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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Editor William Hoy — working on VFX-intensive War for the Planet of the Apes

By Mel Lambert

For William Hoy, ACE, story and character come first. He also likes to use visual effects “to help achieve that idea.” This veteran film editor points to director Zack Snyder’s VFX-heavy I, Robot, director Matt Reeves’ 2014 version of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and his new installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, as “excellent examples of this tenet.”

War for the Planet of the Apes, the final part of the current reboot trilogy, follows a band of apes and their leader as they are forced into a deadly conflict with a rogue paramilitary faction known as Alpha-Omega. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, their leader begins a quest to avenge his kind, and an epic battle that determines the fate of both their species and the future of our planet.

Marking the picture editor’s second collaboration with Reeves, Hoy recalls that he initially secured an interview with the director through industry associates. “Matt and I hit it off immediately. We liked each other,” Hoy recalls. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a very short schedule for such a complicated film, and Matt had his own ideas about the script — particularly how the narrative ended. He was adamant that he ‘start over’ when he joined the film project.

“The previous Dawn script, for example, had [the lead ape character] Caesar and his followers gaining intelligence and driving motorized vehicles,” Hoy says. “Matt wanted the action to be incremental which, it turned out, was okay with the studio. But a re-written script meant that we had a very tight shoot and post schedule. Swapping its release date with X-Men: Days of Future Past gave us an additional four or five weeks, which was a huge advantage.”

William Hoy, ACE (left), Matt Reeves (right).

Such a close working relationship on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes meant that Hoy came to the third installment in the current trilogy with a good understanding of the way that Reeves likes to work. “He has his own way of editing from the dailies, so I can see what we will need on rough cut as the filmed drama is unfolding. We keep different versions in Avid Media Composer, with trusted performances and characters, and can see where they are going” with the narrative. Having worked with Reeves over the past two decades, Stan Salfas, ACE, served as co-editor on the project, joining prior to the Director’s Cut.

A member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, Hoy also worked with director Randall Wallace on We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask, with director Phillip Noyce on The Bone Collector and director Zack Snyder on Watchmen, a film “filled with emotional complexity and heavy with visual effects,” he says.

An Evolutionary Editing Process
“Working scene-by-scene with motion capture images and background artwork laid onto the Avid timeline, I can show Matt my point of view,” explains Hoy. “We fill in as we go — it’s an evolutionary process. I will add music and some sound effects for that first cut so we can view it objectively. We ask, ‘Is it working?’ We swap around ideas and refine the look. This is a film that we could definitely not have cut on film; there are simply too many layers as the characters move through these varied backgrounds. And with the various actors in motion capture suits giving us dramatic performances, with full face movements [CGI-developed facial animation], I can see how they are interacting.”

To oversee the dailies on location, Hoy set up a Media Composer editing system in Vancouver, close to the film locations used for principal photography. “War for the Planet of the Apes was shot on Arri Alexa 65 digital cameras that deliver 6K images,” the editor recalls. “These files were down-sampled to 4K and delivered to Weta Digital [in New Zealand] as source material, where they were further down-sampled to 2K for CGI work and then up-sampled back to 4K for the final release. I also converted our camera masters to 2K DNxHD 32/36 for editing color-timed dailies within my Avid workstation.”

In terms of overall philosophy, “we did not want to give away Caesar’s eventual demise. From the script, I determined that the key arc was the unfolding mystery of ‘What is going on?’ And ‘Where will it take us?’ We hid that Caesar [played by Andy Serkis] is shot with an arrow, and initially just showed the blood on the hand of the orangutan, Maurice [Karin Konoval]; we had to decide how to hide that until the key moment.”

Because of the large number of effect-heavy films that Hoy has worked on, he is considered an action/visual effects editor. “But I am drawn to performances of actors and their characters,” he stresses. “If I’m not invested in their fate, I cannot be involved in the action. I like to bring an emotional value to the characters, and visualize battle scenes. In that respect Matt and I are very much in tune. He doesn’t hide his emotion as we work out a lot of the moves in the editing room.”

For example, in Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, Koba, a human-hating Bonobo chimpanzee who led a failed coup against Caesar, is leading apes against the human population. “It was unsatisfying that the apes would be killing humans while the humans were killing apes. Instead, I concentrated on the POV of Caesar’s oldest son, Blue Eyes. We see the events through his eyes, which changed the overall idea of the battle. We shot some additional material but most of the scene — probably 75% — existed; we also spoke with the FX house about the new CGI material,” which involved re-imaged action of horses and backgrounds within the Virtual Sets that were fashioned by Weta Digital.

