Hank Corwin, awarded best editing by the L.A. film critics and an ACE Eddie nominee, had two great challenges with Adam McKay’s dense black comedy, “The Big Short”: how to make sense of the complicated economics surrounding the 2008 housing collapse, and how to humanize the competing groups of brokers that profited from it. (Watch the “Below the Line” featurette on the film above.)
Fortunately, Corwin had a lot of great footage from a talented ensemble that’s been nominated for Best Ensemble by the Screen Actors Guild, including brilliant on-set improv from Christian Bale and Steve Carell. “I initially started cutting each grouping differently,” he explained. “Christian Bale’s Michael Burry character was very locked within himself and closed down. And I tried to make the editing there almost subliminal and very quiet. And then you had Steve Carell’s character, Mark Baum, who was very overt and bombastic, so I tried to make that editorial really over the top. It was aggressive and not very pretty—deliberately so.
“My biggest task, I thought, was to make these people not seem like cyborgs, repeating facts and figures.” For this, he had a secret weapon that McKay encouraged him to pursue: the use of time-lapse stock footage for navigating through the chaotic, absurd and surreal events that comprise the narrative.
But even with an ensemble, you eventually have to focus on a single protagonist and create a character arc, and in this case it was Carell’s Baum, who must grapple with the biggest ethical/moral dilemma. Yet it didn’t start out that way for the editor.
“But people have really gravitated toward Steve’s character and what he goes through. But there was so much more character development that was written and shot and discarded. There’s a whole saga to Burry, such as the discovery that both he and his son had Asperger’s, and that became a very liberating moment for him. But Steve’s character became almost like an X-ray of a plot line. The fact that he gave us so many performances, we were able to construct a performance where he just seems like a human character.”