Category Archives: Awards

Coco’s sound story — music, guitars and bones

By Jennifer Walden

Pixar’s animated Coco is a celebration of music, family and death. In the film, a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a musician just like his great-grandfather, even though his family is dead-set against it. On the evening of Día de los Muertos (the Mexican holiday called Day of the Dead), Miguel breaks into the tomb of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and tries to steal his guitar. The attempted theft transforms Miguel into a spirit, and as he flees the tomb he meets his deceased ancestors in the cemetery.

Together they travel to the Land of the Dead where Miguel discovers that in order to return to life he must have the blessing of his family. The matriarch, great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) gives her blessing with one stipulation, that Miguel can never be a musician. Feeling as though he cannot live without music, Miguel decides to seek out the blessing of his musician great-grandfather.

Music is intrinsically tied to the film’s story, and therefore to the film’s soundtrack. Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar is like another character in the film. The Skywalker Sound team handled all the physical guitar effects, from subtle to destructive. Although they didn’t handle any of the music, they covered everything from fret handling and body thumps to string breaks and smashing sounds. “There was a lot of interaction between music and effects, and a fine balance between them, given that the guitar played two roles,” says supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes, who was just nominated for a CAS award for his mixing work on Coco. His Skywalker team on the film included co-supervising sound editor J.R. Grubbs, sound effects editors Justin Doyle and Jack Whittaker, and sound design assistant Lucas Miller.

Boyes bought a beautiful guitar from a pawn shop in Petaluma near their Northern California location, and he and his assistant Miller spent a day recording string sounds and handling sounds. “Lucas said that one of the editors wanted us to cut the guitar strings,” says Boyes. “I was reluctant to cut the strings on this beautiful guitar, but we finally decided to do it to get the twang sound effects. Then Lucas said that we needed to go outside and smash the guitar. This was not an inexpensive guitar. I told him there was no way we were going to smash this guitar, and we didn’t! That was not a sound we were going to create by smashing the actual guitar! But we did give it a couple of solid hits just to get a nice rhythmic sound.”

To capture the true essence of Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Boyes and Grubbs sent effects recordists Daniel Boyes, Scott Guitteau, and John Fasal to Oaxaca to get field recordings of the real 2016 Día de los Muertos celebrations. “These recordings were essential to us and director Lee Unkrich, as well as to Pixar, for documenting and honoring the holiday. As such, the recordings formed the backbone of the ambience depicted in the track. I think this was a crucial element of our journey,” says Boyes.

Just as the celebration sound of Día de los Muertos was important, so too was the sound of Miguel’s town. The team needed to provide a realistic sense of a small Mexican town to contrast with the phantasmagorical Land of the Dead, and the recordings that were captured in Mexico were a key building block for that environment. Co-supervising sound editor Grubbs says, “Those recordings were invaluable when we began to lay the background tracks for locations like the plaza, the family compound, the workshop, and the cemetery. They allowed us to create a truly rich and authentic ambiance for Miguel’s home town.”

Bone Collecting
Another prominent set of sounds in Coco are the bones. Boyes notes that director Unkrich had specific guidelines for how the bones should sound. Characters like Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who are stuck in the Land of the Dead and are being forgotten by those still alive, needed to have more rattle-y sounding bones, as if the skeleton could come apart easily. “Héctor’s life is about to dissipate away, just as we saw with his friend Chicharrón [Edward James Olmos] on the docks, so their skeletal structure is looser. Héctor’s bones demonstrated that right from the get-go,” he explains.

In contrast, if someone is well remembered, such as de la Cruz, then the skeletal structure should sound tight. “In Miguel’s family, Papá Julio [Alfonso Arau] comically bursts apart many times, but he goes back together as a pretty solid structure,” explains Boyes. “Lee [Unkrich] wanted to dig into that dynamic first of all, to have that be part of the fabric that tells the story. Certain characters are going to be loose because nobody remembers them and they’re being forgotten.”

Creating the bone sounds was the biggest challenge for Boyes as a sound designer. Unkrich wanted to hear the complexity of the bones, from the clatter and movement down to the detail of cartilage. “I was really nervous about the bones challenge because it’s a sound that’s not easily embedded into a track without calling attention to itself, especially if it’s not done well,” admits Boyes.

Boyes started his bone sound collection by recording a mobile he built using different elements, like real bones, wooden dowels, little stone chips and other things that would clatter and rattle. Then one day Boyes stumbled onto an interesting bone sound while making a coconut smoothie. “I cracked an egg into the smoothie and threw the eggshell into the empty coconut hull and it made a cool sound. So I played with that. Then I was hitting the coconut on concrete, and from all of those sources I created a library of bone sounds.” Foley also contributed to the bone sounds, particularly for the literal, physical movements, like walking.

According to Grubbs, the bone sounds were designed and edited by the Skywalker team and then presented to the directors over several playbacks. The final sound of the skeletons is a product of many design passes, which were carefully edited in conjunction with the Foley bone recordings and sometimes used in combination with the Foley.

L-R: J.R. Grubbs and Chris Boyes

Because the film is so musical, the bone tracks needed to have a sense of rhythm and timing. To hit moments in a musical way, Boyes loaded bone sounds and other elements into Native Instruments’ Kontakt and played them via a MIDI keyboard. “One place for the bones that was really fun was when Héctor went into the security office at the train station,” says Boyes.

Héctor comes apart and his fingers do a little tap dance. That kind of stuff really lent to the playfulness of his character and it demonstrated the looseness of his skeletal structure.”

From a sound perspective, Boyes feels that Coco is a great example of how movies should be made. During editorial, he and Grubbs took numerous trips to Pixar to sit down with the directors and the picture department. For several months before the final mix, they played sequences for Unkrich that they wanted to get direction on. “We would play long sections of just sound effects, and Lee — being such a student of filmmaking and being an animator — is quite comfortable with diving down into the nitty-gritty of just simple elements. It was really a collaborative and healthy experience. We wanted to create the track that Lee wanted and wanted to make sure that he knew what we were up to. He was giving us direction the whole way.”

The Mix
Boyes mixed alongside re-recording mixer Michael Semanick (music/dialogue) on Skywalker’s Kurosawa Stage. They mixed in native Dolby Atmos on a DFC console. While Boyes mixed, effects editor Doyle handled last-minute sound effects needs on the stage, and Grubbs ran the logistics of the show. Grubbs notes that although he and Boyes have worked together for a long time this was the first time they’ve shared a supervising credit.

“J.R. [Grubbs] and I have been working together for probably 30 years now.” Says Boyes. “He always helped to run the show in a very supervisory way, so I just felt it was time he started getting credit for that. He’s really kept us on track, and I’m super grateful to him.”

One helpful audio tool for Boyes during the mix was the Valhalla Room reverb, which he used on Miguel’s footsteps inside de la Cruz’s tomb. “Normally, I don’t use plug-ins at all when I’m mixing. I’m a traditional mixer who likes to use a console and TC Electronic’s TC 6000 and the Leixcon 480 reverb as outboard gear. But in this one case, the Valhalla Room plug-in had a preset that really gave me a feeling of the stone tomb.”

Unkrich allowed Semanick and Boyes to have a first pass at the soundtrack to get it to a place they felt was playable, and then he took part in the final mix process with them. “I just love Lee’s respect for us; he gives us time to get the soundtrack into shape. Then, he sat there with us for 9 to 10 hours a day, going back and forth, frame by frame at times and section by section. Lee could hear everything, and he was able to give us definitive direction throughout. The mix was achieved by and directed by Lee, every frame. I love that collaboration because we’re here to bring his vision and Pixar’s vision to the screen. And the best way to do that is to do it in the collaborative way that we did,” concludes Boyes.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

The 54th annual CAS Award nominees

The Cinema Audio Society announced the nominees for the 54th Annual CAS Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing. There are seven creative categories for 2017, and the Outstanding Product nominations were revealed as well.

Here are this year’s nominees:

Baby Driver

Motion Picture – Live Action

Baby Driver

Production Mixer – Mary H. Ellis, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Julian Slater, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Scoring Mixer – Gareth Cousins, CAS

ADR Mixer – Mark Appleby

Foley Mixer – Glen Gathard

Dunkirk

Production Mixer – Mark Weingarten, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Gregg Landaker

Re-recording Mixer – Gary Rizzo, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Alan Meyerson, CAS

ADR Mixer – Thomas J. O’Connell

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Production Mixer – Stuart Wilson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – David Parker

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Ren Klyce

Scoring Mixer – Shawn Murphy

ADR Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS

Foley Mixer – Frank Rinella

The Shape of Water

Production Mixer – Glen Gauthier

Re-recording Mixer – Christian T. Cooke, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Brad Zoern, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Peter Cobbin

ADR Mixer – Chris Navarro, CAS

Foley Mixer – Peter Persaud, CAS

Wonder Woman

Production Mixer – Chris Munro, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Chris Burdon

Re-recording Mixer – Gilbert Lake, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Alan Meyerson, CAS

ADR Mixer – Nick Kray

Foley Mixer – Glen Gathard

 

Motion Picture Animated

The Lego Batman Movie

Cars 3

Original Dialogue Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tom Meyers

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Nathan Nance

Scoring Mixer – David Boucher

Foley Mixer – Blake Collins

Coco

Original Dialogue Mixer – Vince Caro

Re-recording Mixer – Christopher Boyes

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Scoring Mixer – Joel Iwataki

Foley Mixer – Blake Collins

Despicable Me 3

Original Dialogue Mixer – Carlos Sotolongo

Re-recording Mixer – Randy Thom, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Nielson

Re-recording Mixer – Brandon Proctor

Scoring Mixer – Greg Hayes

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

Ferdinand

Original Dialogue Mixer – Bill Higley, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Randy Thom, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Lora Hirschberg

Re-recording Mixer – Leff Lefferts

Scoring Mixer – Shawn Murphy

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

The Lego Batman Movie

Original Dialogue Mixer – Jason Oliver

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Gregg Landaker

Re-recording Mixer – Wayne Pashley

Scoring Mixer – Stephen Lipson

Foley Mixer – Lisa Simpson

 

Motion Picture – Documentary

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Production Mixer – Gabriel Monts

Re-recording Mixer – Kent Sparling

Re-recording Mixer – Gary Rizzo, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Zach Martin

Scoring Mixer – Jeff Beal

Foley Mixer – Jason Butler

Long Strange Trip

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Re-recording Mixer – William Miller

ADR Mixer – Adam Mendez, CAS

Gaga: Five Feet Two

Re-recording Mixer – Jonathan Wales, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Jason Dotts

Jane

Production Mixer – Lee Smith

Re-recording Mixer – David E. Fluhr, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Warren Shaw

Scoring Mixer – Derek Lee

ADR Mixer – Chris Navarro, CAS

Foley Mixer – Ryan Maguire

Long Strange Trip

Production Mixer – David Silberberg

Re-recording Mixer – Bob Chefalas

Re-recording Mixer – Jacob Ribicoff

 

Television Movie Or Mini-Series

Big Little Lies: “You Get What You Need”

Production Mixer – Brendan Beebe, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Gavin Fernandes, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Louis Gignac

Black Mirror: “USS Callister”

Production Mixer – John Rodda, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Fargo

Re-recording Mixer – Dafydd Archard

Re-recording Mixer – Will Miller

ADR Mixer – Nick Baldock

Foley Mixer – Sophia Hardman

Fargo: ”The Narrow Escape Problem”

Production Mixer – Michael Playfair, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Kirk Lynds, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Martin Lee

Scoring Mixer – Michael Perfitt

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective”

Production Mixer –John Mooney, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Howard Bargroff

Scoring Mixer – Nick Wollage

ADR Mixer – Peter Gleaves, CAS

Foley Mixer – Jamie Talbutt

Twin Peaks: “Gotta Light?”

Production Mixer – Douglas Axtell

Re-recording Mixer –Dean Hurley

Re-recording Mixer – Ron Eng

 

Television Series – 1-Hour

Better Call Saul: “Lantern”

Production Mixer – Phillip W. Palmer, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Larry B. Benjamin, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Kevin Valentine

ADR Mixer – Matt Hovland

Foley Mixer – David Michael Torres, CAS

Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall”

Game of Thrones

Production Mixer – Ronan Hill, CAS

Production Mixer – Richard Dyer, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Onnalee Blank, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Mathew Waters, CAS

Foley Mixer – Brett Voss, CAS

Stranger Things: “The Mind Flayer”

Production Mixer – Michael P. Clark, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Joe Barnett

Re-recording Mixer – Adam Jenkins

ADR Mixer – Bill Higley, CAS

Foley Mixer – Anthony Zeller, CAS

The Crown: “Misadventure”

Production Mixer – Chris Ashworth

Re-recording Mixer – Lee Walpole

Re-recording Mixer – Stuart Hilliker

Re-recording Mixer – Martin Jensen

ADR Mixer – Rory de Carteret

Foley Mixer – Philip Clements

The Handmaid’s Tale: “Offred”

Production Mixer – John J. Thomson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Lou Solakofski

Re-recording Mixer – Joe Morrow

Foley Mixer – Don White

 

Television Series – 1/2 Hour

Ballers: “Yay Area”

Production Mixer – Scott Harber, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Richard Weingart, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Colomby, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Mitch Dorf

Black-ish: “Juneteenth, The Musical”

Production Mixer – Tom N. Stasinis, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Peter J. Nusbaum, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Whitney Purple

Modern Family: “Lake Life”

Production Mixer – Stephen A. Tibbo, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Dean Okrand, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Brian R. Harman, CAS

Silicon Valley: “Hooli-Con”

Production Mixer – Benjamin A. Patrick, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Elmo Ponsdomenech

Re-recording Mixer – Todd Beckett

Veep: “Omaha”

Production Mixer – William MacPherson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – John W. Cook II, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Bill Freesh, CAS

 

Television Non-Fiction, Variety Or Music Series Or Specials

American Experience: “The Great War – Part 3”

Production Mixer – John Jenkins

Re-Recording Mixer – Ken Hahn

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Oman”

Re-Recording Mixer – Benny Mouthon, CAS

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Deadliest Catch: “Last Damn Arctic Storm”

Re-Recording Mixer – John Warrin

Rolling Stone: “Stories from the Edge”

Production Mixer – David Hocs

Production Mixer – Tom Tierney

Re-Recording Mixer – Tom Fleischman, CAS

Who Killed Tupac?: “Murder in Vegas”

Production Mixer – Steve Birchmeier

Re-Recording Mixer – John Reese

 

Nominations For Outstanding Product – Production

DPA – DPA Slim

Lectrosonics – Duet Digital Wireless Monitor System

Sonosax – SX-R4+

Sound Devices – Mix Pre- 10T Recorder

Zaxcom – ZMT3-Phantom

 

Nominations For Outstanding Product – Post Production

Dolby – Dolby Atmos Content Creation Tools

FabFilter – Pro Q2 Equalizer

Exponential Audio – R4 Reverb

iZotope – RX 6 Advanced

Todd-AO – Absentia DX

The Awards will be presented at a ceremony on February 24 at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza. This year’s CAS Career Achievement Award will be presented to re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer, the CAS Filmmaker Award will be given to Joe Wright and the Edward J. Greene Award for the Advancement of Sound will be presented to Tomlinson Holman, CAS. The Student Recognition Award winner will also be named and will receive a cash prize.

Main Photo: Wonder Woman

Cinna 1.2

ASC celebrates cinematographers with annual award noms

The nominees for the 32nd Annual ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement were revealed in all categories at a special event staged at the ASC Clubhouse.

In an announcement that drew cheers, Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in the feature category. Joining her in the Theatrical Release category were Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049, Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour, Hoyte Van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water.

Laustsen was the other first-time nominee for his work on Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water. Deakins, a previous winner of the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, celebrated his 15th nomination in the category. Delbonnel scored his fourth nomination, while Van Hoytema’s work was recognized for the second time.

In the television categories, HBO’s Game of Thrones and Syfy’s 12 Monkeys both received two nominations.

Here’s the complete list of this year’s nominees:

Dunkirk

Theatrical Release

  • Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC for Darkest Hour
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC for Dunkirk
  • Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF for The Shape of Water
  • Rachel Morrison, ASC for Mudbound

Spotlight Award
(Recognizing outstanding cinematography in feature-length projects that are screened at festivals, internationally or in limited theatrical release.)

  • Máté Herbai, HSC for On Body and Soul
  • Mikhail Krichman, RGC for Loveless
  • Mart Taniel for November

    The Crown

     

Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television

  • Gonzalo Amat for The Man in the High Castle (“Land O’ Smiles”) on Amazon
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC for The Crown (“Smoke and Mirrors”) on Netflix
  • Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“The Spoils of War”) on HBO
  • Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“Dragonstone”) on HBO
  • Alasdair Walker for Outlander (“The Battle Joined”) on Starz

 Episode of a Series for Commercial Television

  • Dana Gonzales, ASC for Legion (“Chapter 1”) on FX
  • David Greene, ASC, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Mother”) on Syfy
  • Kurt Jones for The Originals (“Bag of Cobras”) on The CW
  • Boris Mojsovski, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Thief”) on Syfy
  • Crescenzo Notarile, ASC for Gotham (“The Executioner”) on Fox

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television

  • Pepe Avila del Pino for The Deuce pilot on HBO
  • Serge Desrosiers, CSC for Sometimes the Good Kill on Lifetime
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for Genius (“Chapter 1”) on National Geographic
  • Shelly Johnson, ASC for the Training Day pilot (“Apocalypse Now”) on CBS
  • Christopher Probst, ASC for the Mindhunter pilot on Netflix

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on February 17 in Hollywood, emceed this year by Ben Mankiewicz, a longtime host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Main Photo: The Shape of Water


Editor Sidney Wolinsky and Guillermo del Toro team on The Shape of Water

By Randi Altman

People love movies for their ability to transport us to another world, or another version of our world, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water does. And speaking of love, the film has been getting some now that awards season is upon us. The Shape of Water was nominated for seven Golden Globes, leading all other films in terms of nods, and won two: Best Director — Motion Picture for del Toro and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat.

This film takes place during the Cold War, at a government run lab in Baltimore and focuses on a cleaning lady who follows her heart and does the right thing.

We recently checked in with the film’s editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE. An industry veteran, he has cut such acclaimed TV shows as The Sopranos, House of Cards and Ray Donovan, among many others.

Wolinsky was recently recognized by his peers, earning an ACE Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors for his work on Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water. Let’s find out more about the film, this editor’s second collaboration with del Toro and his process.

You have worked with Guillermo del Toro before?
Yes. About three years ago, I cut the pilot for a series called The Strain, which Guillermo created. He also directed the pilot.

How did you get involved in the film, and when did he bring you on?
The film’s producer reached out to my agent before it was greenlighted. I’m based in LA, but the film was shooting and cutting up in Toronto, so my wife and I found a place to stay and went up there about a week before they started shooting. I started cutting the second day of production when I got my first day of dailies.

Well you were near set, but were you ever onset?
Not really. The sets and the cutting room were at Cinespace Studios in Toronto, but Guillermo knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need an editor there to talk to. Occasionally, I might have walked over to the set because I had a question to ask Guillermo or something to tell him, but primarily I was in the cutting room.

 

What kind of direction were you given in terms of the edit?
From day one, I had Guillermo in the room with me working on the material, and that continued throughout the production. He would come in before call, and on his lunch hour, and we’d work together. When they were shooting at local locations, my assistant and I would go out to the set on his lunch hour to show him cut footage on a MacBook and get notes. Guillermo and I worked together continuously throughout the production.

How did that relationship work?
Once I started getting film, I’d show him my cut of the scene and I’d modify it based on his notes. When we had two scenes that were contiguous we’d work on transitions. As the show grew we would watch whatever could be watched continuously and make changes. I’d get an idea and we’d try it, or he’d say, “Try this other thing.” It was very collaborative. I really felt like he was my partner throughout the whole cutting process. It wasn’t like in most shows where you finish your cut, you show it to the director and then you start working with him.

