May 28, 2001
By John Newman
"I was standing in the lobby after the ceremony holding my Oscar and some
guy walks right up to me and says: 'It's all downhill from here, kid.'" On the
other end of the phone, Stephen Mirrione laughs recalling the stranger's dire prediction
at the 72nd Academy Awards in March.
Mirrione took the Oscar in film editing for his work on Steven Soderbergh's thriller Traffic, about the cocaine smuggling industry. It's a remarkable accomplishment for someone who has edited only a half-dozen feature films, and as late as 1990 was editing student projects in the UCSC film lab.
On Wednesday, May 30, he will return to UCSC to deliver a lecture, "Point of View: The Art of Film Editing," in the Media Theater at 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Eli Hollander, chair of UCSC's Film and Digital Media Department, is not particularly surprised at Mirrione's meteoric rise in the film industry. "He was a very energetic and productive student," Hollander says. "Students were required to turn in two projects; Stephen turned in four."
Mirrione credits the UCSC program with helping him develop the skills that allowed him to succeed in Hollywood. "It's a great program," he says. "you really get a chance to participate in every aspect of production. And because it's relatively small and geographically isolated, you learn to work closely with other students."
Working with a team is a skill anyone with Hollywood ambitions needs to cultivate. The lessons certainly weren't lost on Mirrione. But even as he was accumulating valuable experience in teamwork and every other aspect of filmmaking, it was in the editing suite that he was discovering his true calling--synthesizing the final work from the raw footage.
"I knew what I wanted to do when I edited my first film," Mirrione recalls. "I just loved that sense of intimacy with the material and the magic of watching the story emerge."
From UCSC, Mirrione went to southern California to look for work in the industry. He spent a lot of time hanging around the film schools at UCLA and USC, helping out on students projects and graduate-thesis films. It was at USC that he met Doug Liman. He worked with Liman on several student projects, and when Liman went on to direct his first feature, a low-budget comedy thriller called Getting In, he asked Mirrione to edit it. Mirrione collaborated with Liman on his next two features as well--the Generation X cult hit Swingers, and Go, Liman's tribute to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Steven Soderbergh attended the premiere of Go and sought Mirrione out to compliment him on his editing.
"About a year later he called me out of the blue," says Mirrione. "He told me he had this little movie he was doing before he did Ocean's Eleven, and asked if I would be available to work on it. I jumped at the chance, but when I got the script I couldn't believe it. It was this incredible epic!"
Undaunted, Mirrione joined Soderbergh's team and the rest, as they say, is history. Traffic won four Academy Awards, including Mirrione's.
"I keep it in a glass case in my dining room," he says. "It's kind of intimidating to have it just sitting on the mantel."
Mirrione may not be concerned about collecting another trophy for the case in his dining room, but a word to that guy in the lobby at the Academy Awards--don't bet against him.
Mirrione is currently at work on Soderbergh's latest feature, Ocean's Eleven.
His other credits include Clockwatchers and the upcoming release Thirteen