Nearly 10 years ago editor Hughes Winborne got his first big break with
the chance to edit the independent feature Sling
. In the decade since, Winborne stayed true to his
passion for indie features, but, as is common with low budget films,
none of these were ever released theatrically. His persistence,
however, finally paid off this year when opportunity came knocking in
the form of Paul Haggis’ feature debut Crash. Fresh
off being awarded the ACE Eddie for Best Edited Dramatic Feature,
Winborne is enjoying life as “the” hot editor in Hollywood, though at
the same time bracing himself nervously for Oscar night.
Congratulations on the Oscar nomination and winning the Eddie.
How has life been since you got the Oscar nomination?
It’s been pretty crazy and hectic, also stressful at times. So much is
going. I’m not used to all this attention, after all I am an editor.
The main stress is just the sheer terror of thinking about the
possibility of giving a speech. That probably accounts for 90 percent
of my stress right now. Truthfully, I’m not too concerned about the
winning and losing part of it, but getting up in front of an audience
is not my forte. I’m an editor. I like being in a small room with only
two or three other people at the same time.
Other than that, it’s been really busy. A lot of people asking for my
attention. I don’t mind, it’s just not what I am accustomed to. I’m
getting better at it. It was worse the first few weeks after the
nomination because it took me a while to adjust to the fact that it
actually happened.
There was a bump up in work started after Crash came
out and I am on a big film now (Pursuit of Happyness
starring Will Smith and directed by Gabriele Muccino). Things have been
coming in but I can’t do anything until May. But I won’t have to pound
the pavement as much as I have in the past.
Did you make a speech when you were awarded the Eddie Award?
I did, and it’s a good thing as it kind of broke the ice. Not that I
remember any of what I said. It’s lost in another dimension. My son was
there with me. Because it was the last award of the night the tension
was building as we waited. My son turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m so
nervous I think I’m going to throw up.” That was a once in a lifetime
experience to share between my son and me. So that was great.
How did you get into editing?
I came from a family of lawyers and I had no clue what I wanted to do
but thought about going to law school. To get a taste of it I worked as
a paralegal and found out I didn’t like it. I became a housepainter for
a few years. It was fun being my own boss for a few years but it got
boring pretty quick. I’d always been a movie fanatic and I went to a
summer film program at NYU, a six-week intensive workshop. It was the
best school experience I ever had and I knew pretty quickly I wanted to
be an editor. After that I moved to New York and started working. I did
a lot of synching dailies and became the assistant on two jobs. The
second one, called The Mutilator, they fired the
editor and I got the job. It was a really fun job and learned
everything on that job. I’d never done sound, I’d really never even cut
picture for a dramatic film. We did all the sound effects for guts
falling out of people’s bodies. It was a blast.
I then started cutting AT&T industrial videos and after a few years
I got a chance to edit a pilot for FOX. Things continued to build and I
got a chance to cut the feature Drunks. While I was doing that I got
the job on Sling Bladeand that essentially brought
me to LA.
Since Sling Blade you’ve been cutting mostly independent features?
Sling Bladegot me a couple jobs but I never, until
the film I’m cutting right now, moved into the studio world. I’ve been
doing independent features for about ten years now. I was just doing
what came my way and films that I tended to like. Most other people
didn’t like them, but I did. It’s very difficult for independent films
to get in theaters. That is what is so impressive about
Crash. If things hadn’t gone exactly right, it may
not have ever made it in theaters.
What initially attracted you to Crash?
It was a job. That was the first thing. I was doing a job for Cathy
Schulman and Bulls Eye Entertainment called Employee of the
with Steve Zahn and Matt Dillon. It’s another film that
I really like that didn’t make it to theaters. It’s really funny but
it’s a bit off color and caused a problem for some people.
To be honest, I don’t have control over a lot of these things.
