Tom Cross on Editing La La Land

Tom Cross on Editing La La Land

The 14 time Oscar nominated La La Land by director Damien Chazelle is a cracking film that I thoroughly enjoyed. The editing is superb and I thought I’d pull together a few of the best things I could find about Tom Cross’s excellent work.

Tom also edited Damien’s previous film, Whiplash, for which he won an Oscar and a BAFTA in 2015.

In this instalment of the Editors on Editing, Glenn Garland ACE chats with Tom Cross ACE about his career in film and how he’s risen to where he is today.

I will rough out a scene… I take a crack at it after I watch all the dailies, and then I’ll put it on the shelf and I’ll go to something else. I kind of got a little bit of that from Elizabeth Cling on Deadwood, she’ll would really rough out scenes very quickly.

In the interview Tom references several books on editing that he loves which includes Selected Takes – Film Editors on Editing by Vincent LoBrutto and In a Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch.

editing la la land

Tom Cross’s Edit Suite during La LA Land, Image from

Steve Hullfish interviews Tom at some length, in this Art of The Cut post over on ProVideo Coalition, about some of the challenges on working with a director who used to be a competitive jazz drummer and the nuances of working on a musical.

Another challenge I found with working on a musical was the lip sync. We spent a lot of time in the editing room scrutinizing the sync during the singing scenes.

Damien wanted to be very careful about that because his belief was that audiences scrutinize lip sync more in a musical than they do with standard dialogue in a non-musical film.

If the sync is off then the viewer immediately feels the disconnect between the picture and sound. They start thinking that the person onscreen is different than the voice they are hearing. It feels “canned”.

Therefore, we spent a lot of time editing the vocal track to improve it but would also sometimes move the picture around for a better match.

It’s another great interview with plenty of insights on the craft of film editing, such as rhythm, characterisation and pace which are often ‘writ-large’ in a musical.

Editor Tom Cross in Conversation

In these two further videos you can hear some more from Tom and some of the other members of the film’s cast and crew. In this first video Tom chats with Gold Derby editor Zach Laws.

Tom delivers a really interesting insight about the intricacies of balancing the long unbroken takes with other scenes that sit around them, at about 3.23 minutes in, to generate the most powerful results.

In order for these long unbroken takes to have power, the scenes around them would have to be cut differently… we’d have to have a different strategy for those scenes, that matched the emotion of those particular scenes. – Tom Cross

In this half hour Q+A from Landmark Theatres you can hear from writer and director Damien Chazelle, Ryan Gosling, composer Justin Hurwitz, editor Tom Cross, and producer Jordan Horowitz. The Q+A is well moderated by Jenelle Riley from Variety.

At about 8 minutes in Tom talks about working with Damien and the diplomatic side of being a capable editor.

At about 14 minutes in Tom talks about matching the film grammar of matching old Hollywood movies.

Editing Whiplash and Winning an Oscar

Although Tom Cross didn’t win an Oscar for his editing on La La Land this year (that honour went to John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge). Tom did win in 2015 for his work on Whiplash, again collaborating with director Damien Chazelle.

As it happens Damien did win an Oscar for best director this year, which also makes him the youngest man to ever do so. So now everyone has got an Oscar!

Tom Cross talks about how he came to edit this short film version of Whiplash, that was used to raise financing, and ultimately landed him the feature film gig, in this BAFTA ‘Craft Session’ interview with a selection of other top editors.

th: How were the cuts designed to give us whiplash?

TC: Damien wanted to create a rhythm and a pace through the quick cutting of close-ups of instruments, close-ups of drums, close-up of drumsticks and then close-ups of our characters. He wanted the cutting to be overt so the audience would feel the editing and the speed. He meticulously storyboarded the entire movie with that in mind. And for the music scenes, such as the climax of the movie, he even created an anamatic set to music.

In this short interview with thalo, Tom shares some more details on the process of cutting the film in collaboration with Damien, and the inherent influence of music on the film.

Tom Cross editor Whiplash

In this interesting piece from Indie Wire you can learn a bit more about Tom’s process and how the film developed in the editing suite.

I had a great template in the short while putting together the editor’s assembly: we used a lot covert tricks to squeeze every detail and hold the performances but there was still a lot of discovery in the editing room.

For the big concert finale, I followed the animatic. But once it all came together and Damien looked at it, we realized that it only barely functioned, without any soul.

We put our characters closer into the action. We focused on the right facial expressions and  made sure that Fletcher and Andrew were looking more pointedly at each other.

The last post that’s worth a read is this one from The Hollywood Reporter which sums up the process of shooting a first feature film in just 19 days. This requires meticulous planning*, endless energy and a looming deadline.

There was just one catch: Teller’s earliest opening to shoot the project was in September 2013, just a few months before Sundance’s submission deadline in November.

If Chazelle cast Teller, he’d have 19 days to shoot the picture (all the budget allowed for), then only about a month in the editing room to assemble a cut in time to enter it at Sundance, which Chazelle was absolutely determined to do.

It was going to require an insanely tight production and postproduction schedule.

*If you want to learn more about shooting your first feature in a short time period and why meticulous planning is required, check out my interview with BAFTA winning director Babak Anvari on bringing his first feature, Under The Shadow, to the screen.

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