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Making the Cut

Making The Cut: 'Room' Editor Nathan Nugent
15 Dec 2016 :
Four Oscar Nominations for 'Room'
With Oscar nominated Irish film ‘Room’ hitting cinemas on January 15th, IFTN talks to Editor Nathan Nugent about his work on the film.

Having previously worked with director Lenny Abrahamson and Element Pictures producer Ed Guiney on ‘What Richard Did’ (for which he won an IFTA Award) and ‘Frank’ (IFTA nomination) – two very different films – Nugent was still stunned when the two revealed what their next project would be.

“I was blown away when Ed and Lenny told me they were adapting that book because I had read it a few years previously and loved it”, Nugent said. “It had sold over two million copies and all these people were going to be curious to see what the film version would be like. So, I was really excited.”

The film picked up the People’s Choice Award at Toronto and went on to receive SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and now four Oscar nominations (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Lead Actress).

Nugent’s work has not went unnoticed either – garnering critical praise from major US publications as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

“It all rolls back to Lenny”, said Nugent of his nomination, “He has been the person driving this from the beginning – intellectually and visually. People like me have benefitted hugely from working with him. The success of this film and the success of anyone involved in the film all comes back to him. I am delighted to be a small representative of the film and to get noticed for my work. The nominations also reflect so well on our amazing Sound Post team –Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady and all the team as well as the composer Stephen Rennicks.”

Check out our interview with Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady about their work on ‘Room’ here.

When ‘Room’ began shooting in early October 2014, two temporary editing suites were set up with Nugent working on Avid Media Composer on a shared storage system between himself and Assistant Editor Jennifer McCann.

“Once the shoot started, it was just about keeping up with Lenny really. He shot every scene on two cameras. There was a lot of footage coming in every day so I would give him very rough versions of scenes so he could form his own opinion on how to best to move forward.”

Check out our interview with ‘Room’ director Lenny Abrahamson here.

An obvious challenge for Lenny when shooting this film was filming in the confined space of the first half of the film – with Nugent and McCann’s rough cuts meaning that the director never blocked a scene the same way twice.

“I thought early on that it would be an issue that we would keep repeating ourselves but it never really did. The blocking was amazing – they always found new places and new ways to tell the story.”

The work was “pretty relentless” according to Nugent with the first cut of the film circling a three and half hour running time.

“When we were shooting, Lenny insisted on shooting everything he felt he needed to get but he was aware that in doing that we would have a long running time.”

The film shot for 10 weeks with Nathan returning to Dublin just before Christmas 2014 and cutting until April 2015. Various screenings were organised over the summer of 2015 – with the editor making small changes after each screening based on feedback - before the film very successfully made its world premiere at Telluride. The success of the film came as no surprise for Nugent.

“It is a brilliant book being directed by a brilliant director so I always felt there would be an audience there that would love it.”, he said.

A major challenge for the editing team was the change in pace (and setting) in the second half of the film after Ma and Jack escape from Room.

“That was a challenge in a way that was kind of obvious. There was so much tension in the first half of the film – it was clear what the characters wanted and who the enemy was – but this wasn’t as clear in the second half in the film. In a way, the enemy was themselves and their history. They have left Room but Room hasn’t really left them. That’s nice as an idea but how do you work that into the story? I think what unifies the whole film – even through the very different first and second half where Ma and Jack’s circumstances have radically changed – is Jack’s voice-over. We lost a lot of footage in the second half but we felt having the voice-over meant we never lost sight of Jack or the story.”

When ‘Room’ came to its’ final cut, the film came in at a very trim two hour running time, with much of the cuts coming in the second half of the film.

“There is a scene in the middle of the film which kind of typifies how we cut this film”, Nathan explains. “It is a scene in a hospital with Ma and Jack which we cut into a montage of sorts but all those small slivers of footage you see were actually full-fledges scenes beforehand. They had dialogue and a very clear start, middle and end but we knew we had to work with pace. So, we used Jack’s voiceover to tie it all together until Ma and Jack went to her mother’s house and the story could pick up again. There was so much of that in this film – fantastic scenes that you would hate to lose in any other film – had to be edited to fit the story. The fact that these scenes could be cut are a testament to the strength of the performances and the direction.”

And there has been a lot of talk about the performances. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay have both picked up SAG Award nominations with Larson winning a Golden Globe Award and receiving the Oscar nom. Was it hard for Nugent to be ruthless when cutting this film or was it all about protecting these performances?

“It was something I wasn’t used to – losing so many scenes that were so well-acted. There were a huge number of takes and the performances were just getting better each time. But, the ultimate call was Lenny’s not mine and he always seems to get great performances from his actors so we just trusted him.”

Nugent is currently working on ‘Tomato Red’ – an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell. The film is directed by Juanita Wilson (As If I Am Not There).

‘Room’ is on general release today. Check out the trailer below:

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