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From Directing “Crash Pad” To Editing “Downsizing”: An Interview With Kevin Tent

Director/Editor Kevin Tent. Photo courtesy Impact 24.

By: Marjorie Galas

At first glance, “Downsizing” seems like a large stylistic departure for director Alexander Payne.   Re-uniting with Jim Taylor, who, along with Payne, co-wrote “Citizen Ruth”, “Election”, “About Schmidt”, “Sideways” and “The Descendants”, the two scripted a sci-fi/fantasy/comedy that explores life after an irreversible medical procedure miniaturizes humans, making them mere inches tall.  Editor Kevin Tent, who’s cut all Payne’s features, found that size really didn’t matter when it came to making the cut in the edit suite.

Initiating their concept nearly eight years ago, Payne and Taylor had yet to conceive an ending when they shared a sixty page draft with Tent, who found the subject matter to be “wild, funny and original.”  Noting Payne’s strong editorial instincts (Payne edited his early shorts) and frequency for indicating visual cues in the script notes throughout production, Tent knew he’d get what he needed from the Canadian and Norway based sets.

“I did give ideas on pace but the last set of notes was three years ago,” recalled Tent.  “Alexander went to work.  I just waited for the footage to come in.”

Prior to editing “Downsizing”, Tent set off to fulfill a desire he’d had for a while: make his directorial debut.  Working on a script by Jeremy Catalino called “Crash Pad”, Tent collaborated on the low budget, tightly scheduled production with producer William Horberg, a vet who’s worked with directors including Ang Lee, Anthony Minghella and Marc Forster. With Horberg’s assistance, Tent cast the romantic comedy with Christina Applegate as a woman who engages in a fling with much younger Domhnall Gleeson as a revenge tactic against her neglectful husband, played by Payne vet Thomas Haden Church.  Tent credits his department heads, including DP Seamus Tierney, production designer Brian Davie and another Payne alum, composer Rolfe Kent, for working hard and pulling the production together.   Looking back, Tent feels his experience as an editor kept him focused and grounded during the whirl-wind experience.

“It all moved so fast.  I let the actors do their thing; it led to unwanted consequences when I stepped in (during production),” said Tent.  “It was such a change from the editing room, but if I was not an editor, I think I would have been a nervous wreck.”

With his feature behind him and “Downsized” before him, Tent focused on the task at hand: finding the balance between the emotional beats, the fantastical elements and how he could blend them into something believable during the editing process.  Throughout the film, the downsized characters interact with people or things from the normal world.  Having edited films including VFX-heavy “The Golden Compass”, Tent was at ease collaborating with the VFX team.  He’d find the best angles between the vastly different sized characters, then pass the rough cut to VFX editor Joseph Carson.  Carson work in the effects and pass it back to Tent for review.  A rented, multi-floor building housed both “Downsizing” editorial and VFX teams, enabling rapid transfers and revisions.

Outside of ensuring the seamless inclusion of VFX, Tent felt the vast differences in scale had little influence over the editing.  Like most Payne films, the story is character driven, filled with emotional right turns.  Tent allowed performances of actors including Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau to dictate his editing.  For some scenes, such as Paul Safranek’s (Damon) introduction to Ngoc Lan Tran’s (Chau) terminally ill house guest, Tent found a blend between the still silence of the setting and each actors’ intensity to inform the rhythm of his cuts.   When Paul discovers his wife’s (Kristen Wiig) inability to commit to downsizing, Tent had many takes but few camera angles to work with.  After experimenting with adding and dropping dialogue, he found composer Rolfe Kent’s score helped provide the inspiration for the scene’s final cut.   For a drug-infused dance sequence that had a wealth of diverse footage, Tent’s assistant editor Angela Latimer made a first pass.  Tent enhance her cut with coverage of Damon and finessed it to fit the section.

As with Payne’s other features, Tent felt he was in sync with the director and always had the opportunity to share creative solutions.  Prior to the “Downsize” release, Payne held numerous screenings and studio previews to gage audience reaction.  Throughout this process, Tent and Payne would add and remove scenes.

“He’s really good at responding to problems,” said Tent.