“My memory of it was I had just finished Master and Commander  and I waited another couple of weeks [in Los Angeles] for an interview with Chris [Nolan who was in London at the time] because my agent had inquired as to whether they would meet me for the film,” recalls film editor Lee Smith as to how he became associated with Batman Begins (2005). “Very uncharacteristic of my good self I decided to wait. It was costing me a lot of money to stay here, my home awaited in Australia and I had been gone a long time; I was keen to get back to it. I met with Chris and we chatted away for quite some time. I eventually said I had to go because I had to go pick up my kids from somewhere. I had no idea the job interview was going to last as long as it did and flew back to Australia the next day. Literally as we were putting our bags down in Australia the phone rang and my agent said, ‘Guess what? You got the job.’” The native of Sydney was not previously familiar with the British filmmaker. “I hadn’t seen Memento  or Insomnia  but my agent rang and talked about it. Also, I wasn’t a great comic book person or of that sort of genre of moviemaking but through my agency they basically said, ‘This is talented director.’ I went out and watched both Memento and Insomnia and I went, ‘Geez. Why haven’t I seen these movies?’ I said, ‘I’d be privilege to meet him.’ We got on well in the interview and the rest is as they say is history.”
“The standard practice for feature films is that you’re editing the whole way,” explains Lee Smith who assembles the footage while the principle photography is taking place. “You have to be quite up with the camera because there is not much point on a $250 million film to sit there when the director comes in at the end of the shoot and say, ‘This scene and that scene don’t work.’ People do a lot of reshooting in post but it is to be avoided at all costs. I would only draw to the attention of a director a scene that I thought was either lacking on a shot or simply was not cutting with another sequence in a fashion that I know they’d be happy with. I’ve got to say with guys like Peter Weir and Christopher Nolan that is a rarity for that to happen. They know what they want. They’re very knowledgeable about coverage. There’s always a thing. There’s always a moment and you think, ‘Wow, if I had a close-up of that.’ If I was watching a scene and could imagine being in an audience screening in ten months time and the audience would be saying, ‘We didn’t notice that the briefcase was unlocked.’ Things like little story points that you don’t want to miss; they’re simple to pickup while you’re shooting and expensive when the shoot is over.” Nolan does not limit himself to shooting only with the principle cast members. “Chris does his own second unit and that makes it a lot easier for all of us. Though they do their best and try there is quite often times where it’s not the same. I’d hate to say this for second unit directors but in an ideal world I would have the main unit shoot the second unit. Sometimes it’s not practical and if you don’t have the speed of operation of someone like Chris who also has a profound sense of the schedule then that would be a disaster unto itself.”
Production stills © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Many thanks to Lee Smith for taking the time for this interview, and to learn more make sure to read his Cutting Edge profile as well as Theatre of the Mind which explores the career of Christopher Nolan.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.