From Frankenhooker to Downsizing: An Interview With Filmmaker Kevin Tent

From Frankenhooker to Downsizing, editor and director Kevin Tent knows the industry from top to bottom. In a bit of serendipity one MFR writer said to the rest of us “Anyone want to interview the editor of Matt Damon’s new movie?” And I said, “Sure, why not! I’m interested enough in Downsizing (Watch The Trailer Here). And from that little moment came the usual due diligence as an interviewer and I researched my subject. As it turns out, Kevin Tent happens to be behind one of my favorite late 80s b-movie gems, Frankenhooker.

Our chat started at the beginning where Tent learned filmmaking by making movies. Tent used equipment provided by “LA City College (LACC), a great school with a very small film department. And basically, you could go there and make films. Not a lot of teachers and stuff. It was just, here’s a camera, come back in two weeks and show your movie.” Tent’s next level of schooling came as “an editor for educational films, the kind of stuff you see in high school. Sex ed videos, that kind of stuff.” From that work, Tent cut his teeth as a feature film editor with the likes of Roger Corman and films like Not of This Earth with Traci Lords.

Talking about low-budget filmmaking in the 80s, Tent says “You worked hard, you didn’t make much money, but you got a lot of experience. And for people embracing that concept, it was a good place to learn.”

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From low-budget, b-movies, Tent moved into the “arty” indie world. Tent edited LACC alum Tamra Davis’ Guncrazy and “… that sort of got me into the independent film market.”

Downsizing is Tent’s eighth collaboration with director Alexander Payne. Tent met Payne through a friend and colleague “… Carol Kravitz who received a call from Payne saying ‘I can’t afford you, who would you suggest I meet?’ And she gave him my name. So I just went and interviewed with him. And we kind of just hit it off. And also, I showed him my reel at the time, and it had a scene from Guncrazy on it. He really liked that.” What’s it like to work so closely with someone for so long? Tent lovingly says “It’s like a marriage.”

The editing process is a mysterious one. Does Tent’s experience make it easy to critique films? “That’s hard. And I’ll tell ya, that question comes up. I think if I’m engaged in a movie I don’t even pay attention to the editing.” Tent adds this “It’s only when something’s not working that I wonder if the editor could have deleted a scene …” Tent continues “Most of the time when I watch a movie I just try to enjoy it.”

A fellow football fan, my analogy of editors being like an offensive lineman — the unsung heroes of a football team — lead Tent to add “I think making a movie is a lot like a football game. Like, a scene, is just like, ‘set, hut!’ everybody goes. And yeah, we carried the ball a few yards. Let’s do it again.”

Tent’s first big-budget film was Girl, Interrupted. And though borderline overwhelming, Tent says “When I cut my first big budget film … I remember looking at all the equipment and thinking ‘It’s just footage, like all the other times.’” Kevin jokes “It’s just much more expensive footage.”

Offering a bit of advice about life as an editor, Tent responds to getting stuck by “stepping away” and “Go on to other scenes. You say to yourself, ‘it’s good enough for now, I can come back to it.” But, in the non-stop film business, you also gotta “… keep moving forward. You gotta be like a shark. Keep moving forward.” Adding to his advice, “show the scene to an audience.”

Tent has worked with a variety of Hollywood heavyweights like Payne, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Ted Demme. “All directors are different. Some like being in the cutting room and some don’t. He [Payne] likes to be there. So we work very closely together.” In contrast, “I work with Barry Sonnenfeld a lot who doesn’t like to be in the cutting room. He sees cuts, gives notes.”

In 2017, Tent was behind the scenes of two new films. First, is the big-budget, high concept Downsizing with Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig. Part comedy, part social commentary, Downsizing is “A studio film trying to do something different which is pretty great.”

Though typically an editor, Tent has stepped behind the camera for several features. One of his first, Ultra Warrior “was a movie I made using scenes from other movies to do what I could to make a mess of a movie better.”

However, experience is the best teacher and this year Tent made Crash Pad, a comedy that he describes as “… an ass-backward romantic comedy.” And how did that come about? “I wanted to direct something. It took a while but I found the script. A lot of pushing and shoving and it finally got off the ground.” About future directing projects “If I could find a script that I like. I think I’m recovered enough now that I’m ready to try again.”

As for the editors, he admires, Tent says “There are so many editors that I look up. Anne Coates for instance. Mark Goldblatt, Richie Marks, Dede Allen. I love the way her editing was done on Dog Day Afternoon. And so many of my contemporaries who do a great job.”

As a veteran of the industry, we ended on the past, present, and future. What do you think editing now versus 30 years ago and the new tools available? “I think it’s all a plus. I love working on digital. It’s so much easier. You can do so much more. I think technology has been our friend.”

Thanks to Kevin Tent for letting me suck up
an hour of his time for this interview.

Downsizing is in theaters December 22nd.
Crash Pad is available now on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.