Download: 'Banshees' Editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen Reveals How the Film's Animals Became Full-Fledged Characters
Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to Academy Award-winning editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen (Sound of Metal) about how he and director Martin McDonagh left space for all the human and non-human characters on the island.
After winning Best Achievement in Film Editing in 2021 for the heavy-metal drummer drama Sound of Metal, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen was ready to work on something he’d never quite done before. Enter: Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin.
“It was a huge challenge for me because I’ve never tried to balance comedy and drama,” says Nielsen. “I really enjoyed Martin’s script, and I knew that he often gets really interesting performances from his actors. And this is really like character, character, character, and the story. I really connected with it and felt like it would be a great challenge for me to try, from what I had previously done. I was waiting for a script [like this] to try to see what I can do.”
However, the way the opportunity sprung up comes with tragedy. McDonagh’s go-go editor, Jon Gregory, sadly passed away in 2021, right before they were set to work on the film. Nielsen knew what a delicate situation this was, especially when there’s such a close collaboration in the editing bay.
“I knew I had to be at the top of my game—working with the performances, but also just working with that balance of light and dark that Martin has in his scripts. His scripts are also like music, that balance. But music can be played in so many different ways. The way these actors have to trust him so much, because they give him a lot of different ways to play out the scenes so we can really play with that balance. It’s incredible when actors put so much trust in a director.”
Disrupting this balance are characters like Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), who hovers around Inisherin like a haunting entity, especially in a poignant scene involving Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell).
“One could see [Mrs. McCormick] as something from the title and one could see her as a person on the island. From my sense, Martin has one way to see it, and that’s the beauty of his scripts. We try to peel as much as possible so that it becomes extremely simple, and therefore you can add layers and layers into the characters. One of them is this circle of a fable, where you enter an island and you draw from an island. Almost like you dig into a certain amount of time. You know these stories and you’ve read these as kids. Mrs. McCormick is one of them, but I think we tried to treat all the characters as real people and play with that whole idea of comedy and drama, especially with Siobhán’s character. For me, she’s almost like the heart of the film. When she leaves the island, you have a sense that that’s when everything goes wrong. She’s almost like the glue that keeps everything together. And it really becomes a tragedy from that sense and a duel between these two characters [Colm and Pádraic].”
Nielsen says that McDonagh wanted to treat the island almost as a character, in addition to its animals.
“We have these montages where we use this music as almost like intermissions in between the different scenes until we actually use music as an emotional feeling of the character, like the darkness of Pádraic’s character when he goes into that dark space. Martin absolutely adores animals and he treats them so well, and he was so precise and went through the footage all the time. He’d say, ‘I know I have this bird jumping somewhere. Look for it!’ These almost become images of the relationships—the goats looking at you, the horses, and the donkey. They’re so trustworthy and they become characters because we treated them exactly the same way we’d treat the actors.”
There are two beach confrontations in the film between Colm and Pádraic, and the way they are shot and edited shows how much these characters have grown apart over the course of the film. There’s the first after Pádraic’s night of drinking, and the final one that also serves as the final scene.
“[The first one is] treated more with humor, but it’s also very honest in a sense, the way he’s almost trying to reach out to him. And then he says, ‘How’s the music going?’ We did have the possibilities of playing with that in the last scene, but given how the story evolves, there’s really not any room for any playfulness in that last scene. You have to earn the moments with the characters, and then you can take from what the scene what it says and what it does. Probably everyone watching sees it in a different way.”
The Banshees of Inisherin is now playing.