Eric Zumbrunnen is one of the select few who have made it into Spike Jonze's inner sanctum. Like cinematographer Lance Acord and producer Vince Landay, Zumbrunnen is a mainstay on the director's bench, having cut the majority of Jonze's prominent work for nearly nine years. He steered the prolonged pacing on spots like Ikea's "Lamp," the more adrenalized rush of Nike "Guerrilla Tennis" and even cut breakthrough clips like Fat Boy Slim's "Weapon of Choice. " As if that doesn't say enough, he skillfully helped guide viewers through the labyrinthine plots of both Jonze's features Being John Malkovich, which landed him an ACE award, and Adaptation.
38-year-old Zumbrunnen's command of a spectrum of filmic styles meshes well with the diverse tale-weaving methods in Jonze's oeuvre. "Everything's different and should be approached differently," he notes. If he follows any guide, "it's usually about the performances of the actors and just making sure those are absolutely the best, most interesting or funniest takes - what feels real. I just try to make things flow. After that, I worry about everything else." As unsystematic as that may sound, every move he makes in the edit room is carefully calculated. "After it's been loaded into the Avid, I have to load it all into my brain and think about it. I usually have to go through everything a few times until I narrow things down, until I get all the 'moments,' and then figure out the structure."
His deliberate approach is a far cry from how he got to editing in the first place. He studied journalism at USC but had no film training. "Basically I needed a job," is how he explains landing at Varitel in the mid-'80s. He never assisted, but worked as a runner and tape-op there and then at 525 Post, where he got a huge break cutting the well-received Jane's Addiction "Been Caught Stealing" video. That led to another ongoing collaboration with Dayton/Faris, who were overseeing the clip, and whom he credits for a lot of his earlytraining. He went on to cut much of their film, including the acclaimed Smashing Pumpkins clip "Tonight Tonight."
Zumbrunnen is currently taking a much-deserved break. He just spent 18 months editing Adaptation, which he dubs easily his most challenging project to date. Not a big surprise considering the shifty storyline that zig-zags through screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's head and his ever-evolving cinematic adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. "The first two-thirds of that script didn't really have to happen in their precise order," he recalls. "Charlie and Spike both said that it was very modular in that sense." Zumbrunnen notes that the editing process happened as much on paper-shifting elements around on notecards with Jonze and Kaufman - as it did in the edit bay. Nevertheless, one incident hints at how crucial Zumbrunnen was to the overall process. "I remember before preproduction, I was talking to Charlie, and he was saying, 'Well, this one's going to be figured out in the editing.' " Zumbrunnen laughs, "Thanks, Charlie!"