient and we’re happier and it manages the color better.” All of the refinements are usually helpful and I would rather do them, even if they’re not perfect, than not do them.
AD: So what are you doing next?
JC: I’m doing a film at Sony called Passengers, which is also another Jennifer Lawrence movie. I’m proud and happy to say I’ve had the privilege of working on three of her outstanding works.
AB: I’m not sure what’s next for myself, I’m just very pleased to finished with this and see it get out to the world; I’m looking forward to that.
AD: I love the music as well. David and his soundtracks are just great.
JC: He chooses things you’d never think of. I’ve learned just to sit back and see what he comes up with musically.
AB: He often chooses songs that are in the script. They may change, but he has places for them right from the beginning. He’s thinking musically as he’s writing and it’s always part of our editing.
JC: If we’re trying different music a million different ways and different approaches, that’s part of the fun. You don’t know what’s going to stick so there’s such a wonderful mixture of music in the film. Whether its the flamenco stuff, you know that was a whole idea he had? You just think, “Flamenco in Joy? Come on.” So we try it and it’s really interesting and great. He’s a rich source.