Inside Mann: William Goldenberg talks about The Insider

Trevor Hogg chats with William Goldenberg about the movie which resulted in him and Michael Mann receiving their first Oscar nominations…

“The process was similar because it is the same director but I remember reading the script that he and Eric Roth [Forrest Gump] wrote, and thought at that moment of my career that it was the best script I had ever read,” recalls William Goldenberg who earned the respect of Michael Mann for his film editing work on Heat (1995) that he was hired again for The Insider (1999).  “When they got Al Pacino [Serpico] and Russell Crowe [Man of Steel], I thought even before the movie started that there was a chance that it would be phenomenal.”  Crowe was particularly impressive in the movie chronicling the CBS 60 Minutes scandal which resulted in a news item being pulled off the air due to corporate intervention.  “If he did 15 takes they were all great.  It was which great one to use and why?  With different little shadings you would need for the scene.  I met the real Jeffrey Wigand and it wasn’t an impression because Russell’s take was so spot on that it was unbelievable.”

The performance of Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is hard to ignore.  “My favourite scene I cut in that movie is where Gina Gershon [Bound] is playing Helen Caperelli and she tries to stop him from getting angry about the fact they had cut him out of the broadcast where he apologizes for not airing the segment.   She kept going, ‘Mike.  Mike.’  And Christopher says, ‘Mike?  Try Mr. Wallace.’  He backs her up, goes nose to nose with her and yells at her face.  It is so great.  Christopher had him down so much that it was like having Michael Wallace in the movie.”  Goldenberg was informed by those who personally know the legendary journalist that, “The only difference was that the real Mike Wallace would have been closer to her face.”

“Lowell Bergman [portrayed by Al Pacino] was a consultant on the movie and was around a lot; it is amazing to work on movies about real people,” states William Goldenberg who assembled the project along with Paul Rubell (Collateral) and David Rosenbloom (Immortals).  “Paul had the first half of the movie and I had the second half with some exceptions.”    When a tobacco lawyer is told to shut-up by a state of Mississippi attorney, the actors where literally reliving the historical moment.  “That’s the actual courthouse that the deposition happened.  The court reporter was the actual court reporter.  That level of detail with Michael gives it an extra realism.   There is such great camera work in that scene it almost feels like it is coming right under his arm at one point.”  Authenticity is fundamental to the storytelling.  “Michael does a tremendous amount of research where he prepares a book which is the biggest three ring binder you have ever seen and it is filled with information about the characters, the backgrounds and motivations, and pictures.  Michael gives the actors their homework to study.  I know that the level of detail and preparation that he does is off the charts.”

Unlike Heat where a gunfight erupts on the streets of Los Angeles, only a single piece of ammunition appears in The Insider.  “We needed an insert of the bullet,” remarks William Goldenberg.  “I will rarely say to Michael, ‘That we need to pick up an insert.’  Because often times you will make a list of what inserts are needed but Michael rarely goes back to reshoot anything or any pickups; he takes a lot of pride in getting it all the first time.  I did ask the script supervisor as I thought we needed an insert for that.  Michael had the idea of shooting it through the mailbox with Russell’s face behind the bullet which I thought was so cool.”  Goldenberg was also impressed by the footage for the cinematic moment which features Colm Feore (Thor) talking about flying fighter jets to Russell Crowe.  “I remember watching the dailies and Michael used a Frazier lens which had a split-eye optic. You were able to get things in focus things there were very close to the camera and things in the background to be in focus as well.  Michael uses that lens so brilliantly in that sequence where Russell turns to the camera and his face is almost up against it while Colm is in the background talking.”

Piecing together scene where Lowell Bergman urgently tries to get potentially suicidal Jeffrey Wigand on the phone was complicated by the use of a visual effect.   “Wigand sees a wall of wallpaper morph into his own backyard with his kids.  The combination of Lisa Gerrard’s [Burning Man] music, and Russell’s performance, all credit goes to Michael there.  Even with the pieces of the kids we picked out it is one of the most favourite things I have ever cut. The degree of difficult was high because of the morphing.  They didn’t do it quite technically right when they did it.  Michael used a motion-control camera on Russell.  It was supposed to be motion-controlled camera on the background and Michael shot them without it.  We didn’t think it would work.  Chris Watts [Gravity], the visual effects supervisor did a brilliant job of making it all so everything was lined up.  Without Chris it wouldn’t have worked.”

A hapless hotel manger goaded over the phone by Lowell Bergman provides an element of humour.   “I don’t know how Roger Bart [Law Abiding Citizen] ended up in the movie; he’s a Tony-winning actor.  You want it to be funny but you don’t want it comedic.  Maybe that’s why Michael went for such a great actor for that small part.  ‘Get on the fucking phone!’  It’s fantastic.  And the moment when Russell opens the door, flips the phone and slams the door, Russell came up with that.  The funny thing is we shot a scene of Al where he is waist deep in the water and there was one take where all of sudden he runs out of the water because there was shark nearby!  I’m sure it was little but it still scared the crap out of him.”

“One of my favourites is the Japanese restaurant scene where Pacino comes in to explain to Russell Crowe what it is going to be like if you do this.  How your life is going to change.  At the same time Russell is trying to impress Al Pacino about his knowledge of Japanese and the fact that he did some research.  He is trying to be a regular guy with Pacino and tells him that he knows about his college background, and annoys Pacino.  There’s sparing between the two of them and at the end of the scene Russell Crowe turns the table on Pacino.  I love that scene.  I love the way it is cut.  It was difficult to put together. The way it was shot was hard because it was shot so simply.  The lens size, combining performances and making it cohesive was difficult.  Two phenomenal actors at their best; I was lucky to be able to cut that one.”

“The final broadcast where Lisa Gerrard’s music is playing was really gratifying; I thought it worked so beautifully,” states William Goldenberg who along with Paul Rubell and David Rosenbloom were rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Editing while The Insider also contended for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Sound.  “It was one of those things where it all came together.  Michael often sees himself in the leads of his movies and in a strange way Russell’s character becomes like Al Pacino’s and they switch roles in a way.  It was one of those perfect projects and a perfect director.” Goldenberg adds, “Not because I worked on it but it is maybe my favourite directed movie that I can think of.  Michael hit it out of the park editorially with The Insider.”

Many thanks to William Goldenberg for taking the time for this interview.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.