Former Shop 'n Save meat cutter Doug Crise is 'Babel' editing nominee

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By Barbara Vancheri
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's a story as good as Jennifer Hudson's.

After graduating from Yough High School in 1979, Douglas Crise worked as a meat cutter at Shop 'n Save in Mt. Pleasant, toiling anonymously in the back. He decided he didn't want to make that a career (especially after his job was sliced from full to part time) and enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh.

He started in Greensburg, transferred to the main campus to pursue film studies and took lots of classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. "The only class I didn't take was editing," the 45-year-old Crise said recently from the home he shares in Burbank with his wife, Denise, and their dog.

That is ironic, given where Crise will be today: at the Kodak Theatre, as a film editing nominee with Stephen Mirrione for "Babel."

A week ago, they shared top honors at the American Cinema Editors Awards with Thelma Schoonmaker from "The Departed." It was only the second tie in the 57-year history of the ACE Eddie Awards.

Tonight, both dramas plus "Blood Diamond," "Children of Men" and "United 93" will be competing for Hollywood's highest award for film editors.

"Babel" runs roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes long but it started out, in its rawest form, as 240 hours of film in a variety of formats. It was the job of the editors, working with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, to shape it into a moving and manageable film that would seamlessly unite stories on three continents and in four languages.

Crise, who is busy editing a movie called "The Tourist" starring Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, went from serving as an assistant to Mirrione on such films as "Clockwatchers" and "Traffic" to sharing credit on "Babel." Now, Crise is stepping out on his own with "The Tourist" and "The Nines," which played at the Sundance Film Festival.

He is the middle child of five born to Glenn, a retired mail carrier, and Catherine, a homemaker, who still live in his hometown of Smithton. He didn't land in an editing suite straight from Pitt; he went to Hollywood as an unpaid intern and was put to work driving a 16-foot truck.

When he asked for another job, he was shifted to the editing room for three weeks. He returned to Pittsburgh and, a year later, moved to L.A. again and spent his first three or four months working for free. When he did get hired, it was as an apprentice editor on a low-budget horror movie for $250 a week (that's a six-day week).

Although Crise recalls his first reaction to editing was, "The room's air-conditioned," he says he grew to appreciate how it allowed for creative input, time spent with the director and contributions to the storytelling. "I can see the movie come together and take shape."

Although "Babel" glides around the globe, from Morocco to California to Mexico and Japan, the film editors did not. They were based in Los Angeles except for a day trip to Tijuana to set up equipment so Gonzalez Inarritu could watch footage there.

"I've been to Tijuana before, but it was a good hour away from the city. It was in a remote country area, a back road that was more scary than some of the farm roads I've been on in Pennsylvania. It took us a good 15 minutes or more to drive back a mile and a half," to where a Mexican wedding also was filmed.

Crise and Mirrione typically would send dailies to the director every couple of days, and Gonzalez Inarritu's assistant would load them onto a computer for him to watch.

All of the film was flown to Los Angeles, where it was processed. "It all went pretty smoothly," Crise said, despite the occasional roll mistakenly left on a truck in Morocco or even damage to a key scene involving Cate Blanchett, who plays an American accidentally shot on a tourist bus.

"The one scene where Cate is smoking the pipe to relieve the pain, all the film looked like it had snow on it. It had scratches all over it, but because we live in the computer age nowadays, they can just scan that into the computer and paint every single scratch out. It's seamless. You don't have to panic as much now."

Crise spent days sitting next to the director as they watched every bit of footage of actress Adriana Barraza, as a Mexican-born nanny, wandering in the desert. He edited that sequence, from start to finish, three times before everyone agreed it worked and wouldn't require reshoots in the desert.

The first cut of the movie was 3 1/2 hours long. The next version was 2 hours and 45 minutes, still too long. Further tweaking and tightening removed another 20 minutes, without deleting a single scene.

Asked to describe his job in layman's terms, he says, "The editor is basically the final storyteller of the movie. He works hand in hand with the director, but the guy who wrote the movie, that's the first storyteller."

An editor can shape a performance, make an actor look better (or worse), restructure the film so it will make sense and, with the help of music, create or further a feeling or emotion on screen. "When the film comes in, it's just dailies. A lot of people out there don't know that when a movie is shot, it's not shot in order.

"We're the last ones putting an imprint on how the story's going to be told. Until we touch the movie, it's not a movie, it's just a bunch of footage, and it has to be constructed in a way that hopefully will keep the audience entertained and engaged and help them to feel what we feel."

Murray Close
Doug Crise, on his work on "Babel," which starred Cate Blanchett -- "An editor can shape a performance, make an actor look better (or worse), restructure the film so it will make sense and, with the help of music, create or further a feeling or emotion on screen."
Click photo for larger image.
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