Los Angeles–based writer-director; Fingerprints, Soul's Midnight
wouldn't want to say that any percentage of an actor's performance is "crafted" in the editing room. But they certainly can be improved and reconstructed in editing. In my very first film, a name actor who shall remain nameless insisted on having hiccups throughout an entire scene of dialogue—like, 20 to 30 hiccups in between all his lines, and I couldn't get him to give me an alternate take. After testing the film, it was obvious the hiccups slowed down the scene. In editing we were able to remove the hiccups, pick up the pace of the actor's performance, and the scene played great.
Los Angeles–based writer-director; Kiss the Bride, Latter Days
he answer depends upon the production and the actor. Sometimes there are those great performances where you go back and realize, "Wow, that actor did that in one take." Then there are other times where, due to the nature of the shot or the project, it's necessary to cobble together a performance from a number of shots, from a number of different reactions, and a number of different directions.
For me, there was a crucial scene in Latter Days in which both of our leads are kind of required to jump through several emotional hoops. I was looking for a number of specific transitions during the course of the scene. If it was a play and we were able to rehearse for six weeks, these actors would be able to kind of find those beats. But as it was, what I did was direct the actors to find those specific moments one at a time, knowing that I had the luxury of then putting it together in the edit bay. The editor is definitely the actor's friend.
Los Angeles–based writer-director; Yesterday Was a Lie, The Garden
y answer—if this is an answer—would be that this depends on one's perspective. In truth, a lot of the performance is crafted in the editing room, because the editor is going to choose takes, adjust reaction timing, etc. It can—and does—completely shape the actor's performance.
At the same time, one could argue that the editor is really only working with what the actor has given him or her already, so it's ultimately the actor's performance that is coming through; the editor simply chooses which performance to use. So the actor has to give his or her very best in every beat of every take in order to give the editor the best possible material with which to work. Ultimately this is why it is so critical to trust your editor implicitly and why as a director I've learned that it's probably best to edit your own films, like I did with Yesterday Was a Lie.
New Orleans–based writer-director; George Washington, Snow Angels, Pineapple Express
articularly with Snow Angels, we had a wealth of improv, and it was a matter of fine-tuning to where lines of humor and drama would best complement each other. We intended for Amy Sedaris and Nicky Katt to bring life and humor to their roles, doing comedic turns with dramatic content; our job was to find the right meeting place of the two.
Los Angeles–based writer-director; directorial credits include Sex and Death 101; writing credits include Heathers, Batman Returns
hen I see a truly terrible performance in a movie, I am awed, mouth gaping in childlike wonder. I mean, there are just so many ways to make a weak performance healthier and stronger in the magical sanctum of the editing room. You can take that nervous, wobbly line reading the actor gave and replace it with the cool, collected one they did offscreen during the other actor's coverage. And, hey, that silent sigh after you called "Cut" can be moved to another part of the scene to create a great reaction shot. Those are just a couple examples, not even getting into the glory of ADR and the delicious cop-out of mixing in a choice piece of music.
Yes, you can improve a performance in the editing room, you can "save" a performance in the editing room, but alas, there are limits. You can glue a broken set of chimes together, but the sound will always be a little off. A truly great performance is one of those "the battle is won or lost before the armies take the field" kind of deals. It cannot be manufactured. The almighty director can provide love, support, and a bucketful of brilliant observation, but it takes the actor to find that intangible, idiosyncratic force that brings the character to life.
At the end of the day, all the tricks of the editing room can give a character a brain, a body, and a heart, but only the actor can give the character a soul. Or maybe I just haven't found the right button on my Avid.