When editor Tariq Anwar first interviewed with Regina King to discuss “One Night in Miami,” they talked about transitions and music. Transitions were important to the first-time feature director, and temp music was important to the Oscar-nominated editor of “The King’s Speech” and “American Beauty.” It became part of a larger plan to get closer to Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) when they gather together in 1964 to celebrate Clay’s historic boxing defeat of Sonny Liston. But what transpired in Kemp Powers’ incisive adaptation of his acclaimed play was a soul-searching conversation about fame and activism.
“Regina was very focused on the transitions [to visually connect these four friends], and I love to use music when I’m editing because it helps me with the picture cutting,” Anwar said. “She had some reservation at first because music can be overly manipulative, but she was fine with it.”
Recalling a piano track he liked in “Green Book,” Anwar thought solo piano would work for the transitions. He downloaded several samples and played with jazz, blues, and gospel, assigning different styles to the four Black icons to capture their personalities. “Fortunately, Regina liked the idea but she didn’t like the style of piano,” he said. “She was keen on an Aretha Franklin influence. She then used that to influence Terence Blanchard in the score that he was going to compose.”
The overall plan was to create a dynamic rhythm between the four friends gathered in the Hampton House suite. They achieved this through the creative layout of production designer Barry Robison’s New Orleans set, which allowed constant movement, and through cinematographer Tami Reiker’s use of multi-camera setups, which allowed her to shoot the many monologues in continuous takes along with the crucial reaction shots.
“Regina managed to bring a lot of variety in the staging, and her use of multi-cameras freed me from continuity concerns,” added Anwar. “It enabled me to vary the shot sizes and to vary the pace: all the important things for keeping a modern audience engaged. She moved the camera when the set would allow it or she’d move the actors. So, by moving actors, I didn’t have to cut into the movement. It varied the editing. I could linger on a shot with movement or mix it up by editing. In the final analysis, constantly changing perspective helped to move away from a staged look.”
Anwar maintained an editorial schedule a day or so behind shooting and would upload edits for King to look at every night. They would also view the assembly in the cutting room on weekends.
“She was generally very happy with the internal editing of scenes,” he said. “There were some structural issues we had to address: some things didn’t work as scripted or needed deletion or transposing. For instance, there was a section after Malcolm leaves to get his camera down to the carport. It took far too long for him to make a phone call to his daughter and get back to the room. And we had to shorten Clay and Brown by the mirror. Every now and then, we did go back to certain takes for certain lines, or she might say there’s a great reaction of Sam Cooke here [or she chose to hold longer on Malcolm and Clay after a moment of prayer]. What works really well is how it gets close to the four men by holding and intercutting.”
Of course, it was more difficult to finish the director’s cut when COVID hit. Anwar relocated to LA to work remotely the last few weeks, gathered sound and score online, and used FaceTime to review scenes with King. “It was very difficult and very frustrating for everyone,” he added.
However, Anwar said King was fully prepared and brought her own unique perspective to the exploration of fame and activism. “She created an environment, certainly in the cutting room, where opinions, ideas, and discussion were welcome,” he said. “In terms of casting, her ideas were brilliant, and she was able to get the best out of not only the actors but the crew. I felt that it’s so strange, as Malcolm is talking to his friends, saying that they should use their fame to advance the civil rights movement, that you’d think Regina had spoken to Malcolm as well, in the way that she’s using her fame to do the same thing with Black Lives Matter.”