Alan Baumgarten interview: ‘The Trial of Chicago 7’ editor
The decision to incorporate actual archival footage from the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” may have been risky but recently Oscar-nominated editor Alan Baumgarten explains that he and writer/director Aaron Sorkin both came to the decision rather easily. “It was quite easy and we both came to it independently. There was archival material written into the prologue that was very effective,” Baumgarten tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). It was when Sorkin was watching the riot sequence for the second time that he floated the idea of using such footage in the film. “As soon as he mentioned it, I said, ‘Great! I’m all for it. Give me a couple days and let me show you something.’ We quickly locked into the fact that it was going to be used sparingly. It was really meant to be an accent and a quick flash. It just felt right and we knew we wanted to do it.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is available to stream on Netflix, explores the trial of seven leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement who were accused of instigating riots against the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The film is rounded out with an all-star cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale and Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman.
While Baumgarten was very young when the events in the film took place, he does have distinct memories of watching the coverage on television and the amount of uneasiness he felt about what was happening. “I had one sense in one memory of the entire thing and that was the fear that my parents had and that was the fear coming from the nightly news.” The danger that he felt in watching that was recently reawakened by the storming of the Capitol building earlier this year. “It’s a terrible feeling and I had the same thoughts as well watching the recent events. It brought me right back to that time and place. That same horrible lump in your throat, bad feeling in your stomach is terrible.”
Baumgarten is no stranger to the awards derby as this is his second Oscar nomination. His first came seven years ago for co-editing “American Hustle” alongside Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers. He also won an Emmy for his work editing the HBO movie, “Recount,” back in 2008. There were some things about getting his second nomination that felt the same as the first time. “The absolute feeling of excitement and almost disbelief is still the same. You really are in a state of shock hearing that you have been nominated. It’s such a great honor and it’s always unexpected.” The fact that he was able to get nominated again was still surreal to him on its own and it’s something he hopes to savor. “The fact that it’s happened before and I never thought it would happen again makes it almost sweeter in the end and I’m trying to appreciate it even more—the rarity of it.”