Analysis of Dylan Tichenor's collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson

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Dylan Tichenor has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson across four out of his eight full feature films. From Boogie Nights (1997) to Magnolia (1999) to There Will be Blood (2007) and finally their latest film Phantom Thread (2017). I will be going over their collaborative process and how Tichenor has adapted to Anderson’s style as it’s changed through the years.

Firstly, lets establish Dylan Tichenor’s editing process. From a Sight, Sound and Story panel in June 2017, Tichenor mentions his “copious note taking” from dailies. Dailies are raw unedited footage taken from the shoots on that day, they’re screened to the crew who can highlight any technical issues and for the director to oversee the actors progression in performance. However, studios find it unconventional for an editor to watch dailies, Tichenor wanting his focus to be solely on the film and nothing else. Once Tichenor gets his hands on the footage, he takes the newly edited footage and views it on a larger screen than his monitor. Viewing it in a dark room to give him an idea on how to build the scene.

Tichenor’s first project with Anderson, Boogie Nights (1997) was challenging due to it being an ensemble piece, the common issue that arises with ensemble pieces is who’s story you’re telling. Tichenor overcame this issue through experimentation of jumping between story threads, basing his decisions “more from your heart, more from your stomach than your head”. Further elaborating on his process of cutting between story threads being successful when there is a “resonance there on a thematic or more emotional level”.

Due to technological limitations in the late 90s, the split screen sequence was very tedious. Requiring Tichenor to go frame for frame through the 16mm footage and match up perfectly with the words on screen and the voice over.

Onto their second collaboration, Magnolia (1999), Tichenor approached the project with the idea of challenging the audience. Emphasising that the audience needs to go on a journey with the characters and part of that is “the audience wanting it to end”. The audience feeling a sensation of catharsis from the experience of “being able to let go”. Tichenor distinct from his peers by not subjecting himself to this notion that the entire film has to be “candy”, that “you have to ask something of the audience”.

Magnolia (1999), Stands at 3 hours and 9 minutes in length, Tichenor’s main challenge being to unify nine stories into one. Anderson heavily emphasised “They are all one story”. Having worked with Anderson on Hard Eight (1996) and Boogie Nights (1997) Tichenor had built a greater understanding of Paul’s intentions. This is further reinforced through Anderson’s clarity in his script writing, conceptualizing the pacing through dialogue and camera description. However, Anderson does not hold all the determining factors to the pacing. Tichenor outlines the challenges that derive from the actors performance in the editing room, “If the actors are methodical and deliberate, it's hard to cut the scene as fast-paced comedy”. Thus Tichenor will look out for moments in the dailies that explain what the character is seeing. Only cutting when necessary, allowing the audience to spend more time with the characters.

The opening sequence of There Will be Blood (2007) is a prime example of editing with subtext and executing it perfectly. Subtext is typically secondary goal of editing, allowing for the underlying theme to come later. The primary goal of editing is about telling the story through images and sounds to create an emotional response from the audience. However, where classic film editing is abandoned and you allow the editor to bring the sub textual to the forefront, it achieves a deeper experience for the audience. Tichenor demonstrates this in the opening 14 minute sequence, Daniel Plainview’s primary goal being to acquire wealth. Anderson and Tichenor convey this via close ups on material (gold, oil) and wide shots for the human beings on the search for gold, establishing the protagonists priorities. The subtext here being material is more important to Daniel than people.

Anderson emphasises the constant danger of the environment, presenting Daniel’s isolation in long shots and the dangers in close up. Tichenor eschewing the natural sounds and using a mixture of shots and side stepping the purposefulness of pace. Sub-textually we understand Daniel’s determination to prevail in a dangerous environment.

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This sidestepping pace is reinforced by There Will be Blood (2007) slow pace, punctuated by its use of jump cuts. The sidestepping is outlined by Tichenor not dictating our feelings in the sequence, there is an absence of orchestration audiences are accustomed due to the lack of pace leading us to this sub textual insight. Daniel possesses a sense of authenticity, as though he has come from the real world not fiction.

