CRAFT: PORTFOLIO; John Smith

A billion people were glued to their television screens last week to see whether Leaving Las Vegas, directed by Mike Figgis, would turn its four Oscar nominations into four wins. But few would have known the name of the man who edited the film down from an original 35 hours of rushes. That task fell to John Smith - 36, commercials editor, co-founder of the Whitehouse and now, with Leaving Las Vegas, debut feature film editor.

A billion people were glued to their television screens last week to see

whether Leaving Las Vegas, directed by Mike Figgis, would turn its four

Oscar nominations into four wins. But few would have known the name of

the man who edited the film down from an original 35 hours of rushes.

That task fell to John Smith - 36, commercials editor, co-founder of the

Whitehouse and now, with Leaving Las Vegas, debut feature film editor.



The film - which centres on an affair between an alcoholic, Ben, played

by Nicolas Cage, and a hooker, Sera, played by Elisabeth Shue - owes

much of its impact to the power of creative editing. In one scene, where

Ben is drinking himself towards an inevitable death, Smith used Avid

special effects to move from slow-motion anguish through to fast-paced

giddiness as Ben loses control. We even have the sense of hazy

transition as he slowly returns to sober reality and the film returns to

normal speed.



Smith borrowed many of the techniques used in Leaving Las Vegas, such as

jump cuts, from commercials, where he has worked since 1987 for elite

directors including Jon Amiel (Halifax), Paul Weiland (Sainsbury’s

‘romance’), Michael Mann (Lee Jeans), Martin Campbell (Volvo ‘horse’)

and Andy Morahan (Guess Jeans).



Smith, who maintains that he has learned as much from bad directors as

from these accomplished names, says that his agenda was always to work

with features directors who work in commercials: ‘Only features

directors can teach the essentials of structure, dialogue and rhythm.’



Smith grew up in Battersea and left school at 16 armed with little more

than a burning ambition to ‘get into movies’. By 17, working as a

messenger for pounds 15 a week, he was drawn towards editing. An

assistant for seven years, he started editing in 1987 at Posthouse and

jointly founded the Whitehouse in 1990 with Rick Lawley and Andrea

MacArthur.



Committed to the Whitehouse, Smith is nonetheless planning his next

feature. No prizes for guessing that it will be Figgis’s next film, One

Night’s Stand.



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