Tag Archives: editing

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

Team Player: Rules Don’t Apply editor Brian Scofield

By Randi Altman

In the scheme of things, we work in a very small industry where relationships, work ethic and talent matter. Brian Scofield is living proof of that. He is one of a team of editors who worked on Warren Beatty’s recent Rules Don’t Apply.

That team included lead editor Billy Weber, Leslie Jones and Robin Gonsalves. It was the veteran editor Weber (Beatty’s Bulworth 1998) who brought Scofield on board as a second editor.

Weber was Scofield’s mentor while he was in the MFA program at USC. “Not long after I completed graduate school, Billy helped me reconnect with the Malick camp, who I met while working in the camera crew on Tree of Life,” he explains. “I then became an apprentice on To the Wonder, and then an editor on Knight of Cups. When Billy came in as an advisor at the end of Knight of Cups, we reconnected in LA. He had just begun working on Rules Don’t Apply with Warren, and when I finished my work on Knight of Cups, he brought me aboard.”

Scofield recognizes that relationships open doors, but says you have to walk through them and prove you belong in the room all by yourself. “I think people often make the mistake of thinking that networking trumps talent and work ethic, or the other way around, and that just isn’t true.  All three are required to have a career as a film editor — the ability to form lasting relationships, the diligence to work really hard, and having natural instincts that you’re always striving to improve upon.”

Scofield says he will always be grateful to Weber and the example he’s set. “I’m only one of over a dozen people whose careers Billy has helped launch over the years. It’s in large part his generosity and mentorship that inspires me to pay it forward any chance I get.”

Let’s find out more from Scofield about his editing process, what he’s learned over the years, and the importance of collaboration.

You have worked with two Hollywood icons in Terrence Malick and Warren Beatty. I’m assuming you’re not easily intimidated.
It’s been a transformative experience in every way. These two guys, who have been making films for over 40 years, are constantly challenging themselves to try new things… to experiment, to learn. They’re always re-evaluating pretty much everything from the story to the style, and yet these are two guys with such distinct voices that really shine through their work. You know a Malick or Beatty film when you see it. The Inexhaustibility of the cinematic art form, I guess, is what I really took away from both of them.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.They are both very different kinds of filmmakers.
You would never think that working on a Terrence Malick film would prepare you to work on a Warren Beatty film. Knight of Cups is a stream-of-consciousness, meditative tome about the meaning of life. Warren’s film is a romantic comedy with a historical drama slant. Aesthetically, they’re very different films, but the process of constantly finding ways to break open the movie all over again, and the mindset that requires, is very similar.

Both Terry and Warren are uncompromising and passionate about making movies the way they want and not bending to conventions, yet at the same time looking for ways to reach people on a very deep level. In this case, both films were also deeply personal for the director. When you work on something like that, it adds another layer of pressure because you want to honor how much of themselves they’re willing to put into their work. But that’s also where I believe the most exciting films come from. That pressure just becomes inspiration.

How early did you get involved on Rules Don’t Apply?
Right after production wrapped. I was finishing up with Terry on the mix stage for Knight of Cups when Billy called. They had an assembly of the film when I joined — everything was in there — and that version was probably about four hours long. Interestingly, some things have changed dramatically since that version and some are remarkably similar.

I was on Rules Don’t Apply for just over a year, but I’ve been back several times since officially finishing. I took a good amount of time off and went back, and since then I’ve popped in and out whenever Warren has needed me. Robin became a true caretaker of the film, staying with Warren through that additional time leading up to the release.

Is that typically how you’ve worked? Coming in after there’s an assembly?
I’ve come in as an additional set eyes on some, and I’ve been on films during production, sending cuts to the director while they’re in the middle of shooting. This includes giving feedback on pick-ups they need to grab or things to be wary of performance-wise, those types of things.

Both are thrilling experiences. It’s fun to come in when there has been one specific approach and they’re open to new ideas. You kind of get to shake people out of the one way they’ve been going about the film. When I’m the editor that’s been working on the film since the beginning, that initial discovery period when you see the film take shape for the first time is always thrilling. The relationship you form with both the film and the director is hard to beat. But then, I’m always excited for someone to come in and shake things up, to help me think differently. That’s why you do feedback screenings. That’s why you bring other editors into the room to take a look and to make you think about things from a different angle.

How was it on Rules Don’t Apply?
When I came on, so much of it was working really well from the first assembly, but I did want to strengthen the love story between Frank and Marla and make their attraction more evident early in the film so that it paid off later. I started by going through all of the scenes and looking for little moments where we could build up glances between them or find little raindrops before the storm of that budding relationship.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.There were a few storylines going on at the same time as well?
The story takes place over a long period of time — you’ve got Warren Beatty playing Howard Hughes, you’re dealing with a young love story, you’re dealing with an incredible supporting cast, all of whom could be bigger characters or smaller characters. When you come in a little bit later, it’s often your job to help figure out which storylines or themes are going to become the main thrust of the movie.

So there are different definitions of co-editor?
Well, it varies every day. Some days Warren would want to work on a couple of different scenes, so one editor would take one and I would take the other. Sometimes you would have worked on a scene for a long time and somebody else would say, “Let me have a stab at that. I’ve got a different idea.” Sometimes we were all together in one room with one of us driving the Avid and the others offering a different set of eyes — eyes that aren’t staring at the timeline — and they’re looking at it side-by-side with the director, almost as a viewer instead of within the nitty-gritty of making the cut. We would take turns doing that.

You’ve got to check your ego at the door, I suppose? Everybody’s on the same team these days.
There’s no pecking order, and I think Billy Weber is really the one who sets that tone because he’s such a generous and experienced editor and man. There are people out in the industry that might be protective of their work versus letting anybody else touch it, but there’s none of that in any of the editing rooms that I’ve been fortunate enough to work in. Everybody’s respectful of each other.

On this film we had Billy, myself, Leslie Jones and Robin all working at the same time. You’ve got almost three generations of editors in that room, and to be treated as an equal really opens up your mind and your creativity. You feel the freedom to really present big ideas.

How is it collaborating with Warren?
He is such a unique guy. His favorite thing to do is to have a fight — he doesn’t want people who are just going to accept what he says. He wants a fiery debate, which can make people uncomfortable, but I’m okay with it. I actually really enjoyed that, especially when you realize he’s not taking it personally and neither should I. This is about making a movie the best that it can be. He wants people that are going to challenge him and push back.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.So it’s part of his creative process?
Yes, it’s all about the discourse. If he has a strong point of view, he wants to argue it to make sure that he really believes it. And if you have a strong point of view, he wants you to be able to tell him why. I would say the fiercest fights led to him being most happy afterwards. At the end of the screaming, he would always say, “That was such a productive conversation. I’m so glad we did that!” He surrounds himself with people he knows he trusts. He knows that’s what he needs to make him as productive and as creative as he can be.

It’s been a long time since Warren directed a film, how did he react to the new technology?
He was thrilled with all of the new abilities of technology. This movie was shot on the Alexa, for the most part, and we did do a good amount of combining it will archival footage. This is a very modern movie in many ways, but it also has a distinctive throwback vibe. We had to try to marry those things without going overboard.

We resized frames, added a few push-ins, speed ramps, and so on. Ultimately, all of these tools just allowed him to explore the footage even more than he’s used to doing. He really loved taking advantage of new editorial opportunities that couldn’t have been done even 15 years ago, at least not as easily.

How do you organize things within the Avid Media Composer?
Any time I start a new job, I send a Google Doc to the assistant that specifies exactly how I want the project set up. It’s an evolution of things I’ve learned in different editing rooms over time.

For every scene, I have a bin with a frame view. If the bin is the size of my monitor, I should be able to see all clips in that one view without scrolling. Each set-up is separated from each other, so I can see very quickly, “Oh there are four takes of that shot, there are four takes of that shot, there are three takes of that one.” I have the assistant prepare three sequences: one that’s just a pure string-out of all of the clips, so I can, in one sequence, scrub through everything that’s there. I do a string-out “clean,” which is when you take out all the slates and you take out all the director’s talking, so I can be impartial and just look at the footage. Then I usually have one more sequence that’s just circle takes that the director chose on set. Then I go through and I make a select reel based off of everything that I watch. That’s the basic bin set-up.

For films that have multiple editors, organization is really important because somebody else has to be able to understand how your work is organized. You have to be able to find things that you did a year ago.

Any special tricks, like speed ramps, sound effects, transitions? I’m imagining that changes per project?
Yeah, it’s pretty unique to the project. There are a lot of editors who have specific effects that they go back to over and over again in their own bin. I’ve got a few of those, but I almost always end up tailoring them and sometimes just starting from scratch.  I go on the hunt for the right effect when I need it.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.I’ve gotten pretty adept at tailoring the built-in effects to my needs as they come up, but people who use those effects all the time are working on more crazy action or stylized films because they’ve got a lot more demand for those than when you’re working on character-driven content.

Do you typically work with a template from a colorist, or do you do any temp color corrections yourself?
Most of the films have a look that the DP has already applied, and I do tweaking as needed. If we come up with a creative reason for color correction, I’ll do a sketch. I do a lot of work with sound, but with color, it just depends. If it needs to be changed in order to understand what the idea is or if we’re screening it for somebody that we don’t trust to be able to see what it is without color correction, then of course we’re going to go in and we’re going to tweak it. I’ve worked on a film where all the exteriors were really magenta, so we came up with our kind of default fix to be applied to all of those shots.

Can you elaborate on the sound part?
I cut as much for sound as I do for picture. I think people grossly underestimate the influence that sound has on how you watch a movie. I’m not a sound designer, but I try my best to provide a sketch for when we go into that next phase so the sound designer has a pretty clear idea of what we’re going for. Then, of course, they use their creativity to expand and do their own thing.

How do you work with your assistant editors? Do you encourage them to edit, or are they strictly technical?
It depends on the project and on the timeframe of the project. In the beginning, the priority is on getting everything set up. Then the priority is on helping me build a first sound pass after we’ve gotten an assembly. They help bring in effects and to smooth over things I’ve sketched out. Sometimes they’re just gathering effects for me and sometimes they’re cutting them themselves. Sometimes we’re kind of tossing them back and forth. I do a rough pass and I ask them to mix it, clean up the levels, add in a couple accents here and there. Once we’re through with that we kind of have at least a ground floor for sound to cut with.

When given the opportunity, I love to let my assistants get creative. I let them take a stab at scenes, or at least have them be present in the room to give feedback. When the director isn’t present, I rely a lot on my assistant just to check in and say, “Hey, is this crazy?” or try to engage them as much as I can in that creative process. It all just depends on the demands of the project and the experience level of the assistant.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Film is a collaborative art form, and in order to help a director do their best work, you need to be their friend, their antagonist, their therapist, their partner. Whatever it takes is what your job is. I was so fortunate to learn an enormous amount from Warren, but also from my fellow editors. I hope everybody has as much fun watching this crazy little movie as we did making it.

Finally, I’d just love to say that working with Warren will undoubtedly be one of the most cherished experiences of my life. Reputations be damned, he’s a kind, brilliant and uncompromising artist who it was endlessly inspiring to spend so much time with.  I’ll forever be grateful I had the opportunity to both work for him and to call him a friend.

Main Image: Robin Gonsalves, Warren Beatty and Brian Scofield.

TwoPoint0 adds editors Debbie McMurtrey and David Cornman

TwoPoint0 has added two veteran editors to its New York-based studio: David Cornman and Debbie McMurtrey.

Cornman is a commercial editor who has cut comedy, effects-driven, dramatic and documentary-style spots for clients such as AIG, GE, Accenture, Bank of America, Staples, Verizon and Computer Associates. He has won awards from the AICE, AICP, Clio and Addys, and he has an Emmy nom in the Best Commercial category.

Cornman’s recent projects include a package of Crayola spots for McGarry-Bowen and P&G work out of Havas, as well as a several digital projects for Facebook’s Creative Shop. A recent passion project included shooting and editing a piece for Atria Senior Living in Rye Brook, New York, which gave residents the chance to try rowing for the first time. Rowers ranged in age from 85-97. “That was fun to be part of,” he says.

McMurtrey started her career at Crew Cuts in 1999. In 2007, she was hired as the first editor at Nomad’s East Coast office. From there she worked at Cutting Room, Red Car and Alkemy X. In addition to spots and branded web content, she has also cut short films that have screened in over 30 festivals, a sitcom pilot for VH1, and parody commercials for Saturday Night Live. She recently collaborated with director/producer Greg Kohs on his feature documentary, The Great Alone, which chronicles the comeback journey of four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. McMurtrey considers her specialty to be docu-style. She excels at taking raw footage and finding the narrative in order to shape the story. She also enjoys editing dialogue and comedy.

McMurtrey has recently worked with director Zack Resnicoff of Impressionista Films on three campaigns for Fisher Price, including 20 individual spots.They have previously worked together on projects for Macy’s, Blue Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other recent projects completed by McMurtrey include the “We the Voters” campaign and a series of films for Stephens Bank, including a bio of Alexander Hamilton. She has also edited projects this fall for Facebook, Hewlett Packard and Nintendo.

To view Cornman’s and McMurtrey’s reels on the studio’s site.

The A-List: Collateral Beauty director David Frankel

By Iain Blair

Oscar-winner David Frankel is probably best known for his enormously successful films The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, but the writer/director has an eclectic slate of films under his belt, including The Big Year, Hope Springs and One Chance.

Frankel owns a “Best Short” Oscar for his film Dear Diary, an Emmy for his direction of the miniseries Band of Brothers, and an Emmy nom for the Entourage pilot. In addition, he directed several episodes of Sex and the City, and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

David Frankel

Frankel’s new film, Collateral Beauty, is a drama about a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.  Frankel assembled an all-star cast, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren..

The drama’s behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Maryse Alberti (Creed), editor Andrew Marcus (American Ultra) and composer Theodore Shapiro (Trumbo).

I spoke with Frankel about making the film.

There’s been a lot of mystery about this film and the plot?
Will plays this advertising guy who loses his six-year-old daughter to cancer and he spirals into a deep hole. He’s devastated, he’s divorced, he’s not functioning at work anymore, and everyone tries to help him reconnect, but nothing really works. Then they come up with this wacky scheme, which involves hiring some actors to help him answer the questions he’s asking of the universe. I saw it as this screwball drama — a little crazy — but also very grounded and emotional. There’s a lot of moving moments and tragedy, but I think it’s quite uplifting and hopeful.

useYou got an amazing cast. Any surprises with Will Smith?
He was everything I expected and more. He’s such a risk-taker and keeps challenging himself as an actor. He took on stuff here he’s never done before, and Jacob Latimore was very impressive, really able to hold his own with the others, and there was a very unlikely pairing of actors — Helen Mirren and Michael Peña — that was unexpected and which worked out so well.

You shot this on location all over New York. How tough was it?
People complain about it a lot, but I never do. We shot it in eight weeks. It was great and wherever you go, people would help decorate the streets with Christmas lights and the street vendors would come out, and neighbors would help keep the streets quiet while we shot, so there was all this enthusiasm and great support. And you can’t really fake New York, and I love the fact that wherever you point a camera, it looks amazing.

You shot digitally, but it has a very filmic look.
Right, and I really struggle to see the difference between film and digital now, because digital’s so good. Maryse did a great job. She shot Dear Diary for me 20 years ago, and we quickly picked up where we left off. The goal was to make some very beautiful images and focus on composition and the performances.

Do you enjoy the post process?
I love post because it’s the time of discovery. When you’re shooting, it’s a time of wonder — when you’re scratching your heads for weeks on end and trying to deal with the schedule and budget and all that. Once you’re in post, you finally sit down to start telling the story you want, and when you start solving the puzzles that are in front of you in the cutting room, it’s just so satisfying. We did all the post in New York, and all the cutting at The Post Factory in Tribeca, and then we did all the sound work at the Warner Bros. mixing stage. We also recorded the music and orchestra in New York, so it was very much a New York production.

Talk about working for the first time with editor Andrew Marcus. Was he on the set?
He was on set a lot, and he actually lived just down the street from one of the locations, so he’d stop by a lot and we’d discuss stuff every day. He was so enthusiastic right from the start, and I think he’s quite brilliant. The way I work with editors is to tell them at the wrap party, ‘Pretend I got hit by a bus on the way home and you have to now finish the movie. Don’t just do an assembly and string scenes together.’ The big challenge on this was getting the tone right, as it’s such a strange mix of humor and really heavy drama, and sometimes all in the same scene.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter, so you must have needed some VFX?
Right. We used VFX to add some Christmas decorations, lights, some snow, and we had to do clean-up. Mr. X in New York did all that.

You’ve collaborated with composer Theodore Shapiro a lot. How important is sound and music to you?
It’s huge. I’ve worked with just one composer my whole career, and Ted wrote this beautiful score that’s perfect, because it’s such an emotional movie but it also needed a very restrained score that doesn’t tell you how to feel, and I had the most fun being in the studio with him and trying stuff out. And all the sound design is so crucial to it too —capturing the sounds of New York, the subway trains.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did the DI at Company 3 in Chelsea, with Tim Stipan, who’s a genius. He just did Silence with Scorsese and he has this fantastic eye for storytelling through color. I’m always involved with the DI, but even more so this time as Maryse had to go off to shoot Chappaquiddick, so I did a lot of the sessions with Tim, and it probably ended up a little warmer with me in there.

This is releasing at the same time as this new little film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are you nervous?
No, not at all. It’s good counter-programming. The Devil Wears Prada opened against Superman and did great. I like to think people want choices.


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.

Review: NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 for editors

By Brady Betzel

Basic color correction is rapidly becoming a skill that is expected of an editor, or even an assistant editor. If you have had the luxury of using a colorist and/or an online editor, you have probably seen them use apps such as Blackmagic Resolve, Avid Symphony, FilmLight’s Baselight or other color grading tools. These systems have so many levels of intricacy that without years of experience in color correction, most editors’ knowledge starts at the beginning stage.

If you are an editor looking to do basic color correction, slight secondary correction and, maybe, even a creative grade, you probably want to stay inside of your NLE, whether it’s Adobe Premiere, Apple FCPX, Avid Media Composer, Magix Vegas, or even After Effects. This is where NewBlueFX’s latest color correction and grading plug-in comes into play.

Featuring over 60 different looks (sometimes referred to as creative LUTs or preset color grades), skin tone isolation and the ability to isolate regions of an image for the video scopes to analyze, New Blue ColorFast 2 is a modest color correction app without the overwhelming toolset of a full-fledged color correction application.

The Details
ColorFast 2 costs $99 and works in apps like Vegas Pro 10+, Resolve 11+, Premiere CS6/6.5/CC, After Effects 5+, FCPX, Media Composer/Symphony 6+ and Grass Valley Edius 7 and 8. If you are using apps like Resolve you probably would only use ColorFast 2 for its preset looks since you already have access to all of the color correction tools included in the plug-in — unless you like the region isolating feature for the video scopes, something I find really intriguing.

ColorFast2 RGB Scope and the Lumetri RGB scope.

Most people reading this review will probably want to know why they should buy ColorFast 2 when Premiere Pro has a lot of these features built into their Lumetri color correction tools. To be honest, there are only a few things that ColorFast 2 has that Premiere, or other apps for that matter, don’t have: region-controlled video scopes, skin color isolating and NewBlueFX’s color presets. You should really check out NewBlueFX’s product page for ColorFast 2 to see some more examples of the color presets and download a trial for yourself.

Right off the bat, I felt that stacking ColorFast 2 after the Lumetri color correction tools in the effects panel in Premiere is the proper order of operations. If you are familiar with LUTs and how the chain of command works, you probably have experimented with color correcting before and after the LUT is applied.

Typically, a LUT gives the colorist a good starting point to grade from, but these days you may see creative LUTs. If the creative LUT doesn’t quite look right you will want add color correction first in the chain of command and then the LUT. This is how I would work with ColorFast 2 and Lumetri color correction tools. You will be correcting the footage to work with your creative LUT instead of correcting the LUT, which most of the time will give you inadequate results. Long story short: stack your ColorFast 2 effect after Lumetri tools in the effects window and then fine-tune the Basic Correction settings with your ColorFast 2 preset to get a great color grade.

The ColorFast2 waveform with isolated scope region.

Video Scopes
I was excited to check out the video scopes inside of ColorFast 2, so I jumped to the bottom where the Region Scopes twirl-down menu is. Under that is the Video Scopes menu, which contains Vectorscope (Classic), Vectorscope (Color), Vectorscope (Sat, RGB Parade), Waveform and Histogram. The real beauty is that NewBlueFX gives you the ability to isolate a square region of your footage to be output through the video scope. This allows you to pinpoint your correction a little easier, and I really love this feature… but I also noticed that when you have both the Lumetri video scopes, as well as the ColorFast 2 scopes there is a discrepancy in values. I tended to like the Lumetri video scopes a little better. In fact, they go all the way up to 100, where the ColorFast 2 scopes only go up to 80 — this could very well be a bug in the compatibility between ColorFast 2 and the new Adobe Premiere CC 2015.4.

One issue I found with the ColorFast 2 scopes was that I couldn’t move the actual scope around or have more than one on at a time. While the region selection is an awesome feature, being able to see your full image is sometimes more important, so that is why I would probably stick to the NLEs built-in scopes.

Primary, Secondary, Output Correction Menus
Going back to the top of the ColorFast 2 Effect Editor menus, up first is the Primary Correction twirl-down menu. Here you can quickly white-balance your footage with an eyedropper, even keyframe it. In addition, you can adjust the White Strength, White Tweak (fine-tune control of the white color), Hue, Saturation, Exposure, Brightness and Film Gamma. A problem I encountered was that if you do a primary color correct on your image and then choose a color preset, all of your primary work gets reset, which is a real bummer if you want to correct and then grade your footage. So, if you want to work in ColorFast 2 in a more traditional way, where you color correct then color grade, you may want to do it in two separate effects. Moreover, you may want to primary color correct inside of the Lumetri tools then stack the ColorFast 2 on top.

Secondaries menu.

Next up is the Secondary Correction twirl-down menu, which gets you into the real meat and potatoes of the plug-in. There is a helpful “Show Mask” drop down that will allow you to isolate and view Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, Skin Color Mask and a Shape Mask. Inside each of these you can adjust Tint, Saturation, overall Level, and even enable and disable this secondary if you want. Further down in the secondary menu you can adjust the High, Mid and Shadow thresholds (basically transitions from high to mid or mid to shadow), and even the blending and spread.

While still in the secondary twirl-down menu you can jump into the Skin Mask, which will quickly help you identify skin color, soften imperfections and even help keep skin color fidelity while adjusting the rest of your image.

The last menu is the Output Correction twirl-down. Here you can do a widespread correction that lands after the fine-tuning. You can adjust overall Saturation, Exposure and Brightness.

Summing Up
In the end, I think ColorFast 2 is best suited for people who want a quick color grade by applying a preset look but who also want a little ability to fine-tune that look. ColorFast 2 has some pretty good-looking presets like Vintage, Fallout, Gotham and even some black and white presets like B&W Ink. It’s even more fun to go and purposely change your white balance to something crazy, like a deep purple, for interesting grades. You should definitely try NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 if you are looking for some additional creative grade looks while still being able to individually tweak the output.

Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.


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.

GenPop’s Bill Yukich directs, edits gritty open for Amazon’s Goliath 

Director/editor Bill Yukich helmed the film noir-ish opening title sequence for Amazon’s new legal drama, Goliath. Produced by LA-based content creation studio GenPop, the black and white intro starts with Goliath lead actor Billy Bob Thornton jumping into the ocean. While underwater, and smoking a cigarette and holding a briefcase, he casually strolls through rooms filled with smoke and fire. At the end of the open, he rises from the water as the Santa Monica Pier appears next to him and as the picture turns from B&W to color. The Silent Comedy’s “Bartholomew” track plays throughout.

The ominous backdrop, of a man underwater but not drgoliathowning, is a perfect visual description of Thornton’s role as disgraced lawyer Billy McBride. Yukich’s visuals, he says, are meant to strike a balance between dreamlike and menacing.

The approved concept called for a dry shoot, so Yukich came up with solutions to make it seem as though the sequence was actually filmed underwater. Shot on a Red Magnesium Weapon camera, Yukich used a variety of in-camera techniques to achieve the illusion of water, smoke and fire existing within the same world, including the ingenious use of smoke to mimic the movement of crashing waves.

After wrapping the live-action shoot with Thornton, Yukich edited and color corrected the sequence. The VFX work was mostly supplementary and used to enhance the practical effects which were captured on set, such as adding extra fireballs into the frame to make the pyrotechnics feel fuller. Editing was via Adobe Premiere and VFX and color was done in Autodesk Flame. In the end, 80 percent was live action and only 20 percent visual effects.

Once post production was done, Yukich projected the sequence onto a screen which was submerged underwater and reshot the projected footage. Though technically challenging, Yukich says, this Inception-style method of re-shooting the footage gave the film the organic quality that he was looking for.

Yukich recently worked as lead editor for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. Stepping behind the lens was a natural progression for Yukich, who began directing concerts for bands like Godsmack and The Hollywood Undead, as well as music videos for HIM, Vision of Disorder and The Foo Fighters.

Apple updates FCPX, adds shared libraries, more

By Amy Leland

There exists within the post world a deep schism. On one side are those who use Final Cut Pro X, appreciate it for what it is, and want to know more about it. On the other side are those who see it as “iMovie Pro” and disdain all discussion on the topic. Full disclosure: I have always fallen firmly in the first camp.

When FCPX was first released in June of 2011, besides being a professional editor, I was also an Apple Certified Trainer (in FCP, Motion and Color), and out of necessity figured out this new product as quickly as possible to meet the demand of those wanting to know more. Along the way, I positioned it in my own work as my go-to tool for any of my independent freelance projects, and most recently for the feature documentary that I am directing and editing. I recognize that it isn’t the right tool for all editing jobs. But sometimes it is the best tool for an editing job.

interface-copyLast week I had the opportunity to attend a demo of the new FCPX 10.3. For those who are using it and others who have an open mind, there are some exciting new features and updates. I don’t think anything I say will sway the minds of those who decided long ago this product isn’t for professional editors and isn’t worth their time. And for those whose hesitation was, it’s too different, well it’s still different. It’s just a new different.

Audio
The thing that really stuck out to me was the streamlining of how audio works. There are both interface and under-the-covers changes to audio mixing and organization. The big news is the use of Roles, and how that applies to audio. FCPX introduced the idea of Roles in the very first update to the app just a few months after the initial release. Roles allowed for identifying types of audio in a way that would aid in multichannel exports and stems. But this version is the first to fully take advantage of them for streamlining the editing process.