Hoy utilized VFX tools on various layers within his Media Composer sessions that carried the motion capture images, plus the 3D channels, in addition to different backgrounds. “Sometimes we could use one background version and other times we might need to look around for a new perspective,” Hoy says. “It was a trial-and-error process, but Matt was very receptive to that way of working; it was very collaborative.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s War for the Planet of the Apes.

Developing CGI Requests for Key Scenes
By working closely with Weta Digital, the editor could develop new CGI requests for key scenes and then have them rendered as necessary. “We worked with the post-viz team to define exactly what we needed from a scene — maybe to put a horse into a blizzard, for example. Ryan Stafford, the film’s co-producer and visual effects producer, was our liaison with the CGI team. On some scenes I might have as many as a dozen or more separate layers in the Avid, including Caesar, rendered backgrounds, apes in the background, plus other actors in middle and front layers” that could be moved within the frame. “We had many degrees of freedom so that Matt and I could develop alternate ideas while still preserving the actors’ performances. That way of working could be problematic if you have a director who couldn’t make up his mind; happily, Matt is not that way!”

Hoy cites one complex scene that needed to be revised dramatically. “There is a segment in which Bad Ape [an intelligent chimpanzee who lived in the Sierra Zoo before the Simian Flu pandemic] is seen in front of a hearth. That scene was shot twice because Matt did not consider it frenetic enough. The team returned to the motion capture stage and re-shot the scene [with actor Steve Zahn]. That allowed us to start over again with new, more frantic physical performances against resized backgrounds. We drove the downstream activities – asking Weta to add more snow in another scene, for example, or maybe bring Bad Ape forward in the frame so that we can see him more clearly. Weta was amazing during that collaborative process, with great input.”

The editor also received a number of sound files for use within his Avid workstation. “In the beginning, I used some library effects and some guide music — mostly some cues of composer Michael Giacchino’s Dawn score music from music editor Paul Apelgren. Later, when the picture was in one piece, I received some early sketches from the sound design team. For the Director’s Cut we had a rough cut with no CGI from Weta Digital. But when we received more sound design, I would create temp mixes on the Avid, with a 5.1-channel mix for the sound-editorial team using maybe 24 tracks of effects, dialog and music elements. It was a huge session, but Media Composer is versatile. After turning over that mix to Will Files, the film’s sound designer, supervising sound editor and co-mixer, I was present with Matt on the re-recording stage for maybe six weeks of the final mix as the last VFX elements came in. We were down to the wire!”

Hoy readily concedes that while he loves to work with new directors — “and share their point of view” — returning to a director with whom he has collaborated previously is a rewarding experience. “You develop a friendly liaison because it becomes easier once you understand the ways in which a director works. But I do like to be challenged with new ideas and new experiences.” He may get to work again with Reeves on the director’s next outing, The Batman, “but since Matt is still writing the screenplay, time will tell!”


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLAHe is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

 

Behind the Title: Edit 1 creative director/editor Ken Kresge

NAME: Ken Kresge

COMPANY: New York City’s Edit 1

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a production company with a unique talent for previs and content work.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VP creative director/editor

Edit 1

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
At heart, I’m an editor. I have been so for the past 20 years. Editing led to a natural progression into being a CD. I manage the creative expectation of our clients and make sure our team of pros executes it in the manner that I feel represents the client’s needs.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In today’s business environment, being an editor means more than editing video, offline color correct and light After Effects work. Now the job includes all that plus a myriad other things, ranging from collaborating concept and script to audio, online color correct, graphic design, 3D animation and even helping with PR and social media. Fortunately, I love doing all those things, so for me now is a great time to be a creative editor.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with my new colleagues. It’s been 17 years since I was the new guy, and for me its very exciting getting to know them and seeing their talent for the first time. Oh yeah, the pizza on Friday is pretty awesome.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Give me some time and I am sure I will find something.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the mornings, when its just one or two of us. I put on some music and get ready for whatever is coming up.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be a scientist or a host for a comedic documentary TV show. Yes, that is pretty specific for me.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I used editing as a way of expressing myself. I started my first editing gig at McCann Erickson.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Is it ok if that hasn’t happened yet?

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I just joined Edit 1 so much of it is still going on, but I can say I was able to re-connect with some of my previous clients and friends on a few projects from McCann, Evoke, DDB, One World Trade and Grey. They have kept me quite busy over the past four weeks.

