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A Memento From Dody Dorn

Editor Dody Dorn stepped into the spotlight with her bravura work on director Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which featured a complex plot almost mathematical in its ordering of confusion to create clarity. Perhaps that’s related to her love of numbers since attending Hollywood High School and her first career goal – to become a math teacher. But her part-time job working the switchboard at her dad’s small shooting stage led into work as a PA, assistant location manager, assistant to the producer and, finally, assistant film editor. Finding it difficult to make the leap to film editor, she moved into sound editing, where she thrived on projects including Silverado and The Abyss. But she kept her hand in film editing, mainly small indies, until Memento put her on the map. Since then, her editorial credits include Matchstick Men and Insomnia.
How would you describe your style as an editor?
I am a collaborator. I see myself as the shepherd who gets the film safely home. My primary aim is to manifest the vision of the director. I rely heavily on the response elicited from the first time viewing. I do my best to be removed from the trials of getting the image on celluloid. If I know about the difficulties that went into getting a particular shot, I may not be able to judge it honestly. I also am drawn to material where the editing and editing style play an upfront role. I appreciate invisible editing, but it’s fun when editing can be conspicuous, provided it is adding to the narrative and not done for its own sake.
Editing is making choices. During post-production, I work with the director to mine the best film out of the material that was shot. Leaving no stone unturned and going with my gut instincts, two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts, are techniques that I put to use on every film. That strange combination of hard work and divine inspiration probably means, inevitably, that I have left my stamp on the films I’ve edited.
What was the significance of working on Memento?
With its non-linear backwards chronology, Memento brought the power of editing into the consciousness of the movie-going public. As with most great films, it started with a great script. Prior to meeting with Chris Nolan, I had to read the script several times to fully grasp what was going on. I was thrilled at the prospect of working on a film where the editing would play an up-front-and-center role. The chronology was astutely and precisely laid out in the script, and I used it like a blueprint during production. It was a joy to work with Chris because his vision was so clear. The challenge in post was to figure out how much of each repeated scene we needed to show in order for the audience to know for certain they were seeing the exact same action for the second time. We tried to achieve a balance of the right amount of disorientation without losing the overall narrative thread, thereby allowing the viewer to experience something akin to Leonard’s condition. We ultimately joined a couple of scenes together that were scripted to play twice in flashback but, other than that, the structure from the script remained intact.
Editing went digital some time ago. Does technology continue to impact your job and your creativity?
I started editing before the digital revolution, so my technical skill and knowledge is rooted in traditional 35mm celluloid film editing. Being able to immediately see dissolves and other visual effects and do more extensive sound and music work on the computer probably stimulates some inventive ideas that might not otherwise get tried. Regardless, the elements of good storytelling are the same and the overuse of visual effects and technology can get in the way. I use the computer as a tool. Sometimes I work as if I were cutting physical film. I view the material, take notes, make my choices and put the scene together. Other times, to get started, I quickly cut a bunch of shots together, and once I have the A-to-Z pieces assembled, I review, refine and shape the scene. This is a method that would be physically harder to do on film. Happy accidents happen more often working this way.
What should readers know about the role of an editor?
It is still a commonly accepted notion that the editor just "cuts out all the bad bits." I liken editing more to sculpture. I don’t claim to be Michelangelo, but I like to think that when I am watching the dailies projected for the first time, I am seeing the pure essence of the film and that I work toward preserving and presenting that essence in a form that is accessible while still being artful.
What are you working on now?
I am working on Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott. I have never edited an epic before, so it is exciting and challenging in its scope.

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