Crash was a great script and I really wanted to do
it, but the fact is I happened to be in the right place at the right
Cathy really wanted me to do it because of our working together on
Employee of the Monthand she recommended me to Paul
(Haggis). I got an interview with Paul and he hired me in three
But I did love the script and it is true that there are not too many
scripts that come around that are that strong from the get-go. Whatever
your opinion on the movie Crash, the one thing you
can say about it is that for what it tries to do and what it wanted to
do, it does it very successfully and does so as a unified piece. It’s
rare that I work on a film that doesn’t have story problems where I
have to spend a lot of time in the edit room with the director trying
to figure out ways to get around story problems. The script was very
tight and they deserved to be nominated for the script.
How much of the film’s pacing and structure was laid out in
the script and how much was changed in the editing room?
I get a lot of credit for things that were already in this script. Not
that I didn’t do anything but a lot of the transitions were built into
the story. Paul comes from a background in television. He knew that he
didn’t have a lot of money and had a lot to shoot in a very short
amount of time. But coming from TV that helped him to economize and
also helped him from getting from point A to point B. Let’s face it,
the multiple stories all interweaving is something that’s been common
in TV for years. So he had been thinking about those types of things
all the time in TV.
What we did editorially in Crash was we moved some
things around, we compressed some scenes because we knew if we stayed
too long on one story you’d lose interest in the other stories. So it
was a matter of keeping the ball bouncing from story to story.
I’m nominated because it’s an ensemble piece and there’s a lot of
cutting and the way it’s all constructed. But the main thing I did in
the editing room with Paul was concentrate on performance.
What scenes, either in the script or in the final film, were particularly impressive to you?
The scene with the little girl where she does, but doesn’t, get shot.
It was the first scene I cut. I still can’t watch that scene without
jumping and closing my eyes.
You never know with films what is going to be a hit, but with both
Sling Blade and Crash there was
one scene in each that makes you think that the film is going to be
special. In Sling Blade, it was in the opening scene
where J.T. Walsh dragged his chair and put it in front of Billy Bob
Thorton. Just the way he did it and the way Bily sat there, but as much
as anything, it was the sound of that chair dragging across the floor
that was just so sinister and foreboding that I thought, ‘this film
could be good.’
In Crash, when I heard Don Cheadle’s monologue in
the beginning I thought it was going to be a pretty great film. I love
Don Cheadle. He’s the glue that holds that film together. He never hits
a wrong note. In the editing room, one of the more satisfying things
about the job is getting the chance to watch people like Don do what
they do.
What were you editing this film on?
An Avid [Film Composer] version 7.2. We were back in the Stone Age. We
had the cheapest Avid they could find. I think we were giving them
tickets to an amusement park in return for those Avids. They were the
same Avids we used on Employee of the Month and they
served us well but we were definitely behind the times. They had old
cards in them and really needed a tune up, so it was not very smooth.
But hey, it was better than cutting on a flatbed. I don’t even know how
the producers found those Avids. I know they got a good deal.
Now Avids are so portable, we can interface with Photoshop. It’s like
the difference between driving a 57 Chevy and a brand new Cadillac.
Talk about working on Pursuit of Happyness.
One of the interesting things about this job was when they were
shooting up in San Francisco. They didn’t want to set up an editing
room and a whole post facility in San Francisco during production so
every week I would fly up to San Francisco with my 17-inch Power Book
and Avid Xpress Pro, load up the new material through my FireWire drive
and just edit in the director’s living room. And it was basically
seamless. I’d fly back and transfer the data to my Avid Xpress Pro at
home and continue where I left off. It was an incredible way to work.
So I was able to go up to San Francisco a fair amount and worked from
home a lot with no problems.
As long a you are working within a 24 frame project Xpress Pro is fine.
It’s pretty remarkable. Xpress Pro is affordable, it can easily load on
my laptop and for my pruposes it was great. The only thing was that you
don’t have the sound capabilities that I would if I was working on a
Meridian. But for a film like Pursuit of Happyness,
which is just a straight dramatic film, it was perfectly fine.
Good luck at the Oscars.
I just want it to be over.