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The Editors Behind “Joy”: A Conversation With Alan Baumgarten and Jay Cassidy

Editing isn’t always a one person task.  Last year’s Oscar nominated “American Hustle,” under the direction of David O. Russell, was cut by the hands of three gifted editors:  Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers – a team that earned their own Oscar nomination for Best Editing (and an American Cinema Editors win for Best Edited Feature – Comedy or Musical).  O. Russell’s latest feature, “Joy”, upped the editor quotient, presenting a team of four editors:  Baumgarten, Cassidy, Tom Cross and Christopher Tellefsen.

Baumgarten and Cassidy were the first to be contacted by O. Russell to edit “Joy” – a film loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano; the inventor behind products including the “Miracle Mop” and “Forever Fragrant.”   Both men were tied to other obligations when the project commenced, so they presented O. Russell and his producers with some alternatives.  The “Joy” team settled on two editors who, as it turned out, could only provide a limited commitment:  Cross, who succeeded Baumgarten and Cassidy to nab last year’s Best Editing Oscar for his work on “Whiplash” and Tellefsen, whose last foray on an O. Russell picture came in 1996 with “Flirting with Disaster.”

“Tom Cross (worked on the beginning) of the movie, then Chris Tellefsen was there for a time in the middle,” said Baumgarten.  “Both of them had other films to move on to so it was the case where they would be on for a certain amount of time, then once Jay and I came on, we would stay on to the end.”

Despite their inability to start cutting the film from the beginning, they were privy to early communications with O. Russell about his vision of the story.  Presenting the growth of a woman who becomes empowered despite the stagnant environment that’s permeated three generations before her was a concept the director worked through during his discussions of the script with his department heads.   Within those conversations, Baumgarten and Cassidy were able to clarify the director’s conception behind the film.

“Alan and I were involved in the script phase, working through it as it evolved,” said Cassidy.   Added Baumgarten, “He would talk through it and describe sections or scenes repeatedly.  And the more we heard him describe it, we could figure out what he wanted to come through from those characters or those moments.”

The script development phase helped flesh out the need for some additional presences in Joy’s (played by Jennifer Lawrence) life. Cassidy recalls the “family grew from within” during this period; Joy’s step sister was fleshed out along with the grandmother.  This development phase also brought to life the idea of Joy’s ability to “step into” soap operas – a device that acted as Joy’s alter-ego, allowing her to feel empowered and move forward with her goals.  During their departure from the project, Baumgarten and Cassidy established an open rapport with Cross and Tellefsen, communicating on progress and sharing ideas.  Once Baumgarten and Cassidy rejoined the production, they chose to break up sections.

“Generally with David’s films we try to stay within our sections,” said Baumgarten.  “We’ll meet at some point and our material will lead into each other.  With David’s material there are buried gems that you might like to call back at a later date, so there is a value in emerging yourself in material and staying there.  But then we all share screenings and footage and talk about general ideas and give input as well.”

Added Cassidy, “That’s the best. Whenever you are in the kind of multiple situation I always say it makes for better cuts because you get other eyes and thoughts and reviews, not just from David but from other editors.”

On this four-generational character study, Baumgarten and Cassidy found themselves gravitating to those pure emotional moments as the building blocks of the film’s storytelling structure.  They avoid cutting a scene to emphasize a joke or particular emotion, instead finding the beats that are the most believable and allowing the emotion or the humor to flow organically from the situation. The editors credit a strong cast, including Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper, making this task an “embarrassment of riches.”

Once the film was nearly completed, Baumgarten and Cassidy reviewed the original footage to ensure there were no important moments, reactions or business that had been overlooked during the initial editing phase.  Cassidy recalls first utilizing this approach on “Silver Linings Playbook” and finding omissions that, had they not been added in those last passes, would have greatly affected the film’s impact.  The story reveals itself through the months of editing and returning to the original material at a point when the film has taken shape allows the editors to find clips: sometimes as short as an actor’s glance or piece of dialogue, that can greatly enhance the intention of the scene.

“It’s a rich process with David because he is open to those kinds of discoveries late in the game,” said Cassidy.  “You’ve edited for all these months, and now the movie is clearer than it was, when you go back and reexamine, you see moments in the original material in a different way.”

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