Christopher Nolan is, without doubt, one of the most famous names in Hollywood, widely appreciated for his distinctly intriguing, mazy, and often confusing plots in movies that make you squeeze every bit of your brain. Behind his remarkable success, however, there’s one person he’s partly indebted to – Lee Smith, the man who serves as the editor in Nolan’s films.
Smith and Nolan first collaborated on 'Batman Begins' (2005). In the later years, the duo worked together in several blockbuster movies: 'The Prestige' (2006), 'The Dark Night' (2008), 'Inception' (2010), 'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012), 'Interstellar' (2014) and 'Dunkirk' (2017). In 2018, the editor finally received the reward for his incredible job over the years, winning the Oscar for 'Dunkirk' (2017).
Watch: Lee Smith on Editing Dunkirk
During a new interview with WTOP News, Smith looked back at his successful career, much thanks to the career-defining collaboration with the one and only Christopher Nolan. Smith admitted the challenges of editing Christopher Nolan’s projects are unlike any other.
The editor said,
Chris does make very complicated films, and I think my job in the whole process is to try to keep it as understandable as you can.
Smith continued, “Because there’s nothing worse than a film where the audience gets lost to the point of being disappointed. The secret that we were always trying to do with his films, ‘Inception,’ ‘Interstellar,’ and ‘The Prestige,’ was being faithful to Chris’s original idea but never getting into a point where you’d be sitting there as an audience member feeling that you’ve been left out.”
Smith revealed the test screening process helps ensure the fine-tuning of the editing process. However, the edit does not aim to provide clarity to the fans if Nolan’s script does not demand it.
Those movies are very finely tuned. Some people get them to great minute detail. Other people misunderstand them completely, but they still love them.
During the post-production of 'The Dark Knight,' Smith was tasked with editing the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in the DC blockbuter. The editor recalled,
I saw [Heath] several times during the shoot of ‘The Dark Knight’ on the set, and it was always hugely amusing.
Smith continued, “Right from the first day of shooting, I was just completely in awe of how far he’d come from doing a low-budget film in Australia to standing there with his back to camera holding onto that mask as he commands the screen. I was sitting in a small trailer on location with Chris Nolan, the cinematographer, and everybody else, and we’re just all sitting there going, ‘Oh, man, this guy’s amazing.’ Just the way he walks, the way he talks. He brought everything to that role.”
Smith revealed all the cast and crew were incredibly sad upon learning about Heath Ledger’s death, merely 10 or 12 weeks past the end of the shoot. "It was a great loss that he’s no longer with us,” said Smith. Ledger later won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2009.
Check out: 'Interstellar' Editor Lee Smith on How to Edit a Scene