Edit 1’s rooftop.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
One World is project I am proud of for a few reasons. I helped on the agency pitch and then helped create this interactive AR project for iPad, which involved editing almost 50 different videos about places in New York City. Moreover, I am a New Yorker, and having lived here through 9/11, this project gave me an overwhelming sense of pride. For me it’s like patriotism, in a New York-er way. I’m also proud of a personal project called “Road Trip Earth.”

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A powerful laptop, Adobe’s Creative Cloud and a decent camera/phone.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Honestly, I don’t follow anything.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I listen to KEXP almost every day. I love John in the Morning. Other than that, lately, it’s a lot of ALT-J, Modest Mouse and the new Slowdive.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I just don’t sweat it anymore. Life can be pretty hard but I have a good one, with an amazing wife and kids to share it with. I try not to mess with those things and everything else seems to fall into place.

Nomad Editing adds Nate Cali

Santa Monica’s Nomad has added editor Nate Cali to its roster. Cali, who will be based out of the Santa Monica office, has edited campaigns for Nike, Reebok, Red Bull, Taco Bell, Capital One and Funny or Die. Cali edits on Adobe Premiere.

Most recently, he was freelancing out of Saatchi LA working on Toyota. Prior to that, while he frequently worked out of the Optimus Chicago office and spent a lot of time there, he was based out of Optimus LA, where he moved up the ranks from assistant editor to a partner in the company. He also spent time at Union Editorial.

While at the Los Angeles Film School, he studied under Danford B. Greene, who cut Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. “My mother was a stand-up comedian,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to cut comedy. Danford taught me how to make people laugh by highlighting reactions instead of actions.”

“I feel so lucky to have a career that requires me to collaborate with other people who have the same passion and drive as I do. I connect very well with people who care deeply about their work. I love working on cars and extreme sports projects and while I think the flashy stuff is cool, I’m most interested in bringing the best emotions out of a piece. I want people to feel a personal connection to that spot.”

A chat with Emmy-winning comedy editor Sue Federman

This sitcom vet talks about cutting Man With A Plan and How I Met Your Mother.

By Dayna McCallum

The art of sitcom editing is overly enjoyed and underappreciated. While millions of people literally laugh out loud every day enjoying their favorite situation comedies, very few give credit to the maestro behind the scenes, the sitcom editor.

Sue Federman is one of the best in the business. Her work on the comedy How I Met Your Mother earned three Emmy wins and six nominations. Now the editor of CBS’ new series, Man With A Plan, Federman is working with comedy legends Matt LeBlanc and James Burrows to create another classic sitcom.

However, Federman’s career in entertainment didn’t start in the cutting room; it started in the orchestra pit! After working as a professional violinist with orchestras in Honolulu and San Francisco, she traded in her bow for an Avid.

We sat down to talk with Federman about the ins and outs of sitcom editing, that pesky studio audience, and her journey from musician to editor.

When did you get involved with your show, and what is your workflow like?
I came onto Man With A Plan (MWAP) after the original pilot had been picked up. They recast one of the leads, so there was a reshoot of about 75 percent of the pilot with our new Andi, Liza Snyder. My job was to integrate the new scenes with the old. It was interesting to preserve the pace and feel of the original and to be free to bring my own spin to the show.

The workflow of the show is pretty fast since there’s only one editor on a traditional audience sitcom. I usually put a show together in two to three days, then work with the producers for one to two days, and then send a pretty finished cut to the studio/network.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an editor on a traditional half-hour comedy?
One big challenge is managing two to three episodes at a time — assembling one show while doing producer or studio/network notes on another, as well as having to cut preshot playbacks for show night, which can be anywhere from three to eight minutes of material that has to be cut pretty quickly.

Another challenge is the live audience laughter. It’s definitely a unique part of this kind of show. I worked on How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) for nine years without an audience, so I could completely control the pacing. I added fake laughs that fit the performances and things like that. When I came back to a live audience show, I realized the audience is a big part of the way the performances are shaped. I’ve learned all kinds of ways to manipulate the laughs and, hopefully, still preserve the spontaneous live energy of the show.

How would you compare cutting comedy to drama?
I haven’t done much drama, but I feel like the pace of comedy is faster in every regard, and I really enjoy working at a fast pace. Also, as opposed to a drama or anything shot single-camera, the coverage on a multi-cam show is pretty straightforward, so it’s really all about performance and pacing. There’s not a lot of music in a multi-cam, but you spend a lot of time working with the audience tracks.

