Joel Cox has been editing Clint Eastwood’s films for almost 40 years. He’s won one Oscar, for 1992’s Western classic Unforgiven. Almost 20 years ago, Gary Roach came on board as Cox’s co-editor, and they’ve been working together ever since, on such films as Prisoners, Changeling and Letters from Iwo Jima. Their Oscar nomination for editing Eastwood’s American Sniper is Roach’s first, Cox’s third. They both spoke recently about their editing process and their collaboration with Eastwood.
What initially attracted you to this project?
Joel Cox: When we read it I could see in it possibilities of where this film could end up and how it will affect people. As Clint always says, “If we don’t screw it up, we might have a good film.”
Gary Roach: It definitely started with an amazing script from Jason Hall, and then Bradley Cooper literally became Chris Kyle.
How has your collaborative process with Eastwood evolved over the years?
Cox: The collaboration became a great relationship and in a relationship there’s trust; I earned his trust to be the editor of his films and we’ve done 40 together, I think. It’s an amazing collaboration because of the mutual respect we have for each other; he wants to see what we see.
Roach: We usually are behind the camera when he shoots and within a week or two after he’s finished we have our cut put together.
Cox: Gary and I believe that our job is to create the first edit with everything that he has photographed and make everything work. Like I always say, we’re like the potters with the clay, and between Gary, myself and Clint we sit there and start molding that clay down to its final version.
How is your process different working as an editing team, as opposed to editing alone?
Roach: We don’t really have any method to what we do other than the fact that we watch dailies together and decide each day who’s going to do what. There have been multiple times when we have a big scene that we’ll actually split up, and I’ll tell Joel, “I’ll cut it from this point to this point and you pick it up there,” and we’ll join it together and make adjustments. I’ve worked with Joel for 19 years and I’ve sat behind him and Clint for 10 years before I started editing, so our styles are very similar and people would never know that we split a scene.
Do either of you have any ambition to move beyond editing films?
Cox: We both love the art of editing and for myself there’s been a few times where people have called me up and wanted to know if I’ll direct their film, and I said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” They’re small movies and don’t have a lot of financing and they want me to do preproduction, shoot the film and edit the film. That’s a year of my life and the money they offer is not even scaled to that of a director. Most people have obligations and can’t afford to do that. But we both love editing and we just look forward to the next script that we’re going to work on.
Roach: Joel’s achieved so much in his career. But really, now, he’s moving on to wine. I think his goal in life is to become a winemaker and he’s doing that. He’s got this editing thing that’s he’s made a career of and done so well at, and now he’s got this vineyard and he’s making wine.