Jim Helton is the co-editor of the acclaimed films BLUE VALENTINE (2010), THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012) and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016), all directed by Derek Cianfrance. Helton also designed the memorable title sequence for BLUE VALENTINE, composed some of the music for THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, designed the sound for Cianfrance's debut feature, BROTHER TIED (1998), and continues to collaborate with the director on other projects. Helton is also a director in his own right, with the short film projects LOVE KILLS DEMONS (2010, a collaboration with Chris Rubino) and A STUDY IN LEGS (2009, a collaboration with Atsushi Nishijima) amongst his credits. In the final part of a three-part interview, I spoke with Helton about his experiences co-editing THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. 

Parts one and two of the interview. 

With being so close to Derek, and the emotional nature of his stories, do you feel yourself completely empathising with the material? 
I think I do with everything that I edit. I am always trying to get into the mind of the character or the person on the screen and feel it so I can help convey it. Sometimes you just know, but sometimes I have to rely on Derek to tell me what we are supposed to be feeling. On THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, the first time I saw the car chase after the final robbery I composed some music for the first part, and Derek said ''That's it!'' That was a case where we never had Mike Patton take a crack at it because I just got the mood that Derek also wanted. 

Was choosing the moment Bradley Cooper first appears a difficult choice in the edit? 
In the original script they were always going to meet the way they did, and we were always going to met Bradley the way we did. It was actually the transition from one story to the next that changed. It became a cut to Bradley waking up in the hospital rather than an emergency room scene with Ryan dying nearby. The way it is now is just simple and right. It's like the difference between literature and cinema. It's a hard cut to write in a script. Cutting to the 15 Years Later card was a tough cut to figure out in the edit, but it seemed natural in the script. 

How did you divide the editing with Ron Patane? 
I edited the first act, Ron edited the second act, and we split the third act - he cut the scenes focused on Bradley/Avery family and I cut the scenes focused on Ryan/Luke family. We all ended up working on each other's scenes though, as we were a team. 

What was it like watching the footage of Ryan's scenes with Ben Mendelsohn?
They were like two fencers or something. When they were arguing about how they were going to split the take from the bank robberies, they were doing it for real. When they did another take, it wasn't like ''Let's do the same thing again'', it was like ''You can't win using the same argument from the other takes. '' And they would watch each other, and if one of them tried to use the same argument, they would pounce. There were so many fresh moments in each take. 

What were some significant changes that got made in the edit? 
We cut some of Ray Liotta's scenes, and it was a hard thing to do, but the scene that matters is the scene where he follows Bradley and threatens him. That was really Ron's section but we all watched the dailies and watching Ray's work was great. I was also impressed by the way Derek dealt with people and big personalities. He has a great way with people. 

How did your experience on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES help inform your approach to editing THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS? 
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was a long and difficult process, with a lot of pressure, and things got a little tense at times. Coming on to THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, I think we had learned a thing or two about how to approach a big project in a better way. It was a great experience. 

How long did THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS take to edit? 
I think it took about seven months and then Ron went on to another film, and we tinkered with it for a little bit longer. I don't think Disney thought we were going to be finished editing as fast as we did. It took a while to come out because the studio was worried about over-saturation – the year we were going to put it out, both Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander had three or four films in cinemas. We were lucky in that we were in New York editing the film and we were pretty much left alone. The producers, David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford, would come out and they were great. I don't feel like we were interfered with or anything like that. We worked our butts off. It's more difficult to split up the editing on a film like THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS because it's not as clear cut. We would piggy back. Ron had the first twenty pages, I had the next and when he got done he would jump to the next section. He did Tom alone, I did Tom falling in love with Isabel. He did the first miscarriage and I did the second. I had all the infant Lucy stuff and Ron did most of the stuff with four year old Lucy. In the end we all worked on it together but we divide and conquer! 

Did you feel any added pressure because this was a studio movie and Spielberg was an executive producer? 
Not really. The vibe was that we had a big job to do and we were just going to do it. And we proved ourselves. We made some cuts, and David and Jeffrey liked them. They gave us great notes and we also found out what we needed to do because we did a lot of screenings of the film. I think we really listened to others a lot on this film, and learned a great deal. We also got to make the film we wanted to make. 

How do you think Derek has developed as a filmmaker? 
I think he's getting better. Derek listens to a lot of people and there are a lot of collaborators on the films. That's one of his strengths. When you're on set, no idea is a bad idea, bring it. We have really taken a lot of chances on each film. There were so many different versions of each scene in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, and Derek would say ''It's my fault the level of difficulty is so high. '' I think he'll always keep pushing. THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is like a David Lean film with moments of Cassavetes. It's an accomplishment to be able to merge those two styles of filmmaking. It's also a genre film, a romance that plays with those conventions. It's also based on a book, and it was a challenge to try and be faithful to it. It was very flattering that the writer, M.L. Stedman, felt it was a good adaptation. We came from a film school where we did everything ourselves, so it was interesting to collaborate with great people like Alexander Desplat, the composer. Suzanna Peric, the music editor, was unbelievable. She became our interface with Alexander and a thermometer and soothsayer for our film. We would take stuff out of the film, and she would interject and say ''You can't lose that!'' Tony Volante, our sound mixer, was also integral to the team. He also worked on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, and I just love his ear. He respects what we are doing in the edit from a sound perspective and helped us make it better. 

Was finding the pace of the film a challenge? 
I believe that if the audience doesn't know what kind of movie they are watching after thirty minutes, you run the risk of losing them. We never really had to think about this before because the structure of Derek's previous films was so interesting that they kept the audience with it. This film is more traditional. We had to find that balance of moving the story along but not having the audience feel Michael and Alicia were falling in love too fast. But you have to get the love story across quickly so that the audience doesn't think they are watching a ghost story about a haunted island or something. I think our audience was right on that precipice, which is fine. 

Was there less improvisation on THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS? 
The improvisation on this movie came more in the actions. Michael is such a great physical actor. He has such great presence and is Tom, his character, to his bones. If you watch the montage of his lonely life on the island, he is doing so many little things. He's like a Robert Duvall or something. He completely blew me away with his performance. 

What are some of the projects that might be your next collaboration with Derek? 
He's been doing quite a few commercials lately. I just acted in one he did for the Lottery. There's a TV series called Muscle that might re-emerge. It's based on a book by Sam Fussell about bodybuilding. He has a Western that he has written with Darius Marder, Empire of the Summer Moon. I think that will be absolutely fantastic. I hope he does that one next. 

What's the status on Metalhead? 
We worked on that project a few years ago. Derek went out and shot 16mm following the band Jucifer around. It's a faux-documentary. We actually started that before BLUE VALENTINE. We did some really cool stuff but the project just kind of petered out. He gave it to Darius Marder, who renamed the project, and is still developing it under the title The Sound of Metal. 

Cianfrance, Ron Patane, Helton
How do you feel you have evolved as an editor? 
There is always a ripple effect when editing that you have to be aware of and look out for, but I find it less rigid and fragile and more malleable and resilient than I once did. I know now that if we go too far in one direction I have the ability to recreate what we had. I have that confidence. I feel I am better at listening to criticism and notes and taking the best out of them. Sometimes as an editor others will defend decisions or ideas I have gone soft on. I don't fight so much to defend my ideas anymore. I feel that if they're good ideas, they'll come back.

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

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