What role would you say an editor has in helping to make a “bit” land in a half-hour comedy?
It’s performance, timing and camera choices — and when it works, it feels great. I’m always amazed at how changing an edit by a frame or two can make something pop. Same goes for playing something wider or closer depending on the situation.

MWAP is shot before a live studio audience. How does that affect your rhythm?
The audience definitely affects the rhythm of the show. I try to preserve the feeling of the laughs and still keep the show moving. A really long laugh is great on show night, but usually we cut it down a bit and play off more reactions. The actors on MWAP are great because they really know how to “ride” the laughs and not break character. I love watching great comedic actors, like the cast of I Love Lucy, for example, who were incredible at holding for laughs. It’s a real asset and very helpful to the editor.

Can you describe your process? And what system do you edit the show on?
I’ve always used the Avid Media Composer. Dabbled with Final Cut, but prefer Avid. I assemble the whole show in one sequence and go scene by scene. I watch all of the takes of a scene and make choices for each section or sometimes for each line. Then I chunk the scene together, sometimes putting in two choices for a line or area. I then cut into the big pieces to select the cameras for each shot. After that, I go back and find the rhythm of the scene — tightening the pace, cutting into the laughs and smoothing them.

After the show is put together, I go back and watch the whole thing again, pretending that I’ve never seen it, which is a challenge. That makes me adjust it even more. I try to send out a pretty polished first cut, without cutting any dialogue to show the producers everything, which seems to make the whole process go faster. I’m lucky that the directors on MWAP are very seasoned and don’t really give me many notes. Jimmy Burrows and Pam Fryman have directed almost all of the episodes, and I don’t send out a separate cut to either of them. Particularly with Pam, as I’ve worked with her for about 11 years, so we have a nice shorthand.

How do assistant editors work into the mix?
My assistant, Dan “Steely” Esparza, is incredible! He allows me to show up to work every day and not think about anything other than cutting the show. He’s told me, even though I always ask, that he prefers not to be an editor, so I don’t push him in that direction. He is excellent at visual effects and enjoys them, so I always have him do those. On HIMYM, we had quite a lot of visual effects, so he was pretty busy there. But on MWAP, it’s mostly rough composites for blue/greenscreen scenes and painting out errant boom shadows, boom mics and parts of people.

Your work on HIMYM was highly lauded. What are some of your favorite “editing” moments from that show and what were some of the biggest challenges they threw at you?
I really loved working on that show — every episode was unique, and it really gave me opportunities to grow as an editor. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were amazing problem solvers. They were able to look at the footage and make something completely different out of it if need be. I remember times when a scene wasn’t working or was too long, and they would write some narration, record the temp themselves, and then we’d throw some music over it and make it into a montage.

Some of the biggest editing challenges were the music videos/sequences that were incorporated into episodes. There were three complete Robin Sparkles videos and many, many other musical pieces, almost always written by Carter and Craig. In “P.S. I Love You,” they incorporated her last video into kind of a Canadian Behind the Music about the demise of Robin Sparkles, and that was pretty epic for a sitcom. The gigantic “Subway Wars” was another big challenge, in that it had 85 “scenelets.” It was a five-way race around Manhattan to see who could get to a restaurant where Woody Allen was supposedly eating first, with each person using a different mode of transportation. Crazy fun and also extremely challenging to fit into a sitcom schedule.

You started in the business as a classical musician. How does your experience as a professional violinist influence your work as an editor?
I think the biggest thing is having a good feeling for the rhythm of whatever I’m working on. I love to be able to change the tempo and to make something really pop. And when asked to change the pacing or cut sections out, when doing various people’s notes, being able to embrace that too. Collaborating is a big part of being a musician, and I think that’s helped me a lot in working with the different personalities. It’s not unlike responding to a conductor or playing chamber music. Also having an understanding of phrasing and the overall structure of a piece is valuable, even though it was musical phrasing and structure, it’s not all that different.

Obviously, whenever there’s actual music involved, I feel pretty comfortable handling it or choosing the right piece for a scene. If classical music’s involved, I have a great deal of knowledge that can be helpful. For example, in HIMYM, we needed something to be a theme for Barney’s Playbook antics. I tried a few things, and we landed on the Mozart Rondo Alla Turca, which I’ve been hearing lately in the Progresso Soup commercials.

How did you make the transition from the concert hall to the editing room?
It’s a long story! I was playing in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and was feeling stuck. I was lucky enough to find an amazing career counseling organization that helped me open my mind to all kinds of possibilities, and they helped me to discover the perfect job for me. It was quite a journey, but the main thing was to be open to anything and identify the things about myself that I wanted to use. I learned that I loved music (but not playing the violin), puzzles, stories and organizing — so editing!

