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Christopher Tellefsen

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Christopher Tellefsen Headshot

The film editor and North Haven resident is nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the movie “Moneyball.”

First of all, congratulations! This is your first Oscar nomination.

Yes, the first Oscar nomination. I’ve been nominated for the ACE award in the past, and I am nominated this year for “Moneyball,” as well.

Do you still get a phone call from someone in the Academy announcing that you’ve got the nomination?

No, now it’s an email.  [laughs] It’s a little less glamorous.

The editing in “Moneyball” really stands out because the movie is so fast-paced, but you do get those two sides of the story: the more human story, and the more number-oriented business aspect.

Exactly.  And we tried to also make that aspect more of an accessible thing and get it to feel very real. We experimented with some animation, but that was really wrong.  So, we worked with a designer to figure out how to shoot those numbers and statistics and… we really wanted it very minimal and very beautiful.

How did that collaboration work?

We were just shooting a number of different sequences on a digital camera and we played around with how we were going to approach it… then we hired a designer, Johannes Gamble, who helped us with the look of it.

He acutally found a very interesting monitor from the Salvation Army that had huge pixels.  It was just very beautiful and we just responded to the look of that and that defined the look of how it was going to be… and it evolved from there.

So, are you surprised that this is the first movie you’ve been nominated for?

I had some expectations with “The People Vs. Larry Flint.” But, it was a controversial film and there was a lot of backlash from women’s organizations which, you know, it was far from an anti-feminist film; it was a biography of a human being.

How did you get into film editing?

I always loved movies, all my life, but I had no reference that people actually did that for a living. It just wasn’t in my realm of experience. I really loved film, I watched films extensively. But, I was an art major. I worked in many different mediums… but, in my last two years at school I took an experimental film class with the filmmaker Robert Breer who did these wonderful abstract films. And something just clicked.

Did you ever think about going into any other aspect of the film industry?

It’s interesting. I’ve actually had some inquiries about directing, and such things, that have come close to something but didn’t happen. I’m very focused on what I do, and I do it well.  It works well for me and I enjoy it enormously.

What are some tricks or tips you learned from editors who made some of the films you loved in school?

You know, it’s not about tricks… it’s more about feeling something. When you put two pieces of film together, you shift the context. You make something new. Every edit is a statement, it’s a move toward telling a story. It’s all about shape. Sometimes it’s about a lack of shape. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that great editors, at least the ones that I’ve admired, have an enormous sensitivity to the material that they’re working with, and a sensitivity to performance.

I like what you said about shape. Because even when we’re putting articles together here at the paper, we’re moving paragraphs to give the story a kind of shape.

Absolutely.  I mean, reading has been a big influence on me, too. I read a lot of Vladimir Nabokov in my teens and into my 20s, and I always loved his transitions and obvious decisions to edit his own work.  It made me think that a quick change in a story is like a quick cut.

So, how did you end up here in Sag Harbor?

I grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, my paternal grandfather was Norwegian and a sailor.  He came here in the early part of the 20th century and he loved Shelter Island — it felt like Norway to him. That created a link when I was very little. We also vacationed on Shelter Island, so I had a real connection to the area. Of course we knew Sag Harbor, too, because we’d come across the ferry and go to the movies, or whatever. In the mid-90s, when I started making real money, I thought about buying a house and that steered me toward thinking about the area.

Do you do editing from your home in North Haven?

No. But, I actually cut the movie “Capote” out in Sag Harbor.  I had to find a place because I didn’t have the space at home, so I rented a photographer’s studio in town. I also did some work on the movie “The Human Stain” in East Hampton because Robert Benton, the director, has a place in Georgica.

So have you prepared an Oscar speech?

I’m in the process of preparing one.  But, it’s funny, at the nominees’ luncheon, they gave a big speech about “keeping it short.”

Do you feel pressured to thank everyone efficiently?

I mean, I don’t want to sit here thinking I’ve won. It’s still one out of five… I have a one-out-of-five chance!