Editor Tom McArdle has been working with the similarly named director Tom McCarthy since his directorial debut, 2003’s The Station Agent, so the pair had developed quite a shorthand before beginning work together on this year’s Spotlight. As with all of McCarthy’s films, McArdle was drawn in by the power of a story well told—in this case, by McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer—and it was the grounded, thoughtful nature of the writing that resonated. Obviously, the abundant star power of of such talent as Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams who were hitched to the project made the choice to sign on even easier. “The cast was impressive, really deep. It was like two good casts added together,” says McArdle.
On Spotlight, as per the usual, McArdle began assembling the rough cut on his own, incorporating McCarthy into the mix after that 10-week process. McArdle regularly assembled alternate or experimental cuts to various scenes, and as a generous and creative collaborator, McCarthy was very responsive.
Beginning a month after completion of the first rough cut, McArdle and McCarthy hosted a series of small screenings in the editing bay every three weeks to gauge audience response. Says McArdle: “We would invite eight people and sit behind them as the film played, and take note of their reactions, as well as our own gut feelings. Screenings will stress you out, but that heightened sensitivity will reinforce things.” The pouring of generous quantities of wine certainly helped that process of audience feedback along. “As they say, ‘in vino veritas,’ McArdle quips.
Following that process of call and response, the editor and director would meet at the scene card wall the next day, ready to address any issues of clarity and pacing that presented themselves.
Based in Los Angeles, McArdle worked out of Post Factory in New York for eight months for this “long out-of-town job,” editing on Avid Media Composer via various monitors, including a 50-inch Panasonic plasma screen, which was used for screenings. When it comes to the editing process, McArdle is something of a traditionalist. “It has gotten trendy for editors to have a high desk and stand while editing these days, but I am not one of those people. I like to sit,” he says. Working from five terabytes of footage, the biggest challenge on the film was managing coverage. Many of the scenes featured six or seven characters, all portrayed by major movie stars, whose presence demands a certain amount of screen time. This difficulty was mitigated by McArdle’s experience in the documentary format, through which he became comfortable wading through endless hours of footage and “pushing to refine a film for a long time.”
For his work on Spotlight, McArdle has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as well as various critics’ awards around the country. As for his next project, McArdle is waiting for something to come to light.
To see a short clip from Spotlight, click play below: