Tag Archives: Arrival

Editor Joe Walker on establishing a rhythm for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

By Mel Lambert

For seasoned picture editor Joe Walker, ACE, his work with directors Denis Villeneuve and Steve McQueen might best be described as “three times a charm.” His trio of successes with Villeneuve include the drug enforcement drama Sicario, the alien visitor film Arrival and the much-anticipated, upcoming sci-fi drama Blade Runner 2049, which is currently in post. His three films with McQueen include Hunger, Shame and the 2014 Oscar-winner for Best Picture 12 Years a Slave, which earned Walker a nomination for his editing work.

In addition, he has worked on a broad array of films, ranging from director Michael Mann’s cyber thriller Blackhat to writer/director Rupert Wyatt’s The Escapist to director Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown to writer/director Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock, which is a reworking of the Graham Greene classic.

Arrival - Paramount

We are currently in midst of awards season, and recently Paramount’s Arrival received eight Oscar noms, including Best Director and a Best Editing nod for Walker. The film was also nominated for nine BAFTA Award nominations, including Best Picture Editing, Best Director and Best Film. It has also been nominated for an American Cinema Editors Eddie in the Best Edited Feature Film — Dramatic category. (Read our interview with director Denis Villeneuve here.)

“My approach to all the films I have edited is to find the basic ‘rhythm’ of a scene,” Walker concedes. His background as a sound designer and composer enhance those sensibilities, in terms of internal pacing, beat and dramatic pulse.

The editor’s path toward Villeneuve began at a 2010 screening of Incendies in his native London. ”I was blown away and set my heart on working with this director. That same heart was beating out of my chest a few years later watching 2014’s Prisoners. While finishing Michael Mann’s Blackhat in 2015, my agent got me into the room with Denis for Sicario, which had a very solid script. That evolution felt like it was going in the right direction for me. Cinematographer Roger Deakins produced stunning work — he’s also cinematographer on Blade Runner 2049.” (Deakins was nominated for both Oscar and BAFTA Awards for Sicario.)

The Edit
For Arrival, Walker’s biggest challenge was reconciling the two parallel worlds that existed within the evolving dramatic arcs. While several alien spacecraft land around the world, a linguistics expert (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace. “On the one hand we have the natural setting of the mother/daughter relationship, with beautiful, intimate material shot by a lakeside near Montreal, and the narrative content on a far lower gas,” explains Walker. “That’s pitted against the high-tech world of space ships as we learn more about the alien visitors and the psychological task faced as the lead character tries to decode their complex written language. Without CGI visuals of the Heptapods — the multi-limb visitors — I had to make early decisions about what space to leave in a scene for their eventual movements. From what was shot on set, all we had were puppeteers holding tennis balls on a stick.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesWalker saw every Arrival daily and started his cut early. “We had to turn over the Heptapod sequences to Montreal VFX house Hybride almost as soon as the director’s cut began,” he says. “And because, for me, sound always drives a lot of what I do, I brought on creature sound designer Dave Whitehead ahead of the game. I’d been impressed by Dave’s work on [Neill Blomkamp’s] District 9. I needed to know what type of sounds would be used for the aliens, and cut accordingly. He developed a coherent language with an inbuilt syntax and really nailed the ‘character’ of the Heptapods. I laid up his sounds onto tracks in my Avid Media Composer and they stayed pretty much unchanged all the way through post.”

In terms of pace and narrative arcs, Walker states that director Villeneuve “chose to starve the audience of information and just offer intriguing nuggets, teasing out the suspense and keeping them waiting for the pay off. For example, on one scene we hold on Amy Adams’ face watching the breaking news on the TV rather than the TV show itself,” which was reporting the mysterious spacecraft touching down in 12 cities. “Forest Whitaker [US Army Colonel Weber] plays our first audio of the Heptapods on a Dictaphone and it stimulates such curiosity about how they may look or behave. We avoided any pressure of cutting for the sake of cutting. Instead, we stayed on a shot, let it play and did not do all the thinking for the audience. While editing 12 Years a Slave, we stay on the hanging scene and don’t cut away. There’s no relief, it allows the audience to be truly troubled by the horrible inertia of the scene.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesAgain, the word “rhythm” figures prominently within Walker’s creative vocabulary. “I always try to find the rhythm of a scene — one that works with the sounds and music elements. For Sicario, I developed peaks and troughs in the dramatic flow that supported different points of view” as the audience slowly begins to understand the complexity of the drug enforcement campaign. “Bad sound disturbs me, including distorted or widely variable dialogue levels. I always work hard to get the best out of the production tracks, perhaps more than I really have time for.

“With both Steve McQueen and Denis Villeneuve, I’ve always tried to avoid using music temp tracks, so that we do not become too influenced during the editing process,” he continues. “By holding off until we’re late into a final cut, we can stay critical in our judgments about the story and characters. When brought in later, music becomes a huge bonus since you’ve already been ruthless with the story. You use music only where it’s absolutely necessary, allowing silence or sound effects to have their day. I think composers want the freedom of a blank canvas. Otherwise, as the English composer Matthew Herbert once said, ‘Music is in an abusive relationship with film.’”

Changing Direction During Edit
While cutting Arrival, Walker recalls that one key scene took a dramatic left turn. “As scripted and shot,” he explains, “the nightmare sequence started out as a normal scene in which Amy Adams’ character, Louise, is visited in her quarters by colleague Ian [Jeremy Renner] and her boss, Colonel Webber, who decides to bench her. This was the beginning of a long piece of story tubing, which felt redundant. We’d tried to discard it, but the scene had an essential piece of information that we couldn’t live without: the notion that exposure to a language can rewire your mind.

ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures“We thought about conveying that information elsewhere as voiceover or ADR, but instead, as an experiment, we strung together very crudely only the pieces we needed, thereby creating at one point a jarring join between one line of Ian’s dialogue and another. I always try to be ballsy with material, to stay on it with confidence or maul it, to tell the story a better way.”

In that pivotal scene in Arrival, during a close-up, Adams’ character is looking off-camera toward Whitaker. “But we never cut to him because it would take us down the path we wanted to avoid,” explains Walker. “As it happened, that same day in the cutting room, we saw the first test shots from Hybride’s VFX team of an alien crawling forward, looking like an elephant shrouded in mist. That first look inspired our decision to hold onto Adams’ off-camera look for as long as we could, and then — instead of going to a matching reverse revealing Forest Whitaker — we cut to this huge alien crouching in the corner of her bedroom.

“The scene was rounded off by a shot of Amy’s character waking up and looking utterly thrown. We kept the jarring cut [from Ian and then back to him], and added the incongruous sound of a canary, since it signaled early on that all is not as it seems. A nightmare was a great way to get inside Louise’s head. Ian’s presence in her dream also platforms their romance, which enters so late in the story. Normally, returning material to a cut can feel like putting wet swimming trunks back on, but here it set our minds alight.”

Adams’ performance throughout Arrival was thrilling to cut, says Walker. “She is very real in every take and always true to character, keeping her performance at just the right temperature for each scene. Every nuance counts, particularly in a film that has to hold up to scrutiny on a second or third viewing when more is understood about the true nature of things. To hold the audience’s attention in a scene, an editor’s craft involves a balance between time and tension.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesWalker says, “Time is our superpower since we can slow a moment down, speed it up or jump from one shard of a timeline to another. In Arrival we had two parallel worlds: the real-life world of the army camp with all the news on TVs and heavy technology. In opposition is the child’s world of caterpillars and nature. I could cut those together at will and flip quickly from one to the other.”

Walker says that after the 10-week shoot for Arrival, he spent a week finalizing his editor’s cut and then 10 to 14 weeks on the director’s cut with basic CGI. “We then went through test screenings as the final photorealistic CGI elements slowly took shape,” he recalls. “We refined the film’s overall pace and rhythm and made sure that each tiny fragment of this fantastic puzzle was told as well as we could. I consider the result to be really one of the most successful edits I have been involved with.”


LA-based Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.


Main Image: Joe Walker and Denis Villeneuve. Photo Credit Javier Marcheselli. 

 

ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo

Paramount Pictures

The A-List: Arrival director Denis Villeneuve

By Iain Blair

Dark and super-intense dramas are the specialty of acclaimed French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. His 2010 feature film Incendies, a drama about the legacy of civil war in Lebanon for a Montreal immigrant family, earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. Villeneuve made his Hollywood directorial debut with Prisoners, a suburban-vigilante drama starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It too was nominated for an Oscar. He followed that with Enemy, an eerie thriller starring Gyllenhaal as a history lecturer who discovers an unexpected alter ego.

Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Iain Blair.

But it was his explosive 2015 hit Sicario — about an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) whose hunt for justice thrusts her into the lawless US/Mexican border where drugs, terror, illegal immigration and corruption challenge her moral compass — that really got Hollywood’s attention. The film received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Achievement in Cinematography (Roger Deakins) and Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray) and paved the way for his latest film, the sci-fi drama Arrival.

When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team, led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers. But this Paramount release is not your usual alien invasion epic.

