This story about “King Richard” and editor Pamela Martin first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
“King Richard” was not film editor Pamela Martin’s first sports movie; in fact, it wasn’t even her first tennis movie.
The Oscar nominee for “The Fighter” had also edited the Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King story “Battle of the Sexes” in 2017, and she was unsure about doing yet another one knowing the challenge she would face: Sports movies, she said, generally come with “a massive amount of material, most of which is unusable.”
“There’s a lot of heavy lifting,” Martin said. “When you choreograph tennis, it doesn’t always go as planned.”
A choreographed point could wind up whiffed into the net, or it could look unconvincing even if things go as planned. And while most tennis is viewed from one side of the net, “King Richard” gets down low with athletic wide shots that cross over to each side. Editing from both sides of a symmetrical court can get “a little wonky,” she said.
“You realize, ‘Oh I really need her to win more points, but it wasn’t choreographed that way.’ So I’m going to comb through this footage and see what can I use that works when she is on this side of the net,” Martin explained. “It may be a point that was a botched choreographed point but has some other great piece to it that I can use a different angle, and all of the sudden I have an amazing shot.”
But there was another complication: King Richard director Reinaldo Marcus Green insisted on not using a sportscaster’s voice to go along with the tennis match play, since Venus Williams’ early matches were not televised. So Martin had to make the path of each match clear while approaching the tennis like an action scene observed from the family’s point of view.
“How am I going to tell this story without that major tool?” she said. “I just had to tell the stories with the images and the sound, and in a way that was quite freeing and simple and difficult at the same time.”
But Martin’s challenges didn’t stop on the court. King Richard is primarily the story of Richard Williams, but it’s also the origin story for Venus and Serena. Given the film’s timeline, Serena often gets left out as Venus begins to emerge as a superstar, something that Martin says audiences pushed back on in early cuts of the film. The film directly addresses Serena feeling left out in a key moment between her and her father, but the crew was rushed on the day that scene was originally filmed. Martin agreed with Green that it should be re-shot and re-located to the venue just before Venus’ big match.
“It was the only scene that came in where I looked at it, put it together and said, ‘This scene is not working at all,’” she said. “The angles weren’t right, the performances…”
The second time around, though, with the conversation now taking place in the venue just before Venus’ big match, the scene worked.
“I had such high expectations for that scene in the script,” she said. “There’s Serena looking out at (the tournament), yearning really, and Richard comes out and they have that beautiful talk. It’s at that sweet spot in the movie that is the perfect moment to do this.”