Tag Archives: Kong: Skull Island

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.

The A-list — Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

By Iain Blair

Plucky explorers! Exotic locations! A giant ape! It can only mean one thing: King Kong is back… again. This time, the new Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origin of the mythic Kong in an original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

With an all-star cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-winner Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it follows a diverse team of explorers as they venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific — as beautiful as it is treacherous — unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

The legendary Kong was brought to life on a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar-winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.

To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts, his cast and filmmaking team shot across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii — where shooting commenced on October 2015 — on Australia’s Gold Coast and, finally, in Vietnam, where production took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film. Kong: Skull Island was released worldwide in 2D, 3D and IMAX beginning March 10.

I spoke with Vogt-Roberts about making the film and his love of post.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a King Kong movie?
He’s King Kong! But the appeal is also this burden, as you’re playing with film history and this cinematic icon of pop culture. Obviously, the 1933 film is this impeccable genre story, and I’m a huge fan of creature features and people like Ray Harryhausen. I liked the idea of taking my love for all that and then giving it my own point of view, my sense of style and my voice.

With just one feature film credit, you certainly jumped in the deep end with this — pun intended — monster production, full of complex moving parts and cutting-edge VFX. How scary was it?
Every movie is scary because I throw myself totally into it. I vanish from the world. If you asked my friends, they would tell you I completely disappear. Whether it’s big or small, any film’s daunting in that sense. When I began doing shorts and my own stuff, I did shooting, the lighting, the editing and so on, and I thrived off all that new knowledge, so even all the complex VFX stuff wasn’t that scary to me. The truly daunting part is that a film like this is two and a half years of your life! It’s a big sacrifice, but I love a big challenge like this was.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you prepare?
How do you make it special —and relevant in 2017? I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to a challenge, and when I made the jump to The Kings of Summer it really helped train me. But there are certain things that are the same as they always are, such as there’s never enough time or money or daylight. Then there are new things on a movie of this size, such as the sheer endurance you need and things you simply can’t prepare yourself for, like the politics involved, all the logistics and so on. The biggest thing for me was, how do I protect my voice and point of view and make sure my soul is present in the movie when there are so many competing demands? I’m proud of it, because I feel I was able to do that.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Very early on — even before we had the script ready. We had concept artists and began doing previs and discussing all the VFX.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not a huge fan of it. Third Floor did it and it’s a great tool for communicating what’s happening and how you’re going to execute it, but there’s also that danger of feeling like you’re already making the movie before you start shooting it. Think of all the great films like Blade Runner and the early Star Wars films, all shot before they even had previs, whereas now it’s very easy to become too reliant on it; you can see a movie sequence where it just feels like you’re watching previs come to life. It’s lost that sense of life and spontaneity. We only did three previs sequences — some only partially — and I really stressed with the crew that it was only a guide.

Where did you do the post?
It was all done at Pivotal in Burbank, and we began cutting as we shot. The sound mix was done at Skywalker and we did our score in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. I love all aspects of production, but post is where you write the film again and where it ceases being what was on the page and what you wanted it to be. Instead you have to embrace what it wants to be and what it needs to be. I love repurposing things and changing things around and having those 3am breakthroughs! If we moved this and use that shot instead, then we can cut all that.

You had three editors — Richard Pearson, Bob Murawski and Josh Schaeffer. How did that work?
Rick and Bob ran point, and Rick was the lead. Josh was the editor who had done The Kings of Summer with me, and my shorts. He really understands my montages and comedy. It was so great that Rick and Bob were willing to bring him on, and they’re all very different editors with different skills — and all masters of their craft. They weren’t on set, except for Hawaii. Once we were really globe-trotting, they were in LA cutting.

VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jeff White and ILM, who did the majority of the effects work?
He ran the team there, and they’re all amazing. It was a dream come true for me. They’re so good at taking kernels of ideas and turning them into reality. I was able to do revisions as I got new ideas. Creating Kong was the big one, and it was very tricky because the way he moves isn’t totally realistic. It’s very stylized, and Jeff really tapped into my animé and videogame sensibility for all that. We also used Hybride and Rodeo for some shots.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The helicopter sequence was really very difficult, juggling the geography of that, with this 100-foot creature and people spread all over the island, and also the final battle sequence. The VFX team and I constantly asked ourselves, “Have we seen this before? Is it derivative? Is it redundant?” The goal was to always keep it fresh and exciting.

Where did you do the DI?
At Fotokem with colorist Dave Cole who worked on The Lord of the Rings and so many others. I love color, and we did a lot of very unusual stuff for a movie like this, with a lot of saturation.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
A movie never quite turns out the way you hope or think it will, but I love the end result and I feel it represents my voice. I’m very proud of what we did.


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.