The Oscars editing category features a varied mix of shortlisted films. IBC365 finds out how they were cut, with insight from those tasked with editing the features. 

Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham as 'Ryan“ in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN credit Merie Wallace Focus Features

Frédéric Thoraval: Edited Oscar nominee movie Promising Young Woman

Source: Merie Wallace Focus Features

Oscars 2021 editing category:

  • The Father
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Promising Young Woman

Weaving in specific music tracks and cues as well as blending the tone of a story that shifts from rom-com to horror was the task of French editor Frédéric Thoraval.

He worked with best director nominee Emerald Fennell on the table turning #metoo thriller that takes pleasure in subverting rom-com and revenge movie genres.

“Emerald had baked specific songs into her script as well as other music cues which were all part of the DNA of the movie,” he tells IBC365.

“She was insistent that they couldn’t be changed. In more conventional films you might use the soundtrack to create a continuity when there are drastic changes to story. Here, Emerald’s script is pulling the rug from the audience all the time and the shift of music is part of that tonal shift.” 

A scene in which Cassie is shown at her happiest, having just made up with boyfriend Brian (Bo Burnham), is the closest the film comes to breaking into a musical miming to Paris Hilton’s ‘Stars Are Blind’ in a pharmacy.

“The challenge was to find best way to lead into it. We have to show [Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan] is sad and alone in order to give more weight to the moment when the two of them kiss,” says Thoraval.

“She goes from sad to ecstatic and gives us the opportunity to create a more traditionally comic scene where they are dancing oblivious to everyone else. In order for the rest of the story to work we had to nail this moment when they are in love.” 

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The Trial of the Chicago 7: Nominated for 6 Oscars 

The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Aaron’s scripts are very specific, very detailed with many of the intercuts and flashbacks or hand-offs to a different character written in,” explains Alan Baumgarten ACE who edited Sorkin’s politically charged period drama.

Baumgarten, who cut Sorkin’s Molly’s Game and was Oscar nominated for American Hustle, built the edit in layers with the stock footage the last to be mixed in.

“Aaron had only spelled out the use of historical material in the prologue. In three other places it found its way in organically. This included the riot scenes where the archive gives us an authenticity but it’s almost like a reference, a footnote. We’re not trying to match shots and say look how well we recreated the riot but really to embellish our footage and add another texture to the story.”

“The first material they shot was the location work in Chicago including the park riots, exteriors and Chicago streets but the courtroom is the heart of the drama and we use the riots in an illustrative way to show what happened as the case unfolds. The courtroom scenes were filmed next, in a church in Paterson, New Jersey. Sasha Baron Cohen’s stand-up speech (as Abbie Hoffman) to college students came in late but was an essential part of the story.”

The script was written 14 years ago and originally developed by Sorkin for Steven Spielberg before being put on the back burner.

“Aaron always made a point not to overdo the sixties period itself. When Trump was elected president Aaron and the producers decided it was time to bring it back and that it would be relevant. They didn’t know to what extent.”

When production began in October 2019, Netflix’s goal was to release before the presidential election. “The idea of civic duty and responsibility to vote would be in people’s minds, and all the drama that comes in the US when people vote for new political power.

“The killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor then the Capitol riots all happened after the film but we were mixing the film during the Black Lives Matter protests and civil unrest which was chilling and strange to wrap our heads around. We were putting the finishing touches to a film that had tear gas, protestors in the streets, police violence and a lot of out-of-control situations. The events caught up to the film.”

Sound of Metal
The last acclaimed feature about drumming, Whiplash, landed editor Tom Cross an Oscar. Sound of Metal is about the drastic hearing loss suffered by a heavy metal drummer which director Darius Marder and editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen (Beasts of No Nation) convey by trapping the audience within the character’s disorienting auditory point of view.

“Darius wanted it to be closed-caption from the start,” Nielsen says. He wanted it to be an experience where a deaf person — for the first time — would be able see this film, and people with hearing, would be excluded and see it as deaf people would normally see a normal film.”

In a scene in which Ruben (Oscar nominated Riz Ahmed) enters a deaf community “we have to see the world just the way he sees it. We are just completely not sure what’s going on up to the midpoint of the film.”

To achieve this, the Danish-born editor worked with the Oscar nominated sound design team led by Nicolas Becker. “It was super interesting to be able to use the sound as a storytelling tool,” he explained. 

“The ability to put the audience inside of Ruben’s head and to balance how much information we give.  We got all the ambience sounds recorded for the movie, so we didn’t have to use library SFX in the edit process. Nicolas also gave us an audio program so we could create the sounds for the cochlear implants. This gave the possibility to find the right balance, when to be in Ruben’s perspective.”

Nielsen played with filters to create the tinnitus sound. Muffled sounds, unintelligible conversations and silences dominate rather than using a manipulative score.

“I could completely understand losing my sense of hearing,” says Nielsen, who reveals that he is also a long-time drummer with a drum kit in his edit room.