I sold a bow, took the summer off from playing and enrolled in a summer production workshop at USC. I wasn’t quite ready to move to LA, so I went back to San Francisco and began interning at a small commercial editing house. I was answering phones, emptying the dishwasher, getting coffees and watching the editing, all while continuing to play in the Ballet Orchestra. The people were great and gave me opportunities to learn whenever possible. Luckily for me, they were using the Avid before it came to TV and features. Eventually, there was a very rough documentary that one of the editors wanted to cut, but it wasn’t organized. They gave me the key to the office and said, “You want to be an editor? Organize this!” So I did, and they started offering me assistant work on commercials. But I wanted to cut features, so I started to make little trips to LA to meet anybody I could.

Bill Steinberg, an editor working in the Universal Syndication department who I met at USC, got me hooked up with an editor who was to be one of Roger Corman’s first Avid editors. The Avids didn’t arrive right away, but he helped me put my name in the hat to be an assistant the next time. It happened, and I was on my way! I took a sabbatical from the orchestra, went down to LA, and worked my tail off for $400 a week on three low-budget features. I was in heaven. I had enough hours to join the union as an assistant, but I needed money to pay the admission fee. So I went back to San Francisco and played one month of Nutcrackers to cover the fee, and then I took another year sabbatical. Bill offered me a month position in the syndication department to fill in for him, and show the film editors what I knew about the Avid.

Eventually Andy Chulack, the editor of Coach, was looking for an Avid assistant, and I was recommended because I knew it. Andy hired me and took me under his wing, and I absolutely loved it. I guess the upshot is, I was fearlessly naive and knew the Avid!

What do you love most about being an editor?
I love the variation of material and people that I get to work with, and I like being able to take time to refine things. I don’t have to play it live anymore!

Chatting with Scorsese’s go-to editor Thelma Schoonmaker

By Iain Blair

Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese go together like Lennon and McCartney, or Ben and Jerry. It’s hard to imagine one without the other.

Simply put, Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor and key collaborator over the course of 23 films and half a century, winning Oscars for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed. Now 77, she also recently received a career achievement award at the American Cinema Editors’ 67th Eddie Awards.

She cut Scorsese’s first feature, Who’s that Knocking at My Door, and since Raging Bull has worked on all of his feature films, including such classics as The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, New York Stories, GoodFellas (which earned her another Oscar nomination), Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundun, Gangs of New York (another Oscar nomination), Shutter Island, Hugo (another Oscar nomination) and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Their most recent collaboration was Silence, Scorsese’s underrated and powerful epic, which is now available via Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

A 28-year passion project that reinforces Scorsese’s place in the pantheon of great directors, Silence tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) at a time when Christianity was outlawed. When they are captured and imprisoned, both men are plunged into an odyssey that will test their faith, challenge their sanity and, perhaps, risk their very lives

I recently talked with Schoonmaker about cutting Silence, working with Scorsese, and their long and storied collaboration.

Silence must have been very challenging to cut as it’s very long and could easily have ended up being a bit slow and boring.
(Laughs) You’re right! It was one of the things we were most concerned about from the start, as it’s a very meditative film. It’s nothing like his last films, Hugo and Wolf of Wall Street, and it couldn’t be more different.

Wolf had all the crazy stuff and the wild humor and improvisation, but with Silence Marty wanted to make an entirely different movie from the way most movies are made today. So that was a very brave commitment, I think, and it was difficult to find the right balance and the right pace. We experimented a great deal with just how slow it could be, without losing the audience.

Even the film’s opening scene was a major challenge. It’s very slow and sets the tone before the film even starts, with just the cicadas on the soundtrack. It tells you, slow down from our crazy lives, just feel what’s going on and engage with it. The minimal score is all part of that. It’s not telling the audience what to think, as scores usually do. He wanted the audience to decide what they feel and think, and he was adamant about starting the film off like that, which was also brave.

It feels far closer to The Age of Innocence in terms of its pacing than his more recent films.
Yes, and that was definitely a big part of its appeal for him, as it’s set in another country and also another century, so Marty wanted the film to be very meditative, and the pace of it had to reflect all that. Along with that, he was able to examine his religious concerns and interests, which he couldn’t do so much in other films. They were always there, but here they’re up front.

