INTERVIEW: Kevin Tent Talks Editing for “Downsizing” and Directing ‘Crash Pad’

The job of an editor is often a thankless one (unless it goes poorly, then you receive a lot of the blame. Kevin Tent rarely has that issue as he has established himself as one of Hollywood’s strongest editors. With an Oscar nomination for “The Descendants” in 2012, as well as a handful of ACE nominations for his work on other on Alexander Payne directed films. Their collaborations have been fruitful, which led to Tent’s directorial debut with “Crash Pad” starring Domhnall Gleeson. He sat down with me to discuss his new film, editing Oscar-nominated performances, and the emergence of breakout star Hong Chau.

AF: Do you consider “Crash Pad” the first movie you directed?

KT: Yes, even though there are a couple of credits on IMDB from the old Roger Corman days, but this was really the first thing I ever directed. It was really something I’ve always wanted to do. I love editing and I’ve been so fortunate to have an amazing career, but I personally still wanted to challenge myself and see if I was any good at it. That’s what the motivation was I started looking around for a script. I was fortunate enough to find Jeremy Catalino’s script for “Crash Pad.” He and I met a couple times and decided to try to make it. It took a while for it to all happen because I would begin to work on a movie, and then all of a sudden it was 9 months to a year working on a film. Then I’d have a month or two months to get it going. It took a while to get going, but now it’s out!

AF: How was the process of casting? When did you try to get Domhnall Gleeson?

KT: You know, I had thought that the dialogue is very specifically written and I always thought it would be best for someone who was traditionally trained or from the UK. Those guys are so good at delivering dialogue efficiently and correctly. He was also someone I’d always liked, and he was the only person we went out to for the role. We were so glad he read it, and he loved it and said yes. That really got us going. He does a fantastic job in this movie!

AF: Yeah he’s always great and very funny in this movie.

KT: Isn’t he? Not everyone really thinks of him as someone who can do comedy with all of his serious roles. He’s mostly known for being an extremely dramatic actor, and I think this could be a good breakout for him in comedy.

AF: What specific role of his caught your eye during the process?

KT: I would say “About Time.” I thought he was really charming and sweet in that. I think that’s where I first noticed him, and it’s more of a lighter role. Then of course, “Ex Machina.” I don’t remember how it lined up chronologically, but we already had him in mind and were in the process of reaching out to him when that came out. I just thought he had the right look and feel, and we were lucky to get him.

AF: How about Thomas Hayden Church? You had already cut together his performance in “Sideways,” so did that help?

KT: Well because we already knew each other from “Sideways,” he did join the movie. Alexander was also a producer on the movie, so when we asked he was very open to it. It was a big deal because it was the veteran actor coming on board for a first-time director.

AF: How about the other actresses involved? You’ve got Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrev. How did they join the project?

KT: Nina joined us early in the process. I think it was Domhnall and Thomas, who were both excited to work with each other. They had amazing chemistry both on set and off. Then it was Nina, who wanted to do different things and do more comedy after “The Americans.” The last person to join was Christina. We were looking for someone great, and she actually joined us while we were already in pre-production. We were very lucky to have her.

AF: How do you go from editing to directing? Were there any tricks you learned as an editor you utilized during the film?

KT: No, I’d say that they are completely different skillsets. I always had it in the back of mind, because editors have some ways to get out of a scene if it’s really in trouble. So while shooting, I always kind of knew that we could cut this, cut that. I was also concerned if we were getting everything, which is normal for any first-time director. I think it helped with some of my shot selections and helped here and there. But really it is so different, it was a whole new world and new experience.

AF: What was the biggest challenge moving from the editor’s chair to the director’s?

KT: There were so many challenges, but it all just happened so fast. In the editing room, you can take your time and watch things a few times. On the set, it happens so fast, and sometimes you think “I believe that was good.” You can also only see once or twice during the day, which was something I wasn’t quite used to. Editors look at things a few times before they make that decision. That was probably the craziest thing that happened.

AF: How do you edit for comedy? So much of it is timing.

KT: It really can be! I love comedy and I’ve edited a lot of comedy. It’s why I thought directing a comedy made sense. I had an overall vision of the speed and the dialogue like an old 1940’s movie, and they don’t wait around for the next joke. So whether it’s an audible joke or a visual joke, they keep coming. Hopefully my instincts from editing helped here.

AF: What made you want to become an editor?

KT: You know what I like to say, and I think is true? I found editing, and editing found me. It wasn’t something that I had planned to do. I had gone to LA City College and made my short films. The very first film job I got out of film school was editing educational films. They were kind of static and boring, but I had to do it for a few years. I would help my friends by editing their short films, and I really started to like it.

