Todd Phillips’ Joker is a polarizing picture to say the least. Having only been screened at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, the original origin story has drawn up as much controversy for its excessive violence as it has acclaim for its lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
We Got This Covered had the opportunity to speak with editor Jeff Groth – who’s worked with Phillips on both War Dogs and The Hangover Part III –about the world’s reaction to the film thus far, as well as Phoenix’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, among other topics.
Be sure to check out our conversation down below and enjoy.
First of all, congratulations on the film. I did see it in Toronto, and if I have anything to say about it, I think it’s going to be quite a success for you guys. With that said, there’s already been some controversy – most recently with the families of Aurora victims over the potential societal effect it could have. From what I understand, both Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. have offered their viewpoints on this matter. But having been one of the people who crafted it, how do you think or hope audiences will react to the film?
Jeff Groth: Well, I hope that they watch the movie. There’s been a lot of people who’ve talked about the movie without having seen it. I don’t believe the movie is something that will incite violence; I certainly hope it isn’t, and it was never intended to be.
On that topic, when you’re tasked to work with this Joker character, he’s sort of a symbol of chaos. This movie gets chaotic, especially towards the back half. What did you want to do on your end to give audiences that impression?
Jeff Groth: I think there was a blurring of the line between what is real and what is an illusion in the character’s mind and what you see. He’s a bit of an unreliable narrator in a way; he’s not a narrator in that he’s doing voiceover, but he is our main character and we are following him. He’s not the sort of person that can be relied upon [to show] the truth.
Were there any specific scenes, like any kinds of tricks that you pulled that deceived us? Of course, there’s the writing that throws us into the world of this unreliable narrator, but is there some spoiler-free thing you and Todd Phillips came up with to try and trick audiences?
Jeff Groth: Yeah, there is. There’s a big underline that as we discover the unreality of it, there was a lot of tricks very much related to that in terms of what’s being said and – without getting into spoilers, it’s tough to talk about because it’s such a big piece and I’d prefer people didn’t know about it when they walked into it. I really love the moment and I think you know what I’m talking about?
I think I do. So, we’ll avoid spoiler-territory. I wanted to talk about and get a run through of a couple of fantastic sequences that are featured heavily in the trailers, so I feel okay to talk about them. The first one is the steps. That whole scene is absolutely fantastic. I won’t spoil what song is being used as he’s celebrating down the steps, but it’s so in sync: the shot selection, his movements, the camera movements. Can you walk me through that process? Was it hard to get everything to correlate so well?
Jeff Groth: Not exactly. He is dancing to the song that’s playing in that scene. They were playing that song live as he was doing the dance. They shot that with multiple cameras, with one of [them] running in slow motion. When I put that together, I started by syncing that song out both in regular motion and slow motion – the two separate parts – and then choose between the cameras. In the movie, you’ll see it goes from real motion to slow motion. We used different parts of the song, but because it’s staying in beat and it has certain refrains, we were able to fasten those parts back up to what he’s doing in the original.
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That definitely makes your job a lot easier when they’re actually playing the song live. But that’s so funny, because in the first teaser trailer, it lined up so perfectly. I remember being blown away by the quick snippets that you see.
Jeff Groth: That’s one of the things about editing and music. Just because you [only] have the one song doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that will line up. Much of what you’re doing is about timing, and much of what music is doing is also about timing. So, in many ways, when you don’t have a song or a piece of score put to the picture yet, you’ll lay that song down, and later, things will just magically match up. It’s not really magic, it’s just that you’re cutting into a certain rhythm. Music has a certain rhythm and those two things align.