23 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Primetime Emmy Winner Editor Michael Harte discusses Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
11 Mar 2024 : Luke Shanahan, Nathan Griffin
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
We sat down with award-winning editor Michael Harte to discuss his work on Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which earned him a Primetime Emmy award, as well as an Eddie Award.

Michael Harte is a BAFTA and Emmy-winning editor from County Donegal. His most recent work includes Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, for which he received the Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program, and the Netflix Beckham documentary series. At the 2024 Eddie Awards, the awards ceremony of the American Cinema Editors society (ACE), Harte received two nominations for these projects and won an award for the former. In recent years, Harte also edited Netflix documentary series Don't F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, for which he received his BAFTA TV Craft Award, and Three Identical Strangers, for which he received an IFTA nomination. 

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie follows the life of beloved actor and advocate Michael J. Fox, exploring his personal and professional triumphs and travails, and what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.

Speaking about working on Still, Harte explains that director Davis Guggenheim knew Harte was the right person for the job, because the editor “was kind of obsessed with Michael J Fox movies” since childhood, and still adores the actor’s filmography to this day. 

“He just set everything up to make sure I had the space to work, to make sure my family was in a good place, and that's that's kind of everything to be honest,” said Harte of collaborating with director Guggenheim. “I'm not 25 anymore and I can't work till three o'clock in the morning. The most important thing for me in a project is: Is this going to work for me? Is this going to work for my family? Davis very much gave us that.”

Harte and his family relocated from London to LA while he edited Still, a process that took one year.

Although a Michael J. Fox fan might seem a natural fit to edit a Michael J. Fox documentary, Harte initially hid the extent of his knowledge about the actor’s filmography.

“I had to keep it quiet, because you come across as a fan that won't be able to see the wood from the trees,” he explained. 

Guggenheim’s vision for the documentary was still emerging when Harte came onboard. The filmmakers had access to Fox, and Guggenheim was discussing the idea of using recreations in the documentary, but the core resource that allowed the two filmmakers to begin the creative process was Fox’s 2001 audiobook recording of his own autobiography, Lucky Man. Harte was able to use audio clips of the book to put together an assembly for the film.

“It was like an hour and a half, it was all audio, and it's like well how do you visualise this?”

Harte was wary of Guggenheim’s plan to film recreations with an actor playing Michael J. Fox, so they started storyboarding to see how these recreations could work.

“The problem for me with recreations is you never see the person's face, you're not connecting with the character. So what actually happens is, it's distancing, it pushes you out of the film, you just end up watching the back of someone's head.”

This is where the idea to splice recreations with footage from Michael J. Fox’s films was born, as Harte discovered a way for the audience to see Fox’s face and connect with him emotionally. At this point Harte could reveal the scope of his fandom, because his extensive Michael J. Fox knowledge was a significant advantage to the film.

“I kind of have a photographic memory for material. I'll read the newspaper yesterday and I won't remember anything, I'll listen to lyrics to songs and twenty minutes later I’ve forgotten them, but movies and documentaries stick in my mind.”

“I can remember shots from films that I watched when I was 13 as if I'd seen them yesterday.”

During the editing process, Harte rewatched many of Fox’s films, particularly the lesser known entries in his filmography, to find footage that would compliment or enhance the audio from the autobiography. 

“I would watch Bright Lights, Big City, and I’d see him flicking through pages and I think that's great! We can use that in that section where he's talking about getting the script for Back to the Future.”

Harte was also able to use Fox’s films to tell the story of his marriage to Tracy Pollan, as the pair met on American TV series Family Ties playing boyfriend and girlfriend, and later co-starred in Bright Lights, Big City, which is where their relationship began.

“The trick was always to not fall into watching the movie, and trying to see something else. How can I use this material? Almost looking at it like it’s verite.”

Harte says that people have told him he was lucky to find moments such as Fox and Pollan falling in love on-camera, but he explains there was no luck involved: “I was like, this was anything but lucky! This was hard, hard work! We were sitting up in the middle of the night trying to find these moments of gold”.

One such moment was an early sign of Parkinson’s disease in Fox’s performance, that aligned with Fox describing these symptoms in the audiobook.

“There was a shot from The Concierge where he is looking pretty much down the camera, not actually looking into the camera, but just to the left of the lens. It’s a long shot. It’s from 1993, this is after he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's, and he talked in his audiobook about how his eyes would blink less because of his symptoms.”

“He wrote that he thought this was because he was becoming a more comfortable actor.”

“You're watching what he's describing, because in the shot he’s not blinking as much, and when you marry that piece of audio with his movie, it becomes actuality. You’re not watching the movie, you’re watching verite.”

Director Guggenheim only conducted one on-camera interview with Fox for the film, as opposed to conducting multiple interviews with other people about the actor. Harte praises Fox for being able to carry a 95 minute film by himself, and doing so with Parkinson’s, saying that in that interview space, Guggenheim and Fox found “the soul of the movie”.

“Me and Davis kind of battled over who was driving the film for a way creatively, there's this idea, there’s that idea, but actually when Michael J. Fox showed up and did his interview, it was like ‘I’m the boss’. When he started to speak it was like: Okay, this is the direction we're going in”.

While Guggenheim believed in Harte’s approach of splicing film footage and recreations together from the get-go, Harte himself describes his apprehensions in the run-up to the film’s Sundance premiere: 

“Davis really believed in it from the start, he knew this was going to work from the start. I was never sure. I was always slightly wary of it. I think because I was doing it, and you're like, ‘Well they’ll come after me if this doesn't work’,” he jokes.

Ultimately, the intimacy of this technique connected with audiences, and Harte’s experimentation paid off.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is available to stream in Ireland on Apple TV+.

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