Oppenheimer Editor Jennifer Lame On Focusing On Humanity Amid All The History [Exclusive Interview]

“Oppenheimer” is such a remarkably paced film. It’s chock full of information, visual and aural, but it never feels overstuffed. How did you help make that pacing happen, working with and opposite Christopher Nolan and also Ludwig Göransson and the sound design team? What was your role in that?

Yeah, I think pacing is one of those things. Obviously, every movie has to be well-paced, so it’s such a funny thing to talk about. But I guess the reason why people want to keep talking about it with this film is because of the length, right? Because it covers so much stuff. I think for me, the pacing challenge of this movie was the length and the fact that it covered so much different material. From a huge historical event to a tiny weird rivalry between two people who were mad at each other, and then relationships that he had with his wife and that he had with Florence Pugh’s character. So I just think, pacing-wise, the most important thing was that I never wanted it to feel jam-packed into three hours.

Chris and I wanted you to feel like you were just watching this entire life story get huge and then get tiny, and it had a lot of ups and downs and ebbs and flows. My favorite part of the movie is the last third part of the movie, thankfully. So for me, I just wanted people — I wanted, selfishly, everyone to feel that way. To me, the bomb going off is the least interesting part about the movie. To me, it’s what happens after the bomb goes off. So, I think, pacing-wise, I just wanted to make sure that everyone was along for the ride up until the very end. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when you get to see what Einstein said at the pond, and I wanted everyone to still be super engaged, so that when he was like, “You don’t know what they were talking about” and we cut to Einstein, where it’s like, “Whoa!” But everyone has to be engaged until then. 

So I just think making that kind of rollercoaster ride of the version of the movie and making the ups and downs and letting people live in moments, and I keep talking about how I wanted the first 30 minutes of the movie to feel very digestible and you could understand all the characters. I wanted people to not feel pressure to understand all the timelines. I wanted it to feel like an emotional 30 minutes of information, but also that you were gaining a window into who all these people were. And not getting hunkered down in rules, or what was what.

But yeah, I think just that pacing question, as an editor, that’s my whole job. People keep asking me that, and I totally understand why. And I also go back to when I first read the script, I had such a thrilling experience. I had to read it at Chris’s house, I had to go talk to him right afterwards, and you go into this room and it’s very sterile, and I just opened the page and next thing I knew, it was five minutes went by and I’d read the whole movie, and it was incredible. So I think my goal was to make sure that everyone felt that way when they saw the movie. Just screening it and screening it and being like, “Oh, this section is falling flat,” or “This section, I feel like it doesn’t have that same feeling of when I read that.” I kept going back to that emotional initial reaction when I got to experience the movie for the first time for me, which is reading the script, and wanting that to come through for everybody else.

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