There is now more comprehensive support for doing things like color-coding clips based on Roles for visual cues in the timeline. There is also a new concept called “audio lanes.” This is still the world of the magnetic timeline. I am a fan of the magnetic timeline, and that functionality is the biggest reason why my workflow in FCPX is typically far faster than it is in any other app. But it has always been a bit frustrating to get the audio beneath the magnetic timeline to make sense visually. Now, with audio lanes, audio in different roles can be displayed in distinct visual troughs (NOT tracks) that make it far easier to look at the timeline and see exactly what is there. With a single click, lanes can be turned off and on. The flexibility for display in different stages of the work process is fantastic.

The interface as a whole has also undergone the biggest overhaul it has had since the initial release. It looks, quite simply, cleaner. The color scheme has been flattened and darkened to allow the video content to take focus. Some onscreen controls have been moved to places that, upon reflection, do make more sense. Though having used the product for five years, I expect to have some moments of feeling a little disoriented while I get used to the changes. I look forward to seeing how the adjustments further streamline the process.

Motion
One change I am particularly excited about might seem like a small thing, but it will save me one of the biggest headaches I tend to experience in my FCPX work. I’m a big fan of custom Motion content. I create my own custom titles, transitions and effects for almost every project I do. I also use Motion publishing to bring effects specific to Motion into the FCPX interface. The only problem is that, up until now, all of that custom content lived in the Movies folder of the user library in the OS. There was no option to customize that location or store things elsewhere. More times than I can count, I would move a project from one hard drive to another, or consolidate a project to a portable drive to work on while traveling, and discover I’d left my custom Motion content behind. Those offline media icons made me nuts.

In 10.3, there is now a user preference for storing those custom Motion projects inside of an FCPX library. If the Motion project is specific to a particular FCPX project, I can store it in that project’s library. For things I have created to be more universal, I can now create a central library that can travel with any of the other work I’m doing. It’s a small change, but a really important one.

More
Many of the other changes, while relatively small details, are important ones. After years of user requests, we finally have selective “Remove Attributes.” (FINALLY!) FCPX will now also natively accept MXF-wrapped ProRes files. For those of us who go back and forth between editing systems, and do a lot of work in Avid, this will be a real time saver.

There is also a new effect in the FCPX effect library called “Flow,” a transition similar to the Fluid Morph in Avid or the Morph Cut in Premiere. I have to say, as I often experience with effects in FCPX and Motion, it just works…better. Unlike Avid where I often have to finesse the frame count to get it to work right, and then render before playback, this just drops in and works. I love it.

Shared Libraries
And finally, for those whose biggest hang-up about FCPX is shared media/project use, there is now support for shared libraries on SMB 3-compatible storage systems. There is also a new white paper out from Apple about managing the media and libraries that includes workflows for a shared storage environment. This is an aspect of the update I haven’t had the time to test fully myself. But the workflow outline in the white paper makes sense. It isn’t a fully shared work environment like opening bins from other projects in Avid. It seems more analogous to the Media Browser in Premiere, but this seems to have the potential to open up the idea of collaboration much better than before, and is something that I find pretty exciting. The “In Action” section of the FCPX website profiles a commercial post house in London called Trim Editing that is using this workflow. I imagine this won’t be enough to convince all of the skeptics. But it definitely feels like a big step in the right direction, and I look forward to working this way myself.

Summing Up
This is definitely a major update to an editing tool that was already more robust than it often gets credit for being. Those who are already on board should see a lot of good things here to reward their continued usage. Best of all, by releasing this major update as 10.3, and not as a new version 11, this update is a free one for anyone who already owns the app. That may be the best news of all.


Amy Leland is a filmmaker and editor in Brooklyn, New York, whose editing credits include Bravo, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network. She can be found on Twitter @amy_leland and on Instagram @la_directora.

The A-List: Bleed for This director Ben Younger

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Ben Younger had been MIA for quite a while. Back in 2000 he made a splash with his acclaimed feature debut, Boiler Room. This tense crime drama, which starred Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel, was set in the high stakes, testosterone-fueled — and sometimes illegal — world of brokerage firms and investment banking.

Five years later, he directed his second film, the Meryl Streep/Uma Thurman romantic dramedy Prime, which grossed $67 million worldwide and cemented his reputation as someone to watch. Then Younger disappeared from sight.

Director Ben Younger and writer Iain Blair.

Over a decade later, he’s back with his third film, Bleed for This, a super-intense boxing drama and the true comeback story of Vinny Pazienza, the “Pazmanian Devil” (Miles Teller), whose boxing career should have ended when a terrible head-on car smash left him with a badly broken neck and few chances of ever walking again, let alone fighting in the ring. Yet he refused to throw in the towel and staged the sport’s most unlikely comeback so he could defend his middleweight world championship.

