Making the material work in a way that wasn’t intended
Tariq Anwar is an Indian-born British-American film editor. Over his 40-year career, he’s edited an assortment of films – from BBC documentaries to fiction films among the likes of the Oscar-winning American Beauty, The Good Shepherd, Revolutionary Road or Law-Abiding Citizen. Tariq Anwar has edited with some of the world’s top directors including Mike Newell, Franco Zeffirelli, Nick Hytner, Sam Mendes, Danny Boyle, and Robert De Niro. He got numerous awards including two BAFTA Awards and European Film Award – Best European Editor for the film The King´s Speech. He has also two nominations for an Academy Awards – for The King´s Speech and American Beauty.
Employed at the beginning of his career as a runner and junior assistant director for a small production company, Tariq Anwar was drawn to the cutting room which struck him “as being an altogether more civilised place” than the studio floor. During the late 1960s and early 1970s he freelanced as a second assistant editor on films as diverse as Cromwell (1970) and Au Pair Girls (1972). Anwar then moved on to permanent employment at the BBC, being promoted to editor after five years as an assistant.
When I wasn’t parking cars or driving the company van – I worked on the floor as a third assistant director. An opportunity arose to work in the cutting room as an apprentice – which I immediately jumped on. After working as an apprentice there for a year or two, I left Libertas to freelance as a second assistant editor and had the opportunity to work on several feature films before taking a two-month ‘holiday relief’ contract at the BBC.
His first big break came in the early 90’s with producer, Brian Eastman. As Tariq Anwar said: “There can sometimes be snobbery about working in features as opposed to television, but Brian was prepared to give me a chance on a film called Under Suspicion (1991).” Following that, he was back on television productions until another producer, Stephen Evans, with whom Tariq Anwar had worked with on television drama documentary, Galahad of Everest, gave Tariq Anwar his second break on the feature-film The Madness of King George (1994) by Nicholas Hytner. “It was then that I suddenly became accepted as a features editor”, added Tariq Anwar. He got also nomination for BAFTA award in Best Editing category. Also it was a start of a successful collaboration with the director Nicholas Hytner. Together they made various other films including The Crucible (1996) about witchcraft trials, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.
The most enjoyable thing for me is the shaping of a film after the assembly stage. It’s amazing how malleable it is during the editing process, and then to make the material work in a way that wasn’t intended – either by luck or by judgment – is very exciting. Also, I love editing with a full FX track and temp music. Finding the right score and the appropriate place to use it is a great part of the picture cutting process.
The important point of Tariq Anwar´s career was a meeting Sam Mendes and their collaboration of American Beauty (1999). American Beauty was edited through Christopher Greenbury and Tariq Anwar; Greenbury began in the position, but had to leave halfway through post-production because of a scheduling conflict with Me, Myself & Irene (2000). So, Tariq finished last steps of editing together with Sam Mendes alone. Mendes´ feature directorial debut received overwhelming praise upon release. It was the best-received title at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where it won the People’s Choice award after a ballot of the festival’s audiences. TIFF’s director, Piers Handling, said, “American Beauty was the buzz of the festival, the film most talked-about.” The film about sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend won 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and 3 other nominations including for Best Editing. In addition the film won BAFTA award for Best Editing and other 5 awards including Best Film Award.
At the same year as American Beauty Tariq Anwar also finished the film Tea with Mussolini (1999) by legendary Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, starred with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.
I think it’s important to be adventurous in editing and to take risks, but you can only achieve that if you have the director’s confidence, as well as confidence in your own ability to take criticism and rejection. I never saw myself as a confident person, but that confidence has certainly been built over the years with experience.
The Good Shepherd (2006) a spy film that covers the formation of a secret government organization that would become known as the CIA was the first collaboration of Robert De Niro as a director and Tariq Anwar. De Niro, directing his second film, likes to shoot a lot of takes and Tariq Anwar has found himself minding the most footage he’s ever seen. “The volume of the material is huge,” Anwar says, “I’ve never had quite as many rolls of dailies as this picture. [De Niro] tends to shoot a lot of takes, two or three times more than other directors. We generally plow through the material together, and I take notes of his selections.” Anwar says that “the performances are great” so the job is really about finding desirable little nuances among all the footage. That’s a main reason for De Niro’s large number of takes – “[Actors] can play things in many, many ways and he wants the freedom of choosing which way he wants to go later on.”
Tariq Anwar met again Sam Mendes during the collaboration of their next film – Revolutionary Road (2008) – romantic drama based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates. Following Law Abiting Citizen (2009) directed by F. Gary Gray.
Ever since I was a very junior editor, I’ve always liked working with music. Not only does it help with emotion, rhythm and tone, it can also inform the picture cutting. Before production (having read the script) and during production I load in music I think might work and generally start experimenting when I’ve assembled a few scenes, either for bridging purposes or internally, within a scene. I love using sound with pictures in the same way. I think working with all three during assembly is so important. I don’t see them as separate entities at all. The first assembly I show a director has a complete soundtrack: music, atmospheres, spot effects, foleys.
In 2010 Tariq Anwar cooperated with director Tom Hopper on the film The King´s Speech (2010). This story of King George VI and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch overcome his stammer, brought Tariq Anwar second nomination for Academy Awards in Best Editor category and also, he won European Film Award in European Editor category and BAFTA award. Tariq Anwar spoke about his work connected to music especially during editing The King´s Speech: “With King’s Speech – for George VI’s wartime speech – I had difficulty finding something that would work. I was struggling with building the scene and thought music would help. I was listening to some CDs with contemporary scores hoping to find something suitable and by luck came across a 1997 film, Photographing Fairies. I skipped through most of it but then paused on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Listening, it just seemed to build in the right way. I dropped it into the assembly, re-editing it to fit and it just brought the whole thing alive. The use of classical music seemed to be the right approach, so for the post-speech sequence I tried a piano concerto, also Beethoven. Then the Mozart Concerto for Clarinet helped me through a time-passing montage sequence. Both Tom (Hooper) the director and composer Alexandre Desplat were both happy not to replace the pieces.”
Tariq Anwar´s works continued with the cooperations with Mike Newell (Great Expectations, 2012) or Marc Meyers (Human Capital, 2019). During that time, he met Regina King and they started to work on One Night in Miami… (2020). He first read the script in November 2019 after seeing the play several years before. The film is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the Civil Rights Movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. While editing the film, Anwar became so persuaded by the authenticity of the performances that it was almost as though the quartet of mostly long-gone legends had been brought back to life; among the four key figures depicted in the film, only Brown, at 84, is still living. “The whole time it just felt very real,” Anwar said. “I was really in this room with these real people and enjoying the banter between them. . . . [King’s] casting choices were just totally brilliant, and her ability to get the best out of the actors and the crew was something to be admired.”
Now, Tariq Anwar is finishing the film William Tell – an upcoming epic historical drama written and directed by Nick Hamm, based on the play of the same name by Friedrich Schiller. The film is currently in post-production with scheduled release in 2025.
In 2018 Tariq Anwar published an autobiography of his life in filmmaking, called “Movers and Shakers, the Monster Makers.” The book that started as a film script is supplemented with illustrations – caricatures of real people from film industry that support text. Most of the illustrations are mad by Tariq Anwar himself (except one that was created by his assistant on Lady in the Van (2015) film, Katrina Annan).
Tariq Anwar also received International Lifetime Achievement Award from Portuguese Film Academy in 2020.