Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

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.

Arrival, La La Land among winners at 67th ACE Eddies

The ACE Eddies, the awards celebrating the best in editing — and voted on by editors themselves — took place last week at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Arrival (edited by Joe Walker, ACE) won Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic) and La La Land (edited by Tom Cross, ACE) won Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy). During the 67th Annual ACE Eddie Awards, trophies were handed out recognizing the best editing of 2016 in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

ACE President Stephen Rivkin, ACE, presided over the evening’s festivities with actress Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) serving as the evening’s host.

Director/producer J.J. Abrams received the organization’s prestigious ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year honor, which was presented to him by friend and collaborator Jeff Garlin. Abrams joins an impressive list of filmmakers who have received ACE’s highest honor, including Norman Jewison, Nancy Meyers, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Robert Zemeckis, Alexander Payne, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Frank Marshall and Richard Donner, among others.

Janet Ashikaga, ACE, and Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE, were presented with Career Achievement awards by Thomas Schlamme and Martin Scorsese, respectively. Their work was highlighted with clip reels exhibiting their tremendous contributions to film and television throughout their careers.

Other presenters at the ACE Eddie Awards included Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes, Fences stars Mykelti Williamson and Saniyya Sidney, This Is Us actress Chrissy Metz and actor Tim Matheson.

Arrival editor Joe Walker, ACE

A full list of winners follows:


BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):

Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE


BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):
La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley & Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):
O.J.: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION):
Everything Is Copy – Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

Veep editor Steven Rasch, ACE.

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES FOR TELEVISION:
Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
This Is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Senegal”
Mustafa Bhagat


Main Image: La La Land editor Tom Cross, ACE

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.

Rockin’ music supervision for HBO’s ‘Vinyl’

By Jennifer Walden

Otis Redding, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Temptations, Janis Joplin, The Doors… the list of music featured on the HBO series Vinyl would make any music supervisor drool, and that’s just a small sample of the artists whose music has been featured so far. There are still four more episodes to go this season.

As you can imagine, big-name artists come with a big price tag. “When you have this many songs from the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll, you’re going to spend some real money. It’s such a music-driven enterprise that you have to go into it with your eyes open,” says music supervisor Randall Poster. He and co-music supervisor Meghan Currier, at NYC’s Search Party Music, had the job of curating and creating Vinyl’s epic soundtrack.

Randall Poster

Randall Poster

Poster has over 100 feature film credits, including Carol, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wolf of Wall Street, Insurgent and Divergent, Boyhood, I’m Not There (a Bob Dylan biopic) and Velvet Goldmine to name just a few. He’s also done a bit of series work too, including HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, where he worked with series creator Terence Winter and executive producer Martin Scorsese — two of the masterminds behind Vinyl. Having already collaborated with Winter and Scorsese on two soundtrack driven series, there’s a lot of trust in their relationship.

“It’s a collaborative medium,” notes Poster. “We all throw in ideas and we all have certain passions. Marty is the master of using songs in movies. I think we’ve developed a pretty strong working relationship and process.”

In 2012, Poster won a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media for Boardwalk Empire. It wouldn’t be surprising if Vinyl’s soundtrack earns the same recognition.

Vinyl tells the story of Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), owner of the faltering music label American Century, which is struggling to find its footing on the shifting tectonic plates of musical genres in the early ‘70s. One new genre to rise out of the rubble of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest era is proto-punk, which Finestra feels can re-energize the rock scene. “You are on the verge of punk rock, on the verge of disco, the elements of hip-hop are just beginning to formulate,” explains Poster. “This whole season you are on the verge of these musical revolutions. Also, part of the show’s music is borne out of Richie Finestra’s musical foundations, which he is trying to somehow reconnect with.”

There is a wealth of opportunity for music — interstitials, bands on-screen, diegetic music coming from cassette players, turntables and radios. There’s also music that underscores the drama or helps to reinforce story points. It’s no wonder that there are 20–30 tracks in every episode. According to Poster, the pilot alone had around 60 tracks. “One thing that is really unique about Vinyl is the volume of music, the amount of it.”

