How Steven Soderbergh helped edit Spike Jonze's 'Her'

Posted by · 9:50 am · October 7th, 2013

There are, obviously, many reasons to look forward to Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which premieres at the New York Film Festival later this week — beginning, of course, with the fact that it’s a Spike Jonze movie, and his first since 2009’s “Where the Wild Things Are” (much loved round these parts). But news of another major filmmaker’s indirect input just makes the whole project that much more intriguing.

It turns out Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh had a hand in the editing process of the quirky romantic drama, and his involvement has been described in detail by Mark Harris in his profile of Jonze. (We linked to the article in this morning’s roundup, but this particularly nugget seemed worthy of an individual spotlight.)

While the film we’ll eventually seen has not been directly edited by Soderbergh (who, of course, has edited most of his own recent work under the alias Mary Ann Bernard), Jonze turned to him for guidance when he was struggling to bring his original cut (which ran approximately 150 minutes) to a tidier length. Soderbergh offered to create his own intuitive cut of the material. His assistance, and the influence thereof, is described, in Jonze’s words, as follows:

“He”s the smartest, fastest editor-filmmaker I know. He got the movie on a Thursday, and in 24 hours, he took it from two and a half hours to 90 minutes. We basically said, ‘Be radical, shock us,” and it was awesome. He said, ‘I”m not saying this should be the cut of the movie, but these are things to think about.” It was amazingly generous of him, and it gave us the confidence to lose some big things that I wasn”t ready to lose [before]. Even though we didn”t use that exact cut, we were able to make connections between scenes out of connections he made. And making many of the cuts he suggested was a really good kind of pain.”

“Her” now runs approximately two hours — halfway between Jonze’s previous edit and Soderbergh’s quick cut, then, but it’s clear that the latter was a significant stage in the process. As a writer who knows the value of a keen editorial eye — particularly at the stage when you’ve been living too closely to your own creation for too long — it tickles me to think of two such singular artists supporting each other in this way. (It’s evidently not the first time the two friends have called each other: Soderbergh is also thanked in the closing credits for “Where the Wild Things Are.”)

Meanwhile, it’s heartening to know that Soderbergh — who recently announced his supposed retirement from directing for cinema — is still keeping in touch with the medium via the work of others. I can’t help wondering how long he’ll manage to stay away. Last month, he won two Emmy Awards for directing and editing his HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra,” so his burgeoning television career could hardly be going better.

One person, however, who might not be as thrilled with the final edit is actor Chris Cooper, whom Jonze directed to an Oscar win in 2002’s “Adaptation.” He was the focus of a movie-within-the-movie subplot that Jonze ultimately deemed inessential to his central narrative; it’s not directly stated in Harris’ piece that the omission was advised by Soderbergh, though Jonze does say of his approach to shooting such potentially extraneous material: “There are times when I need room to fall. And other times when I depend on my friends to save me.”

In any event, Cooper’s in good company on the sidelines: he joins Samantha Morton, who originally voiced the key role of the operating system with whom Joaquin Phoenix’s protagonist falls in love, only to be replaced by Scarlett Johansson in post-production.

Anyway, check out the rest of Harris’s piece here — it’s a great read, and one that only further whets the appetite for one of the autumn’s most enticing prospects.

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