Did you stay in New York cutting while he shot in Taiwan, or did you visit the set?
I was in Taipei while they shot, working on the dailies, but I didn’t go on set as the locations they used were very arduous — up these steep mountains — and it took two hours just to get up there. There was bad weather and mud, wind, mosquitoes and snakes. Really, I just didn’t have the time to go on set, so I never got to see the great beauty of Taiwan, since I was back in Taipei in my editing room.

I do go on sets sometimes, and I love to visit and watch Marty work with the actors, and it’s always fun to be on the set, but as an editor, I also want to be unbiased when I sit down and watch footage. I don’t want to have my eye prejudiced by what I see on set and how difficult it might be to get a particular shot. That has nothing at all to do with my job.

How long did it take to edit?
Almost a year, but we had a couple of interruptions. Marty had to finish up his show for HBO, Vinyl, and then there was a family illness. But I love having that much time. Most editors simply don’t get to live with a film that long, and you really have to in order to understand it and understand what it’s saying to you. You’re editing the work of 250 people, and you have to respect that. You shouldn’t have to rush it.

Last time we talked, you were using Lightworks to edit. Do you use Avid now?
No, I still use Lightworks, and I still prefer it. It’s what I was trained on during the early days of digital editing, and it’s used a lot in Europe. Our first digital film was Casino, and back then Lightworks sent a computer expert to train me, and I’ve loved it ever since because it has a controller that is like the old flatbed editing machines and I love that — you can customize it very easily. It also has this button that allows me to throw stuff out of sync and experiment more, and that’s not available on Avid. So I’ve been editing on Lightworks ever since Casino.

When I last interviewed Marty, he told me that editing and post are his favorite parts of filmmaking. When you both sit down to edit it must be like having two editors in the room rather than a director and his editor?
It’s exactly like that. I do the first cut, but then once he comes in after the shoot we make every decision together. He’s a brilliant editor, and he taught me everything I know about editing— I knew nothing when we started together. He also thinks like an editor, unlike many directors. When he’s writing and then shooting, he’s always thinking about how it’ll cut together. Some directors shoot a lot of stuff, but does it cut together? Marty knows all that and what coverage he needs. He’s a genius, and such a knowledgeable person to be around every day.

You’ve been Marty’s editor since his very first film, back in 1967 — a 50-year collaboration. What’s the secret?
I think it’s that we’re true collaborators. He’s such an editing director, and we know each other so well by now, but it’s always fresh and interesting. There are no ego battles. Every film’s different, with different challenges, and he’s always curious, always learning, always open to new experiences. I feel very fortunate.

What’s next?
Right now I’m working on the diaries of my husband, (famed British director) Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus), and then Marty and I will start The Irishman later in the summer. It’s all about elderly gangsters, with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It’s exciting.


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.

Rick Pearson on cutting Kong: Skull Island

By Randi Altman

Who doesn’t love a good King Kong movie? And who says a good King Kong movie has to have the hairy giant climbing the Empire State Building, lady in hand?

The Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed Kong: Skull Island, which had an incredible opening weekend at the box office — and is still going strong — tells the story of a 1973 military expedition to map out an island where in 1944 two downed pilots happened upon a huge monster. What could possibly go wrong?

Editor Rick Pearson, who was originally set to come on board for 10 weeks during the Director’s Cut process to help with digital effects turnovers, ended up seeing the project through to the end. Pearson came on during the last third of production, as the crew was heading off to Vietnam.

The process was already in place where rough cuts were shared on the PIX system for the director’s review. That seemed to be work well, he says.

To find out more about the process, I recently touched base with Pearson, who at the time of our interview was in Budapest editing a film about the origin of Robin Hood. He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his work and workflow on Kong: Skull Island, which in addition to Vietnam shot in Hawaii and Australia.

Would director Vogt-Roberts get you notes? Did he give you any direction in terms of the cut?
Yes, he would give very specific notes via PIX. He would drop the equivalent of locators or markers on sequences that I would send him and say, “Could you maybe try a close-up here?” Or “Could you try this or that?” They were very concise, so that was helpful. Eventually, though, you get to a point where you really need to be in a room together to explore options.

There are a lot of visual effects in the film. Can you talk about how that affected your edit and workflow?
Some of the sequences were quite evolved in terms of previsualization that had been done a year or more prior. Then there was a combination of previs, storyboards and some sequences, one in particular had kind of a loose set of storyboards and some previs, but then the set piece was evolving as we were working.

The production was headed to Vietnam and there was a lot of communication between myself, Jordan and the producers about trying to nail down the structure of this set piece so they would know what to shoot in terms of plates, because it was a battle that largely took place between Kong and one of the creatures of the island — it was a lot of plate work.