AF: What was your big break?

KT: Well, I got a chance to recut a film for Roger Corman, and I was like, “this is pretty great.” After that I tried to become the best editor I could possibly be, and after 20 years that is still my goal. It’s a really great job, and it’s an amazing one to have. You’re closer to the film than almost anybody else. It becomes part of your life for a while.

AF: One of the early collaborators you started working with was Alexander Payne. What was your first film together?

KT: “Citizen Ruth” in 1996. I had already been editing for a while for Roger Corman and I had just done an indie. I had just cut “Gun Crazy” with Tamra Davis, and that was one of the first indies to really catch on. Alexander interviewed me while I was doing the Corman movies, and we just hit it off. He was a great guy, and I was fone!

AF: “Election was a big one I wanted to ask you about. How did you settle on such a frenetic energy in that film?

KT: We edited that film for a very long time, probably one of the longest editing jobs I’ve ever had. I think because we had all that time, we made it tight, and really a lot of fun. A lot of it was in the script, but we pieced it together in the editing room. Pretty much anyone who had anything to do with that film that got a nice career bump, I know I did.

AF: I can imagine. One of the great things about working with Alexander must be editing together a lot of Oscar-nominated performances. How was it editing together “About Schmidt,” with Jack Nicholson?

KT: I remember that Alexander did a lot of takes with Jack for some scenes, and Jack was amazingly patient. What was incredible was that we would have like 7 takes, and every one be different. We normally get a few bad ones and a few good ones. With Jack, every one was good.

AF: How did you guys slow down the pace after those first couple films?

KT: We didn’t want to do that energy in “About Schmidt,” especially considering our protagonist is an older man. That carried into “Sideways” as well.

AF: Obviously “Sideways” got a lot of awards attention as well.

KT: Since then, it’s kind of been a style that he’s stuck to. We try to get all the great performances without cutting too much, and then let the performances speak for themselves.  After that we got through “The Descendants” where we let the moments in the film speak for themselves.

AF: You also received your first Oscar nomination for “The Descendants.” Can you describe the process from editing the film through your Oscar nomination?

KT: Well that was an incredible thrill. I mean I love that movie, and I’m very proud of it. Editing George Clooney was incredible and all the actors were great. It was also Shailene Woodley’s breakout role so that was a joy. When the awards thing came up, I was surprised. I mean it was graceful and elegant, but it wasn’t really showy editing. It was an immense honor that my fellow editors nominated me. To be nominated is a complete and utter thrill.

AF: How does editing black and white for a film like “Nebraska” change your style?

KT: Surprisingly it didn’t really change things too much for me. With Alexander’s films, we edit for the performances, and that movie is full of them. For other films you might worry about the backgrounds or other issues in the film, but if the audience is engaged in the actor’s performances, it’s easier. 98% of the choices we make are for the actors. There was an interesting thing we found in “Nebraska,” and that was the actor’s faces. Like Bruce Dern has such an amazing face, and I think the black and white accentuated that. It was so cool.

AF: Well you’re in the awards hunt again for “Downsizing.” It’s very different then some of the other films you worked on in the past.

KT: Well one of the things about Alexander is that he’s got his own style. They have the same ideas, same feelings. In some ways, it is different, but it’s got the same gravitas as his other films. It’s still sad and tragic and funny all at once. It was so much fun to edit.

AF: Is it cool to see incredible performances like Hong Chau’s come to life?

KT: It was fun. So first of all, Alexander just knows how to cast. It’s one of his strong suits. I was so excited because this is when it’s fun to be an editor. Like on “The Descendants” when Shailene is in the pool and she finds out her mom is dying? I was sitting there in the cutting room thinking “Oh my god. Look at this performance!” I felt the same way when I saw the first performance footage from Hong Chau. I mean other than the people on the set, no one sees it like you do. It’s really a thrill.

AF: Was there a specific scene that stood out to you?

KT: There’s a performance in the film that is incredible. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but people who have seen the movie will know which scene I’m talking about. It was on the first take. We took it a second time, but the one that’s in the movie is the first take and she blows it out of the water. You’re going to see a lot of her around in the future.

AF: Well thank you so much for your time! Your first directorial film and an awards contender! Pretty great year.  

KT: Thank you, it’s been amazing.

“Crash Pad” is now available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and other Video-on-Deman platforms. It will be released on DVD on December 5th, 2017.

“Downsizing” will be released in theaters on December 22nd, 2017. It is directed by Alexander Payne and stars Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Kirsten Wigg, and Christopher Waltz.