Does Guillermo shoot a lot of footage?
He does not. He’s very specific about what he wants, and he moves the camera all the time. That works against the possibility of shooting a lot of footage because you have to plan your setups based on where the camera starts and where the camera ends, and plan in conjunction with where you’re going to pick up the coverage next. So, often it’s interlocking coverage. He rarely shot multiple cameras.

The film’s two main characters don’t speak in the traditional way. Was that a challenge for your process?
It did not affect my editing per se, because regardless of having no speech, Sally Hawkins’ character Elisa has sign language. You had to let the person say their line, so to speak, even if Elisa was doing it with her hands and not her lips. The creature had gestures and expressions too, so you play a scene for what the scene is about. It’s the same way if people are talking or yelling at each other. You’re still playing that scene, and that’s the challenge of editing generally — just making the scenes work.

I never felt that I was slowing things down because of the sign language. For example, if you think of that scene where Sally tries to persuade Giles (Richard Jenkins’ character) to help her free the creature, it’s a giant dialog scene in which Giles speaks for both of them by repeating what Elisa says in sign language back to her. Elisa only talks in sign language, but you never miss a word.

That was an intense scene.
It was. The editing challenge was to coordinate his saying the line with her signing it, and make sure they were more or less in sync.

Is there a scene that is your favorite or most challenging?
The scene I just described with Sally and Richard is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those two actors are so good. That scene is so moving, and they both give such a good performance. They really nailed it.

The most challenging sequence is the heist, because it involves all of the characters. They start off in different locations and come toward each other leading up to the clash at the end. That’s really the most challenging part of the movie, in terms of pacing and making sure everything’s working and the people following it … it’s not too slow, and stuff like that.

You used Media Composer for the editing. What is it about that system that you like?
I’ve cut on Avid for years, so I know it really, really well. It has so many ways of doing the same thing that can be used for different situations. It’s an amazing tool.

The heist.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
It depends on the show and who it is. On this one I had a first assistant, Cam McLaughlin, and a second assistant, Mary Juric. I had worked with both of them on The Strain pilot, and was glad to work with them again. Mary was on the show through a couple of weeks beyond the end of shooting. Her primary job was setting up the dailies in ScriptSync, which is a fabulous tool within Media Composer. She also did a lot of the complicated temp effects. She also created most of the Russian and ASL subtitles.

My first assistant, Cam, primarily put together the dailies … although Mary helped with that as well. He also did the temp effects and chose and cut most of the temp music. My assistant editor is always an ally, somebody I show cuts to, ask for feedback from and bounce my ideas off. Cam’s a wonderful colleague in the cutting room. He’s very smart and talented. I believe he is cutting a feature right now.

Let’s change gears. You’ve cut a lot of television, a lot of really good television. Do you wear a different hat when you’re cutting one over the other?
The nice thing about features is the shooting schedules are longer. And what you’re doing is a unique piece; it’s one of a kind. You show it to audiences, you get feedback and you work on it. Usually, you work closely with the director until the project is completed.

In some ways this is very much like a television pilot — it’s never been done before and a lot is riding on its success. Depending on the project, the director of the pilot will follow it through to the end. This was true for The Strain, where I believe Guillermo had final cut.

In series, you usually work with the director through the end of his cut, and then you begin working with the show runner and the studio, and finally the network to complete the project.

I always hope to be working with someone who has a clear vision of what the project should be and the stature to make the final decision. On features it is usually the director, in television if is the showrunner. However, as an editor I always must retain my own vision of the best way to edit scenes, solve story problems and be prepared to work with anyone who is shepherding the show to its completion.

The edit suite.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer features because of the time that’s taken and the close relationship you have with the director. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in television, and the most important thing to me is to be able to use my skills to help realize the projects I’m working on.

What’s next for you?
I just got back from a trip to Italy to visit my son and his family, who live there, so really just taking some time off. I’m hoping that this film will help me another film. In this industry, it’s easy to get buttonholed as a television editor, so hoping another film opportunity comes my way soon.