Would you say that that was the most difficult sequence to work on, or is there another more challenging sequence that you could point to?
I think they were all challenging. For me, that last sequence, which we called the “Final Battle” was challenging in there was not a lot that was nailed down. There were some beats we knew we wanted to try to play, but it sort of kept evolving. I enjoy working on these kinds of films with those types of sequences because they’re so malleable. It’s a fun sandbox to play in because, to an extent, you’re limited only by your imagination.

Still, you’re committing a lot of money, time and resources, so you need to look down field as far as you can to say, “This is the right direction and we’re all on the same page.” It’s a big, slow-moving, giant cargo ship that takes a long time to course-correct. You want to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, or at least as close as you can be, when you start going down those roads.

Any other shots that stand out?
There was one thing that was kind of a novelty on this picture — and I know that it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it was the first time for me. We had some pretty extensive re-shoots, but our cast was kind of spread all over the globe. In one of the re-shoots, we needed a conversation to happen in a bar between three of the characters, Tom Hiddelston, John Goodman and Cory Hawkins. None of them were available at the same time or in the same city.

The scene was going to the three of them sitting down at a table having a conversation where John Goodman’s character offers Tom Hiddelston’s character a job as their guide to take them to Skull Island. I think it was Goodman’s character that was shot first. We show Goodman’s side of the table in New York with that side of the bar behind him and an empty chair beside him. Then we shot Hawkin’s character by himself in front of a greenscreen sitting in a chair reacting to Goodman and delivering his dialogue. Lastly, we shot Hiddelston in LA with that side of the bar and overs with doubles. It all came together, and I thought, “I don’t think anybody would have a clue that none of these people were in the same room at the same time.” It was kind of a Rubik’s Cube… an editorial bit of sleight of hand that worked in the end.


You worked with other editors on the film, correct?
Yes, editor Bob Murawski helped me tremendously; he ended up taking over my original role, which was during the Director’s Cut. Bob came on to help split up these really demanding visual effects sequence turnovers every two weeks. We had to keep on it to make the release date.

Murawski was a huge help, but so was the addition of Josh Schaeffer, who had worked with Jordan in the past. He was one of the additional editors on Jordan’s Kings of Summer (2013). Jordan had shot a lot of material — it wasn’t necessarily montage-based, but we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to work in the picture. We knew that he had a long-standing relationship with Josh and was comfortable with him. Bob said, “While we’re in the middle of a Director’s Cut and you and I are trying to feed this giant visual effects beast, there’s also this whole other aspect that Jordan and Josh could really focus on.” Josh was a really big help in getting us through the process. Both Bob and Josh were very big assets to me.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
I’ve had the same first assistant, Sean Thompson, for about 12 years. Unfortunately, he’s not with me here in Budapest. I took this film after the original editor dropped out for health reasons. Sean has a young family, and 15 weeks in Budapest and then another 12 weeks in London just wasn’t possible for him.

How did you work with Sean on Skull Island?
He’s a terrific manager of the cutting room in terms of discerning the needs of other departments, be it digital effects, music or sound. I lean on him to let me know what I absolutely need to know, and he takes care of the rest. That’s one of the roles he serves, and he’s bulletproof.

I also rely on him creatively. He’s tremendous with his sound work and very good at looking at cuts with me and giving his feedback. I throw him scenes to cut as much as I can, but sometimes on films like this there are so many other demands as a manager.

You use Avid Media Composer. Any special keyboard mappings, or other types of work you provide?
As a feature film editor my main objective is to make sure that the story and the characters are firing on all cylinders. I’m not particularly interested in how far I can push the box technically.

I’ve mapped the keyboard to what I’m comfortable with, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s particularly sophisticated. I try to do as much as I can on the keyboard so that I keep the
pointing and clicking to a minimum.

You edit a lot of action films. Is that just because people say, “He does action,” or is that your favorite kind of film to cut?
It’s interesting you should say that… the first Hollywood feature I cut was Bowfinger, which is comedy. I hadn’t cut any comedy before that and suddenly I was the comedy editor. I found it ironic because everything I had done prior was action-based television, music videos and commercials. I’ve always loved cutting action and juxtaposing images in a way that tells a story that’s not necessarily being told verbally. It’s not just like, “Wow, look at how much stuff is blowing up and that’s amazing how many cars are involved.” It’s actually character-based and story-driven.

I also really enjoy comedy. There is quite a lot of comedy in Kong, so it’s nice to flex that muscle too. I’ve tried very hard to not get pigeonholed.