I spoke with Villeneuve, who’s currently in post production on his biggest project to date — the sequel to the cult classic Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling — about making Arrival, which has been nominated for eight Oscars, including best director in Villeneuve and best editor in Joe Walker. (Read out interview with Walker here.)

This is your first sci-fi film, but definitely not your usual kind. What was the appeal of doing it?
Yes, it’s my first but I was raised on sci-fi and was swimming in it as a kid. I read a lot of comic books out of Europe — those great graphic novels. I was dreaming of doing a sci-fi film for a very long time, but was looking for the right story, and then this came along. I was so excited because this was a chance to do something very different. It’s an alien invasion, but told from an intimate point of view, by this person who’s in mourning and dealing with strong emotions in her life, and who suddenly is thrust into this momentous ARRIVALevent. So it’s about aliens but also a mother-daughter story.

This is also your sixth film with a female protagonist. Why do you love having women at the center of your films?
The truth is, in my first two films I had two female leads and for me it was a way to get some critical distance from my subjects. I don’t know why. Then it just carried on from there. I’m in love with women and femininity and very interested in the female world, and I love to tell their stories. For me, being a man is about taking control, but being a woman is more about listening, and I love the tension between the two.

Is it true that with Sicario, there was some pressure to change the female lead to a man?
Yes, but it was telling this story of drug violence through a woman’s eyes that really interested me. That really interested me! I like strong women.

What did Amy Adams bring to this role?
A great sense of her character’s internal life, her inner world. She has this great capacity to play several layers at once, and is able to convey very strong emotion without words, which I don’t see too often.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
By far the biggest was creating the aliens and figuring out this new life form — its way of thinking and behaving, its culture and its language. Creating something that’s never been seen before without it looking just like a visual effect was very hard and took a long time.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?ARRIVAL
From the very start, and you now have to prep for post. Even so, it still feels like the process is too fast. I like to have a lot of time in post and the edit to think about the film and change things, but all the VFX guys were very hungry to get started as soon as possible, and that caused some tension. It was a very complex cinematic structure, and I needed to be able to play with it in the editing room.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love post and editing — so much so that if I wasn’t a director I’d be an editor. It’s insane the amount of creativity you have in post, and you don’t have to deal with all the problems with weather and actors and equipment and time and money. You can just focus on the creative part of actually making the film, so I love post. We did the whole film in Montreal. We shot it there, and used VFX houses there, and there are so many good ones — Rodeo, Oblique FX, Alchemy 24, Raynault and Hybride.

Talk about editing with Joe Walker, who cut Sicario for you and was Oscar nominated for 12 Years a Slave. Was he on the set?
Joe never likes to visit sets, for a very specific reason — when he sees all the hard work and pain we go through to get a particular shot, it makes him afraid to cut. So he came to Montreal and we sent him dailies and he started. Then he worked with me on the director’s cut. It was a very long edit and we worked non stop for about eight months. It’s the longest edit I’ve ever done, first because it was a nonlinear structure, and second because we wanted to give clues to the audience without revealing too much.

So it was very tricky, especially since two of my main characters were completely digital. So it was a tough edit and it took time to work it all out. Joe was also very involved in all the sound design, as he began as a composer and then as a sound editor, so we did the sound together as we cut.

Denis Villeneuve and Amy Adams on set.

The VFX play a crucial role. Talk about working with VFX supervisor Louis Morin, who did Sicario for you, and whose credits include The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain.
I’m very grateful to him because he understood that the edit was very complicated, and I put his team under a lot of time pressure, as I took my time. The spaceships and aliens were designed, but all the scenes with them and everything else had to evolve in the edit. Then we had hundreds of computer screens in the military tents and we had to feed all those, which was a lot of work, and then all the military equipment. It was very complicated.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
Definitely the aliens. If you have a machine-like alien, it’s a lot of work but not difficult to do. What is really hard, is creating a life form that looks real — not like a visual effect — and one the audience will accept and have an emotional experience with. Hybride did them, and while it was a huge challenge, they did a fantastic job. And I was very involved. I sat down with the artists to share ideas and that’s the only way you can get it right.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
In Montreal with Harbor Picture Company colorist Joe Gawler (who worked out of Mels, which used to be Vision Globale). It’s so important and dealing with the aliens was the main thing. But the rest was fairly simple as we did so much in camera.

What can you tell me about Blade Runner 2049?
(Laughs) Not much. I’m not allowed to say much, but it was the biggest, most ambitious and longest thing I’ve ever done, and we’re currently in the middle of post on the Sony lot. It’ll be out next October.

What’s next?
Nothing. I need a long break to recharge after doing the last three films back to back.

Check out the trailer:


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.