‘King Richard’ Editor on Crafting Unique Tennis Matches and Capturing Venus and Serena Williams’ ‘Inspiring’ Family

‘King Richard’ Editor on Crafting Unique Tennis Matches and Capturing Venus and Serena Williams’ ‘Inspiring’ Family

December 17, 2021

Pamela Martin of Warner Bros.’ “King Richard,” says, “When it comes to editing, you have to love your characters, flawed or not. And I loved that family.”

Before signing on, the editor says, “I knew very little about Richard Williams, and it was mostly filtered through the media: ‘That crazy tennis dad’ or ‘He’s a nut job.’ Now I think that guy’s a genius.”

The Will Smith-starring film, which is an Oscar contender, concerns the early days of tennis champs Venus and Serena Williams via their training from parents Richard and Oracene.

Though the coaches are important, “King Richard” breaks with sports-movie tradition by focusing on family. In multiple sports films, the plot centers on the athlete’s relationship with the coach/mentor: “Bad News Bears,” “Creed,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Hoosiers,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Karate Kid,” “Remember the Titans,” et al. Parents are incidental or occasionally villainous (e.g., 1957’s “Fear Is the Key,” 2017’s “I, Tonya”).

“King Richard” originated with brothers Tim and Trevor White and their Star Thrower Entertainment. It was written by Zach Baylin (his scripting debut) and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Production companies, aside from Star Thrower and WB, included Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Westbrook.

Martin says director Green does­­n’t do a lot of takes, but he often shot with multiple cameras, covering a character from different angles. “There were many days when we got 10 hours of footage; the average was maybe five or six.”

Despite the glut, Martin needed to cut as quickly as possible, while the sets and actors were still in place, in case they needed pickup shots.

The film covers multiple locations over a period of four years, and it’s impressive that she and the filmmakers created such a tight film. In addition, it spotlights multiple tennis matches, each one unique.

“Before shooting started, I met with [DP] Robert Elswit and Rei­naldo,” Martin says. “They did a lot of test shooting, to see what angles they liked. We talked about how you cover the matches, what’s the drama in each one. They didn’t want to shoot them in a subjective/television-coverage style.”

With one of Serena’s matches, “They wanted to be in the thick of it, with the ball whizzing by you. I did quick cutting; that represented the power and energy she found mid-game, once she centered herself.”

Martin, whose credits include “Little Miss Sunshine” and her Oscar-nominated work in “The Fighter,” says, “The scene that needed the most work, hands down, was the final match. It was crucial to get the right balance of drama for the scene; we reworked it and reworked it.”

The climax works well, but, Martin says, “I think the first act is key to the film’s success. Early on, we showed a director’s cut to some friends and writer Michael Arndt gave us great advice. We have a leisurely first act, and he said, ‘Don’t take too much out of that section. Everything that happens there makes the rest of the film pay off in a huge way.’”

She adds: “The training montage was really fun — when Venus goes off to train with Paul Cohen, and Richard and Paul are clashing, while Serena is working out with her mother. I love Kris Bowers’ music, and the scenes have so much energy and humor.

“This is a weird analogy, but my major hobby is cooking. I believe that if you cook with love, the food tastes better. It’s the same when editing. No matter how complicated the characters, you love and understand them. And the Williamses are an inspiring and beautiful family.”

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