Licensing
Some tracks from the aforementioned top-shelf artists were licensed with help from Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic Records, with both labels offering up their catalogs to Poster and Currier. “They were happy to make their artists and most of their catalog available to us,” says Poster.

But those two major labels were by no means the extent of Poster’s and Currier’s reach. Ultimately, if there was a track they wanted to use in the show, regardless of the label, they went for it. “Everyone wanted to do this soundtrack and they really were passionate about it. People saw the ambition of the enterprise and responded to it.”

The hardest part about licensing all the big-name songs — like the hit songs for the lipsync interstitials including Janis Joplin (played by Catherine Stephen) performing “Cry Baby” in Episode 4 — was just tracking down who owned the rights to them. “For the lipsync sequences, we talked to the series writers and we’d land on a song. Then we’d go and work out all the licensing details,” explains Poster.

On-Screen Performers
The real challenge for music on the show lies in Vinyl’s substantial use of on-camera music. Several primary characters are musicians performing original songs, like the fictional punk band the Nasty Bits, led by Kip Stevens (played by Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger), and the funk-rock band led by Hannibal (played by Daniel J. Watts). Then there are faux versions of popular bands playing re-recorded versions of their hits, such as “Somethin’ Else” performed on-screen by a faux Led Zeppelin in Episode 3, or “Personality Crisis” performed on-screen by a mocked-up New York Dolls at the end of Episode 1. “In terms of the workflow and getting involved in the pre-production process, those were the things that you had to deal with first — landing on repertoire, and casting and rehearsing actors. That was the initial focus,” reports Poster.

They needed to find real musicians to play in the bands on-screen, so Currier took the lead in casting the on-screen musicians that weren’t main characters and didn’t have speaking lines. “She was really chasing people down on the subway, asking them if they played music. We needed to cast people that had that period look, or resembled artists in a particular band. There were so many on-screen acts that we needed to cover. For example, Hannibal’s band in Episode 4 has 12 people in it. We had to find them and then rehearse them, to make sure it all worked correctly,” says Poster.

The re-recorded hits and original tunes involved collaborations with music industry heavy-hitters, like Trey Songz, Dan Auerbach, Elvis Costello, David Johansen (New York Dolls) and Charli XCX. “When we wanted to have Trey Songz, an Atlantic artist, voice one of the characters on the show, and we wanted The Arcs, which is a Dan Auerbach’s (The Black Keys) side project, Atlantic Records helped us in terms of accessing these artists,” explains Poster. “Kevin Weaver, who is the point person there at Atlantic Records, was just a business dynamo. He really helped us cut through a lot of red tape.”

Poster tapped Lee Ranaldo, co-founder of Sonic Youth, to produce the Nasty Bits punk tracks. According to Pitchfork, their tune list includes songs salvaged from the nearly forgotten ‘70s punk band Jack Ruby, lending to the era-authentic punk vibe in Vinyl.

To create the band’s backing tracks for James Jagger’s vocals, Ranaldo chose Yo La Tengo’s bassist James McNew, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, avant-garde guitarist Alan Licht and guitarist Don Fleming of the ‘80s art-punk band Velvet Monkeys. “We really had a great collection of artists who worked with us, and we relied on them for insight and precision,” says Poster. “I was really excited to do new music with John Doe (from the late 1970s punk band called X). Elvis Costello — one of my rock ‘n’ roll gods, who we worked with on Boardwalk Empire a few times, came in and sang for us. Lenny Kaye, from Patti Smith Group, is someone we have worked with before. He’s a good resource. It’s great to channel the musical energies of some of our rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Musicians are often the best people to talk to about things that they were responding to from an era.”

If you love all the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, funk, disco and ‘70s pop featured in the series, you can purchase the soundtrack “Vinyl: Music From the HBO Original Series — Volume 1” released by Atlantic Records, as a physical CD, digital download or (appropriately) as a vinyl LP. Each week there is also a new five-song digital soundtrack featuring music from that Sunday’s upcoming episode. And as the season wraps up, a “Volume 2” soundtrack will also be available. When the Vinyl digital soundtracks become available, you can download them via iTunes and Google Play, with streaming available on Spotify.

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