Based on the attention this film has been getting, and your recent ACE Eddie nom, I think you’ll have that opportunity. One last thing before I let you go. Do you have any advice for an editor just starting out?
Most editors who are starting out have already been assistants and are trying to make the transition to editing. You have to be careful to make sure people perceive you as an editor and not as an assistant, and that could be tough because it could mean turning assistant jobs down. Obviously, if you need the money you may not be able to, but the most important thing is to grab any cutting opportunity that comes along. Don’t be picky. If you want to become an editor you have to be cutting. Also you never know where something will lead, and you want the people you meet along the way to see you as an editor — and hopefully, the editor of their next production.

Main Image: (L-R) Golden Globe-winner Guillermo del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinksy.


A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but they were shooting in California and I was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. What I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.


ACE celebrates editing, names 68th annual Eddie nominees

Awards season has begun, as evidenced by the American Cinema Editors (ACE) naming their nominees for the 68th annual ACE Eddie Awards. The Eddies recognize outstanding editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries. Trophies will be handed out during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 26.

Here are the nominees for the 68th annual ACE Eddie Awards:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):
Blade Runner 2049
Joe Walker, ACE

The Shape of Water

Dunkirk Lee Smith, ACE

Molly’s Game
Alan Baumgarten, ACE, Josh Schaeffer & Elliot Graham, ACE

The Post
Michael Kahn, ACE & Sarah Broshar

The Shape of Water
Sidney Wolinsky, ACE

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):
Baby Driver
Jonathan Amos, ACE & Paul Machliss, ACE

Get Out 
Gregory Plotkin

I, Tonya
Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

Lady Bird
Nick Houy

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jon Gregory, ACE

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Coco
Steve Bloom

Despicable Me 3
Clair Dodgson

The Lego Batman Movie
David Burrows, ACE, Matt Villa & John Venzon, ACE

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):
Cries From Syria
Aaron I. Butler

Jane
Joe Beshenkovsky, ACE, Will Znidaric, Brett Morgen

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Ann Collins

LA 92
TJ Martin, Scott Stevenson, Dan Lindsay

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (SMALL SCREEN):
The Defiant Ones – Part 1
Lasse Järvi, Doug Pray

Five Came Back: The Price of Victory
Will Znidaric

The Nineties – Can We All Get Along?
Inbal Lessner, ACE

Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge – 01
Ben Sozanski, ACE, Geeta Gandbhir; Andy Grieve, ACE

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Black-ish: “Lemons”
John Peter Bernardo, Jamie Pedroza

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge”
Kabir Akhtar, ACE & Kyla Plewes

Portlandia: “Amore”
Heather Capps, Ali Greer, Jordan Kim

Will & Grace: “Grandpa Jack”
Peter Beyt

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Fatwa!”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Curb Your Enthusiasm: “The Shucker”
Jonathan Corn, ACE

Glow: “Pilot”
William Turro, ACE

Veep: “Chicklet”
Roger Nygard, ACE & Gennady Fridman

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Better Call Saul: “Chicanery”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Witness”
Kelley Dixon, ACE & Skip Macdonald, ACE

Fargo: “Aporia”
Henk Van Eeghen, ACE

Fargo: “Who Rules the Land of Denial”
Andrew Seklir, ACE

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Big Little Lies: “You Get What You Need”
David Berman

Stranger Things

Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall”
Tim Porter, ACE

The Handmaid’s Tale: “Offred”
Julian Clarke, ACE & Wendy Hallam Martin

Stranger Things: “The Gate”
Kevin D. Ross, ACE

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:
Feud: “Pilot”
Adam Penn, ACE & Ken Ramos

Genius: Einstein “Chapter One”
James D. Wilcox

The Wizard of Lies
Ron Patane

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Deadliest Catch: “Lost at Sea”
Rob Butler, ACE & Ben Bulatao, ACE
 
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath: “The Perfect Scientology Family”
Reggie Spangler, Ben Simoff, Kevin Hibbard & Vince Oresman

Vice News Tonight: “Charlottesville: Race & Terror”
Tim Clancy, Cameron Dennis, John Chimples & Denny Thomas

Final ballots will be mailed on January 5, and voting ends on January 18. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary film category take place, occurs on January 14. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 950+ ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.