Tatiana S. Riegel is the only woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing this year, for the dark comedy I, Tonya about figure skater Tonya Harding and her troubled time at the 1994 Winter Olympics. If she wins, she'll be the fourteenth female editor to take home a trophy from the Oscars, which celebrate their 90th ceremony this year.
As far as categories go, it's sadly true that editing is actually fairly female-friendly, comparatively. 74 women have been nominated over the past decades, as opposed to the five female directors who have ever been recognized. The statistics are not lost on Riegel, who has observed little change in the film industry's gendered climate since she entered it after college.
"I don’t think the gender aspect is all that different now from when I started," she says. "However, I do think it’s beginning to change for the better. I think the current amount of discussion is a very important aspect of change, not just in editorial but in all departments of filmmaking and, frankly, in all jobs."
With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp dominating the media, it's hard to argue that gender equality and diversity in film in general isn't at least at the forefront of the general consciousness, if not beginning to improve.
"I think the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are really powerful," Riegel says. "The conversation is creating confidence and support where people previously might not have felt it. Hopefully, it is also creating awareness among the people who do the hiring, causing them to think twice before falling into the routines of their own past prejudices and assumptions. Ideally this process can help to empower people so they can seize greater opportunity in the future. It’s empowering to be believed, especially when you know you have support."
Starting any job is a daunting ask, but it's proven in recent months that Hollywood especially has had and continues to harbor some extremely toxic boys' club vibes. Riegel got into editing after she graduated and made a list of potential career options she would both enjoy and be good at, quickly realizing that the only job really fitting both those descriptions would be in post production. Her first job was on a tiny movie, working for free in exchange for the chance to learn about editing.
"Starting out in this career is challenging for everybody, particularly for women and minorities. It’s always a challenge to be considered for a job when you’re not exactly what the people hiring are expecting," she explains. "There are many stereotypes women have to fight. For example, many people think women editors are not suited to cutting action movies. This is ridiculous, of course, but trying to convince people to think otherwise and to give you a shot is tough. I believe the number of female editors in the Motion Picture Editors Guild totals somewhere between 22 and 24%. I don’t think that number has really changed much in the last few decades. I suspect there are some jobs I did not get because I am a woman. However, I have had the good fortune most of my career to work with people who recognize the value of diversity in the cutting room."
Riegel has worked with director Craig Gillespie for ten years—I, Tonya is her fifth feature editing for him. After reading the script, she was eager to get to work telling a story equally parts hilarious and dark, dealing with quite serious issues like domestic abuse while still maintaining a certain levity throughout.
"It required a delicate dance of tone," she says. "It is an emotional and tragic—yet extremely funny—film. Within a story populated by characters who at times behave in absurd and ridiculous ways, there are violent scenes that graphically depict domestic abuse. It was a challenging process to find the correct balance. Ultimately, we always leaned towards reality and allowed the comedy to come from the craziness of the behavior."
Her delicate touch has paid off: in addition to her Oscar nom, Riegel has already scored the American Cinema Editors' Award for Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy or Musical, putting her in prime position to take home Oscar gold (her biggest competition is Dunkirk's Lee Smith).
"I am thrilled and honored beyond imagination to be nominated," she says. "It’s hard to comprehend my name is listed with other women editors whom I admire so much. People like Thelma Schoonmaker, MaryJo Markey, Maryann Brandon, Dody Dorn and, of course, Sally Menke. I worked for Sally on many films at the beginning of my career."
Menke worked with director Quentin Tarantino on seven films, having edited all of his movies until her death. She scored Oscar noms for her precise editing in Inglourious Basterds and Pulp Fiction. But of course, there are many other female colleagues of Riegel's who've not yet garnered the same recognition. It's these women who've made working in film editing a joy for Riegel.
"I hope that I have opportunities to work on films I love and with people who are talented and fun," she says. "I have an amazing group of women editor friends that may not have an Oscar nominations (yet) but are some of the most talented and supportive people I know. I would not be where I am now without them."