I spoke with Younger about his disappearance from the industry, making this film and his love-hate relationship with post.

It’s been 11 years since your last film. What the hell happened?
It’s been even longer — 12 years (laughs). I wanted to make this motorcycle racing film, Isle of Man, back in ’07, but no one would make it. I got a little disenchanted, a little upset. I tried to get another movie made, couldn’t get that off the ground either. I stepped back and decided to take five, six years off and go the experiential route instead.

I learned to fly, I became a cook in Costa Rica, went surfing and raced motorbikes for a year professionally. I did all the things my dad never got a chance to do because he died so young. He hated his job, was miserable, and I didn’t want to do that.

I heard you’re not even a boxing fan, so why make this film?
It’s not a boxing film like the usual ones. It’s this incredible comeback story about this guy who had a passion for boxing. I don’t feel that passionate about anything in my life where I would risk paralysis to do it, like he did. So by that measure, it didn’t matter what Vinny did. I would have told the same story whatever his profession. That’s what drew me in.

What did you hope for the film?
Because it’s set in the world of boxing, you can’t avoid comparisons with other films in the genre, so it was important not to fall into cliché and the tired old tropes of every boxing movie. I just wanted to differentiate myself. There’s a lot of humor, which is always a big part of my movies, and I like humor in very dramatic settings.

Martin Scorsese executive produced. Did you ask him for any advice, considering he made Raging Bull?
No, and he didn’t really offer any. He got involved after he showed Boiler Room to his Wolf of Wall Street crew, and then he called me to meet up after reading this script. I was in Costa Rica, cooking, and he said, ‘You’ve got to get back here. I’m going to help you make this movie.’ And he did.

What did Miles Teller bring to the role?
Preparation. He’s a monster. Eight months of training and he knew his boxing. We shot for just 24 days, on a $6 million budget — not enough time or money — so I knew I couldn’t be on set worrying about the boxing itself, or we’d have been in big trouble. So he took all that off the table for me.

Do you like the post process?
I have a love-hate relationship with it. Every movie, inarguably, gets made in post. There’s no question. Same with my other two films. This was written in post, re-imagined in post, reconfigured in post. But there’s something I hate about sitting in a dark room for 12 hours a day. It fucking kills me. It’s a very depressing work environment. You have to do it, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

You edited the film with Zac Stuart-Pontier who cut Martha Marcy May Marlene and won two Emmys for HBO’s The Jinx. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He was a PA on Prime, his first job in the industry. He was at NYU and took a semester off to work on the movie, and then his career took off. He wasn’t on set at all as he was still on The Jinx, so we had an assistant editor log it all and he started after the shoot.

We did it all at Harbor Post — everything. It took a good six months. The big problem was I made a mistake in the script, putting the car crash in the middle, and it didn’t work. So we had to ruthlessly cut the first half down so it happened more like a first act, and we lost a lot of stuff. It was a shock to me, but now I’m like, ‘What were you thinking?’

We did some test screenings, and people loved watching all the gambling, the women and so on, but then after the crash scene, retroactively they hated it. They were like, ‘Why take us on the hour-long detour?’ Because of The Jinx, Zac was very used to working in a docu-drama environment, and we had all this great archival footage of Vinny, and I thought maybe we would use some of it at the end credits. But we ended up putting it in the middle of the movie. We break the fourth wall so many times in the editing, and no one seems to mind. We cut from Vinny to Miles to Vinny, and it just works.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s over half the film, and when you don’t have the budget it’s the cheapest thing you can do to radically improve your film. A good score and mix can improve it by 25 percent, easily.

Where did you mix the sound?
All at Harbor on their huge new Atmos stage, but my supervising sound editor Coll Anderson has his own studio in Woodstock where we did the pre-mixes.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven film, but I’m assuming there was some in the crash scene?
And crowd replacement stuff at the fights, some compositing. It was all done by Eyeball in LA. They did a great job on the crash, and they’d never done that sort of thing before.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important. I worked closely with DP Larkin Seiple and colorist Andrew Francis at Sixteen19 in New York, who has an amazing eye. I think I was able to give them a fresh set of eyes after they had been at it for 10 hours. I would take a look and ask, ‘Why is this so blue? Why is this so warm?’ And they would go, ‘You’re right,’ and adjust it a little.

Did it turn out how you originally envisioned it?
From a macro perspective, definitely. It was more the little things — the crash, the archival footage — that changed.

What’s next?
No more long breaks. I’m making Isle of Man next year. It’s funded and happening.

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.