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Nomadland: Director Chloé Zhao has been nominated for the coveted Best Director award

Nomadland rediscovers a community of Americans who have been airbrushed off the map and almost off the grid. Neither drama nor documentary nor docu-drama, filmmaker Chloé Zhao has almost crafted a new genre with her Best Picture front runner. It’s not her first attempt, with previous indie films like The Rider similarly fusing reality with a degree of artifice to capture the truth of a subject.

“I am not a documentary maker,” Zhao says of her filmmaking philosophy. “I don’t know how to do that. But I think audiences want authenticity and I find that having authenticity in fictional filmmaking really helps to keep their attention.” 

She directs from her own script that evolved during the course of filming to incorporate the real personalities which she and [best actress nominee] Frances McDormand met on the road.

“Structurally and in terms of character arc the script didn’t alter from conception to execution,” she says. “A lot of things happened spontaneously or things I wanted to happen, didn’t, just because of the nature of making a film this way. I would watch dailies every night and I would write every night. I don’t stop writing the screenplay.”

Conventionally, directors will bounce feedback about the shoot’s progress with their editor. In her three features to date, Zhao has preferred to be her own editor.

“I’ve always edited the first cut of my films and after the first cut I bring on an editor and we work on two Avid stations exchanging ideas, refining the material. On from my first film [Songs My Brother Taught Me] I learned that when you have a large cast of characters you have to have a very structured script and follow it religiously. I learned from The Rider how to focus on one character arc in a situation where the world around that character might be unpredictable.”

“Sometimes things happen on set and I instinctively make decisions. I can’t articulate why but it’s actually because I am subconsciously editing in my head. If I don’t work that through myself in the first cut, then I feel that something gets lost. As we entered post on Nomadland the quarantine happened so I was like – let’s just do it!”

Growing up in Beijing, Zhao’s early influences were Japanese graphic novels. She named her own van in which she lived on the road while making Nomadland, ‘Akira’, after the Manga classic. 

“If you think about it, Manga is storytelling in edited storyboards,” she tells IBC365. “In Manga the storytelling is quite extreme at times in the way the story jumps from one image to the next. So, at a very young age that is how I see story.”  


Nominated six times including Best Film and Director, IBC365 also looks at the editing of Minari.

Named for a peppery Korean herb, Minari is a tale of immigrants making a go at their own American Dream in a candid and personal film drawing on director Lee Isaac Chung’s experiences. Editor Harry Yoon ACE arrived in the US aged five with his parents who ran a small business in Northern California.

“Being strangers in a strange land and being brought up together in a tight knit family as a result of having to navigate all those challenges were things I identified with,” he tells CinemaEditor.


Minari: Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han, Noel Cho

Beginning at script stage through editorial, much of Yoon’s work was honing the vignettes of family life to find the best way of telling the story. Disconcertingly, and refreshingly, this included removing scenes depicting prejudice and racism, “because they started to feel unnecessary in terms of the truth of this story,” he says.

“It was trial and error of removing certain scenes or sequences. Sometimes the most important feedback isn’t what anyone says but about how they feel in the room. What was lovely, was the more we took away, the more that happy accidents happened.”

The heart of the film is the unlikely friendship that blossoms between an unruly seven-year-old and his equally defiant, Korea grandma.

“This is the kind of story I wanted to help tell since I became a filmmaker,” he says. “You can get a little cynical and wonder if this kind of story will ever be commercially viable or compelling to a broader audience. The screening that’s most important to me is when I can finally share it with parents. I feel like the film helps [Asian Americans] say to our parents that we recognise you on screen.”

The Father
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman are Oscar nominated for their roles in writer/director Florian Zellar’s adaptation of his own play about an elderly man succumbing to dementia. We experience the world through Hopkins’ character (also called Anthony) as a confusion of time and place, a frustration of memory loss, where nothing quite adds up.

“When I read the script, I had a horror movie in my head,” says editor Yorgos Lamprinos. 

“That was my approach, and where we needed to put the audience.”

Lamprinos explains that for each scene he started out with where Anthony was, and then used footage to subtly shift the point of the view, or repeat a section of dialogue. Peter Francis’ production design also helped since the same items are shown but with discreet changes: a white bag instead of a blue one, different tiles in the kitchen.

“Also, it’s a question of pace—which scenes you need to drag a little bit, to get another emotion out of them, which scenes need to be faster, so the spectator stays in the same emotion. Mostly, it was about how we used the shots of the flat, and the evolution of the space. That was the real challenge in the edit room.

There are films that are structured in a non-linear fashion that you can put together, and they become linear. Pulp Fiction, for example. This film’s puzzle cannot be reconstructed.

“That’s the whole point of it, because Anthony’s head works that way. He can never reassemble things. So, even though the film’s structure goes in loops, it’s also a loop that will never work. That was Florian’s intention from the very beginning, and one that I also found a brilliant choice.”