Crispin Struthers, an editor on the Oscar-nominated film American Hustle, spoke to a packed audience January 30 at Emerson’s Bright Family Screening Room about the ins and outs of a complex editing process.
“For every scene, [Russell] shoots so much more than you’re ever going to see,” Struthers said. “It’s not laborious. It’s fun, because we have these amazing performances.”
Struthers said he was given footage to edit at studios in Santa Monica, California, while Russell was back in Boston shooting the movie.
“Part of his style and part of the fun for us,” Struthers said, “is we get an idea of what he wants in these scenes because we can hear him directing and making up things on the spot. We can hear him changing the script. We can see him telling them what he wants them to do. It gives us a great idea of what he’s going for in the scene.”
Struthers was given up to six hours of uncut footage at a time, which called for difficult cutting decisions. The original version of the movie was nearly three and a half hours long, over an hour longer than the final product.
It’s not the cutting that requires the most thought, though. Struthers said the real work was creating characters the audience will love. As an editor, he plays a major role in character development, and the characters in Russell’s movies can be difficult to love.
“One of the keys to any of David’s movies is humanity,” Struthers said. “It’s raw and it’s real. In The Fighter, you’ve got a crackhead; in Silver Linings Playbook, you’ve got a bipolar mental patient; and in American Hustle, you get this con man that screws people over. These are our heroes, and we have to make you like these people. We failed if you don’t [relate to] them.”
Despite the seven-month process, Struthers said he enjoyed every moment of the movie—especially finally getting to see the final product.
The Bright Lights series is sponsored by the Department of Visual and Media Arts, and features film screenings and visual media–related discussions every Tuesday and Thursday of the semester in the Paramount Center’s Bright Family Screening Room. Struthers’s visit was part of the monthly meet-up for the Boston Creative Pro User Group (BOSCPUG). Daniel Bérubé '89 of BOSCPUG is credited with bringing Struthers to the Emerson event.