The film reaches its peak in fast pace when the rig explodes causing H.W. to fly off. Anderson had so few shots that Tichenor was forced to artificially find ways to gather more shots through alternative angles in order to build up the momentum that was essential to the scene. Anderson’s intention with the fewer shots was to create contrast, this comes through via sound in this scene, from loud to quiet when H.W. is deafened by the explosion. The contrast can sometimes be literal, cutting between dark and light. Anderson personifies this kind of contrast where Daniel Plainview is watching Eli build the church through his telescope. Plainview covered in light while Eli is silhouetted in the darkness.

Anderson’s longer takes cause Tichenor’s cuts to be more impactful, bringing more attention to the composition. Tichenor utilizing techniques from Magnolia (1999), timing his cuts with Daniel Day Lewis’ performance, Lewis’ being a method actor it would come to no surprise that a significant part of his performance came from improvisation. This is supported by Anderson’s insistence on long takes, allowing for Lewis’ to embrace the scene. Tichenor would then only cut when necessary so the audience spends the maximum amount of time with the character.

Tichenor is able to create tension through a simple shot reverse shot scene, this is exemplified when Daniel first visits Eli in his home. The scene opens with a wide, Plainview’s attention towards Eli’s father, however, Eli draws Plainview’s attention ever so slightly. Tichenor cutting from the firm wide to a slightly closer one. The turning point being when Tichenor decides to bring Eli into close up to assert that he is the head of the family. Tichenor further induces the tension via extending the silences between the characters dialogue.

10 years later, Tichenor would be collaborating again with Paul Thomas Anderson (director), Johnny Greenwood (composer) and Daniel Day - Lewis (actor) editing Phantom Thread (2017). Inevitably, there are numerous similarities with There Will be Blood (2007) stylistically, however, Tichenor’s editing approach allows Phantom Thread (2017) to retain it’s own identity.

The opening exemplifies this through it’s pacing, carrying more momentum. Tichenor approaches Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day – Lewis) morning routine with numerous cuts from a close up to him shaving, a medium polishing his shoes to brushing his hair with two brushes. The shots go on, each ritual more specific than the last. Tichenor creates a sense of urgency, that the day contains many challenges ahead, therefore the loss of time is the main threat. Differing from There Will be Blood (2007) in which the environment was the main threat.

In regards to world building, Tichenor allows Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack to dominate the diegetic soundscape. The song is dreamlike, implying that Reynold’s world is not a reality in sync with the real world.

It is Lesley Manville’s character, Cyril, that contains Phantom Thread’s (2017) identity through her presence, which is heightened via the composition and Tichenor’s usage of intercutting. Intercutting is unifying two scenes that are happening simultaneously. Reynold’s routine is intercut with Cyril opening the window to top floor of the house, overseeing London, Tichenor holds the shot as she enters a bright white dressing room. Here he utilizes two techniques, firstly, holding the cut so the audience can spend more time with the character. Secondly, the following cut reflects the literal contrast used in There Will be Blood (2007), the shot cuts from a bright room to a dark back ally in which the lady workers enter.

The first confrontation at the breakfast table is cut similarly to There Will be Blood’s (2007) negotiation with Eli and reinforces Cyril possessing a sense of control over Reynolds. Tichenor holding onto the silences in the shot reverse shot between Reynolds and his girlfriend to create tension, it becomes apparent Cyril is in control via a reaction shot. The moment Reynold’s girlfriend asks Reynold’s “Where have you gone”, Tichenor cuts to Cyril’s cold stare, sub textually we can gather that she doesn’t want her to find him, that she is content with him designing his dresses away from distraction. This is further emphasised via the use of contrast, the right side of her face where Reynolds is sat it lit while the left, where Reynold’s girlfriend sits, rests in shadow.

Overall, Tichenor has been able to utilize the same editing techniques as Anderson has grown from ensemble pieces to more toned down pieces. Still using few cuts to. Anderson more cinematic, There will be Blood (2007), was heightened by Tichenor’s sub textual style of editing. It is evident Tichenor has a clear approach when it comes to Anderson’s work, having collaborated over the last 20 years.

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