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Interview: Oscar-Winning Editor Lee Smith on Helping Craft Sam Mendes’ ‘Empire of Light’

Lee Smith, winner of the award for best film editing for "Dunkirk" poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Editing is one of the more underrated crafts of the cinema. In many ways, you only notice an editor if they do their job poorly. Do it well and they’re part of the invisible hands guiding you through a film. Lee Smith is one of the best in the business at doing this, and he has an Academy Award on his mantle to prove it (the Oscar for Best Film Editing comes by way of cutting Dunkirk). The longtime editor for Christopher Nolan has also had multiple efforts with the likes of Peter Weir, as well as Sam Mendes, who he collaborated with on Empire of Light. Recently, I was on Zoom talking with Smith about the flick, and today, that conversation comes your way.

In my review of Empire of Light from back at the Telluride Film Festival (here), I had this to say:

Filmmaker Sam Mendes takes sole writing duties here for the first time, in addition to directing, which shows how personal it all is for him. Occasionally, that makes the script a bit more uneven than you’d hope for, but it’s a small quibble. His direction is fluid and full of passion, elevated once again by cinematography from the great Roger Deakins. There’s also strong editing from Lee Smith, as well as an A+ score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Unsurprisingly, since it’s a Mendes project, Empire of Light is nearly perfect on a technical level. Reznor and Ross could be Oscar frontrunners once again, that’s for sure.

Below, you can hear my chat with Smith. We’re focused on Empire of Light, but it’s impossible not to at least mention his works with Nolan, as well as other jobs with Mendes himself. Smith is an expert at what he does, so it was a pleasure to discuss it all with him. Simply put, I’m going to let him speak for himself below, but I do recommend Empire of Light. It’s a compelling little film from a big filmmaker, which always appeals to me…

Searchlight Pictures

Here now is my interview with Empire of Light editor Lee Smith. Enjoy:

Empire of Light is in theaters this weekend!


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[…] first impression, and the projection booth scenes heavily moved me. I spoke to editor Lee Smith here about Empire of Light, but this here is some of what I had to say out of the Telluride Film […]



Written by Joey Magidson

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