So you are knee-deep in this Robin Hood film?
I sure am! I wasn’t planning on getting back on to another film quite so quickly, but I was very intrigued by both the director and script. As I mentioned earlier, they had an editor slated for the picture but unfortunately she fell ill just weeks prior to the start of production. So suddenly, here I am.

The added bonus is you get to play in Europe for a bit.
Yes, actually, I’m sitting here in my apartment. I have a laptop and an additional monitor and I’ve been cutting scenes. I have a lovely view of the parliament building, which is on the Danube. It’s a beautiful domed building that’s lit up every night until midnight. It’s really kind of cool.

Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

By Dayna McCallum

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.

Dallas-based Post Asylum adds editor Bradley Thurman

Dallas-based Post Asylum has added editor Bradley Thurman to its roster. With more than 10 years of industry experience, Thurman spent two years as an editor at Reel FX and had a nine-year run with Fast Cuts. His body of work includes national spots for Salvation Army, American Home Shield, Chuck E. Cheese and the Texas Lottery.

albertsonsThurman — who edits on Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere — hit the ground running with Post Asylum, cutting a 12-spot campaign for Dallas County Colleges, plus a couple of spots for Albertsons grocery store (pictured).

“Bradley’s already written and successfully pitched a comedy script for one of our consumer electronics brand clients,” notes Post Asylum EP Graham Hagood. “This addition further solidifies Post Asylum as a concept-through-completion, one-stop-shop for motion content across all media.”

Post Asylum offers concept development, creative direction, design, production, editorial, animation, visual effects, VR/experiential, original music and color/finish. And they recently combined forces with animation studio Element X. The two fully integrated shops are aligned with Pure Evil Music.

Cut+Run NY promotes Adam Bazadona and Ellese Jobin

At New York’s Cut+Run, Ellese Jobin has been promoted to head of production and Adam Bazadona to editor.

Bazadona started as an assistant at Cut+Run in 2009. Moving from assisting to editing has been a fluid transition for him, with credits that include co-editor on Green Day’s Oh Love (directed by Sam Bayer) and the CFDA Fashion Fund films (directed by Jun Diaz), a collaboration with Andrés Cortés on Rehearsal Space (featuring Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo) and the recent Panda Desiigner video.

In 2015, Bazadona cut Scott McFarnon’s Crazy Heart directed by Floyd Russ. In the world of spots, he has worked on projects for Mercedes, Kobe Bryant, Verizon Wireless and Blue Apron.

Jobin joined Cut+Run shortly after Bazadona, working in client service and reception. She quickly became involved in projects, assuming the role of producer and eventually senior producer. As head of production, Ellese will oversee Cut+Run’s NY producer team and all facets of the post process in a management capacity.

Bilingual editor Alejandro Delgado joins Hooligan

Hooligan, a NYC-based creative post production boutique that specializes in artistic offline editing and visual effects, has hired editor Alejandro Delgado. From Spain, Delgado brings nearly two decades of experience editing film, television and commercial content for markets across Europe and the Americas. His signing marks Hooligan’s commitment to serving the needs of its agency and brand clients in both the general and US Hispanic market.

“It’s an asset to have an editor like Alejandro who can translate different cultural and lingual nuances through visual storytelling and dialogue,” remarks Hooligan president/editor Kane Platt. “He brings a rare combination of artistry, technical skill and work ethic to his craft. But most of all, everyone knows Alejandro for his big heart and unselfish attitude — traits that perfectly align with the collaborative culture we stand for at Hooligan.”

Delgado previously worked with Hooligan as a freelancer on campaigns for Apple, the NYC Langone Institute and Invokana.

Born and raised in Madrid, Delgado’s filmmaking career took off in his native city as a senior editor and visual effects director at Delirium Post, cutting campaigns for Audi, McDonald’s, Fiat and Sony, among many other prominent brands in Spain. In 2003, he started a lengthy freelance career working with top production and post facilities in Europe, as well as Blue Rock in New York City. Notable on his reel from this period is the Bronze Cannes-honored campaign for Renault and award-winning spots for McDonald’s and Mercedes.

Then came tenures at New Art Miami and 2150 Editorial, working in the Hispanic and Latin American markets on award-winning campaigns for AT&T, Wendy’s and DirecTV Latin America.

“It’s an interesting time right now as US Hispanics continue to redefine the consumer silos —and how marketing and advertising strategies react,” explains Delgado. “This has led to a greater demand for the production of bilingual content in the States, as we’re already seeing more and more campaigns shot in Spanish and English, rather than two different campaigns.”