The career of Stephen Rivkin, Oscar-nominated for editing on James Cameron’s Avatar, started humbly but accelerated. Beginning with local TV ads and low-budget features, for years now he’s been a Hollywood stalwart, shaping both comedy (My Cousin Vinny; the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) and drama (The Hurricane, Ali). Beyond his MCAD bachelor's degree in film, much of Rivkin’s creative achievement comes from a passion for solving ever-newer problems. An old colleague claims that Rivkin arrived in Los Angeles fully prepared, moving “faster than 98 percent of the guys out there.”
Editors typically stitch a movie’s story together—they can delay a surprise, or make an audience think of two separate events simultaneously. The art hasn’t changed too much in 100 years, but with Avatar, where half the cast and most of the setting comes from stored digital files, the possibilities for creative re-assembly are multiplied. Rivkin has explained that because the aliens were first “digitally captured,” their movements recorded before being animated, he had to edit the movie three times over: sequence the scenes, set the effects of those scenes, and then put the real and the imaginary characters together.
Because Rivkin and the Avatar team figured out how this newly edited movie world might work, he’s been available to guide apprentice editors and colleagues through the latest digital technology. At workshops and industry seminars, he’s earned another kind of award—the gratitude of students.